Sabah -- One of the 13 states that make up Malaysia, Sabah is
perched on the northeasternmost corner of the vast tropical island
of Borneo, jutting out into the South China Sea.
The capital, Kota
Kinabalu, on Sabahs west coast, is a curious mix of traditional
markets, new buildings, hotels and resorts, which share the city
with ramshackle residential areas.
Boats bring to the
fish market an amazing array of fresh fish each morning, and the
fruits and vegetables are a kaleidoscope of color and
Eating out in
Sabah, where the cuisine has many different Asian influences, is a
I was fascinated to wander through some of the
residential areas as well as other villages along the coast where
the houses are built in traditional fashion on stilts above the
water; the poles of the stilts are square rather than round to
prevent snakes and other crawlies from climbing them.
gathered round to have their photos taken.
Within the city
area are some interesting places to visit, including the State
Museum, housed in a building based on the architecture of a
longhouse; the Monsopiad Cultural Village, which includes a
collection of human skulls; a couple of imposing mosques; and the
Sabah Foundation building, a 30-story glass structure supported by
high-tensile steel rods.
I had expected
Mount Kinabalu (13,485 feet) to tower over the city, but even on a
clear day only the outline of the peak is visible. It is about a
two-hour drive inland to the headquarters of Kinabalu
Most people spend a
day in the park, taking in the Poring Hot Springs, tackling the
nature trails, playing a round of golf, bird-watching and,
hopefully, spotting a rafflesia, the worlds largest flower, in
It is possible to
climb to the summit, but you need three days and must be properly
prepared and equipped.
In recent years
there has been a boom in construction of resort complexes, usually
with a golf course to attract the corporate and leisure market,
particularly from Asian countries.
It is usual to see
the men out on the course while the wives and children laze round
the pool or beach. There are seven top-class golf courses in Sabah,
ranging from the Jack Nicklaus-designed Borneo Golf & Country
Club to the spectacularly situated Mount Kinabalu Golf Club in the
However, for a more
central location close to the waterfront in Kota Kinabalu and all
activities, I would recommend the Hotel Promenade; as with most
hotels in Sabah, the rates are inexpensive.
For the more
adventurous, a side trip to other parts of Sabah is recommended. A
short flight past towering Mount Kinabalu brings you to Sandakan,
which, until its total destruction at the end of World War II, was
the capital of what was then known as British North Borneo.
Sandakan is the
site of the beginning of the infamous death march near the end of
World War II, when about 2,400 Allied soldiers, mostly Australians,
perished. The Australian Memorial is a stark reminder.
About 16 miles from
the town is the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, established in 1964 in
a virgin rain forest, where abandoned baby orangutans (usually the
mother has been killed) are brought to be rehabilitated and reared.
There they learn the basics of climbing, swinging and foraging
before being returned to the wild.
This is a long
process, taking up to six years. The orangutans are fed twice
daily, and crowds of tourists gather at each session to watch and
photograph these charming creatures.
My tour with Borneo
Eco Tours continued into the jungle past huge plantations of palm
loi trees. A boat ride on the Kinabatangan River brought us to the
Sukau Rainforest Lodge, tucked away among the thick vegetation.
There we spent a comfortable night.
On a late afternoon
cruise along the narrow Menanggul River, a tributary of the
Kinabatangan, we spied a number of proboscis monkeys, a couple of
small snakes and numerous birds as well as macaque monkeys that
showed amazing aerial skills high in the tree canopy.
On the return
journey, the tour visited the Gomantong Caves where the locals
collect bird nests that are used in birds nest soup.
Two huge caves are
full of the swifts that make the edible nests found high up on the
walls. The nests are collected (a short two-week season three times
a year) by climbing long, swinging rattan ladders and prying them
carefully off the walls with poles. No wonder the price of the soup
The eastern and
southern areas of Sabah are also famous for other activities,
including turtle-breeding on some of the tiny islands in the Sulu
Sea off Sandakan, the Danum Valley Conservation Area of primary
lowland rain forest and scuba diving on the island of
has regular flights to Kota Kinabalu from Kuala Lumpur.
information on Sabah, visit www.sabahtourism.com. For more information on
Borneo Eco Tours, call (208) 693-9118 for voice mail and fax. The
Web site for Borneo Eco Tours is at www.borneoecotours.com.
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