Land Below The Wind, Over 80 peoples and 50 Tongues
A Bit Of History
Sabah is Malaysia’s northernmost state and, together with Sarawak, makes up Malaysian Borneo.
Before its independence in 1963, the British North Borneo Company administered the state as a protectorate of the British Empire. For centuries prior to this there were many bloody disputes over the state’s riches attracting raiders and traders from afar, with the Philippines and Indonesia claiming parts of the territory as their own.
Fortunately nowadays 32 officially recognized ethnic groups live here in harmony while, at the same time, preserving their own culture, traditions, festivals and custom.
The 3 million people of Sabah are as diverse as the ecology.
There are 3 main groups of indigenous people, with the largest group, Kadazandusun, making up one third of the population.
Kadazandunsun live mainly on the West Coast to the interior of Sabah and were formerly the main rice producers. The culture observes souls and spirits that must be appeased from time to time through specific rituals. In these modern times, some of the rituals are less common, accept during important festivals.
Another group, Bajaus, landed on Sabah’s shores around 200 years ago, along with Suluks, Irranuns, Binadans and Obian people.
Once regarded as sea gypsies because of their seafaring ways, many Bajaus now enjoy more sedentary lives of rice farming and cattle breeding. Legendary Bajau pony riding skills have earned them the nickname “Cowboys of the East” and their colourful costumes (as well as those of their ponies) are greatly admired.
Murut (meaning hill people) inhabit the interior and southeastern parts of Sabah and the territory straddling the Kalimantan and Sarawak borders.
Many still live in traditional Longhouses. Once feared as fierce and fearless headhunters, Muruts these days have abandoned much of their age-old traditions, especially headhunting. They are also very skilled in hunting with blowpipes.
Chinese, who migrated in great numbers to Sabah during the early years of the North Borneo Chartered Company era, make up a large portion of the non-indigenous people. Living mostly in and around city areas, they engaged themselves primarily in the commercial sectors of the economy. Chinese culture is fibrant and alive and exhibited through many fesitvals celebrated throughout the year.
Unofficially, Sabah is also home to an estimated 700,000 strong Filipino population who enters the country through the difficult-to-police border between Malaysia and the Phillipines.
Resulting from this multicultural society is a festival calendar packed with colourful celebrations and ceremonies in various places throughout Sabah.
A Bit About Geography
Covering the norther part of the island of Borneo, Sabah is the second largest state in Malaysia after sister state Sarawak. It shares the island of Borneo with Indonesia’s Kalimantan, which makes up the largest part of Borneo, as well as the tiny Sultanate of Brunei, wedged in between Sabah and Sarawak.
The City of Kota Kinabalu is the state capital and known by various names by various people, including Yapi by the Chinese, Api Api and, as it was formerly known, Jessleton.
Sabah is generally mountainous, with mountains rangings from 1,000m up to the peak of the Crocker Range mountains, Mount Kinabalu, which rises up to 4,095m. A little known fact about Sabah’s mountains is that it’s also home to Malaysia’s 2nd and 3rd highest peaks.
Not too far from Mt. Kinabalu lies the Trus Madi Range mountains, which is home to Sabah and Malaysia’s 2nd highest peak at 2,643m, Mt. Trus Madi. The Crocker Range is where you’ll also find the 3rd highest peak, that of Mt. Tambuyukon, which rises to 2,579m.
Things To Do & Getting Around
For those interested in tropical rainforest with diverse flora and fauna, stunning islands and beaches and superb Scuba diving with rare and abundant macro and pelagic life, Sabah has much to offer.
On the doorstep of the city of Kota Kinabalu lies the 49km² Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine National Park, commonly known as the TAR Park. 5 beautiful tropical islands make up the land mass within the park, while surrounding waters are a magnet for nature and marine lovers, and is understandably where our PADI 5 Star IDC Dive, Snorkel & Adventure Center is situated.
The wildlife of the lower Kinabatangan River is acknowledged by experts to be the most varied and easily accessible in all of Southeast Asia.
Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre, near Sandakan was established to return orphaned apes back to the wild and is well worth a visit.
Gomantong Caves, made famous by the edible bird nests of swiftlets living in the limestone cave system on the north-east side of Borneo have made this area incredibly valuable and world famous.
World famous Sipadan Island can be Scuba dived subject to permits from Sipadan – Kapalai Resort & SMART. Lankayan Resort & Turtle island offer very different experiences for snorkeling, some diving and with a bit of luck turtle nesting and hatchings.
Independent travel is fairly straightforward and very safe. People are very helpful, so don’t be put off by stories of Headhunters and Pirates.
The comfortable, air-conditioned long-distance coaches run frequently from KK to Tawau via Sandakan and stop at all major towns where you can get smaller minibuses to take you further. The buses and coaches usually run when full so timetables are generally only a rough guide, but if you wait at a main road, one will soon pass by.
If your journey begins in any major city then bus schedule are more reliable and you can pre-book your seat.
Flights are also quite cheap, the Malaysia Airlines System MAS and Airasia have daily flights from KK to Tawau and Sandakan.
Please peruse our Travel Packages – you might find exactly what you’re looking for – if not then we offer bespoke travel itineraries.