MUMBAI: For those who love a holiday in Malaysia offers a magical experience at two of its must-visit destinations – Sabah and Sarawak. Soak up the fun in these places, with their rich biodiversity, warm and hospitable culture, beautiful beaches, fabulous cuisine, and adventure around every bend.
Situated on the beautiful island of Borneo, Sabah is the second largest state in Malaysia. This is the place for never-before experiences, for here you’ll find the world’s largest flower - the Rafflesia, one of the highest mountains in South East Asia - Mount Kinabalu, and one of the world’s top diving sites - Sipadan Island.
Main Attractions of Sabah
Mount Kinabalu - Kinabalu Park: This majestic mountain and extensive park is Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site. The highest mountain in South-East Asia, Mount Kinabalu has entered the Guinness Book of World Records for having the world’s highest Via Ferrata - a most thrilling mountain climbing experience. A first-of-its-kind in Asia, Via Ferrata is a mountain route equipped with fixed cables, ladders, etc., which ensure the climb is safe for almost anyone. The avid mountain climber would truly appreciate the spectacular vistas and challenging trails at Mount Kinabalu.
Kinabalu Park – a wonderland of ecological treasures – covers 754 sq km, and stands 1,585m above sea level. The eco-traveller would be amazed with the diversity of natural life here; over 5000 types of plants, 100 species of animals and 326 species of birds make this their home. A visit to the Poring Hot Springs, a natural health spa offering open-air Japanese-style baths, is highly recommended. The annual Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon draws participants from around the world.
Sipadan Island: Jacques Cousteau, the world-renowned oceanographer, described Sipadan as ‘an untouched piece of art’. Divers across the globe have voted it as one of the top five dive sites in the world. Malaysia’s only oceanic island, it takes just 25 minutes to circle Sipadan on foot, and on the way, you’ll meet up with amazing crustaceans like the coconut crab. Located at the heart of the Indo-Pacific Basin, it is one of the richest marine habitats in the world. Expert divers can enjoy fascinating sights of turtles, reef sharks and a thrilling 600m drop-off. There’s a large variety of tropical birds here, including sea eagles, kingfishers, sunbirds, starlings and wood pigeons.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Park: Travel 20 minutes by speedboat from Kota Kinabalu, and you’re ready for a grand splash at this marine park. Made up of five islands, it’s a paradise for swimming, diving, snorkelling and parasailing. These idyllic islands – Manukan, Mamutik, Sulug, Gaya and Sapi – are blessed with soft white sands, rich underwater life and fabulous coral reefs. One of the things you must do here is to go ‘seawalking’ among fishes of every colour of the rainbow. On Gaya and Sapi, you can hike across intriguing jungle trails, where you may see the Megapode or Burung Tambun, a chicken lookalike with large feet which meows like a cat.
Pulau Tiga Marine Park: Pulau Tiga Island has been dubbed ‘Survivor Island’ as it is the main location for the popular TV programme ‘Survivor’. Small mud volcanoes are found here, spewing cool, mineral-rich mud. As it is reputed to be good for your skin, mud-bathing is a must-do activity. Nature-lovers will be fascinated with all this Park has to offer – from lush unspoiled jungles to scenic landscapes, powder-like sands and crystal clear waters. Among the coral reefs, you’ll find innumerable species of fish and other marine life. Above water, you can enjoy diving, non-motorised water sports, trekking and bird-watching.
Turtle Island Park: This Park lies in the Sulu Sea off the east coast of Sabah and comprises three small islands, Selingan, Gulisan and Bakungan Kechil. Selingan – the largest – houses the Park's headquarters, a turtle hatchery and tourist accommodation. The other two are mainly for conservation activities. Green and Hawksbill turtles are the main attractions and you get to watch the turtle landings after dusk. During the day, you can take it easy on the beach, or go snorkeling. From Sandakan town, you can take a 1-hour boat service to reach Turtle Island Park.
Batu Punggul Pinnacle: This limestone massif, situated on the banks of the Sepulot River, can be scaled by adventurous souls only; others can get their thrills exploring the two networks of caves within Batu Pinggul. Accommodation is available at a rustic resort nearby, and you have a choice of a Murut longhouse or native huts (sulap), or a hostel or guesthouses, complete with modern facilities.
Sepilok Orang-Utan Sanctuary: Here’s where you can watch orang-utans, known as ‘The Wild Man of Borneo’, up close in their natural habitat, during their daily feeding sessions. Go trekking through mangrove forests, and avail of accommodation in forest chalets if you want to stay longer.
Sukau: For those who love rare and exotic fauna, Sukau this is a must-visit, for it has Malaysia’s greatest concentration of wildlife. Capture on camera orang-utans, crocodiles and proboscis monkeys, as well as an array of bird life. Take a boat ride and visit the Gomantong Caves, where millions of swiftlets build their nests, which are harvested for that special delicacy - Bird’s Nest Soup.
Mabul and Kapalai Islands, Semporna: Regarded as one of the world's best ‘muck-divingand ‘macro-paradise’ sites, this area is one of the richest single destinations for exotic small marine life in the world. Mabul is an oasis of relaxation with swaying coconut trees, idyllic villages and soft sands. Underwater, you’ll find an amazing array of sea life - cuttlefish, blue-ringed octopus, spike-fin gobies, frogfish and moray eels.
Other Dive Sites: Sabah has a plethora of world-class dive sites, including Layang Layang with its ring of 13 coral atolls where you can spot hammerhead sharks and different types of pelagic; Mantanani where you can get up-close with a variety of fish life and sunken wrecks; as well as Lankayan and Mataking.
Monsopiad Cultural Village: Go back in time, to the era of the legendary Kadazan warrior – Monsopiad. Watch the enthralling cultural performance that re-enacts his saga, and take a quick peek at the House of Skulls too.
Kampung Luanti, Ranau - 'Tagal' Sungai Moroli, Fish Massage: 131 kilometers from Kota Kinabalu is where you should head, for a spa treatment that will sweep you off your feet. ‘Ikan Pelian’ or Malaysian Mahseer have been specially trained by the villagers to perform healing massages, and are ideal for those who want smooth, supple skin.
Kundasang War Memorial, Kundasang: The Memorial, with its four beautiful gardens, towering pine trees, roses in full bloom and an absolutely serene atmosphere, is the ideal place to escape the world for a while.
Gaya Street Sunday Market, Kota Kinabalu: Sunday morning is when everyone heads to Gaya Street, to shop for batik sarongs, fruits, flowers, souvenirs, footwear, antiques, cakes, herbs, even pets, under shady trees and over-sized umbrellas.
Tanjung Simpang Mengayau, Kudat: Situated at the northernmost tip of Borneo, this is where the South China Sea meets the Sulu Seas. Enjoy stunning views of golden sunsets and full moons, as well as the Pulau Kalampunian Lighthouse and the beautiful beach of Pantai Kalampunian.
Tanjung Aru Beach, Kota Kinabalu: Named after the casuarina or aru trees that fringe it, this beach offers you glorious sunsets and a mouth-watering spread of local delicacies to indulge in.
White Water Rafting in Padas River: With names like Merry-Go-Round and Scooby Doo, they may seem tame, but these rapids will challenge your very survival skills. On the peaceful stretches, take the time to enjoy Nature at her very best, with the multicolour birds and majestic trees all around.
Kawang Forest Centre, Kinarut / Papar: Enjoy a fascinating trek through the jungle, camp out for the night, and make it a point to explore the bat cave.
Maga Waterfall, Sipitang: Ulu Padas is a hidden natural paradise, rich in plant life and brimming with treasures like the beautiful Maga Waterfall. Exotic mushrooms, huge agathis trees and colourful orchids are waiting to be discovered. Slip into a natural pool and enjoy a refreshing bath.
Getting there: Kota Kinabalu International Airport is the main entry point to the state. Sabah is easily accessible by frequent short-haul flights from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in Peninsular Malaysia. Visitors can also fly in from the Kuching International Airport in Sarawak, as well as major cities in Malaysia. The Kota Kinabalu Port welcomes tourists arriving by cruise ships. Private yachts can dock at Sutera Harbour Marina.
Must-Try Cuisine: A number of delicacies cram the menu at Sabah, and you’ll find a mouth-watering spread of local favourites at the restaurants as well as the street stalls. Some of the dishes you must try include TuaranMee – a dish of stir-fried vegetables, garnished with roast chicken and eggs; Ambuyat or Nantung – a gluey porridge of sago, tapioca or rice, twisted around a chopstick and served with a sauce; Hinava – a salad of raw fish or prawns whose unique flavour comes from bambangan, the grated seeds of a local wild mango; Tuhau – a fresh salad made from a ginger-like plant; Kelupis – glutinous rice wrapped in a fragrant ‘daun nyirik’ leaf cooked in coconut milk.
Continue your monsoon expedition through Sarawak, the Land of the Hornbill and the largest state of Malaysia. Whatever you prefer – adrenaline-pumping adventure sports, spectacular sights or breath-taking Nature – Sarawak has it in abundance for you. Located on the northwestern shore of Borneo, Sarawak is a treasure trove of one-of-a-kind spots, sights and rainforest life – like the Rafflesia, squirrels and snakes that fly, plants that eat insects and other unique flora and fauna.
Main Attractions of Sarawak
National Parks: Sarawak’s Parks offer nature trails that give you totally unforgettable experiences. The most famous are Gunung Mulu, Bako, Batang Ai, Gunung Gading, Lambir Hills, Similajau, and Tanjung Datu.
Gunung Mulu National Park, Miri: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this Park is a treasure trove of vertical cliffs, jagged limestone pinnacles and intricate caves. Here, Nature-lovers can get up-close with 20,000 animals and 3,500 plant species. Go cave exploring through the Deer, Lang, Wind and Clearwater Caves – the last is Asia’s longest cave. Trek to the sharp limestone-spiked Pinnacles Summit and along the Headhunters Trail to Limbang. View the forest from above as you go up the 480m Mulu Canopy Skywalk. For accommodation, you have a choice of campsites, forest huts and the exclusive Royal Mulu Resort. Mulu is accessible by air from Miri.
Niah National Park, Miri: Prehistoric life and natural wonders meet at this sprawling 3,238 hectare park, considered one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. Neolithic paintings and Paleolithic artefacts were found in its Great Cave. This cave and the Painted Cave are National Historical Monuments, and are definitely worth a visit. Explore enchanting forest trails, take a break at the nearby Iban longhouse, or go for a boat ride on serene waters. Niah is accessible from Miri (109km) and Bintulu (131km). Accommodation ranges from chalets, hostels to a rest house.
Bako National Park: Bako – the state’s oldest park – is the ideal place to discover the rainforest. Keep your camera ready for rare proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaques, leaf monkeys, monitor lizards and 150 species of birds. Accommodation is available in forest hostels and lodges.
Kuching Waterfront: Stroll along this 900m long esplanade, and enjoy the sights of heritage buildings, landscaped surroundings and eateries. Places of interest here are the Square Tower, Sarawak Steamship Building, Chinese History Museum and the ornate Tua Pek Kong Temple, reputed to be the oldest in the city. For an assortment of handicrafts, visit the Main Bazaar nearby.
Sarawak Museum, Kuching: One of Asia's finest museums, it is housed in a stately, Victorian-style building. Here you will find a collection of Bornean cultural and archaeological items, and a reconstruction of the great Niah Caves, with remains of the Neolithic people who lived there. Visitors are not allowed to bring in their cameras.
Cat Museum, Kuching: Kuching is called the City of Cats, and according to Malaysian beliefs, the cat is a lucky animal. Cat lovers will be purring over all that’s on display – over 2000 exhibits, feline art, photographs, statues and cat souvenirs from all over the world.
Sunday Open Market, Satok, Kuching: Go on a spree for handicraft items like woodcarvings, bamboo and rattan products, beadwork and pottery.
Kuching Skrang River Safari: This scenic voyage gives you a surprise, when the boat suddenly shoots the rapids. Sail down to the Iban longhouses, once the home of notorious pirates, where you can enjoy an evening of traditional entertainment.
Semenggoh Nature Reserve: At this orang-utan rehabilitation centre, you’ll enjoy watching the antics of these adorable and mischievous primates, especially during feeding times, or as they frolic in the rainforest. Other attractions include an arboretum, orchard and botanical garden.
Sarawak Cultural Village, Damai: Situated at the foothills of Mount Santubong, 35km from Kuching, this living museum displays the multi-faceted cultures of ethnic groups like the Ibans, Bidayuhs, and Melanaus, along with the traditional arts of Sarawakians. An award-winning attraction, the Village showcases the diverse lifestyles of the state’s ethnic groups. Visit the authentic dwellings and view their crafts, household items and musical instruments. The lively cultural performance is a major highlight here. The Village is also the venue of the annual Rainforest World Music Festival.
River Cruises: Rivers are the lifeline of Sarawak's transportation, and cruises let you experience the kaleidoscope of life – both human and natural, that live around them. The Sarawak River Cruise is very popular, and departs from the Kuching Waterfront twice a day. It retraces the historical journey of Sir James Brooke and gives you a glimpse of the city's old-world charm. If you crave more excitement, hop onto a perahu tambang, a local boat that takes you quickly across the Kuching River.
Irrawaddy Dolphin Watching: In the Santubong peninsula, you could enjoy the delightful sight of dolphins frolicking in the waters. The serene river views here make for perfect, quiet moments.
Annah Rais Longhouse, Padawan: Get a taste of the local lifestyle, stay in a Bidayuh longhouse and enjoy the local delights. Annah Rais Longhouse – 60km from Kuching – offers enchanting nature-based activities and cultural shows. Go trekking to a waterfall for a unique massage, try bamboo rafting, learn to cook bamboo rice and chicken, get skilful with a blowpipe, play traditional instruments, but go easy on the home-made wine. Trips must be pre-arranged.
Golfing: Tee off in a pristine rainforest setting. Major golf resorts in Sarawak are situated in Kuching, Damai, Padawan, Miri, Sibu and Bintulu.
Diving: Miri is the place to be for diving fans, who want to explore one of the richest reefs in Malaysia. Belais Reef and Luconia Shoals are the popular dive sites here.
Pepper Plantations: Sarawak is Malaysia's largest exporter of pepper and you can stop over to walk through some of the extensive plantations all along the Kuching-Serian Road.
Santubong Fishing Village: This village is famous for the Hindu and Buddhist rock carvings found here. Also, take time off and spend it relaxing on the beautiful beaches here.
Shopping: Sarawak is a shopper’s paradise for antiques and handicrafts. Take home Pua Kumbu-woven sarongs or wall hangings, Kain Songket – fabric intricately woven with gold and silver threads, and wood or bamboo carvings. Kuching’s Main Bazaar has been preserved as a colourful reminder of the city's trading past. Now it houses dozens of art & crafts, curio and antique shops, as well as travel agents offering up-country adventures.
Getting there: Kuching International Airport is the main entry point into the state. Sarawak is easily accessible by frequent short-haul flights from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in Peninsular Malaysia. Visitors can also fly in from the Kota Kinabalu International Airport in Sabah, as well as other major cities in Malaysia.
Must-Try Cuisine: Give in to your taste for the exotic and tuck into Sarawak’s authentic dishes. Start with the Sarawak Laska – noodles served with tangy, aromatic soup; then Mee Kolok - handmade noodles tossed with meats in oil and vinegar; Manok Pansoh – a chicken and ginger dish cooked in a bamboo log; Birds Nest Soup – the highly prized Chinese delicacy which is said to have medicinal properties, available at upmarket restaurants.