Kota Kinabalu (KK) is where the main airport is located, and it is also where you will most likely head from to go diving in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park where there are multiple reefs and five islands. The Park and dive areas are 15 minutes to half an hour away from the shore by boat.
In KK there are a number of Dive Operators and also depending on where you're staying there will be a Dive Operation happening from your Resort Hotel. Most will leave from the KK Ferry Terminal.
All levels of diving are usually catered for from Beginner lessons in a pool, to novice all the way up to Padi courses and certification. Professional Divers also come to Sabah as it is considered to have some of the world's best dive locations – Sipadan said to be one of the Top 5 in the world.
If you have never been diving, it is a whole new world of beauty and colour to experience, and definitely something that you should put on your 'to do' list.
DIVE SITES in Sabah – these are just some of the better known locations where people go diving – Sipadam (as above), the cutely named Pom Pom Island, Mabul, Lankayan, Mantanani, Layang Layang and there is also Wreck Diving at Usakan Bay and Labuan. Palau Sapi and Manukan are also considered great places to snorkel.
Mountain Hikes and Treking – When you fly into KK you can see almost the whole of the land mass is mountainous and covered in thick jungle forest. You may even see parts or all of Mt Kinabalu – one of the highest mountains in S.E Asia with the summit at 4095 Metres.
Mt Kinabalu is located in the Mt Kinabalu National Park and it is a 2 day climb to the top and back to ground level. The climb heads from the Timpohon Gate at the National Park headquarters, and on the first day you climb to a height of 3273 Metres where there are guest houses located at Laban Rata. If you are intending to do this climb check www.climbmtkinabalu.com where you will find lots of answers to questions you might have.
In June 2015 Mt Kinabalu, which is also a Volcano erupted killing a number of climbers, so you need to double check to find out if you can or can't make the climb.
Just coming to the National Park and walking some of the shorter trails also allows you to see and experience some of the most special rainforest areas in the world to hear and see birds, different trees, orchids, and other rare sights, and if you are extremely lucky you might witness a rare Rafflesia Flower that may be over a metre wide. The Rafflesia Flower is truly incredible to see and look more like a giant mushroom/toadstool in a flower shape. Take a look on Google Images to see some photos. Also here are Pitcher plants – a plant that is shaped like a pitcher jug with an open lid top. Insects are attracted to enter the pitcher and then the lid closes over them to capture them. These plants come in many varieties and you may have seen some in a plant nursery, but here you will see where many of the originals come from. There is also a Hot Springs in the Park called Poring Hot Springs.
Kudat – is a town on the northern tip of Sabah on a Peninsula where the South China Sea and Sulu Sea come together. This is the original Capitol City of North Borneo when the British came in the 1880's and they brought Chinese workers to establish and work the land. Kudat is about a 3 hour drive north from KK, and some people do this as a long day trip while others stay overnight. There are white sandy beaches and great tropical sunsets to see, with Coconut Palms along the coastline, and you can also experience Rungus culture here too. To get a feel for this, see if you can find a homestay.
Sandakan – and the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre – Sandakan is located on the eastern coast of Sabah on the Sulu Sea, and people come here to see the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre that covers an area of around 4300 hectares. The word 'Orang' in Bahasa means 'person' ( as in Orang Asli people on the Malaysian Peninsula) and 'Utan' means 'Forest' – so Orang Utan (sometimes written as Orangutan) means 'Forest Person' – and this seems particularly appropriate given their human like characteristics. Orang Utans are apes, not monkeys, but they are closely related and can live up to around 60 years of age. Wild fires, deforestation has taken a toll on their numbers, hence they are listed as an endangered species. Here in the Rehabilitation Centre, you can see and learn about them, see them being fed at 10 am and 3 pm each day, and walk along the walkways that lead through the forest here.
Other things to do in Sandakan are –
- Head to one of the Rainforest Park and Deramakot Forest Reserve – to walk through rainforest
- Visit Sim Sim Village – a fishing village on stilts above the water
- Visit Gomantong Hill Cave – to see Bats and also Swallows building their nests. If you see Chinese Bird's Nest Soup on a menu, this may be where it comes from. Birds Nest is made by the birds from their spit! In China it is so popular that the Birds Nest is sought from many countries, including Malaysia and Thailand. In Malaysia they also use old warehouses and have special constructions built inside and also recorded bird calls to attract the swallows to build their nests. It is now a big industry.
- Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary – is where you will see this special monkey.
- War Memorial - During World War Two the Japanese overran the British and Australian troops stationed here, taking them prisoner. They then marched the prisoners through the jungle to Ranau in the centre of the island in what became known as a "Death March", when the majority of prisoners died.
Kinabatangan River – (near Sandakan). This is the longest river in Borneo, flowing some 560 Kilometres from the Crocker Mountain Range in the centre of Sabah. Taking a cruise early morning or late afternoon is probably the best way to see the jungle and get a close view of animals and birds in the wild here. Animals you might see include Gibbon, different monkeys, Urang Utan, and if you are extremely lucky a Pygmy Elephant, along with Hawks, Eagles, Hornbills and other birds. It is best to organise a tour – One Operator being www.borneodream.com in KK.
Tawau – is also on the east coast towards the south of Sabah and here you will find –
- Teck Guan Cocoa Factory and Museum – dedicated to the love of 'Chocolate' and 'Cocoa'. Here you can see how cacao in processed and made into Chocolate products.
- Tawau Hills Park – covers an area of 28,000 acres with 5 rivers flowing through it. Here in the park there are the walking trails through the rainforest to see the forest and animals that live here, with places where you can swim, waterfalls and even a hot spring. You can also camp here too.
- Bukit Gemok Forest Reserve – this park is around 428 metres above sea level, and here there are many hiking trails and at the end of a 1 hour hike there is also a 231 metre long suspension bridge canopy walk that takes you to a spot where you can look back over the top of the forest
- Maliau Basin – Lost World – This is a true wilderness area, so quite remote and about 5 hour's driving distance on a 4WD vehicle to get there. Besides seeing the forest, bird spotting and ambience in being in such a remote area, there is the 7 tier Maliau Waterfalls to see and also swim in the pools that the falls plunge into.