Sabah Diving Holidays
Borneo Travel Information
This section contains tourist information for your visit to the following locations for scuba diving in Sabah:
• Sipadan and Mabul Islands
Dive the world-famous Sipadan Island from nearby Mabul Island, with its own muck diving paradise ...
An exclusive, one of a kind accommodation option to dive Sipadan ...
A picturesque Borneo island, with brilliant white sand beaches. Get to grips with the local nature and swim with whale sharks and black-tip reef sharks ...
• Layang Layang Island
Setting foot on this atoll in the remote Spratly islands is to step into nature itself. A bird sanctuary above the water's surface, a scene of wonder beneath it ...
Relax your mind and invigorate your soul at this resort and spa island. Dive the delightful local reefs and Pulau Sipadan ...
Sabah, Malaysia's most eastern state, sits at the northern tip of Borneo, the world's third largest island, and provides you with 1,440 km of coastline and 74,500 km² of tropical jungle to explore.
Within Sabah's rainforests and beaches, there lies a host of exciting eco-tourist activities. You can climb Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in the region, visit the largest orang utan sanctuary in the world and dive at some of the world's best wall, reef, wreck and macro diving locations.
Located at the meeting point of the South China Sea, the Sulu Sea and the Celebes Sea, Sabah is just a 2 hour flight east of Kuala Lumpur in Peninsula Malaysia. Travel by road is often arduous and much of the interior can only be reached by river.
Malaysia's increasingly popular eco-travel destination has everything that you could possibly want in a holiday: beautiful beaches, the finest resort hotels, water sports, international and richly varied local cuisine, mountains, forests, temples, coral reefs, turquoise seas, and tropical sunshine - all in plentiful proportions.
Whether you are looking for a quiet corner to enjoy a romantic retreat or an action-packed time with plenty of outdoor activity, Borneo has it all.
• View a map of Sabah
• Watch our Malaysian diving videos
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How to Get There
Kota Kinabalu is the main gateway to all Sabah diving destinations. It has an international airport which has direct flights to and from Bangkok, Brisbane, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Taipeh, Kaoshiung, Singapore, Philippines, Kuala Lumpur and Brunei.
Because of its size and general difficulty with regard to road and rail travel, air travel is a popular option within Sabah. As a result, there are a number of domestic and rural airports here. Domestic airports are found at Sandakan, Lahad Datu, Tawau, Labuan and Layang Layang while rural airports are found in Kudat, Keningau and Long Pasia.
Where to Stay
Our affiliated accommodation reservation agents Agoda.com have a range of hotels that are convenient for visitors diving in Sabah or staying in Kota Kinabalu. Browse their website choices, use their on-line chat to ask your questions, or simply use your credit card to make your booking:
Take your pick from dozens of options, from top-of-the-range international 5-star resorts to comfy guesthouses. There's something to suit everyone's taste and pocket. And you can be sure that whatever option you go for, it will be backed up with their 'Low Price Guarantee' to ensure you get top-dollar value for money.
Lying just a few degrees north of the equator, Sabah enjoys an equatorial climate which means it's sunny all year round. There are only 2 seasons - the wet season and the dry season.
The wet season usually falls between November and February. Although this means that it rains a bit more than it does in other months, the province is still sheltered from typhoons and the major monsoon rains. The usual temperature range is from 23°C to 31°C, on very hot days it may rise up to 33°C. It is cooler in the mountainous regions.
The Beaches of Borneo
With so much to offer in terms of outdoor adventure and natural wonder, Sabah's beaches often don't even get a mention, but that's not to say there aren't some very nice ones for those determined to do very little.
The main beaches can be found at:
A mere 15 minute (6 kilometres) ride from Kota Kinabalu lies Tanjung Aru Beach, one of Sabah's most popular and frequented beaches. The beach gets its name from the picturesque lines of casuarina trees (aru in Malay) found along its long stretch.
Along it, you'll find a number of plush resorts, the Kinabalu Yacht Club and the Prince Phillip Park. While a portion of the beach is fronted by the hotels and clubs, there are other portions which are open to the public.
If you'd like to catch some spectacular sunsets, head down there by 6 pm. A good way to enjoy it would be to laze on the beach or to head to the chilled out BB Café Beach Bar or to a bar at any one of the resorts for some sundowners.
The best beaches in Sabah can be found at the Kudat Peninsula. Bak Bak, some 30 minutes (11 km) away from Kudat Town, is the most accessible of these beaches (you can hire a taxi from Kudat Town). The crystal clear water here is shallow and safe for paddling. It also has picnic areas and food stalls on weekends.
Other beaches, which need some effort to get to, but which are well worth it are Bangau and Kelambu Beach, both of which offer excellent retreats far from the madding crowds.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park
The Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is a group of 5 islands within a 30 minute (10 kilometres) speedboat ride from Kota Kinabalu. Gazetted as a park in 1974, all the islands have white beaches surrounded by clear waters within which you'll find healthy coral reefs. The diving here tends to be sheltered and shallow making it a good place to learn or take a course and still enjoy all the benefits of staying in the small city of KK.
The islands of Pulau Manukan, Pulau Gaya, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Mamutik and Pulau Sulug are all fairly small and in total consist of only 49 km². There are good beaches and lush rainforests. You'll have to pay a park entry fee of approx. US$ 18 if you're diving and a minimal charge if you're not.
Pulau Tiga Park
Pulau Tiga shot to international fame when it was used as a location for the filming hit TV series Survivor. So if you want to imagine the excitement of Tribal Council or the thrill of winning an Immunity Challenge, drop in for a day. It is not the easiest group of islands to get to and you'll have to find you way there by making travel arrangements from Kota Kinabalu or Labuan.
Located about 45 minutes (15 km) by speedboat southwest of Kota Kinabalu, the Pulau Tiga Park consists of 3 islands all famous for their rich ecological heritage. It consists of Pulau Tiga, Pulau Kalampunian Besar and Pulau Kalampunian Damit (also known as Snake Island).
On the island, you'll find the National Park cabins which can take up to 20 guests. It has sandy white beaches, a thick, dense rainforest and 11 km of hiking trails through unique flora.
Sightseeing and Adventure
An extraordinary number of excellent sightseeing options are available for you when visiting the province of Sabah. Since these activities are either energy expending or of great natural interest (or both), the tourists here are normally environmentally aware and generally more interesting than you might meet in a place where 'foam parties' are the norm.
Visit the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, the world's largest orang utan sanctuary located about 15 minutes drive (8 km) from the town of Sandakan. Here, you'll get up close and personal with orang utan (wild man of Borneo) formerly in captivity which are now being rehabilitated before their return to the wild.
Take a leisurely train ride on an old fashioned steam train run by the North Borneo Railway. The train ride will take you through the surrounding countryside to the heart of north Borneo and is an excellent way to see what this part of the province has to offer.
Visit the Monsopiad Cultural Village. You'll get a glimpse into the rich cultural legacy of the various tribes of Borneo, from the Bajau community known as sea gypsies because of their love for adventure in the high seas to the more peaceful Rungus with their thatched communal longhouses. Here you can learn about local tribal cooking and social practices, and visit the house of the warrior Monsopiad decorated with the skulls of his victims. The (more peaceful) practices of the tribe descended from Monsopiad will sadly die with the last remaining practitioners who are in the autumn of their lives. For those looking for a rewarding cultural experience, a visit to this village is a must.
Trek into the Danum Valley, a conservation area well known for its rich diversity of flora and fauna. Here, you'll find all of Borneo's major wildlife attractions - the orang utan, Bornean gibbon, leaf monkeys and even the rare rhinoceros.
Spend a day at the Poring Hot Spring, natural sulphur baths within beautifully landscaped gardens. Initially developed by the Japanese during World War II as a way for them to unwind after a hard day playing invaders, it has developed into a major attraction for natural spa lovers. Often people come here to relax their aching limbs after having decided to...
Climb Mount Kinabalu, which at 4,100 metres, is the highest peak in Southeast Asia. It will take you 2 days to ascend and descend, overnighting in the comfortable high altitude lodge. Grannies can do it so, although there may be moments of pain, you can too. If you are lucky enough to have a clear morning sky, the views of Sabah from the summit are unforgettable and manna from heaven for photographers. You'll also get the opportunity to wander around the Kinabalu Park, a reserve covering 754 km². In the park, you'll find the rafflesia, the largest flower in the world, the nepenthes (pitcher plant) and more than 1,000 species of orchids.
Go white water rafting at the Kiulu and Padas rivers, both adrenaline pumping, thrilling rides which will appeal to the adventurous streak in you. Kiulu has Grade I - II rapids and is an ideal choice for first time rafters and weak swimmers. Padas River is for the more experienced rafters with Grade III - IV rapids. You must be able to swim and your active participation is required throughout the trip.
Think you are fit? Try mountain biking around the jungle trails of Borneo with the local ironman who will go at your pace, if he can keep up! A great way to see the place and get about, and burn off some calories from the delicious range of cuisines you'll find in this part of the world.
• Sabah Adventure and Nature Tours
With all this choice in addition to the amazing Sabah dive activities in Sipadan and elsewhere, it is little wonder that those in the know reckon that you should give Borneo as long a period of time as you can. Most leave regretting that they didn't do one more thing or another. Visit the Endemic Guides website for more ideas.
Dining Out & Nightlife
Kota Kinabalu offers the widest choice of all locations in Sabah. Here, you'll find a variety of food, from local favourites at cheap hawker stalls to slightly more expensive (though not much more) Chinese, Indian, Malay and Vietnamese eateries. There are also a good selection of more classy Italian, European and Japanese restaurants.
If you're looking for something special, head out to the new snazzy development along the waterfront a few blocks south of the Filipino market. Here, there is a long seafront boardwalk that hosts various types of restaurants including seafood and sushi. This is the place to head to if you're in the mood for a stroll along the promenade for dining while watching the sun set (often spectacularly) behind the islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. You can also expect the usual fast food giants like McDonald's, Burger King and KFC.
Other urban areas do not have as much variety as Kota Kinabalu, but still offer some outstanding Indian, Malay, Chinese, Western and Filipino fare, although of the no-frills variety.
The main entertainment hub in Sabah is Kota Kinabalu. There are a few bars around the centre of KK, as it is known locally. Around the area known as BB Plaza, you can buy a bucket of beer in ice for a reasonable cost and enjoy it while sitting outside in the square. The square is the venue for all sorts of performances including local dance, fashion shows and live bands. If you are there for a few days you will surely see something going on.
If you want to shake your booty or sup a few late ones in the company of Sabah's young and beautiful, then head for The Bed, a big cavernous bar/disco on the waterfront. Inside there are huge screens for sport and pool tables. On Saturday nights, western DJs and dancers on podiums are the main attraction. For those who prefer to hear themselves think, you can bask in the evening warmth and neck a few cold ones on picnic tables outside with a sea view.
The waterfront also boasts a few new bars including the ubiquitous Irish bar, The Shamrock, where you can amuse yourself by seeing the blank expressions on the faces of the staff when you ask them what a shamrock is.
In all the coastal cities and towns, you can look forward to some of the freshest and cheapest seafood you'll find. Lobster here is a fraction of its price in Kuala Lumpur, so if you have a craving for this speciality, dig in.
Because of its proximity to the Philippines, Sabah is actually home to a fairly sizeable population of Filipinos (mostly illegal immigrants). They can be found selling some fine (and cheap) Filipino crafts in the market on the waterfront in Kota Kinabalu. KK also has several shopping malls that sell authentic, brand name items.
Historical records show that as early as the ninth century A.D., Sabah, then under the rule of various chieftains, was already a trading partner with the Chinese. Later on, it also established trade routes with the Spanish and the Portuguese.
In the 15th century, Sabah fell into the realm of the Brunei Sultanate. Possession of the state changed hands a few more times before the British North Borneo Company gained control of it. The control was handed over to the British Government after World War II. Peninsula Malaysia or Malaya as it was known then gained independence from the British in 1957. In 1963, Sabah (along with Sarawak) gained independence from the British and decided to merge with the Peninsula, an entity that was christened Malaysia.
The Local People of Sabah
A veritable melting pot of cultures, Sabah has a population of about 2,000,000 people who come from 32 different ethnic communities who speak over 80 different dialects. The 3 major indigenous groups are the Kadazan-Dusun, the Murut and the Bajau.
The Kadazan-Dusun are mostly paddy farmers living in the interior plains, while the Murut are longhouse living agriculturalists and hunters. The Bajau, can be broken down to the west coast Bajau also dubbed the 'Cowboys of the East' who are famed for their skilled horsemanship and the east coast Bajau, known as the 'Sea Gypsies', living mostly at sea, and only returning to land to bury their dead.
Other smaller groups are the Rungus, Lotud, Brunei, Orang Sungei, Kadayan and Bisaya. There are also Malays, Chinese and Indians, with the Chinese forming the largest of these 3 communities.
You'll find that Sabah has a good road system (good for Borneo that is), especially between major hubs like Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan and Tawau.
Taxis are plentiful in Kota Kinabalu and can also be found in other major centres. Express buses, minivans and minibuses run between Kota Kinabalu and most major centres, including Mount Kinabalu. All the express buses are air-conditioned while the older minibuses and minivans may not be.
There is a railway system which runs between Kota Kinabalu and Tenom via Papar and Beaufort. It is known locally as the slowest train in the world and is more of a tourist attraction in itself than a genuine option for tourist travel.
If you're keen to discover the waters, jungles and mountains of Sabah, Malaysia, then click below to check your options now for:
Be sure to book in plenty of time to avoid limited choice! The best diving opportunities are booked by repeat customers who book well in advance to ensure their reservation!
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