The tallest mountain in Malaysia and one of the highest mountains in Southeast Asia is located in Sabah, Mount Kinabalu.
Sabah, a beautiful state in Malaysia, is also known as the land below the wind. It is a famous place among backpackers, adventure seekers and couples on honeymoon.
It is one of the states in Malaysia that is rich with native people and their beautiful, one-of-a-kind culture. They also have exquisite flora and fauna which can only be found on this beautiful Borneo island.
If this is your first time visiting Sabah, this Sabah travel guide will help you explore this breathtaking state in Malaysia.
Table of Content
- Things To See And Do
- Typical Costs
- Suggested Budget
- Money-Saving Tips
- Where To Stay
- How To Get Around
- When To Go
- How To Stay Safe
- Best Places To Book Your Trip
- Gear And Packing List
- Related Blogs
1) Things To See And Do In Sabah
a) Discovering Exquisite Wildlife
There are several distinctive animals that you can only find in Borneo. Sabah is the
house to a number of them. If you choose to visit Sabah, you must check out the Borneo
Pygmy Elephant, the Borneo Orangutan, Bornean Sun Bear and the Proboscis Monkey.
All these animals can be checked out at Tabin Wildlife Reserve and Danum Valley
b) Go Hiking
Mount Kinabalu is the most famous spot in Sabah for hiking. You will have to be fit for
this hike. Want a short hike with a fantastic view of the sea, for a change? Try hiking
Bohey Dulang at the Tun Sakaran Marine Park. Sosodikan Hill gives you the feeling of
New Zealand with its picturesque view!
c) Eat Local Food
Sabah is famous for its cheap-priced seafood! Kota Kinabalu, which is the state capital
of Sabah has an ample amount of restaurants serving seafood! Sinalau Bakas, which is
smoked wild boar and is a delicacy in Sabah, can be found by the roadside as you are
driving up to Kundasang. You should also try their native food such as Hinava(fish),
Tuhau(wild ginger), and Bambangan(sour jungle mango).
d) Island Hopping
Sabah is also known as the Maldives of Malaysia. And they do not simply throw that
statement around you know? Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park consists of 5 beautiful
islands in which you can choose to stay the night at any one specific island or you can
also do island hopping to cover all 5 islands. Not only that, do check out Tun Sakaran
Marine Park which covers 8 breathtaking islands.
e) Immerse In Local Culture
Now, what is a visit to Sabah if you do not get to immerse in their one-of-a-kind culture?
Visit Mari-Mari Village to check out 5 of their ethnic traditional culture. The entrance fee
is RM100($22) for an adult and RM90($20) for children.
f) Chasing Sunsets
To be honest, if you are at any part of Sabah Island, you would be able to catch a
beautiful sunset provided the weather is good. One of the famous spots for sunset is at
Waterfront Kota Kinabalu. I have been to the other famous spot which is the sunset bar
at Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa, and it is worth paying the RM25 cover
charge price because the view was out of this world!
Did you know Sabah has one of the world’s Greatest Scuba Diving spots? It is in
Barracuda, Sipadan Island. Most of the islands in Sabah have a certified PADI instructor.
So, if you have been thinking of getting that diving license for the longest time, this is
your perfect chance!
You get to choose if you would like to live lavishly or as simple as one can be. Sabah has many backpackers hostel as I have mentioned before, Sabah is a hub for divers.
Although Sabah has dense rainforest, living in it can be quite pricy. The resort’s price for an overnight stay starts from RM800($180) to as high as RM3500($790). Some of the prices are inclusive of breakfast and certain activities, but some are not. So you will have to check each hotel on its own.
When you visit islands such as Langkayan Island which is one of the most beautiful ones, there is only a resort to stay in if you are going to do an overnight stay. You can choose to book packages which include meals for 2 days and snorkelling trips and the starting price is RM3940-RM4580($890-$1034) and these are only for Malaysians. If you are a foreigner, you will have to pay tourism tax which is an additional RM10.
As for backpackers, there are hostels as cheap as RM80($18) but with basic amenities. Probably just a bunk bed and a shared bathroom. If you are single and an adventure seeker, I would recommend this as it will help you make new friends too.
Sabah is a mixed culture community which means you can get different types of food anywhere in Sabah. If you are in Kota Kinabalu, there is an ample amount of hawker stalls. Just pick one that is clean and order anything, I will bet none of the dishes is more than RM5($1) for a single person’s portion. Be it noodles, or a filling bowl of fish soup!
Check out Lido Square while you are at Kota Kinabalu which has 40 food stalls for you to choose from!
Kota Kinabalu is a seafood galore location. Depending on where you choose to eat, the dishes can range from RM25-RM85($5-$19).
Fast food like Mcdonald’s will cost you about RM14($3) a meal. I’ll skip this if I were you, though.
Alcohol like beer or a cocktail can cause you anywhere between RM15-RM50($3-$11).
Local alcohol like traditional rice wine(Lihing) will only cost you RM25($5) for a 375ml bottle! That will knock you out the same!
You can do online booking for island hopping activities which start from RM175($40). I would advise you to reach the jetty at Semporna Island or Jesselton Jetty and you would get an array of prices for any activities that you would like to do.
There are even packages for half-day trips or full-day trips
To enter the national parks, Malaysians will have to pay RM5($1)/adult and RM3($0.5)/child. For non-Malaysians, RM20($4)/adult and RM15(3)/child.
If you are backpacking Sabah, I would suggest a minimum budget of RM150($33). This would mean you stay in a hostel or dorm, eating street food(which is super yummy, btw), using public transport and skipping the alcohol.
If you are looking for a mid-range budget, you are looking at around RM350($79). You would be staying in a simple hotel where most time breakfast is covered. You could also enjoy a dine-in meal with an alcoholic drink. Not only that, you could get a taxi to move around and enjoy some activities like snorkelling.
If budget is not your biggest concern, you are looking at a budget of RM500($113). And this is just the beginning price, you can go as high as you’d want. You could stay in a luxurious resort and eat at fancy restaurants, have all the alcohol you want and do all the activities and tours you would love.
4)Money Saving Tips
We are all about helping you travel smartly, and that includes providing you with tips to prevent you from burning a hole in your pocket. Follow these tips:
- Eat local food – Don’t go eating western food or fast food when you are visiting places like Sabah. They have food that you will not be able to find anywhere else in the world and they are SUPER cheap!
- Skip the alcohol – If you can do without it, this will be your best way of saving money. But if you still need it and think about what is visiting without some booze in your system, try the local alcohol called tapai or their traditional rice wine called Lihing.
- Stay with locals – There are several homestay programmes in Sabah. Misompuru Homestay in Kudat is one of the many. The cost of living when you live with a local is not the fanciest but is cheaper and you get to learn first hand about the culture.
- Book trips as groups – For activities, booking them as groups helps reduce the cost as it can be split among you and your friends. To reach certain locations in Sabah, especially islands, you may need to rent a boat. If you are travelling solo, just ask anyone around if you can get into a group together with them to reduce the cost of renting the boat.
- Camp – Camping is allowed in many of the resorts and homestays. It is also definitely cheaper than getting a room.
- Travel during the off-season – Monsoon season is the best time to travel as it is not packed with people. Don’t forget to bring a raincoat and umbrellas though!
- Bring your bottle – Taps water in Sabah is not necessarily the safest but you can prevent buying single-use plastic bottles by getting them refilled around.
5)Where To Stay In Sabah
This is a list of places to stay while you are in Sabah. It ranges from fancy resorts to simple backpackers hostels:
- Hilton Kota Kinabalu
- Danum Valley Rainforest Lodge
- Tabin Wildlife Resort
- Koposizon Homestay
- Misompuru Homestay
- Seaventures Dive Rig(You get to sleep in an old refurbished oil rig)
- Lato-Lato Resort
- Lankayan Island Dive Resort
- Uncle Tan’s B&B
6) How To Get Around In Sabah
Public Bus – If you are in Kota Kinabalu or Sandakan, you can travel via public bus which may only cost you between RM2-RM5. Smaller towns may or may not have this option, especially on islands.
Grab-share: You can also go for this option to spend lesser on transport
Hitch-Hike: This is quite common in Sabah as there are many foreigners and the locals are used to giving them a ride.
Car-Rental: If you would like to drive around Sabah and enjoy the scenery, this would be a perfect choice! A small car like Myvi would cost you about RM80/day and a bigger car could cost you around RM120.
Walk: If you are just spending time in Kota Kinabalu, I would advise you to just walk around so because not only is it cheap but you will get to discover small hidden places in Kota Kinabalu town.
7) When To Go To Sabah
Sabah has a tropical climate. The dry weather is said to be around February – August. You would want to check if it coincides with big festivals such as Eid or school holidays as these are the times Sabah will be packed with locals and tourists.
The wet season is said to be from September – January. Island activities may be disrupted due to heavy rain so you may want to check ahead. The plus point of the wet season is lesser tourists.
8) How To Stay Safe In Sabah
- Always keep your valuables close to you. If possible, always wear pants with lots of pockets so you can keep important stuff in them and not carry a bag.
- Don’t trust a stranger to take care of your things while you have to use the toilet.
- Do not walk alone in a quiet alley.
- Do not reveal too much personal information to your taxi driver as we are afraid they may misuse it.
- Never leave your drinks unattended.
- There will be many children begging for money around, if you give one person, you may end up having to feed the entire gang of them.
- Girls, if you are travelling alone or in a group, I would advise you to dress up decently. It is not only for safety purposes but also because Sabah is a Muslim state
- Always listen to your tourist guide, if you are getting one. If they say do not swim in the river, there is a reason for it(crocodiles!)
- Do not feed the monkeys because they can get rough.
If you are worried about being scammed, read these common scams to avoid!
9) Best Places To Book Your Trip:
- Skyscanner is my go-to site when I am trying to see which airline has the cheapest flight. It even provides you with the best date to travel at the cheapest price!
- Klook is where I go to book my activities. They have affordable packages for solo travellers and group travellers too!
- HostelWorld is a good site for young, adventurous travellers. You get to make friends on the site even before you reach your destination which I think is fun!
- Booking.com is a common site to find affordable accommodations in Asia.
- Agoda is another site for you to find accommodation. They even have packages where you can book your flight and accommodation together which is cost-effective.
- Intrepid is a site for you to book activities in groups. They are trusted too since they have been functioning since 1989.
- StickyRiceTravel is a local site that curates trips around Sabah at affordable prices.
10) Gear And Packing List:
Always choose to travel light. You can check out these amazing and affordable backpacks.
This is a list of things to bring in your backpack:
- A pair of lightweight jeans(so that it is easier to dry)
- A couple of lightweight t-shirts
- A pair of shorts
- Ample amount of underwear, you can get the disposal kind too at a local store.
- Mosquito repellant!
- Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo)
- Comfortable pair of hiking shoes or you can opt to get their ‘Local Adidas’, cheap and safe!
- Universal charger/adaptor
Being a lady, sometimes it can get quite challenging to decide what to pack. So, ladies, you can check out this site for a more detailed list.