I haven't been to Sarawak (yet). Also, I don't know all that much about where to stay, only about what to do...
Suggestions of what to do in Sabah:
[I will henceforth refer to the capital Kota Kinabalu as KK]
Like anywhere, it depends what you're interested in. Don't go there for the shopping, for example. If you have specific desires, do feel free to let me know and I'll do my best to answer or ask one of my Sabahan friends for their opinion.
- With regards to eating: KK has good seafood. Definitely better and cheaper than, say, Kuala Lumpur. Also, Malaysia is multicultural, but Sabah is particularly multicultural. As such, you can readily eat Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and Filipino food, not to mention several dozen indigenous cultures. Like elsewhere in Malaysia, the Chinese food is often a fusion of traditional chinese and malay flavours. If you look around you can buy massive plates of delicious noodles for around AU$2 or so.
- Visit the Sabah State Museum in KK for a good overview of indigenous culture, history and native flora and fauna without actually having to go out of your way.
- If you have the time, are adventurous and want to get into some indigenous culture, though, consider some jungle trekking. Local tour operators would be more able to get you on track than I, as I haven't yet done this, myself.
- There's a few beaches in KK but they're mostly ruined by development even though they're easily accessible. If you catch a ferry from Port Jeselton (incidentally that's what KK was called before independence from the British), however, there's several beautiful islands a short ride away. Unfortunately, those islands are also somewhat taken over by development, though still worth a visit.
- If you visit one island, though, go to to Sipadan - it's reknowned for its awesome diving opportunities.
- Drive to the Tip of Borneo (Ranau), just to say that you've been there.
- Climb Mt Kinabalu, the highest mountain in SE Asia. I have. While you're nearby, there's Poring Hot Springs, which is enjoyable but not all that hot anymore.
- If you do drive out in the country, take a GPS with localised maps. Many roads are unmarked and you'll probab about 8 years ago
If you are into seeing Orangutans in the wild, I would definitely recommend Uncle Tan Wildlife Adventures. We got to them by flying (AirAsia) into Sandakan and making our way from there. Google then and you will find their website and more info. We did a 2 night trip to their camp which is up the Kinabatangan river and VERY rustic. If you are not into roughing it for a few days it might not be for you as there is no running water and the huts are very basic.
We managed to see 2 wild Orangutans which is very lucky, along with a bunch of other wild life, many types of monkeys, Toucans, Wild pigs, bats, tons of birds, alligators, frogs, wild cats and more. Seeing Orangutans is rare, so you are not guaranteed that you will, but if you don't, there is an Orangutan center near the base camp which you can go to before or after you jungle trip.
If was a lot of fun, we met some great people and it was definitely one of the highlights of our Asia trip. From what I remember the price was not that cheap because we were on a backpacking budget, but still definitely worth it if you are into wildlife.
From what I hear they have moved camps as well. Actually, it was during our trek that they receive the notice from the government that they had to move camp. Hopefully the new location is just as good as the one we experienced.
PS - There is not much to see or do in Sandakan. I heard Turtle Island is nice, but that was way out of our budget. about 8 years ago
I'm currently travelling around Sabah and will be going to Sarawak next. Not sure if you're planning on slumming it or going the luxury route, but nevertheless, have a high budget for activities here as I have been quite surprised by how expensive most of the activites have been. In KK we stayed at Xplorer Backpackers and have been very satisfied with it. In KK, the Sabah State Museum is worth a visit, you'll get good info about Sabah's history and it's tribes, flora and fauna. The Tungku Abdul Rahman islands are a cheap day trip and are nice if you just want to lounge by the beach. If you have time, you may want to check out Pulau Tiga where they filmed a Survivor season. We weren't able to go but have heard good things about it. From KK you can also do a white water rafting day trip.
Diving in Mabul is great, but if you want to dive Sipadan make sure you book in advance as permits run out very quickly. We dived with Scuba Junkie and they're great. Also don't stay in Semporna unless you absolutely have to. Accomodation there sucks and it's filthy. Scuba Junkie's Mabul resort is nice.
I second Sean, Uncle Tan's is fantastic but be warned that you will not be showering for the duration of the trip. We did the 3D2N trip and it was brilliant. If you have the finances you may want to check out Danum Valley or Tabin Wildlife Reserve. I imagine Danum Valley especially would be awsome but both were way out of our budget.
Mt Kinabalu is a must do, but again, book ahead (with Sutera Sanctuary Lodges) unless you're fit (or mad) enough to attempt it in one day. You won't be able to stay the night if they have no room at the rest stop.
From Miri, you can fly (or do a 10 hr boat ride but it's more expensive) to the Mulu caves. We met people who went there and they highly recommended it. We haven't been able to get plane tickets though, so will be doing the Niah caves instead. We'll be heading to Sarawak next week so I'll let you know if we hear of any other must-do's.
In short, there's tons to do in Borneo. I love it here!
Ps. it's very easy to travel to most places by bus. You don't really need to fly unless you're running very short of time. about 8 years ago
@Anusha To clarify, is it possible to do Kinabalu in one day? When I was there (early 2009), they had recently placed restrictions on people's itinerary. I was more or less forced to stay the night, have a guide all the way, etc.
Sutera creams every last ringgit off tourists, which is quite unfortunate as I believe Sabah Parks decided to give them a monopoly on lodging in its parks. Various factors combine to make a one-night climb of Kinabalu significantly more expensive an undertaking than a 10-day trek is for me here in Australia.
But it's still a must-do. about 8 years ago
Yup it is possible to do Kinabalu in a day; we met a Swedish couple at Uncle Tan's who did it, and on the way down from the mountain we met a couple of guys who were also doing the climb to the summit and back that very day. You do have to get a guide though (we thought that was stupid as well as the trail is very obvious, and there are plenty of people and porters going up and down who you can consult if you do lose your way. I don't see how that could happen though.) You can always team up with other people if you want to and split the cost of the guide; the guys at the counter can help with that.
Yes, Sutera does have monopoly over the mountain so any accomodation within the park is uber expensive, and you end up having no bargaining power regarding the cost of the accomodation at Laban Rata. We ended up having to pay RM 380 per person for a non-heated 4 person dorm and once you factor in the cost of the park fees (100 RM per person), guide (85 RM) and insurance of 7 RM, it all quickly adds up to being one of the most expensive activities in Borneo. And in the end, you feel like death! However, they do feed you very well in Laban Rata, so that's a small consolation. about 8 years ago
Hi, we travelled through Sarawak 20 years ago: top tip if you are up for a bit of adventure - take a short Domestic flight up to a small village deep in the highlands called Long Lelang. The airstrip was chopped out of the side of a mountain and is quite an extraordinary feat in itself. Then start walking. With a bit of luck the local Penan will escort and look after you and let you stay in their villages enroute. It is possible, and makes for an extraordinary experience ... But be prepared for leech stops every 30 minutes, elephant leeches, wild boar and other, um, adventures. Not sure if I could do it again today, but great if you are young and up for it!
Simon about 8 years ago