Sabah, Malaysia

Add in a multicultural population that scoops up indigenous tribes, Malays, Chinese, Filipinos and Indians, with the mouthwatering cuisine to match, and you have one of the most enigmatic places on the planet. You'll pass through state capital Kota Kinabula (aka KK), but it's the natural wilderness that's the star attraction here. Hang out with ginger-giant orangutans near Sandakan, trek up Unesco-listed Mount Kinabalu or snorkel and dive around the reef-fringed offshore islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, home to jungle-clad Gaya Island. When you've satisfied your appetite for adventure, hit the beaches.

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When to go

Sabah's hot, humid tropical climate ensures year-round sun and temperatures in the high 20s or low 30s. Monsoon season runs from around October to April, when rain will ramp up. You’ll rarely experience day-long rainfall, but it can dampen plans for outdoor adventure. Climbing the summit of Mount Kinabalu can be freezing at any time of year, so trekkers should bring warm layers and waterproofs.

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Getting there

  • Planes

    State capital Kota Kinabalu’s location as the hub of Borneo means there are regular flights from across Malaysia as well as Singapore, Hong Kong and China, Thailand, Brunei, the Philippines, Vietnam, Korea and Taiwan, as well as Australia, Europe, South Africa, the Americas and the Middle East. Kota Kinabulu International Airport is eight kilometres south-west of town, and internal flights link the capital with highlight destinations such as Sandakan.
  • Boats

    Numerous ferries and boats ply the waters between Kota Kinabalu ferry terminal and Jesselton Point Marina and the rest of Borneo and its surrounding islands. In terms of getting to Sabah though, we recommend you fly.
  • Trains

    Trains on Peninsular Malaysia are a thoroughly enjoyable and reliable mode of transport, but in peak-packed, jungle-strewn Sabah there is only one, limited railway line that connects Tenom on the west coast with Kota Kinabalu, and that’s currently being renovated. Save the romantic notion of train travel for another destination.
  • Automobiles

    Australians and Brits will find driving on the left easy in Malaysia, and roads in Sabah are in pretty good shape. There are the usual car-hire agencies operating, but it’s just as easy to hire a private driver.
  • Taxis

    There are plenty of cabs in Kota Kinabalu and most drivers speak enough English to take you from one place to another. Upon arrival at the airport, you have to pre-book and pay for a cab at the taxi stand inside the terminal. It costs around RM30 (US$9.52) from the airport to Jessleton Point Wharf, jumping-off point for Gaya Island.

DIVE IN

DIVE IN

Underwater explorers will love Gayana Eco Resort's coral-dotted, marine-reserve dive centre (the treks into the Borneo jungle won't disappoint, either). Bali's Alila Manggis is splashing distance from seven of the globe's best dive sites and is edged by sublime snorkeling waters. Sumba, an hour's flight from Bali, is a hush-hush travellers' secret, and at Nihiwatu you'll sample the island's best: incredible ocean views, breeze-cooled outdoor living and world-class surf breaks in reach. A speedboat ride from Amanzoe, a marble-hewn hilltop haven in southern Greece, is the island of Dokos, whose diver-drawing coast lays claim to the world's oldest known shipwreck. 

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