Sabah is located on the world’s largest island of Borneo, and with a total area of some 76 000 square km., it is the second largest state in Malaysia and with Sarawak, comprises what is known as East Malaysia.
Located at the north of the island of Borneo, Sabah was known in ancient times as the “Land Below The Wind” because it lies below the typhoon belt. Sabah’s terrain is rugged, with Mt. Kinabalu, at 4,100 metres, dominating the surrounding landscape. Its coastline is washed by the waters of the South China Sea on the West, and the Sulu Sea and Celebes Sea on the East. It has a wide diversity of flora and fauna, as well as one of the world’s largest rainforests. Sabah’s indigenous tribes comprise 31 different groups, including the Kadazans, Muruts, Bajaus, Kedayans, Sulu, Bisaya, Rumanau, Minokok, and Rungus, speaking over 80 different dialects.
Mt. Kinabalu as seen from Kota Kinabalu
Sabah was taken over by the British North Borneo Company in 1881, and became a protectorate of the British Empire with internal affairs still administered by the company in 1888. North Borneo was controlled by the Japanese from 1941 to 1946. After the war, the Company’s rule ended and it became the colony of North Borneo. On 31 August, 1963, it was granted self-government power before it formed the Malaysian federation on 16 September, 1963 along with Malaya, Singapore and Sarawak. Since 1963, the state has been known as Sabah.
Interestingly, the Eastern part of Sabah has been for a long time claimed by the Philippines to form part of that country – even during the reign of Ferdinand Marcos, Philippino maps showed Sabah as being part of Philippine territory. The claim apparently originated by a grant from the Sultan of Brunei to the Sultan of Sulu at the beginning of the 18th Century.
International access to Malaysia’a eastern gateway is Sabah’s state capital, Kota Kinabalu, formerly known as Jesselton, which receives flights from Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Kuching, Singapore, Hong Kong, Manila, Brunei, Jakarta, Seoul, and Taipei. The city itself is relatively new, as the original town was destroyed during world War II. Domestic travel in this vast state is via daily flights between Labuan, Sandakan, Lahad Datu, and Tawau, though large areas are still inaccessible. A railway line stretches from Kota Kinabalu to Tenom, and buses, taxis, and boats are also available.
A train ready to depart to Tenom
The main attractions in Sabah could be said to centre around nature and the diversity of wildlife and vegetation. It has outstanding national parks, which include Kinabalu National Park, the Crocker Range Park, and the Sepilok Orang-utan Sanctuary. Others come to enjoy the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park and the diver’s paradise of Pulau Sipadan. However, Sabah possesses a number of other attractions as well, all of which are worth exploring.
Over the whole island of Borneo, Proboscis Monkeys can be found in localised areas – one of the best places to see them is in Sabah in the Sukau region on the Kinabatangan River.
Sukau has become known for its diverse offering of wildlife – including the highest concentration of proboscis monkeys and orang-utans in Malaysia. Other wildlife found in the area includes silvered langur, maroon langur and Hose’s or grey langur, long-tailed macaque, pig-tailed macaque, Bornean gibbon, two nocturnal primates – the western tarsier and slow loris and other mammals, including Asian elephant and Sumatran rhinoceros, reptiles such as pythons and crocodiles, and over 200 species of birds.
Sukau is generally a highlight of any trip to Sabah. There are trips on the river each afternoon to see the proboscis monkeys preparing for the night, and sightings of the elephants in the area, not far from the lodge, are quite common.
Elephants crossing the boardwalk at Sukau
Sabah also has other places of interest – the Mt Kinabalu summit trek being very popular. Mt Kinabalu at 4100 metres, is the highest mountain in South East Asia (excluding New Guinea) and is ranked as the 20th highest mountain in the world. The trek from the Park Headquarters to the summit and back takes two days, although the summit can be reached in a day if you train for it – the Mt Kinabalu Marathon is held there every year. The athletes get to the top, and back, in under three hours! Once you have done the trek, you can only be amazed at the type of person who could, or would, want to run to the top. The trek arrives at the summit for sunrise, where, on a clear day you can see to the Philippines in the North.
The trail winds up Mt. Kinabalu
The trek up the mountain winds its way through five altitude and temperature related zones, beginning with the Lowland Forest (ie tropical vegetation), then the Lower Montane up to about 2300 metres (ie oaks and conifers etc.), followed by the Upper Montane through to 2800 metres, then Sub-alpine through to 3200 metres where the famous pitcher plants grow prolifically, and lastly the Alpine zone above the tree line through to the summit, where only small herbs and stunted shrubs can be found. The temperature at the summit can be in the vicinity of freezing at various times of the year.