Sabah —the Land below the Wind, is to the naked eye an exotic collage of dense forests, soaring mountains, rushing rivers, hidden caves and coral reefs. But it’s more than ancient paradise — Sabah is an intoxicating mosaic of culture and incredible history. Located at the northern tip of the island of Borneo, the Malaysian state is home to over 30 ethnic and indigenous tribes once renowned for their dazzling fierceness (and headhunting practices), and now for their role as caretakers of the bountiful nature that thrives in this pocket corner of Southeast Asia.
Sandakan Spirit will take you on a journey of-a-lifetime into the heart of Sabah where you will view some of the world’s most exotic wildlife and flora, and enjoy a vast array of adrenalin-fuelled adventures such as mountain climbs, jungle trekking, wildlife safaris, cave exploring, white water rafting, fishing, windsurfing, waterskiing and diving — especially off the outer islands of Pulau Sipadan and Pulau Lankayan, which are rated amongst the world’s top five diving locations.
At the forefront of your adventure is a rare opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the Australian and British POWs along the infamous, ‘death march’ trail between Sandakan —the second largest city in Sabah to the coastal port of Ranau — which nestles beneath the towering shadows of Gunung Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo’s highest peak which rises above the clouds at 4095 metres.
Before joining the Federation of Malaysia in 1963 after a brief spell of British colonial governance, Sabah was ruled for centuries by the Sultan of Brunei. During the World War II, Sandakan which served as the British administrative capital and Kota Kinabalu, now the state capital, were destroyed by Allied bombing during the Japanese Imperial Army’s occupation from 1942-45.
Along Gunung Kinabalu’s summit trail are lush, dense rainforests of rhododendron, birch and pine, where a fusion of colour and iridescent scent adds to the poignant memory of the POWs, who toiled through impenetrable jungle tracks and swamplands.
Beneath the towering mountain lies Kinabalu National Park, now a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to a vast array of tropical birds, butterflies, insects, reptiles and over 4,500 species of plants including wild slipper orchids, pitcher plants and rafflesia — the world’s largest flower.
Complementing nature’s bounty is the rich diversity of mammals including pygmy elephants, wild pig and an assortment of exotic monkeys including the Proboscis monkey, named for their long, drooping noses and Borneo’s world-acclaimed Orangutans. At the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, which intersects 43 square kilometres of lowland rainforests, you can view the Orangutans in rehabilitation along several walking trails and glimpse the primate action from behind-the-scenes at the Nature Education Centre and feeding stations.
Other popular activities are found where nature is bountiful. Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, which traces the river —a perfect spot to trek for wildlife in their natural habitat, Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, where you can dive amongst the coral reefs brimming with colourful marine life or watch migrating hawksbill turtles lay their eggs on the white, sandy beaches at Turtle Island National Park.
You can also explore the thick, mossy rainforests and waterfalls of Tawau Hills State Park, which surrounds Gunung Magdalena and Bombalai Hill, one of Sabah’s numerous distinct volcanoes, as well as Gomantong Caves — a limestone cavern that is home to swiftlets and bats. The wetlands of Klias, which is accessed by boat, is another natural habitat for the timid, Proboscis monkey.
Often found perched high in the riverside trees are a wide range of birds and butterflies in the thickets. For naturalists, the Tambunan Rafflesia Forest Reserve near the cool, moist forested Crocker Mountain Range is where you can find the exotic Raffesia flower, characterised by its sheer size and massive orange petals with white dots — a rare bloom that only lasts a few days.
A short distance away by boat will take you to Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, which spans across five, magnetic islands — Pulau Gaya, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Mamutik and Pulau Sulug. Here, the white sandy beaches and abundance of marine life creates an idyllic setting for deep water fishing or snorkelling.
Rushing past the small villages of Beaufort and Tenom are the Grade II and Grade III white-water rapids of the challenging, Padas Rver, which slices past boulders and lowland rainforest — one of the most lush surroundings in the world for rafting. And at the traditional fishing village in Sempora overlooking the Celebes Sea, you can view the stilt houses perched at the water’s edge. Home to Malaysia’s seafaring people, you can watch the islanders cast their nets from traditional carved lipa lipa (boats) amid the ancient coral reefs and diverse marine life.
Further afield is the tranquil Pulau Labuan, located off Sabah’s southwest coast. Once a Japanese stronghold during the WW2 occupation, it was on this tropical island where their Imperial forces surrendered and the Sandakan war crime tribunal took place.
In Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s capital, you can witness early morning prayer time at the Sabah State Mosque, a striking example of contemporary Islamic design that features an ornate, golden dome — visible at nearly every vantage point across the small city. While in town, you can barter with local vendors at the bustling tamus (markets) including the Filopino Market, a hot spot for buying a variety of basket weaves, shells, traditional medicines, local souvenirs and cultured pearls. And adding flavour to the Sabah experience is a visit to Central Market, where local produce and the catch of the day are the bill-of-fare.
Your Sandakan Spirit journey promises to be a trip a trip of a lifetime — one that people only dream about.
WHY DON’T YOU ?
Consider an extended stay in Singapore or Malaysia? Sandakan Spirit will be delighted to assist you with your travel arrangements.