48 Hours: Sabah’s Beaches and Mountains

The eastern Malaysian state of Sabah and its capital of Kota Kinabalu is an eco-wonderland home to more than 1,500 species of orchids, the fat-nosed Proboscis monkey, huge sea turtles and the “corpse flower” Rafflesia arnoldii, which is the largest flower on earth. From diving to mountain climbing, there’s everything to do on a long weekend.

Sprawling beaches? Yeah, sure
Sprawling beaches? Yeah, sure

What to Do

One of the most accessible mountains in Asia, Mt. Kinabalu is a must-see. If you only have a weekend, opt for a guided Fast Track day hike with Amazing Borneo Tours (MYR550 (US$168) per person for 2-3 people, cheaper for larger groups; www.amazing-borneo.com), which picks you up from your hotel in the morning and takes you up to 2,740 meters above sea level—hardly the summit, but over halfway up.

View on the way up the mountain
View on the way up the mountain

Warning: you need to be in decent shape if you want to get any enjoyment out of this hike—it’s like doing a slippery stair climb machine for seven hours. But, there’s plenty of payoff: waterfalls, ferns, pitcher plants, bamboo and misty mountain views.

Rivers aflowin'
Rivers aflowin’
Love seeing these exotic pitcher plants
Love seeing these exotic pitcher plants

There is also some excellent snorkeling and diving off the coasts of the outlying islands, which are accessible from the island retreats or via public boat at Jesselton Point Ferry Pier. The pier is a landmark in itself, with some yummy ice cream stalls and cool vintage English phone booths.

See More Photos: Travel Shots – Gaya Island 

What to Eat

Mmm market eats
Mmm market eats

For a lively night out, head to the Filipino Night Market along the city waterfront. It’s a collection of hawker stalls with fried goodness and fresh fish cooked in front of your eyes. If you want to try an eatery with a little history, stop into Borneo 1945 Museum Kopitiam (24 Jalan Dewan, (+60) 272-845, www.borneo1945museumkopitiam.com), which commemorates the soldiers of World War II and serves up amazing iced coffee, chicken curry, pandan chicken and kaya toast. For a nightcap among friendly folks, swing by local institution Shamrock Irish Pub (Lot 6, Waterfront).

Boats along the waterfront
Boats along the waterfront

Where to Sleep

Loungers with our names on them!
Loungers with our names on them!

Stretching across a huge sandy coastline, the Shangri-La Rasa Ria has everything you could possibly need: half-a-dozen bars, a golf course, swimming pools, hammocks, beach bungalows and an orangutan sanctuary to boot. It also counts incredible sunsets among its bragging rights, which you can enjoy over happy hour at the beach bar or from your ocean-view terrace.

From MYR1,090 (US$333). Pantai Dalit, Tuaran, (+60) 88-79-2888, www.shangri-la.com.

One of the most sunsets of my life at Rasa Ria
One of the most heart-stopping sunsets of my life at Rasa Ria

Published by

Kate Springer

Freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong. Contributor at CNN, Forbes Travel Guide, BBC Travel, Fodor's Travel Guide, superfuture, Tatler, and more.

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