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Sabah
Sabah

Often called the 'Land below the Wind' because it lies below the typhoon belt, Sabah occupies the eastern part of North Borneo and is East Malaysia's second largest state with an area of 74,500 sq.km. Sabah has the South China Sea on the west and the Sulu and Celebes Seas on the east.

Mountainous and largely carpeted by lush tropical rainforests, its population of nearly two million is made up of 32 colourful ethnic communities.

Kota Kinabalu, the capital, lies in a fertile lowland plain where most commercial and administrative activities are concentrated. But the 'real' Sabah can best be found in its countryside.

Kinabalu Park has been listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site, due to the diversity of plant life and wildlife there. It provides a challenging climb amidst a lush virgin rainforest, where you can find hidden hot springs in cool high altitudes.

Sipadan Island off the south eastern coast of Sabah has been one of the top five dive sites in the world for years. This is attributed to unique underwater geography that encourages proliferation of wildlife. Leatherback turtles, barracudas and white tipped sharks are a common sight while diving in Sipadan.

Sabah is one of the most culturally diverse states in Malaysia. Its population of about 2.5 million is a mix of native groups (who are usually divided into Muslim and non-Muslim groups), Chinese, and other smaller ethnic groups such as Indians and Eurasians. The main native groups are the Kadazan, Dusun, Murut, Bajau, Suluk, Bisaya and Orang Sungai. Most of the Chinese, who migrated to the state during the British era, belong to the Hakka dialect group although there are also large numbers of Cantonese especially in Sandakan.

Tourism, particularly eco-tourism, is a major contributor to the economy of Sabah. In 2006, 2 million tourists visited Sabah and it is estimated that the number will continue to rise following rigorous promotional activities by the state and national tourism boards and also better stability and security in the region. Sabah currently has 6 national parks. One of it, the Kinabalu National Park, was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2000.

Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is a park off the coast of the island of Borneo in Malaysia made up of five islands: 5 islands; Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Sulug and Mamutik. Travel to the TAR Marine Park is easy as hourly speedboat rides can be caught at the Point Jesselton Ferry Terminal in the northern end of Kota Kinabalu. Boat rides take a short 10 to 25 minutes. They cost between RM15 and RM40 depending on island.

It is best to try and go to these islands during the week as the islands are a popular destination for locals and it can get busy during the weekend. The further the island is that you visit the less amenities on the island and also the more secluded. An alternative that avoids the hassle and expense of staying on the islands is to stay in Kota Kinabalu and head over to the islands on day trips.

Kota Kinabalu - formerly known as Jesselton, is the capital of Sabah. Located on the northwest coast of the island of Borneo facing the South China Sea and Tunku Abdul Rahman Park on one side, and with Mount Kinabalu in the background, Kota Kinabalu sprawls for kilometres along the coast and towards inland. Kota Kinabalu is named after Mount Kinabalu, situated about 90 kilometres east-northeast of the city. The meaning and origin of the name Kinabalu is uncertain. One theory suggests it means "Chinese widow", where Kina meaning "Chinese" (person) in Kadazandusun language, and balu meaning "widow" in Malay language. This theory derives from a folk tale about a Chinese prince who came to the mountain in search of a giant pearl which was guarded by a dragon at the top of the mountain. While he was here, he married a local woman but later returned to China and left the woman heartbroken. Alternatively, it is also argued that Kinabalu or Akinabalu is the name of the dragon which guards the giant pearl itself. Another theory suggests that the term is derived from the name Aki Nabalu meaning the "revered place of the dead", in which, Aki means "ancestors" or "grandfather", and Nabalu being a name for the mountain in the Dusun language. Finally there is also a source claiming that the term originated from Ki Nabalu, where Ki meaning "have" or "exist", and Nabalu meaning "spirit of the dead". Kinabalu National Park is located about 90 kilometres from the city, and besides this, it also features a number of tourist attractions in and around the city itself. The city is also one of the major industrial and commercial centres in East Malaysia besides Kuching in Sarawak. These two factors combine to make Kota Kinabalu one of the fastest growing cities in the country.

Kundasang - Kundasang is a village in Sabah, Borneo that lies along the bank of Kundasang Valley. It is located about 6 kilometres away from Kinabalu National Park and is renowned for its vegetable market which is open seven days a week. It is the closest village to Mount Kinabalu and has a panoramic view of the Mountain. It is populated mainly by the native Dusun and a very small population of Chinese people. Almost 100% shops are operated by locals. Be sure to have thick clothing at hand should you plan to visit here as the weather can be pretty cold during rainy seasons!

Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park - The Tunku Abdul Rahman park comprises a group of five islands located only 20 minutes away from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah's capital. The park is spread over 4,929 hectares, two thirds of which is sea. The five idyllic islands, Manukan, Mamutik, Sulug, Gaya and Sapi have soft white beaches and are teeming with fish and coral, perfect for beginner divers as well as snorkelers and picnickers. Gaya and Sapi Islands also have hiking trails through their pristine jungles. These islands are home to a variety of flora and fauna, including one of the most intriguing birds, the Megapode or Burung Tambun, a chicken lookalike with large feet and makes a meowing sound like a cat.

Food for Thought

The peoples of Sabah are blessed with an abundance of seafood, their rivers providing freshwater fish and prawn, with deer, wild board and other game, plus innumerable wild plants, herbs and luscious fruits there for the taking in the forest. The traditional foods of Sabah’s more than thirty ethnic groups vary, and depend on available resources. Naturally, the diet of coastal peoples was- and still is- dominated by all types of seafood, while those living far inland relied on freshwater fish and wild game. Although both hill rice and paddy (rice planted in irrigated fields) have been grown in Sabah for generations, this is not always the staple food, and in the far north, corn and cassava (tapioca) are often eaten.

In many swampy areas, the wild sago palm flourishes. Just how long ago man discovered that it was possible to extract starch from the grated interior of the sago tree is unknown, but the pre- western name for all of Borneo, Kalimantan, comes from the word ‘lamanta’, meaning sago starch. The Bisaya people of the klias Peninsula, near Brunei, still make a gluey ‘porridge’ with sago starch, ‘ambuyat’, using a pair of chopsticks cut from the rib of the palm to twirl it up into a sticky mass for dunking in a tasty sauce.

Most famous of these is the Kadazan Dusun hinava tongii or pickled Spanish mackerel (ikan tenggiri). This is an absolutely delicious combination of spanking fresh fish, red chillies, shredded ginger and sliced shallots, the whole lot drenched with lime juice which 'cooks’ the fish. The secret ingredient of this dish is the grated seed of a variety of mango found only in Sabah, The bambangan.

For meals, head to the outdoor food stalls fronting the sea or coffee shops along the streets. The less adventurous could make a beeline for fast food outlets in the Centrepoint shopping centre while those with deeper pockets could try the pier-side restaurants just after the open air fish market. Seafood in Kota Kinabalu is very popular and at some places, very cheap, so getting a dose of it is a must. Among the popular eateries in KK are:-

Hyatt Hotel Restaurant - The restaurant is located in the prestigious Hyatt Hotel near to the lobby. The restaurant serves basic local mamak dishes with a bit more spark than local presentation and on certain days, a wonderful buffet is served with foods ranging from Italian to local delights which attract many of the hungry Sabahans. The specialty of this restaurant however rests with the mighty Ox-tail Assam Pedas in which Ox-tail chunks are cooked in a secret gravy recipe and has remained a local favourite for the past decade, hands down. The Hyatt restaurant caters for the slightly higher-up market, with a price range of about RM25+.

Jeff De Corner - If you want to have Quality West Dishes with low cost here is the place. Situated in Luyang, approximately 15 minutes from the city, Jeff De Corner provides vast range of dishes including Lamb & Beef Steak, Oxtail soup, lamb shank and BBQ Lamb (only Weekends).

New Gaya Seafood Restaurant, One of the most visited seafood restaurant by locals. Price are fixed and 20% - 30% cheaper than city's seafood restaurants. Captains are helpful. Visitors must try their deep fried crabs with egg yolk & butter prawn. It’s located next to Gaya Sports Recreation Centre, highly recommended for visitors who have spare time.

Ocean Seafood Restaurant - Right next to the Promenade Hotel and Parkson Grand (shopping mall). The restaurant faces the coastline. You can take a pick on your seafood orders by the fish tanks, or if you prefer, you can let the waiters recommend at your table. It’s your choice on how you would like the seafood prepared.

Pete's Corner - Located in Asia City in the heart of Kota Kinabalu, Pete's Corner is the one and only Western breakfast place which specialises in "Cheap but good" Western style dishes. The shop mainly caters for steaks and other western dishes at reasonable prices (RM10-18).

Portview Seafood Restaurant- There are 2 branches of this in Kota Kinabalu. One of them is right opposite Centrepoint Shopping Centre, called The Waterfront. This one is quite new, a very popular place for tourists and orders can be taken either way similar to Ocean Restaurant. This restaurant is nestled amongst other popular nightlife hangouts, mostly bars and clubs, but also cafes like Coffee Bean. The other older one is nicely set in front of a pier, within walking distance to banks such as HSBC and Standard Chartered, and some supermarkets stocking imported goods. Salim - Situated in Lintas Square, approximately 20 minutes drive from the city, Salim has proved to be a highly popular supper spot for many local Sabahans both young and old. Specialising in many local mamak (Indian Muslim) foods and delicacies, the most popular meals would be the Malaysian roti styled bread which is cooked over an open flat iron skillet which is bathed in oil. The meal along with a nice cup of Teh Tarik Madras would range at around RM 5-8.

Salut Seafood Restaurant- It takes about 20 minutes car journey from the city centre to Salut where the restaurant is located near the Sepanggar Bay and Telipok. It is a famous place for cheaper seafood dishes as the prawns are bred by the restaurant owner himself. Talk about being fresh!

Viet Cafe - Located opposite Hyatt hotel, main street "Haji Saman Road" - very nice Vietnamese dish, inexpensive, worth to try. @mosphere, Menara Tun Mustapha. Revolving restaurant in Borneo's tallest building serving predictably generic "Pacific Rim" cuisine. Open throughout the day and for drinks at night. Anjappar, Asia City Complex (facing Api Api centre, diagonally across the street from CentrePoint) specialises in Chettinad (North and South Indian) cuisine. Serves authentic Indian food such as banana leaf meals, biriyani, naan & roti, tandoori dishes, and dosai. Prices range from RM3.50 to RM10.00. Anjappar is an Indian franchise with branches in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sri Lanka and Canada.

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