In our newest “Armchair Travel” itinerary, we explore Sabah’s incredible nature, food and culture – all from home
The Malaysian state of Sabah is a nature lover’s dream – here you’ll find lush rainforests, rugged mountains, pristine islands, numerous beaches and some of the dreamiest stargazing spots in northern Borneo. It’s a perfect destination for adventure seekers, too, with mountains to climb, jungles with rare wildlife to trek through and hours of underwater exploration to be had.
The city of Kota Kinabalu is the gateway to it all – as well as a destination in its own right, with its cultural diversity and delicious food. A trip to Sabah’s capital may or may not be possible right now; but you can enjoy a teaser of all it has to offer and start planning your itinerary for when you do get to visit Kota Kinabalu.
8am: Climb Mount Kinabalu
What’s a trip to Kota Kinabalu – even a virtual one – without embarking on at least one adventure? The city is named after its most famous attraction and every year, thousands climb Mount Kinabalu. As the tallest mountain in the Malay Archipelago, it promises otherworldly views of the region – reaching Low’s Peak at sunrise is worth the early start.
Start preparing yourself for the climb now by watching this four-minute video from Amazing Borneo Tours – it shows you what to expect on your way to the summit. Besides making your workouts all about getting into mountain-climbing form, you can plan ahead by booking a climbing package with Amazing Borneo or another accredited tour company. You can’t ascend Mount Kinabalu without a guide, and slots for 2021 and the later months of 2020 are now available.
More good news: several of Sabah’s parks and natural attractions have already reopened, including world-renowned diving site Sipadan Island, so you can prepare for a trip here soon.
9am: Have roti cobra for breakfast
This regional take on roti canai is an iconic Kota Kinabalu meal. While it’s great any time of day, roti cobra makes for an especially hearty breakfast after “climbing” Mount Kinabalu. For the uninitiated, roti cobra is roti canai topped with curry – usually chicken – and a fried egg, served with steamed veggies. Haven’t mastered your roti canai game? Check out this Instagram tutorial from chef and TV presenter Anis Nabilah, who’s been sharing recipes with her followers – including the lockdown hit Dalgona coffee.
11am: Shop for locally crafted jewellery
Sabah is home to more than 30 ethnic groups, so any trip to Kota Kinabalu should involve learning about the rich artistic traditions that are celebrated there. Mari Mari Cultural Village, a half-hour drive east of the city, is where visitors can experience these traditions up close. While travel restrictions are in effect, you can try your hand at some traditional crafts at home.
Pinakol beaded jewellery, a hallmark of the Rungus people, is easily one of Sabah’s most recognisable indigenous handicrafts. Those already familiar with the art of beaded jewellery can explore this website detailing traditional Rungus beadwork motifs and techniques. Learning the intricate process is bound to make you appreciate the time and skill that goes into each piece. If you’re not the type to get crafty, don’t worry! You can order Sabahan handicrafts and more from Kadaiku, a Kota Kinabalu-based retailer dedicated to promoting the state’s ethnic heritage.
1pm: Make a bowl of Sarawak-style laksa for lunch
Kedai Kopi Yee Fung is easily one of the most-beloved eateries in Kota Kinabalu, and its speciality is a variation of laksa that originated in the neighbouring state of Sarawak. Sarawak-style laksa uses both coconut milk and tamarind pulp to achieve a rich, complex and wonderfully fragrant broth. It comes with rice vermicelli and shrimp, shredded chicken and omelette strips as toppings. Short of ordering a bowl from Yee Fung, the best way to enjoy this dish at home is to make it yourself – let this video shows you the ropes.
3pm: Visit an animal sanctuary
Orangutans and other rare and endangered species call Borneo home. Several conservation groups have set up wildlife sanctuaries in Sabah, many of which make for great day trip destinations out of Kota Kinabalu. At home, you can learn about these majestic animals and the conservation efforts surrounding them by checking out this series of online talks by the Borneo Nature Foundation.
The videos explore what it’s like to be a researcher in Borneo, and they are informative and accessible – if you have little ones with you, consider watching with them. Hungry for more? Wildlife sanctuaries in Sabah may not have animal livestreams set up at the moment, but the San Diego Zoo lets you see what its orangutans are up to in their enclosures during the day. Brew a cup of Sabah tea to enjoy while you watch.
5.30pm: Crank up your favourite beachside tunes
Kota Kinabalu is a seaside city and several islands with tranquil beaches are just a short ferry ride away. Whether your favourite place to relax at home is in your garden, on your balcony or on your living room couch, you can recreate the calm vibes of a lazy afternoon spent on the beach by plugging into this ambient sound playlist. It’s a soothing soundtrack for watching the sun set, too.
7.30pm Order dinner in and go stargazing
What’s a holiday without a little pampering? Skip the dinner prep and order a delivery of your favourite comfort food. Then, when you’ve plated everything (or collected your takeout boxes), fire up your computer again and settle in for a night of stargazing.
According to the Sabah Tourism Board, the region is a burgeoning astrotourism destination. It’s no wonder, with Kota Kinabalu’s proximity to several prime spots with little light pollution. Online planetarium Stellarium – available as both a website and a mobile app – can help you nurture your inner stargazer at home. Once you’ve got a grasp of constellations and deep sky objects, head on over to the Sabah Stargazers community page to learn even more.
Read more: Where to stargaze in New Zealand
Watch this space for our next virtual day trip series!