The state of Sabah in Malaysia is home to Southeast Asia’s highest mountain peak, orangutans, some of the world’s best diving spots and the oldest rainforest in the world - older than the Amazon! To explore this vast, diverse region that is home to so many activities, base yourself in Kota Kinabalu. With a large enough airport to accommodate international flights, it also has enough activities to satisfy your duration of stay here. For your convenience, here’s a simple, six-day itinerary that satisfies all your needs and can be done on any budget, from a backpacker’s to a luxurious one.
Day 1: Settling down in Kota Kinabalu
Get into Kota Kinabalu. Situated in Northern Borneo, above the Indonesian and Bruneian region, Kota Kinabalu (abbreviated as KK locally) is a port on the South China sea. The main form of access is by plane unless you’re already in the state of Sabah, then most taxis and buses go straight to this hub. After you’ve settled down in the accommodation of your choosing, go to any of the numerous restaurants or the seafood market by the ocean to nibble on some of the best seafood you will ever eat. Accommodation can range from 5 USD a night at hostel dorms to 100 USD for a private hotel room. Whether you’ve had it for lunch or dinner, the taste of the food here will linger on until your next meal, when you’ll want to indulge yourself again.
Either through the place you’re staying or our recommended choice, Scuba Junkie, you can attempt to book the rest of your stay in KK. Scuba Junkie is a tour operator that specialises in dives around KK. Whether you’re an amateur or a certified diver, Scuba Junkie allows you the opportunity to see fish, sharks and stingrays up close and personal. They can also help you book trips to Mount Kinabalu, white water rafting trips and a variety of activities at prices that you will find both reasonable and some of the cheapest offered in KK.
Day 2: Relax and have a drink on a scenic island
There are five islands located just outside KK where boats travel to for a low rate of 40 MYR (9 USD) for a return trip. Get a ticket from any of the tour agents on the jetty - their offices are located just inside the terminal. Ensure that you go early in the morning (before 10.00am) to reserve a spot and have enough time on the island before having to come back - the last boat usually leaves the island around 4.00pm. Snorkel, swim, drink, eat and generally relax on one of the most scenic spots you’ll come across in all of Sabah.
Day 3: Dive into the wondrous crystal-clear waters
If you like swimming, if you like fish, if you like surrounding yourself with creatures of the deep, go diving in the South China Sea. Booking it through Scuba Junkie will guarantee you a safe and affordable dive, usually around 200 USD for a three-dive course - if you have your licence already. If not, there are several introductory courses on offer. You definitely won’t regret diving in these waters. The boat picks you up early in the morning with a couple of dives before lunch, they provide lunch for you before you go for another dive afterwards.
Day 4: Embark on your Mount Kinabalu expedition
After diving, you’ll usually go home before dinner and as the activity tires everyone out, you’ll be in bed very early. That will get you well rested if you’re to climb Mount Kinabalu the next day. A two-day, one-night climb on Mount Kinabalu is an arduous task that requires a lot of physical and mental toughness which both the young and old can do. With trails laid out for you, one can take their time climbing the steep ascent of the mountain. Ensure you’ve booked accommodation at Laban Rata Guesthouse - done through the national park or tour group - as spots fill up sometimes months in advance if it’s during high season - December to February. At 3500m, the altitude is high for an accommodation but the breathtaking views are worth it. A five km climb up the mountain to the guesthouse takes place on the first day before a delicious buffet awaits to be eaten.
Day 5: Enjoy a breathtaking view at the peak
At 4096m, this mountain is Malaysia’s highest peak and is otherworldly when you get to the top. With tour guides aiding your climb along with a rescue team, know that you’re in safe hands as you scale the steep mountain rock-face in the middle of the night in an attempt to get to the peak by sunrise. A beautiful view awaits you before you descend to the guesthouse again for breakfast. A quick descent - it shouldn’t take more than three hours - down to the bottom ends your fifth day in Sabah and your second day conquering a mountain.
Day 6: Rest and relax in KK
After conquering a mountain, there’s nothing to do except rest, relax and enjoy yourself. Treat yourself to one of the numerous massage places around town and get a full body massage for the cheap price of 55 MYR (approximately 13 USD). If you’re staying in Sabah longer to go explore the jungles or see orangutans, now is the time to explore those options. Sabah has an endless list of activities for you to do, so ensure you have the time and budget for these activities.
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