On the northern coast of Malaysian Borneo, neighbors Sabah and Sarawak offer national park beauty, offshore diving, rare orangutans and a rich ethnic heritage. Sarawak is the more laid-back destination for a classic off-road Borneo experience, while in Sabah the focus is on outdoor activities and mother nature.
Day 1: City Experiences
Sabah’s capital is Kota Kinabalu, or KK, a sprawling city on the coast. Take a tour of the highlights, or make your way to Signal Hill for a bird’s-eye picture of the city. Get an overview of history at the Heritage Village and Sabah Museum, and meet birds on the boardwalk at the city’s wildlife sanctuary. Over in Sarawak, the relaxed river city of Kuching has intact colonial buildings and some good museums devoted to history, Islam and Chinese culture. Join a heritage tour for an overview, and drop into the Cat Museum to discover why the city was named after a feline.
Day 2: Malaysian Fare
As in Peninsular Malaysia, the food of Sabah and Sarawak is as varied as the region’s rich multicultural mix, reflecting Arab and Indian influences and featuring local seafood. Sabah’s specialty is fish marinated in lime juice, thickened with sago palm starch. In Sarawak, there’s a penchant for bush meat like boar and deer from the jungle, accompanied by fern shoots. The best place to experience the variety and aromas of Malaysian Borneo cuisine is to visit a night market in KK or Kuching.
Day 3: Wildlife Encounters
The jungles of Sarawak and Sabah hide some of the world’s oldest rainforest, promising plenty of opportunities to meet the local wildlife. Bako National Park is only two hours north of Kuching, with proboscis monkeys in beach habitats. One of the most popular destinations in Sarawak for encountering orangutans is the Semenggok rehabilitation center just outside Kuching. In Sabah, the Sepilok sanctuary cares for orphaned orangutans so they can be rehabilitated and returned to the wild.