When it comes to the lush countryside, there is nothing like renting a car and driving across the open road to parts unknown. We drove around the northern side of Sabah for a cultural and beach adventure across the beautiful state they call ‘The Land Below The Wind’.
Sabah is more than just its national parks and the lovely town of Kota Kinabalu, it is a cultural state with unknown parts just waiting to be explored. From KK International Airport, we decided to rent a car and head north to see what surprises lie ahead.
The town of Kudat is a fishing village located 190 kilometers north of KK which is home to the Rungus tribe of Sabah. It used to be a settlement for the British North Borneo Chartered Company but now is a quaint town by the sea for those seeking to experience fresh seafood and the charms of provincial Sabah life.
Meeting the Rungus People
In the Kudat district, there are several kampungs with traditional longhouses that offer accommodation to travellers seeking to stay in these traditionally-made abodes. Kampung Bavanggazo offers two lodging options which are Maranjak Lodge or the Bavanggazo Longhouse located just past the town of Sikuati.
We experienced the culture and food of the Rungus people during our stay in the longhouse. The young ones performed their traditional dance called magigol sumundai with graceful hands and perfect synchronization wearing colourful beaded attire synonymous with their tribe. The family cooked authentic dishes from wild jungle vegetables like fern and banana blossom with a humble breakfast of battered fried tapioca and bananas.
Nearby the kampung, we visited Kampung Gombizau where the people harvest honey. For a fee of RM5, get up close and scarily personal with the bees as the tour guide opens one of the many ‘honey bee hotels’ to show a frame filled with bees and honeycomb. Don’t worry, they use smoke from burning coconut husk to temporarily disorient the bees. A tip is to stand relatively still and avoid swatting.
Kampung Sumangkap on the other hand, is a kampung where its villagers pass down the art of making gongs. It is hard and tiring trade to learn as these gong masters physically mold these gongs using mallets to the desired shapes and most importantly sound. We even bought a miniature one as a souvenir for RM10.
Journey to the Tip of Borneo
Back on the road, we took a turn to Tanjung Simpang Mengayau or Tip of Borneo where the name explains it all, as it is at the edge of Borneo. Once we arrived, we were greeted with a long stretch of beach with white sand and some pretty vigorous waves. Their waves are not Hawaii level but high enough for a light surf. Surfboards for rent are available and even surfing lessons if you have never surfed the waters.
Eateries are pretty limited here where the ones we found include the Merrimas Restaurant in Merrimas Villa and Tip Top Restaurant. Accommodation wise, the ones you can find online are Merrimas Villa, Tommy’s Place and Tampat Do Aman. But there are smaller chalets like Borneo Tip Beach Lodge and Simpang Mengayau Chalet.
The Tip of Borneo is a gorgeous place at the apex of Borneo where waves crash on the rocks below. Try catching the sunset and be amazed by the array of colours painting the sky as the sun drowns into the horizon.
The Town of Kudat
This sleepy town by the sea is pretty small but the seafood sold at Esplanade Sidek is a must-try and the price is a fraction of what is sold in KK. We dined at the humble Kasilasa Floating Restaurant where the seafood price is based on weight.
Choose between the variety of ways of cooking like sweet or sour, battered fried and our favourite butter sauce. The beautiful part of the town is that mosques, temples and churches located close to each other signifying a sort of unified township despite the practicing of different religions.
- If you are driving up to Kudat yourself, make sure to have enough petrol as the last town to have a major petrol station is Kota Belud. The next stop to pump gas is at the last town of Kudat which is roughly 130km away.
- Stop by the many stalls on the side of the highway just before entering Kota Merudu where they sell fire roasted sweet corn on the cob and fruits like bananas and rambutans.
- The Kota Belud township is home to sprawling paddy fields and mountains ranges in the distance so do not doze off and miss the chance to view the mountainous countryside of Sabah.
- Note that longhouse accommodations are pretty basic with no fan, a simple mattress and mosquito net over it to deflect from those pesky buzzers.