Best Local Experiences in Sabah, Borneo

To experience Sabah as the locals do requires expert insight. Our Sabah specialist has put together a list of places where you can get off-the-beaten-path and discover the hidden gems of this region of Borneo. From great diving spots and sunset viewpoints to bustling markets and local cuisine, this list is your ultimate guide to the experiences that Sabah locals love best.

#1 Spectacular Sunsets

Kota Kinabalu is rated as one of the best places to see sunsets.

Kota Kinabalu is well-known for its stunning sunsets and the best way to experience one is by coastal cruise. Enjoy sweeping views of the city and offshore islands as you glide across the water at the magic hour. Light refreshments and cold beers are available on board. If you prefer your sunsets seen from terra firma, visit the small mountain of Bukit Botak, located in nearby Sepanggar. The viewpoint offers an impressive panoramic view of mountains and ocean, with artfully decorated orange skies above. 

#2 Local Markets

A feast for your senses at Tamu market in Donggongon.

The best way to experience local life in Kota Kinabalu is to spend some time in its colorful, bustling markets. Savor the daily catches at the fish market, sample tropical fruit in season at the fruit market and marvel at pungent smelling seafood at the dried seafood market. Stop and have a drink of fresh coconut juice before returning to your hotel by noon. If you happen to be in Kota Kinabalu on a Sunday, head down to Jalan Gaya Sunday Market. This bustling street is lined with countless stalls offering everything from delicious local cuisines to uniquely designed treasures. Other markets include Tamu in Donggongon and Kota Belud, both known for their exotic local produce.  

#3 Local Foods

Freshly prepared tuhau with locally sourced ingredients 

The local and international cuisines of Kota Kinabalu are a melting pot of culinary delights. Be spoilt by a variety of mouthwatering dishes by the local populations of Malay and Indian people. In addition, the long-standing Chinese population provides a selection of delicious food choices inspired by the many different varieties of Chinese cuisine. For something more traditional, immerse yourself in the local cuisine of the Kadazan-Dusun ethnic group of Sabah — the tuhau (a pickled appetizer made from wild ginger, chili and scallion) is a must try. A cooking class can be arranged for those interested in culinary adventures. 

#4 Kota Belud

An aerial view of an undisturbed beach in Kota Belud 

Immerse yourself in the stunning natural beauty of Kota Belud, a town located 1.5 hours north of Kota Kinabalu. White-sand beaches and secluded coves are located along the coast. Inland you can visit quaint foothill villages. Try to time your visit for the bustling Sunday market. Kota Belud is one of the best places to get a panoramic view of Mount Kinabalu, complete with stunning views of the seashore and green rice paddies. This area is the heartland of the Bajau people along the coast, and the Dusun people within the interior. 

#5 Tun Abdul Rahman Marine Park

The nearest getaway in Kota Kinabalu, Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park 

Explore Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, a cluster of five islands — Gaya, Sapi, Manukan, Mamutik and Sulug. Most of the attractions at the marine park revolve around underwater adventures. Diving and snorkeling are the most popular activities, along with sunbathing at the many beaches that cover the coasts of the five islands. Other activities include kayaking, sailing, picnicking, BBQing and beach sports. Activities can be arranged through your hotel, a tour operator or from outfitters on the beach.