I’d heard ample about Sabah, the eastern most slice of Malaysia, located on the island of Borneo almost two hours by flight from the low cost terminal in Kuala Lumpur; especially about the region playing host to the planet’s greatest reservoir of biodiversity, the highest mountain in South East Asia and the most pristine sandy beaches available in that part of the world. All those allegations stand true for in my opinion Malaysia belongs to a class of its own. A nature lover’s sanctuary, Sabah possesses all the genetic richness that a naturalist and an adventurer would desire in a perfect holiday.
With only a few meagre days in Sabah, I wanted to do as much justice to this unscarred region as possible and so without further ado, I drove to Kinabalu National Park- home to the insurmountable Mt. Kinabalu. Mr.Kinabalu is prized as a World Heritage Site because of its “outstanding universal values” something I discovered upon my gradual ascent up the park headquarters. The park itself sits at an elevation of 1,563m and provides startling views of Mount Kinabalu which beautifully adorns its surroundings. Although the mountain is observable from various resorts located along the Crocker mountain range, Kinabalu National Park is where its gates open for accessibility. Would-be climbers make their way to the park headquarters to register and get allotted a guide for the two-day climb up mountain.
Despite the rugged terrain, the weather conditions, and the steady influx of adventurers into the park, it is scrupulously maintained by the park authorities. You will find that the park is dotted with lavish creek scented log cabins complete with a cosy fireplace and spacious portico overlooking the richly carpeted Borneo rainforest.
The logged residences provide a cosy abode in this natural environment and inconspicuously blend into the tall legumes and dipterocarps which mark the forest floor. Even if one doesn’t intend to scale the 4,025m beauty of Mount Kinabalu, there are plenty of outdoor activities they can undertake such as a guided trek along the main trails wiring through the park, a walk through the botanical garden where one can stumble upon rare species of wild mushrooms, burgundy coloured orchids, pitcher plants and the almost infinite varieties of rhododendrons. A rainforest with a legacy older than that of South America’s Amazon, the flora and fauna of the Borneo rainforest is one worth a thousand views.
My second day wound me up Poring Hot Springs located just forty-five kilometres away from the Park headquarters. It is a popular tourist spot well-known for its naturally occurring hot sulphuric pools believed to relief muscular pains and de-stress mind, body and soul. Poring Hot Springs holds another environmental marvel- the bloom of the Rafflesia flower which in its limited distribution is found only on the lower slopes of the Borneo rainforests. Visitors here can tread along the wooden suspension bridges connected between the dipterocarp and mengaris tree trunks which form a snug canopy walkway atop the forest bed. A network of waterfalls is nestled amongst the wilderness, single monolithic cascades where visitors can enjoy a summer picnic whilst dangling their legs off the water’s cliff and feeling the brush of the water on their dewy faces.
On my third and final day I longed for some soul-searching and there was no place better than the famous Tip of Borneo located in the northern district of Sabah called Kudat. The tip of Borneo is a naturally protruded rock formation sitting almost as a watchful guardian upon the crossroads of the South China and Sulu Sea. As the plundering waves of the two vast seas come crashing into the ragged rocks and golden ribbons hug the dawn of the skies, one cannot help but become adrift from this reality into the most mystical of reveries.
I even had the privilege to attend the much acclaimed Tip of Borneo music festival, a string of harmonious evenings amidst the backdrop of the ocean’s vastness. Tip of Borneo festival attracts local and international musicians who string together an orchestra of love, life and laughter with a hint of nature.
Malaysians in general make it hard to say goodbye, but the people of Sabah in particular make it even more difficult. Their unbridled warmth that is woven into their local culture added colour and diversity into my holiday experience. It will definitely take strong willpower to leave behind the Island of Borneo; it is almost as if putting down a well-thumbed fable, you’re dismayed that the story has come to an end but at the same time, you feel blessed to have sat through it.
As my trip reached its closure at the Tip of Borneo, I sat perched on one of the rocks broken asunder, my thoughts dwelled into this cradle’s gifted biodiversity and in childlike hopes that the island remains humanly unscathed and continues to breed in all its splendour. I made a vow to return to Sabah, Malaysia as I packed my bags- a place where the forest, seas and waterfalls lie in wait for my taking, creating memories only eternal.
– Esraa Arshad
Photography by Esraa Arshad