6 must-do travel itineraries to Sabah and Sarawak

  • Malaysia
  • Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Being a multiethnic destination, Sabah is home to a variety of colourful cultures and traditions. Photos: Tourism Malaysia

With Pesta Kaamatan and Hari Gawai – annual harvest festivals – happening soon (the former falls on May 30 and 31, and the latter on May 31 and June 1), it’s a good time to experience the many splendours that Sabah and Sarawak have to offer.

Three travel specialists – Adventoro, Lokalocal and Tourism Malaysia – prepare customised itineraries that seek to highlight the various aspects that make both states truly unique holiday destinations.

Festive mood

As far as celebrations go, Kaamatan and Gawai don’t disappoint with bountiful food, drinks and cultural performances. Homegrown travel platform Adventoro prepares itineraries – specially curated for the festive period – with unique cultural flair and immersive experiences at villages to soak in the celebrations with locals.


Day 1: Visit the Sarawak Cultural Village tucked away on the foothills of the legendary Mount Santubong in Kuching. Check out open houses at Iban House, Bidayuh House and Ulu House. There are also samplings of native food and drinks at respective longhouses. Head back to Kuching city and complete the day by having local Iban dishes at either Lepau or The Dyak.

Day 2: Start your day with a four-hour journey from Kuching towards Lemanak River. Stop at the small town of Serian for a delicious lunch at Lachau. Upon arrival at the jetty, board a native boat for the upriver journey towards the Iban Longhouse. After dinner, mingle with the natives and enjoy an evening of music and dancing. Of course, there will also be rounds of tuak (homemade rice wine).

Day 3: For the bold ones, an exploration of the longhouse should include a peek at the human skulls kept at the “head-house” – or more commonly known as “baruk”. After breakfast, take part in the exciting activity of blowpipe and cockfight demonstrations by locals. Then proceed for a nature walk where you can visit native farms as well as a traditional Iban burial ground before travelling back to Kuching city.

Sarawak Cultural Village
The Sarawak Cultural Village is a venue that combines history, tradition, lifestyle and architecture of the state.


Day 1: Your first day in Kota Kinabalu is pretty much free and easy. The Sabah Museum is a good introduction to the various ethnicities that call Sabah home. Next, head to the Filipino Market for some shopping. Signal Hill Observatory Platform offers an elevated view of the city’s layout. It’s also a good place to catch the sunset.

Day 2: Spend the day island hopping. Boat departures for nearby islands take place at the Jesselton Point jetty. The five islands are Manukan, Sapi, Gaya, Mamutik and Sulug. Manukan is only 15 minutes away by boat from the jetty. The island is home to long white sandy beaches and beautiful coral reefs.

As for Sapi island, it boasts the longest island-to-island zipline in the world. The water is clear here too, which makes for great picture taking. After an afternoon exploring the island, make your way back to KK.

Day 3: Depart for the Mari-Mari Cultural Village in the early morning. The village offers visitors visits to different ethnic homes of Sabah and demonstration huts that feature daily traditional activities. Later, proceed to the Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association (KDCA) to join in the Kaamatan celebrations.

Events leading up to Kaamatan start as early as May 1 all over Sabah, while at KDCA itself, the fun begins about two weeks before the big day. Some of these events include the Unduk Ngadau which is a nationwide beauty pageant.

Bountiful of beautiful coral reefs can be found off the waters of Sabah.

Food trippin'

Plenty of culinary adventures await in Sabah and Sarawak. Lokalocal, an online platform that engages extensively with locals for its tours, lists down some delectable cuisines and places of interests in these foodie trails.


Day 1: Visit Carpenter Street, one of Kuching’s oldest streets, for breakfast. The Lau Ya Keng Food Court offers local delicacies such as Sarawak laksa, kolo mee and kuey chap. Wash all that down with house-roasted Sarawak coffee at Black Bean Coffee & Tea Co.

In the afternoon, take a river taxi or sampan to the other side of the Kuching River and buy the famous Sarawak kek lapis or layer cake. Attractions here include the Astana, Fort Margherita and Brooke Gallery.

For dinner, enjoy a seafood feast at Kuching Waterfront. Favourites include king prawns, bamboo clams, steamed fish and oyster omelette.

Day 2: During the day, visit the Sarawak Cultural Village and Semenggoh Nature Reserve. The latter is a wildlife sanctuary that rehabilitates orangutans. Feeding session between 3pm and 3.30pm will give visitors a chance to get up close with the orangutans.

In the evening, do some food hunting at a night market. The MJC Night Market in Bandar Baru Batu Kawa opens on Thursdays and Fridays. If you’re in town on a Friday or Saturday, visit the Siniawan Night Market in a 100-year-old town. Look out for lui cha and pitcher plant rice.

Day 3: Sign up for a local cooking class run by Bidayuh locals. The class will include a visit to a local market where you can can learn about produce that grow in Sarawak forests. Get back to the kitchen and learn to prepare dishes such as midin sambal belacan (crispy jungle ferns stir-fried with homemade belacan) and kuih tako (dessert made from pandan juice, coconut milk and water chestnut in pandan baskets).

lui cha
Lui cha is a simple delectable dish featuring seven types of vegetables and condiments served with a tea-based soup. Photo: The Star


Day 1: Fuel up for the day with all kinds of local food along Jalan Gaya in Kota Kinabalu. Keng Wan Hing Restaurant is famous for its pineapple buns and steamed pau. Other dishes to look out for are bak kut teh (Yu Kee Bak Kut Teh) and satay (Kedai Kopi Yuit Cheong).

For lunch, feast on seafood and kueh at the market area of KK. The venue is divided into different sections: Central Market, Fish Market, Handicraft Market and Filipino Market.

In the evening catch the sunset (usually by 6.30pm or earlier) at Tanjung Aru beach. There are food stalls that operate till late there.

Day 2: Make a day trip to Kudat (about three hours from the city) and take a slight detour to Tuaran town. See the magnificent Mount Kinabalu from the San Ling Pagoda there.

On Sundays, check out the Tuaran Sunday Market. Don’t miss the must-eat dish called Tuaran mian or Tuaran noodles, although you can order this dish anywhere in the state. Later, make a stop at Kota Belud. On Sundays, the Tamu Kota Belud sells local snacks, ethnic handicraft and other knickknacks.

At Kudat, visit the Rungus Longhouse at Kampung Bavanggazo, where you can experience Rungus food, rituals and culture within traditional wooden longhouses. Do head out all the way to Simpang Mengayau, which is also known as the Tip of Borneo, to take some gorgeous pictures.

Before heading back to KK, visit the nearby Kampung Gombizau to learn about bee keeping. Have dinner at Suang Tain Seafood Restaurant, the oldest seafood restaurant in KK.

Day 3: Take a 15-minute boat ride from Jesselton Point to Manukan Island and enjoy a picnic on the white sandy beach. You can hop on a boat to Sapi Island or the other nearby islands for some snorkelling and a BBQ lunch. Remember to inform the boat company at the ticketing counter how many islands you would like to “hop” to in a day and what time to pick you up from each island before getting on the boat.

There is plenty of delectable traditional food to try in Sabah.

NEXT PAGE: Off-the-beaten path travel itineraries to Sabah and Sarawak by Tourism Malaysia. 

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