Sabah has the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea. Its coastline is littered with beautiful islands and amazing beaches.
It is the world’s third largest island and it sits roughly six degrees above the equator.
It is an intriguing mix of rare, almost extinct animals, and natural beauty. Brian Crisp spent 48 hours in the paradise referred to as the “Land Below the Wind”.
Orang-utan Jungle Walk - 2pm
My friend Millie has a certain power over orang-utans. She was standing on the jungle viewing platform, at Rasa Ria Shangri-La hotel, and blowing kisses skyward towards one of the orange-hair primates high in the trees.
It obviously sparked his interest and within moments he had swung from tree to tree, working his way to within a metre of Millie to get a better look. It was a hot January afternoon and with the sun shining there was more than a hint of red in Millie’s hair, so that might have had something to do with it.
The orang-utan joined her on the platform, did a little dance, blew her a raspberry and then left stage right - straight up another tree. I’m not sure if he was expecting her to follow, but he did look back longingly at one stage.
The Malay word for orang-utan means “person of the jungle” and that’s an apt description. The Jungle Walk allows them to get close to you, should they choose.
It’s an easy five-minute walk from the hotel, completely safe and something you should consider doing more than once. The hotel’s general manager Jean-Marc Michel said that bringing the orang-utans into the resort had been an extremely successful idea.
“We are counting and developing the wildlife conservation and preserving the orang-utan who was slowly disappearing,” he said. “We host here the babies which are very appealing to our guests not just for children, but adults too. They can watch them playing around and being fed. It is very unique and people realise it is one of the special things we have here.’’
Kozan. Rasa Ria Shangri-La - 6:15pm
Teppanyaki Chef Jimmy Lo is a man of equal parts - one part cook, one part entertainer.
Native of Sabah, he started his cooking career in 1960 and says the secret of good Japanese Teppanyaki is the freshness of the ingredients.
Everything is cooked in front of us and watching Lo at work is mesmerising. His hands chop, and toss, at lightning speed. One dish follows another in rapid-fire succession, flames fly high off the teppan and eventually eggs come into the show and each of us are asked to display our culinary skills.
The Kozan menu we choose is Australian inspired with king prawns, beef and halibut. Yummy!
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Mari Mari Cultural Village - 10am
The village is about a 30-minute drive from downtown Kota Kinabalu.
While the city is reaching forward attempting to become a modern metropolis, the village is celebrating the ways of old. The village is a living museum where knowledge of days gone by, history, culture and traditions are interpreted in dance, stories and culture by today’s youth.
In three hours we were shown the ways of five different tribes; got to taste food - and wine - prepared using traditional methods.
Sometimes these types of activities can be a little dry and contrived. I’m happy to say this is the exception. Our guide Adam Gahimun was entertaining, fun, and we learned something along the way.
Kota Kinabalu City Tour - 2pm
The city tour takes roughly three hours. The best part is the drive up Signal Hill where you get a glimpse of the old and the new Kota Kinabalu.
The city is expanding rapidly and only from on high do you properly see the immersion of old and new. Along the way - and to illustrate how tolerant Sabah is of all religions - we also made stops at the Buddhist temple and drove past the state mosque.
Gaya Island Kadazan Tribal Dinner - 8pm
You have to love a barbecue of the beach - especially when the beach is as beautiful as the one of Gaya Island, which is a 20-minute boat ride from mainland Sabah.
After we watched a stunning sunset over Mount Kinabalu (at 4,095 metres it is the tallest mountain in south-east Asia) we headed down through the mangroves to the fire pit.
This barbecue is described as something you would feed a chief with lashings of local fish, lamb, steak and the tastiest salads I have eaten in a long time.
We even had a visit from one of the island’s wild boars at the end of the evening. Bold as brass, he sidled up to our table and grabbed a burning candle before running off back into the darkness of night.
Apparently bush boars have a penchant for palm oil candles. You learn something new every day.
Snorkelling exploration - 6:30am
The jetty and reef, at Gaya Island is like a magnet for tropical fish and they are at their most active first thing in the morning and at sunset.
We took advantage of some sunrise photo opportunities before leaping into the surprisingly warm water. It is an easy swim - you don’t have to be a particularly strong swimmer to snorkel here.
The jetty allows you refuge at any time should you need it.
Guided Nature Walk - 9:30am
Justin Juhun is Gaya Island Resort’s resident naturalist and most mornings and evenings he escorts walks into the jungle.
As jungles should be, it is hot and wet and I guarantee you will break into a sweat on some of the climbs in search of wildlife such as flying squirrels and bearded pigs.
The island has a few harems of endangered proboscis monkey. Found only in Borneo, these animals have extremely large noses. In adults it can reach more than 21 cm.
Juhun has spent the past three years conspiring to create an environment where these monkeys can thrive. It is working and he says the numbers are growing.
“We have managed to locate about five harems, which is about 100 of them. It’s quite a big island about 15 square kilometres so the chances of seeing them are very slim,’’ Juhun said. “They are one of the more timid primates so when you see them in the jungle they do try to hide themselves and they also have very fast movement so can be hard to see.’’Nature being unpredictable though, we did not see any on the morning of our walk. At one stage he did say he could smell they had been there, but I’m sure that was just the man walking in front of me.
Speedboat ride back to Sutera Harbour - 11am
Our time in the paradise of Sabah was over way too quickly. By 2pm we were waving goodbye as our flight took off taking us on our next adventure.
Brian Crisp was a guest of Shangri-La Hotels and the YTL hotel group.
Images by Luke Wheatley and Alastair Emmett