You might think that Borneo is just beautiful islands and pristine rainforests, but damn, you are so wrong! To prove how wrong you are, we've raked through 11 hidden ?gems in Borneo. Between Sabah's 11 best-kept secrets below, how many do you know?
This hidden gem has one of the earliest signs of human settlement in northern Borneo (20,000–30,000 years ago). It is also famed for its high-quality black bird nests.
This cave has become a habitat for the swiftlets along with ?bats and other cave inhabitants (like cockroaches). If you want to see how the Idahan people harvest the birds' nests, you can go to the Madai Caves around April, August and December. That is because these are the birds' nest harvesting months.
The cave is pretty dark, so if you want to take some photos, make sure to bring along a ?torchlight. However, before going, you’ll have to obtain a permission letter from Jabatan Perhutanan Kunak. As for the entrance fee, it’s not fixed. It wholly depends on the guide.
📍Address: No. 3 km, Off Lahad Datu-Tawau Highway, Kampung Madai, Kunak, 91100 Lahad Datu, Sabah
In April this year(2022), the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (MOTAC) announced the Blue Hole Darvel Bay at Lahad Datu as the latest tourist attraction in Malaysia. It is also very special as it has 2 holes while most blue ring holes only have 1. Before the announcement, a team of researchers from Sabah Parks, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, went into the blue ring hole for a scientific expedition in 2019.
On the contrary, local tour operator, Glen Hapirulla has expressed regret over MOTAC’s announcement. Here’s the reason why. According to him, the “Blue Ring Hole: should be called “Blue Ring Reef” instead and it was actually discovered by him and his team (Pirate Divers) in 2017! Gasp! They are also currently conducting tours to this hidden gem.
According to him again, “the Blue Hole generally refers to a perforated seabed surface structure with a drastic depth reaching 100m such as the Blue Hole of Belize as opposed to the Blue Hole Darvel Bay which has a depth of only 24m.” He also said that this underrated attraction was already promoted by the former Minister of Tourism, who also hails from Lahad Datu.
As the oldest stone church in Sabah, this hidden gem was completed in 1925, almost 30 years since it began construction! Sadly, the church was destroyed in a ?bombing by the Japanese military on 5th June 1945. So if it was destroyed, then why is it still here?
After the end of World War 2, the church was restored in 1950. Then, in 2004, relatives of Australian POWs during the Japanese occupation initiated the installation of 4 beautiful stained glass windows. This was to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War 2 and also for relatives of Australian POWs to thank the locals who risked their lives in helping the POWs.
These POWs were the victims of the Sandakan Death Marches, which resulted in the deaths of 2,434 Allied prisoners of war. It is also considered one of the worst, if not the worst atrocities suffered by Australian servicemen during World War 2.
⏰Hours: 8:30am - 4:30pm (Tues & Sun Closed)
📍Address: 51, Jalan Puncak, Pusat Bandar Sandakan, 90000 Sandakan, Sabah
Pretend that you are a hobbit by staying at the Humble Hobbit Home. This underrated attraction has one of the strictest privacy policies for accommodation in Sabah, whereby non-guests are prohibited from taking ??pictures within the vicinity of the Humble Hobbit Home.
Located high up in the ?mountains, this hidden gem is surrounded by beautiful scenery 360°. There are fewer than 5 cottages, so if you plan to stay here, you’ll have to start booking early!
📍Address: B-Inspired Abode Kg, Jalan Sinisian, 89308 Kundasang, Sabah
If you are an advocate of ?eco-tourism and someone who enjoys being surrounded by nature, then you should go to this underrated attraction called Tungog Rainforest Eco Camp. Observe wildlife made up of a wide range of ?birds, ?reptiles, ?mammals and ?amphibians.
There are 10 camp platforms at TREC that can only accommodate 20 guests at a time. Besides that, there are other activities you can experience, such as ?tree planting, bird watching and a ?sunset river cruise. The revenue from the camp funds will go to the forest and lake restoration programs that have been running for quite a while.
⏰Hours: 7am - 7pm
📍Address: PPM 538 Elopura Sandakan 90000 Sabah, KOPEL Bhd. Jalan Feri Lama, Kg Mengaris, 90200 Kinabatangan, Sabah
This hidden gem makes the perfect wallpaper on your ?screen. It is an ideal place for an ?Instagram photo too. The most iconic part of this underrated attraction is the view of the giant rock framed by the opening of a cave. There is even a platform with benches and a table where you can picnic and enjoy a ?beautiful sunset. It is also not very crowded, making it a perfect place for a getaway or a relaxing stroll along the beach.
📍Address: Jalan Kekapor - Temporong, 89740, Sabah
Hiking at Bukit Piniapat will make you feel like you’ve teleported to a European country. There are 2 trails that you can take to reach the peak of this hidden gem. If you are there to just take photos for ?Instagram, you can take the shortcut route. It is only roughly 3-5 mins.
However, if you are feeling a bit athletic, you can take the hiking route that takes about 40 mins for you to reach the ?mountain peak. Shortly before reaching the highest point of the mountain, you’ll pass by a path with a beautiful flower trail & other green plants lining your left and right, welcoming you. Camping is also available here but remember to book at least 3 days in advance.
⏰Hours: 6am - 7pm
🌐Coordinate: 6.680451965249825, 116.97535930804888
Also known as Skull Hill, Bukit Tengkorak Archaeological Heritage Site is one of the few archaeological sites that we have in Malaysia. This underrated attraction is also a free-entry open museum. If you like hiking, there is a steep climb up the wooden steps, but we promise you that it’s going to be a rewarding one.
That is because the view from the top of this hidden gem is simply breathtaking. As you hike up the hill, you'll come across many pottery shards dating back to the Neolithic period (approx 3000 years ago). Until today, the same pottery-making technique is preserved and applied by the Bajau community in Semporna.
If you don’t like hiking, you can just visit the museum without climbing anything, and it’s free entry! In the small museum, you can learn about the history of early human settlements dating back to 3000 years ago in the form of dioramas, informative write-ups and actual archaeological finds.
⏰Hours: 9am - 5pm
🌐Coordinate: 4.440092023811021, 118.62207744921324
Very popular among international tourists, Pulau Tiga is a group of uninhabited islands. This hidden gem was a filming location for the Survivor television series (in fact, it became popular after that).
Also widely known as Survivor Island, Pulau Tiga is also a place to visit if you want to experience bathing in volcano mud. The mud is said to have anti-inflammatory properties and can help in treating a variety of health issues such as psoriasis, arthritis and even help to promote healthy & beautiful skin (much to the ladies’ delight!).
Did you know that Sabah has its very own vintage ?train ride experience? Just like the Orient Express but Malaysia’s version, this hidden gem is the oldest train run by a steam engine in Sabah and the entire Borneo. To match the vibe of the train, the staff of the train cosplay dress up in British Colonial days fashion.
This 4-hour train ride takes you past Putatan, Kinarut, Kawang and Papar. During the ride, you’ll be served delicious local meals in tiffin (speaking about the vintage vibe!). However, as the train is very old, it might break down unexpectedly and cause a change in the journey. So make sure to include it in your itinerary.
⏰Hours: 8:30am - 5pm
📍Address: Jalan Utama Sutera Harbour 88100, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Built to commemorate a great Kadazan head hunter known as Monsopiad, this village is currently managed by his direct descendants. Some of the highlights of this underrated attraction include the House Of Skulls, where you can see 42 ?skulls hanging from above. This is a very spiritual place, so all visitors are expected to watch their thoughts and language.
Besides the eerie encounter with the ?brain containers, there are many other activities that you can enjoy such as learning to make fire (the traditional way), tasting local rice wine, trying Sago Grub "BUTOD", watching traditional dances and more. You can definitely learn a lot about the legendary Monsopiad and the culture of the Kadazandusun here.
⏰Hours: 9am - 5pm (Tues Closed)
📍Address: Kampung Kuai Kandazon, Jalan Putatan Ramayah, 89507 Penampang, Sabah
Even though the border has opened, it is always cheaper to travel locally. Plus, we can help boost the local tourism economy. If international tourists are charmed by the hidden gems in Sabah and Sarawak, I'm pretty sure we will be too. Moreover, with these 11 underrated tourist attractions in Sabah, you’ll have something fresh to add to your travel portfolio.