About Sabah

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About Sabah

The Land Below the Wind, SABAH is the second largest state in Malaysia; which consists of 13 states and 3 federal territories. With an area that spans 72,500 sq. kilometres, topped with a coastline surrounded by the South China Sea in the West, the Sulu Sea in the Northeast and Celebes Sea in the East, Sabah sits on the northern-most part of Borneo; the third largest island in the world. Blessed with an abundance of natural resources and unimaginable beauty of its nature, Sabah is the melting pot of unique and distinctive cultural identities and ethnicity of its people.

Climate / Temperature

The climate throughout the state is considered to be equatorial / tropical - with the estimated temperature of 32°C (90°F) for lowland areas and the average 21°C (70°F) for highlands area, Sabah is typically hot and sunny all year round. In a tropical climate, it is advisable to dress comfortably in lightweight linens / cottons, T-shirt, shorts, or jeans to avoid overheating. Rainfall is also common throughout the year, but it can be considerably wetter during the North East Monsoon (October - February) season, and hotter/drier between May and September.

Flora and Fauna

Did you know that wildlife studies made by the National Geographic revealed that 10 sq. kilometres of Sabah has more flora and fauna than North America and Europe combined? The jungles in Sabah are classified as rainforest, which scientists estimate it at 130 million years old - one of the oldest in the world! Kinabalu Park, which occupies an area around Mount Kinabalu spanning about 754 sq. kilometres. It is a botanical paradise to the most remarkable assemblage of plants species and wildlife in the world. The vegetation in the park can change from lush tropical lowland forest to cool alpine meadow and everything else in between. Rafflesia, the world's largest flower, is also found here. This parasitic flower takes about 9 months to bloom, but only live for 3-4 days emitting an unpleasant odour that attracts insects such as flies for pollination. Besides that, the world's largest pitcher plant (the insect eating Nepenthes Rajah), which is endemic to Mount Kinabalu can also be found here as well. Even though most mammals live in the lowlands around Kinabalu Park, primates like langurs, monkeys, gibbons, tarsiers and the slow loris have all been spotted in the park. Besides that, the park is also home to other larger animals like the rare clouded leopard, bearded pig, sun bear, 3 species of deer (the large sambar deer, the smaller barking deer and the tiny mouse deer), and other smaller mammals like shrews, squirrels, as well as a few species of insectivores like the moon rat. In 2000, Kinabalu National Park was officially designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site due to the park's high biodiversity with representatives from more than half of the families of all flowering plants and many threatened and vulnerable animals.

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Sabah's People and History

Sabah's population is made up 33 indigenous groups that communicate in over 50 languages and 80 ethic dialects. The Kadazan-Dusun is the largest ethnic group in Sabah that makes up almost 30% of the population. Celebrated annually on 30th & 31st May, the Harvest Festival is the most celebrated holiday of the year by the Kadazan-Dusun to honor the Rice Spirit and to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. The Bajaus, or also known as "Cowboys of the East", and Muruts, the hill people and head hunters in the past, are the second and third largest ethnic group in Sabah respectively. Other indigenous tribes include the Bisaya, Brunei Malay, Bugis, Kedayan, Lotud, Ludayeh, Rungus, Suluk, Minokok, Bonggi, the Ida'an, and many more. In addition to that, the Chinese makes up the main non-indigenous group of the population.

The history of Sabah can be traced back to about 20,000 - 30, 000 years ago with evidence that suggests early human settlement existed. The North Borneo Chartered Company effectively ruled Sabah (then known as North Borneo) from 1881 until 1942, when the Japanese forces invaded North Borneo during the World War II. After the devastation of the war, the North Borneo Chartered Company did not have the financial resources to reconstruct the state; hence, the territory was placed under control of the colonial office and became a British crown colony on 15 July 1946. Several years after that, Sabah gained self-government from the British, and was united with Malaya, Sarawak and Singapore to form the independent Federation of Malaysia on 16th September 1963.

Geography & Environment

Sabah is the second largest state in Malaysia after Sarawak, which shares its borders on Sabah's south west region. Along with Sarawak, it also shares borders with East Kalimantan of Indonesia in the south. The state's geographical structure is a mixture of mountainous regions, beaches and tropical rain forests. One of the most prominent ranges located at the centre of Sabah heartland is the Crocker Range, which houses several mountains of various heights from about 1,000 metres to 4,000 metres. The highest peak of this range at 4,095 metres (13,435 ft) above sea level is known as Mount Kinabalu; one of the highest mountain in South East Asia. The Crocker Mountain range stretches from the north to the south, dividing the hilly region on the west and the plains on the east. With the length of 560km and flows from the Crocker Mountain Range to the Sulu Sea at the east of Sandakan, the Kinabatangan River is easily the longest river in Sabah. Like the dense tropical forests in the state, the Kinabatangan River also supports many fascinating wildlife and houses habitats that are unique only to this region.

Sabah has a long history of setting aside important natural areas for conservation of its unique flora and fauna. These important wildlife regions for the purpose of fast and flexible protection of wildlife and habitats include:

  • Maliau Basin, otherwise dubbed as "Sabah's Lost World", is located in a conserved area surrounding the Maliau River in Tawau; the south Central Part of Sabah. Maliau Basin is an unusual assemblage of 12 forest types, comprising mainly of lower montane forest dominated by majestic Agathis trees, rare montane heath forest, and lowland/hill dipterocarp forest.
  • Danum Valley, a sprawling 438 sq. kilometre of undisturbed land; which lies 70km west of Lahad Datu, boasts one of the richest conservation areas in the world with over 200 species of tree per hectare thriving on it. It is a natural home for endangered wildlife species such as the Sumatran Rhino, Banteng, Asian Elephant, Orang Utan, and Proboscis Monkey.
  • Imbak Canyon, a conservation area located over 300 km south east of Kota Kinabalu is one of the biggest and last remaining areas of undisturbed lowland rainforest in Sabah. In this site, one can find the 30 meters-wide Imbak Falls, one of Sabah's widest, and the most outstanding waterfalls in Malaysia.
  • Tabin, or better known as the Tabin Wildlife Reserve because of the large number of animals inhabiting its forest - some of which are highly endangered. Three of the largest mammals in Sabah, namely the Borneo Pygmy Elephant, Sumatran Rhinoceros and Tembadau (Borneo Wild Cattle), 8 primates species, 3 species of cats which are in the protected wildlife list, along with 42 families representing 220 species of birds can also be found here in the reserve.
  • Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, where the Sepilok Orang Utan Centre is located, protects a fraction of tropical lowland Dipterocarp forest which also includes a small coverage of mangrove swamp. This reserve also protects orang utans that have been rescued, rehabilitated and released into the forest. Other than the orang utans, it is also home other small and overlooked creatures.
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Sabah Economy

The economy of Sabah has always been heavily dependent on the export of its primary and minimally processed commodities. Aside from the usual lumber milling, the agriculture, tourism and manufacturing sectors are growing vastly, and it is quickly becoming the main source of economy in Sabah. However, petroleum, palm oil and cacao still remained three of the most exported commodities from the state. Due to the land's rich natural resources, almost 1/7 of the land in areas around Sabah is suitable for agriculture development.


Sabah is the sole manufacturer of oil palm and cacao in Malaysia. Oil palm plantation covered over 700,000 hectares of the East Coast area of Sabah, it has also contributed about 25% of the country's raw oil palm export. Traditionally, Sabah was heavily dependent on lumber based export, but with increasing depletion at an alarming rate of the natural forests, ecological efforts to save the remaining natural rainforests areas were made in early 1982.


There are hundreds of SMI and SME in Sabah, some companies have become a household name such as Gardenia, Ken Chong, Cap Kuda, and many more. With the Sabah government pursuing industrialization with the Sabah Development Corridor plan; concentrating specifically in the Sepanggar area where KKIP Industrial Park and Sepanggar Container Port Terminal is located, there will soon be more manufacturing companies that will start up there in the near future.

Sabah Tourism

Eco-tourism is a major contributor to Sabah's economy. Whether it is the white sandy beaches, lush green forests, exotic wildlife, fun adventure, succulent cuisine, or rich cultural experience, there is always something for everyone. Sabah is also the host to one of world's top dive site, Sipadan Island; and World Heritage Site, Kinabalu National Park, due to their rich ecosystem of marine life and wildlife habitats.


Bahasa Malaysia is the national language which is spoken widely across ethnicities in Sabah. However, the way Sabahans speak Bahasa Malaysia is with the Sabahan Baku dialect; which is a little different from West Malaysian dialect. Apart from the respective indigenous mother-tongue such as Kadazan, Dusun, Bajau, and Murut; Mandarin and some Chinese dialects like the Hakka and Cantonese, as well as the English language are also spoken here.

Sabah People

Kazadan / Dusun

Kadazan-Dusun is the term assigned to the unification of the classification of two indigenous tribes in Sabah. They are also the largest ethnic group which comprises about 1/3 of the population - Kadazan and Dusun. Traditionally, they are mostly traditional farmers cultivating paddy rice and upland rice, as well as hunting and ravine fishing. The Sumazau dance is the traditional dance of the Kadazan-Dusun community.


The Murut are an indigenous ethnic group which comprises 29 sub-ethnic groups inhabiting the northern inland regions of Borneo. The Muruts were the last of Sabah's ethnic groups to renounce headhunting. This is because collecting heads of enemies traditionally served a very important role in Murut spiritual beliefs. The literal translation of murut is "hill people". Traditionally, they were shifting cultivators of hill paddy and tapioca, but they also do activities like blowpipe hunting and some fishing. They live in communal longhouses near rivers, using it as the means to travel.

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Bajau and Kindred groups

The Bajau people are an indigenous ethnic group that live in the West Coast (Putatan, Tuaran, Kota Belud, Kota Marudu, Papar) and East Coast of Sabah (Kudat, Sandakan, Lahad Datu, Kunak, Semporna, Tawau). They work as farmers and fishermen. Besides being expert divers, they are also popular for their excellent horsemanship. Hence, the Bajau tribe from the West Coast are known as the "cowboys of the east", while their East Coast tribe have sometimes been referred to as the "Sea Gypsies" for their seafaring ways.


Other indigenous people in the state include Rungus, Iranun, Bisaya, Tatana, Lun Dayeh, Suluk, Sino, Ida'an, Bugis, Kagayan, Tindal, Tobilungm Lobu, Bonggi, Tidong and many more. Bumiputera is a Malaysian term to describe the Malay race and the indigenous people of Southeast Asia, particularly in Malaysia. The term can be translated literally as "prince of the the soil".


The Chinese made up the largest non-indigenous group in Sabah. They settled in parts of Sabah in the 19th century and worked as miners when valuable metals such as gold and tin were discovered. Majority of the ethnic Chinese here are of Hakka descent, many of them were involved in agriculture until this day, especially those living in rural towns such as Tenom and Kudat.

Cultures & Arts

With a population that is heterogeneous and culturally diverse with more than 30 different ethnic races, one can expect to be enchanted by different traditions and customs that have long been part of Sabahans' daily lives. One can expect to see tribal dresses of various styles that have retained much of their original design and colour. Traditional costumes also included antique beads, necklaces and belts, antique hand-engraved silver jewellery, and belts of old silver dollar coins that are handed down from generation to generation. Other than that, each indigenous group also has their own unique dance, music and handicraft that differentiate themselves from each other.

Common Customs

Sabah, which is also a part of Malaysia, still retain customary practices like dressing modestly and removing shoes before entering a mosque or temples- namely places of worship. Although handshakes are generally acceptable, however, some Muslim ladies may acknowledge introductions to gentlemen merely by nodding and smiling. Smiling and nodding the head is the simplest way to greet anyone, moreover there is no chance of getting into trouble with such gesture.

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Sabah is utilising the currency of Malaysia, the Malaysian Ringgit (RM).

Traveller's cheques and foreign currencies can be changed for Malaysian Ringgit at banks and hotels. However, major hotels may charge a nominal fee for currency conversion. There are also money changer kiosks available every major shopping complexes and airport.

Major Credit and Charge Cards

VISA, MasterCard, American Express, Diners Club - credit and charge cards are accepted in almost all departmental stores, supermarkets, petrol stations and restaurants.

Banking Hours

The banking hour for Monday through Friday is from 9.30am to 3pm.

Local Time

Sabah is using the Malaysian Standard Time with UTC Malaysia + 8 hours, it is also 8 hours ahead of GMT.


Shopping centres, supermarkets, restaurants and cafes are generally open daily from 10am to 10pm.

List of shopping centre for major town:


When eating out in Sabah, one can expect to find local favourites like traditional Malay, Chinese, and Indian food. However, there are also international delights like Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Thai, Filipino, French, Italian, Western, Hungarian, and many more, thanks to Sabah's extensive cultural diversity. There are also a variety of restaurants around town that serves fusion cuisine for those who couldn't decide on what to eat. Restaurants in Sabah can be as casual as a quick bite at a roadside-stall, or as formal as a fine-dining restaurant at the 5-star resorts.

Electricity & Water Facilities

Electricity is on the 240 Volts AC/ 50-Cycle system. Most major city and towns such as Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Tawau, Lahad Datu, Kudat, and etc. already have the treated pipe water available.


Mobile telecommunications can be accessed in many parts of Sabah with the exception of some remote areas. The major telecommunication service providers available are Telekom Malaysia, Maxis, DiGi, Celcom, TuneTalk, XOX Mobile and U-Mobile. Malaysia uses GSM type of mobile phones; therefore, a SIM card is required to make call from your GSM-enabled mobile phone. A prepaid card can be purchased at any Telco outlet in most major shopping malls.


Government hospitals, clinics and dispensaries are available in all towns. The list of private hospital, medical practitioners, clinic, and pharmacies are also available as the following: