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Introducing Sabah

Sabah is situated at the northern tip of Borneo, bordered by Indonesian Kalimantan to the south and Brunei and Sarawak to the southwest. It is the second largest state in the federation of Malaysia and also the easternmost state. Sabah is generously endowed with natural diversity, unique cultures, species-rich rainforest, beautiful beaches and rugged mountains. Home of the world’s largest flower, Malaysia’s highest mountain and some of the world’s best dive sites, Sabah offers something for everyone.


Sabah is known as “the land below the wind” because it lies in a climatically stable area south of the typhoon belt. The climate is hot and humid throughout the year with cooler temperatures in highland areas. Temperatures range from 21C to 32C. Average annual rainfall varies from 2,600mm to 4,000mm and humidity is high all year round.

Visitors should bring light comfortable casual clothes. A jacket and tie or evening dress may be required for formal wear, but only in an air-conditioned venue.


Sabah’s population of 3.1 million is made up of 32 officially recognised ethnic groups, and dozens of further sub-ethnic groups. The largest indigenous group is the Kadazandusun, followed by the Bajau and the Murut. Therefore the visitor can expect a great variety of cultures, lifestyles and traditions arts and crafts.

While the diversity of peoples may seem confusing at first, it simply makes things more interesting and exciting for the visitor. One can enjoy Bajau culture at first hand every weekend at the Tamu or native market in Kudat, or at the annual Lepa Regatta in Semporna. Come at the end of May and celebrate the annual Pesta Keamatan with the Kadazandusun, or enjoy an open house visit during Hari Raya (the celebration to mark the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan), Christmas or Chinese New Year


Sabah has been settled for approximately 30,000 years, but little of its history was recorded until the reign of Sultan Bolkiah of Brunei (1473-1524), whose rule extended over Sabah and the Sulu Archipelago. In 1658, the Sultan of Brunei ceded the northern and eastern portion of Borneo to the Sultan of Sulu as a reward for Sulu’s help in ending civil war, although little changed until Alexander Dalrymple, an officer of the British East India Company, concluded an agreement to set up a trading post in the Sulu area.

Although Dalrymple’s venture proved a failure, it set a precedent for foreign involvement in North Borneo. In 1865, the American Consul for Brunei, Claude Lee Moses, obtained a lease from the Sultan of Sulu over North Borneo. After a series of failed ventures and subsequent transfers, the rights were transferred to Alfred Dent, and in 1882 the British North Borneo Company was formed and Kudat was made its capital. In 1883 the capital was moved to Sandakan. In 1885, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Germany signed the Madrid Protocol of 1885, which recognised the sovereignty of Spain in the Sulu Archipelago in return for the relinquishment of all Spanish claims over North Borneo.

In 1888, North Borneo became a protectorate of the United Kingdom. Administration and control over the colony remained in the hands of the Company, which ruled until 1942 when the Japanese invaded. There was considerable early resistance to the company’s rule, including the Mat Salleh Rebellion in the late 1890s and a Murut rebellion in the early 1900s.

The Japanese occupation between 1942 and 1945 was brutal and is characterized by the infamous Death Marches of British and Allied prisoners. British Military Administration took over when the Japanese surrendered and in 1946, North Borneo became a British Crown Colony. Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu), which suffered Allied bombing, was rebuilt and chosen to replace Sandakan as the capital.

On 31 August 1963, North Borneo attained self-government, and on 16 September 1963, now named Sabah, it was united with Malaya, Sarawak and Singapore, to form the independent Federation of Malaysia. The new country was not without its challenges; in 1965 Singapore left the Federation, and President Sukarno of Indonesia pursued an undeclared war against Malaysia (known as Confrontation or Konfrontasi) from 1963 to 1966. Nevertheless, the fledgling country survived its early challenges and since the late 1960s Sabah has enjoyed enduring peace.


Sabah has carefully nurtured it many natural attractions to become one of Southeast Asia’s leading ecotourism destinations. Its six national parks include the UNESCO World Heritage listed Kinabalu Park. Its long coastline offers white sand beaches, marine parks, tropical islands, world famous dive sites and carefully protected turtle sanctuaries.

Vast areas of protected wilderness provide homes to orang-utans, hornbills, pygmy elephants, rhinoceroses, hornbills, proboscis monkeys and hundreds of other fascinating and iconic animals, many of which are found only in Borneo. Sabah’s plant life is equally astonishing, and includes giant 80-meter rainforest trees, the world’s largest flower and the world’s most valuable wild orchid.

Time Zone

Sabah is 8 hours ahead of GMT and 16 hours ahead of the U.S.Pacific Standard Time.


Map of Sabah

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