Explore These Hidden Hotspots in Sabah, From Waterfalls to Islands

7 Hidden Hotspots and Gems to Explore in Sabah

There's plenty to see beyond Mount Kinabalu!

It’s hard to ignore Sabah’s myriad of poolside resorts when travelling around its idyllic islands. Home to the famous Mount Kinabalu and many pristine beaches, Sabah beckons many tourists for a tropical getaway. However, have you ever wondered what lies beyond these attractions? If you’re looking to venture off the beaten path, here are seven hidden hotspots and gems to explore in Sabah! 

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1. Soak in the diversity of experiences in Sandakan

Sandakan sabah

Image credit: CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

For travellers with eclectic tastes, you’re in for a treat when you visit Sandakan. Come and see how the best of nature and culture are blended harmoniously as you explore the various Sabah attractions here. If you’re looking for otherworldly sights, head over to Puu Jih Shih Temple. Decked in red and gold, its stunning architecture and ornate decor complement the view of the Sandakan coast in the distance. 

Fun fact: Did you know that this temple was also featured in the American television series The Amazing Race 4 in 2003? We’re not surprised, considering the beautiful landscape of the location! 

If discovering the hidden beauty of temples isn’t really your thing, how about a visit to the wild side of Sabah? The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is a sun bear rescue and rehabilitation facility dedicated to protecting these endangered creatures. Visitors can observe and bask in their overflowing cuteness while learning about the various conservation efforts. 

2. A perfect beachy getaway at Semporna

Pristine waters, soft sand, and sun-kissed skin. No, this isn’t Hawaii. It’s Semporna, Sabah. 

Just like its name, which means “perfect” in Malay, Semporna is the ideal beach getaway for both new and long-time travellers to Sabah. Enjoy the idyllic waters and glistening beaches that await while immersing yourself in a variety of activities to chill out. Highlights while visiting Semporna include snorkelling and diving for underwater enthusiasts. 

Another feature of Semporna is Boheydulang Island, which sits about 23km away. The island has a 353m-peak hiking trail and many opportunities for bird-watching, too! The trail winds around the island and takes about 45 minutes to reach the top. Reward yourself with views of its crater lagoon at the end of your hike alongside unique flora and fauna on your way up. 

3. Escape to Mahua Waterfall in Tambunan

Mahua Waterfall lies 26km outside the town of Tambunan, making this natural beauty an out-of-the-way but worthwhile gem to explore. Surrounding this thundering waterfall is a diverse ecosystem home to countless wildlife and greenery. If you’re lucky, you can spot the endemic Kinabalu Bluebottle, plus rare species of fungi and other insects that flourish in Mahua Park’s eco-trails. 

Mahua Waterfall stands six stories tall, so we’d love to see your best shots of this lofty natural beauty! Stand under the falls for a splashing good time as you enjoy this hidden gem in Tambunan.

Looking to get closer to nature without having to sacrifice comfort? Borneo Kiim Resort is the place for you! Borneo’s first luxury tented resort provides style and comfort 1,000m up in the Bornean Highlands. Equipped with a floating infinity pool, a children’s playground, and a bar overlooking the sunset, nature will never feel as close as when you’re here. 

4. Have fun in the sun at Dinawan Island

A 15-minute boat ride from the jetty along Kinarut River will bring you to this privately owned island. Rather than hustling with tourists at overcrowded beaches, Dinawan Island provides a refreshing ambience if you’re looking for a quick escape from the hustle and bustle. 

dinawan island

Image credit: @tantisuria

Snorkelling enthusiasts will find coral reefs here largely undamaged, with a great variety of marine life swimming about. Kayaking, paragliding, and banana boating are also available for adventure seekers! Put simply, if you’re looking for a leisurely day out to chill by the sound of crashing waves, Dinawan Island is the perfect hideout.

5. Have a blissful retreat from the crowds at Pulau Tiga

Ever since its feature in the popular reality TV series Survivor, Pulau Tiga has been dubbed ‘Survivor Island.’ As an undisturbed location, this island provides an escape to a blissful retreat. The pristine clear waters, white beaches, and therapeutic mud pools are more than we could ask for in this weekend getaway destination. 

If you’re looking to get around Pulau Tiga, nature hikes and visits to neighbouring islands are available, too. That said, Pulau Tiga is certainly one of the many hidden hotspots and gems of Sabah; plus, you wouldn’t want to miss out on the unique mud-spa while you’re at it! 

6. Revel in the tranquility of Batu Luang Beach

Head to the quiet town of Kuala Penyu, and you’ll find yourself at the breathtaking Batu Luang beach. If you’re lucky enough to be here during the golden hour, you’ll get to capture this beach in all its glory.

What’s more, during low tide, you’ll find the famous Batu Luang rock formation surrounded by smaller rocks covered in bright green moss. The picturesque scene makes for quite the spectacle — taking it all in is indeed a calming way to cap the day.

However, there’s a story behind how the Batu Luang rock came to be! TLDR, a massive storm occurred, causing a bride to be sealed in the cave. To some, the story is merely used to scare young children from wandering about the beach alone. Others fear that a ‘boogeyman’ truly lies inside the cave waiting for its next victim. Nonetheless, don’t let these tales hinder your visit to this gorgeous beach! 

7. Explore the mysteries of Supirak Island

From afar, Supirak Island’s ship-like appearance piques visitors’ interest. Yet, there’s something tragic about the island — considering the story of how this natural formation came to be. To this day, natural stones and palm trees rest upon what was believed to be humans and animals. It is these fascinatingly realistic stones and structures that allow the story of Supirak to live on. 

From the jetty, hop on a ten-minute boat ride; soon, glistening emerald waters will greet you if your visit is blessed with good weather. While the island is remote and requires a longer travelling time, adventurers can spend the whole day exploring these geological beauties around the main Supirak Island.  

Also read: 6 Offbeat Places to Visit in Sabah to Bring Your Travelling Experience Up A Notch

Call Sabah your next holiday destination when you book FREE SEATS* to Kota Kinabalu with the airasia Super App!

Promo period: Now till 7 Aug 2022

Travel period: Now till 31 Dec 2022

*Excludes airport tax, fuel surcharge, and other fees. Terms & conditions apply.

Find out more

With plenty of hidden hotspots in Sabah, we’re certainly adding the Land Below the Wind to our must-visit bucket list! Wouldn’t you say that it’s time to start planning our next trip deep into the Southeast Asian tropics?

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About Author

Sarah Jane Lee
Sarah Jane Lee

Sarah strongly believes that much like sunflowers, she draws her energy from basking in the sunshine. She believes that detours, chance encounters and stories shared by strangers at a bus stop are part of what makes adventure beautiful. Apart from being a sports enthusiast (current fix: Muay Thai), Sarah enjoys soaking up the afternoon sun with a book in hand.