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Sabah is one of the two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo (Sarawak being the other state). This territory has a certain level of autonomy in administration, immigration, and judiciary which differentiates it from the Malaysian Peninsula states. Sabah is situated in northern Borneo, bordering the state of Sarawak to the southwest, Kalimantan to the south, while separated by sea from the Federal Territory of Labuan in the west and the Philippines to the north and east. Kota Kinabalu is the capital city as well the economic centre for the state and the seat for the Sabah state government. Other major towns in Sabah include Sandakan and Tawau. As of the 2015 census in Malaysia, the state's population is 3,543,500. Sabah has an equatorial climate with tropical rainforests and abundant animal and plant species. The state has a long mountain ranges in the west side which formed as part of the Crocker Range National Park. Kinabatangan River is the second longest river in Malaysia while Mount Kinabalu is the highest point of Sabah as well for Malaysia.
The total land area of Sabah is nearly 72,500 square kilometres surrounded by the South China Sea in the west, Sulu Sea in the northeast and Celebes Sea in the southeast. Because of Sabah's coastline facing three seas, the state receive an extensive marine resources. The state coastline is covered with mangrove and nipah forests. The mangroves cover about 331,325 hectares of the state land and constitute 57% of the total mangroves in the country. Both coastal areas in the west coast and east coast are entirely dominating by sand beaches, while in sheltered areas the sand was mixed with mud. The northern area of Tanjung Simpang Mengayau has a type of pocket beach. The areas in the west coast has a large freshwater wetlands, with the Klias Peninsula hosts a large area of tidal wetlands. The western part of Sabah is generally mountainous, containing three highest peak. The main mountain ranges is the Crocker Range with several mountains varying height from about 1,000 metres to 4,000 metres. Adjacent to the Crocker Range is the Trus Madi Range with Mount Trus Madi, with a height of 2,642 metres. The highest peak is the Mount Kinabalu, with a height around 4,095 metres. It is one of the highest peak between the Himalayas and New Guinea. While located not far from Mount Kinabalu is Mount Tambuyukon, with a height of 2,579 metres.
These mountains and hills are traversed by an extensive network of river valleys and are in most cases covered with dense rainforest. There are lower ranges of hills extending towards the western coasts, southern plains, and the interior or central part of Sabah. The central and eastern portion of Sabah are generally lower mountain ranges and plains with occasional hills. In the east coast located the Kinabatangan River, which is the second longest river in Malaysia after Rajang River in Sarawak with a length of 560 kilometres. The river begins from the western ranges and snakes its way through the central region towards the east coast out into the Sulu Sea. Other major rivers including the Kalabakan River, Kolopis River, Liwagu River, Padas River, Paitan River, Segama River and Sugut River. In addition to Babagon River, Bengkoka River, Kadamaian River, Kalumpang River, Kiulu River, Mawao River, Membakut River, Mesapol River, Nabawan River, Papar River, Pensiangan River, Tamparuli River and Wario River.
Sabah, like much of Malaysia, has a tropical climate with hot and humid conditions year round. Temperatures usually are around 32 °C during the day and around 24 °C at night. Higher areas, and especially up Mount Kinabalu, temperatures are lower and on the top temperatures can drop to below 0 °C at night!
Although there is no distinctive dry season, the months of June to December in general are wetter than January to April, well, at least along the northwest coast. Along the eastcoast, the months of November to January stand out in having more rain and the drier months are March and April. In general though, rain is possible anytime and sometimes up to 500 mm of rain a month is not unheard of.
Kota Kinabalu International Airport (IATA: BKI) is Sabah's international gateway and is located 8 kilometres from the city of Kota Kinabalu. It is the second busiest airport in Malaysia. Airlines with flights servicing Kota Kinabalu include Malaysia Airlines, Air Asia, Dragonair, Korean Air and Silk Air.
There are many daily flights to Kota Kinabalu from Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Johor Bahru in the peninsula; Kuching and Miri in Sarawak; Sandakan and Tawau in Sabah. The flight duration is approximately 2.5 hours from the peninsula. Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia service these routes but book at least a month ahead to get good rates. AirAsia and other budget airlines operate from the Terminal 2 of the airport.
The only place where you can travel overland into Sabah is from Sarawak through the border crossing at Merapok near Lawas. Everyone will have to go through immigration checks here. The road between Kota Kinabalu and the border is sealed all the way and in good condition. If you are planning to do the overland trail from Sarawak to Sabah, it is possible to get from Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei - or with a bit of a stretch, from Miri - to Kota Kinabalu within a day. See Kota Kinabalu to Brunei by land for details. The trip includes multiple border crossings (each with an exit and an entrance stamp as (north to south) you exit Sabah, enter Sarawak, exit Sarawak, enter Brunei, exit Brunei, enter Sarawak, exit Sarawak, and enter the main part of Brunei again before crossing back into Sarawak after Bandar Seri Begawan.
There is no official land crossing with Indonesia, although there may be some informal tracks from the interior of Sabah which locals use to get to East Kalimantan.
You can enter Sabah by boat from the Malaysian Federal Territory of Labuan, Zamboanga in the southern Philippines, and from Nunukan in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. However, there are no passenger boat services between Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia.
The North Borneo Railway is the only railway network on Borneo. The network is small (134 kilometres), linking Kota Kinabalu to Beaufort along the west coast, and then inland along the Padas River to Tenom, which is the more interesting and popular stretch for travellers. The new Kota Kinabalu to Beaufort service opened in February 2011. Beaufort to Tenom remains only once a day.
Sabah's road network is not as developed as that in Peninsular Malaysia and there are large areas of the interior, such as the Kinabatangan River basin, which are not connected by road. The main road most useful to travellers are those running along the West Coast from the Sabah-Sarawak border at Sindumin through Sipitang, Beaufort and Papar to Kota Kinabalu (called Route A2) and northwards from Kota Kinabalu to Kota Belud and ending at Kudat near the northern tip of Sabah (Route A1). The main road into the West Coast interior runs from Kota Kinabalu to Tambunan, Keningau and Tenom.
The main road to the East Coast (Route A4) branches off Route A1 near Tuaran, about 30 kilometres north of Kota Kinabalu. It passes the foot of Mount Kinabalu and Ranau right through to Sandakan. The main road to Tawau and the southeastern parts of Sabah (Route A5) branches off from Route A4 about 55 kilometres west of Sandakan or 285 kilometres from Kota Kinabalu.
A road is being constructed from Keningau through the isolated Pensiangan and Kalabakan districts to Tawau at the southeastern corner of Sabah. Once completed, the road will enable those travelling from Kota Kinabalu to Tawau to cut travelling time and distances significantly without needing to use the KK-Sandakan road.
Long distance express buses operate between major cities in Sabah. Most of these are air-conditioned and quite comfortable. There are also non-aircon stage buses running between towns which stop to pick-up and let down passengers along the way. They may be cheaper but take forever to get anywhere.
A lot of short-distance inter-town travel in Sabah is also done by minibuses and minivans. These are either small buses or vans which are converted to take in passeners. They charge the same fare as buses but carry fewer passengers. Most operate in the morning and will only leave when they are full. But once they get going, the journey can be quite fast. You can make long distance journeys with minibuses and minivans but you'll have to change along the way.
Lime juice, mango juice, and other fresh fruit juices. Cheap liquors are very widely available at most supermarkets and mini markets in the state. Other alcoholic drinks such as beer and whisky are also widely available.
We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Sabah searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Sabah and areas nearby.
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