A good destination to stop by when travelling northwards from Kota Kinabalu is Kota Belud .
This small town, which is 77 km away from KK, springs into life every Sunday when Sabah's largest "Tamu" takes place. The "tamu" is a traditional open air fair selling a wide variety of local food, agricultural produce and handicrafts.
Kota Belud is home to the famed cowboys ( Bajau Horseman ) of Sabah. These horsemen garbed in jeweled costumes and armed with ceremonial spears during festive occasions, are mainly farmers here. During "tamu" time, they can be seen riding on buffaloes to the market to be traded.
Halfway along the coast from Kota Kinabalu to Kota Belud, lies the Mengkabong Water Village – a village built on stilts in the sea and connected to the riverbank by a network of narrow wooden planks. Transport around the village is by canoe or sampan.
Driving 161 km up country from Kota Belud to the northern tip of Sabah is where one can find Kudat – home of the Rungus, Tribal cousins of the Kadazan race.
The Rungus people still adopt a very much traditional lifestyle and are skilled in handicrafts.
The older women ear black sarongs and colourful beaded necklaces. On festive occasions, heavy brass bracelets are won as well.
Kudat, which can also be reached by sea, has some of the best beaches in Sabah.
Sandakan , lying on a bay on the north-eastern coast of Sabah and facing the Sulu Seas, is a busy port 386 km east of Kota Kinabalu.
One of the islands off Sandakan is Berhala Island , ideal picnicking and swimming and within easy reach by motor launch. A lighthouse on the highest point offers interesting views for photographers.
Off the northern coast of Sandakan lies Turtle Islands , which comprise Pulau Slingan , Pulau Bakungan Kecil and Pulau Gulisan . These islands are favourite nesting grounds for the Green and Hawksbill turtles – the peak egg-laying season being between July and September.
Selingan Island , which has accommodation facilities, can be reached in one hour by speedboat from town.
About 32 km south of Sandakan is the Gomantong Caves , home to over a million swifts lets and famous for its edible bird's nest – a jelly – like substance much sought after in Chinese cuisine.
A 20 minute's rive westwards from Sandakan brings visitors to the Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary and Rehabilitation Centre , the world's largest orang utan sanctuary.
This 4,440 hectare centre of virgin equatorial rainforest is also home to a wide variety of rare plants and animal life, including Red Leaf monkeys, macaques and Sumatran rhinoceros.
Travelling by road south of Sandakan towards Lahad Datu involves a ferry crossing over over the Kinabatangan River . Proboscis monkeys, which are only found in Borneo, can be seen along the riverbanks during early mornings and late afternoons.
Lahad Datu is sometimes referred to as Sabah's cowboy town. Once a bustling timber centre its landscape is now dominated by cocoa and oil palm estates.
Lying south of Lahad Datu and served by a good road is Semporna . It is an old but interesting town built on a peninsular on the east coast of Sabah. Semporna is renowed for its islands and rich coral reefs, which are ranked as among the best in the world. Semporna also has a floating restaurant-cum-motel, and the seafood here is fresh and well recommended.
An exciting new destination is the Danum Valley Conservation Area , Sabah's largest protected lowland forest, which is located within a 2-hour drive from Lahad Datu. Visiting this area provides the opportunity to see wildlife such as the orang utan and rainforest in various stages of regeneration in the reforestation project set up to offset greenhouse gases. The Danum Valley Field Centre, one of the foremost research and environmental education establishments in South East Asia, is located within this area. Its extensive facilities include a well-equipped laboratory, a 40-meter high canopy observation platform and fine suspension bridge over the Segama River.
With the widespread concern for the future of the world's tropical rainforests, this is a unique opportunity to see first-hand some of the problems and potential solutions in action.
Pulau Sipadan , located 30 km off Semporna is the only true oceanic island in Malaysia. Widely acknowledged as one of the best diving sites in South East Asia, it possesses unparalleled undersea scenery and marine life.
The island is actually a 600-meter high limestone pinnacle, which juts out of the seabed before "mushrooming" at the surface.
Pulau Boheydulang , which is close to Semporna, boasts a pearl farm.
West of Semporna across a fine 110 km – long sealed road lays Tawau , which is straddled at the southeast corner of Sabah and close to the West Kalimantan ( Indonesia ) border. There are frequent flights to this mini-boomtown from KK and Sandakan.
In recent years, Tawau has taken over from Sandakan as the timber capital of Sabah. This region is also known for its rich volcanic soils, which support Sabah's premier economic crop – cocoa.
The town proper has a beautiful mosque and avenues of shades shops. Timber, rubber, Manila hemp, copra and palm oil are also produced in the hinterland.
Open air stalls along the seafront serve delicious seafood.