If you’re like us, you’re probably clicking away on travel sites, longing for the days when we can safely fly once again.

Our affinity for exploring nature has surely only soared in 2020, with the travel restrictions in place leading many Hongkongers to take to the city’s backyard for their fix of adventure.

While Hong Kong’s waterfall hikes and outdoor experiences just might be able to scratch that itch, we’re also eagerly looking at the easiest nearby getaways that can fill our weekends once borders and airports safely reopen again. Keen outdoorsmen will want to look to East Malaysia, comprising Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan — located at the northern section of Borneo, the third largest island in the world.

Beautifully nicknamed the “land below the wind,” Sabah, like its neighbouring state Sarawak, is filled with unspoiled nature. Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s capital, may have been popular pre-CoViD for Hongkongers looking for a no-fuss resort escape, but the entire region boasts many gorgeous islands, most of which are perfect bases for diving and snorkelling. It’s also home to Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Malaysia. From the forests to the land and the sea, nature experiences in Sabah are plentiful.

Chances are, you’re probably wondering where to even begin exploring Sabah beyond KK. Worry not –- we’ve curated a selection of nature-related experiences below to help you on your way.

(Header image credit: Sebastien Jermer/Unsplash)

This article was first published on Lifestyle Asia Kuala Lumpur.

1
Snorkelling at Mantanani Island

Northwest of Kota Belud, which is an hour’s drive away from Kota Kinabalu, you can take a speedboat and head towards the idyllic Mantanani Islands. It actually comprises three isolated islands that are virtually unspoiled with clear waters and white sandy beaches. For this experience, you can go snorkelling on the islands and check out the amazing coral reefs below. Choose between just snorkelling at Mantanani Islands or doing that and taking a Kawa Kawa River Cruise to check out the fireflies. Onboard the boat, you can enjoy a buffet meal too.

(Image credit: MantananiIsland.com)

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2
Visit Kinabalu Park and Poring Hot Spring

Even if you don’t plan to hike Mount Kinabalu, the Kinabalu National Park is definitely worth a visit simply to see the dense rainforest and its inhabitants. In this package, you’ll be taken to Kinabalu Park on a guided tour to check out the flora and fauna, then take a dip into the Poring Hot Spring after. The hot spring is rich with sulphur, making it a nice and relaxing time out after a long trek.

(Image credit: Klook)

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3
Catch the fireflies and more at Klias Wetlands

Being able to watch fireflies in its natural habitat just means that its surrounding nature is still unspoiled, as these gentle creatures are extremely delicate and non-resistant to changes in its environment. Take a boat ride down at Klias Wetlands for a safari cruise and you’ll not only see fireflies, but also mangroves and various other animals including the Proboscis monkeys. While onboard the cruise, snack on some local cuisine they’ll be providing, sit back and enjoy the ride.

(Image credit: Borneo Trails)

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4
Visit the Tunku Abdul Rahman Island and go snorkelling from the boat

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Malaysia is home to some of the best diving spots around the world, and the Tunku Abdul Rahman marine national park is one of them. When you dive underwater, you’ll be entering a whole different world with stunning coral reefs and sea creatures. Experience it with this package, where you’ll be brought to Manukan, Mamutik, Sapi, and Gaya islands to snorkel in their crystal clear waters. On the way to Gaya Island, you’ll be boarding a double deck catamaran, so be sure to pack your best beach outfit to take some pictures. While onboard, you can also enjoy a local lunch accompanied by spectacular ocean views.

(Image credit: Light Holidays)

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5
Explore the private Dinawan Island on a day trip from Kota Kinabalu

If you’re in Kota Kinabalu and want a short trip out to escape the city, Dinawan Island is your best bet for a tranquil and idyllic getaway. Not only will you get to appreciate stunning views, but you can also try out a myriad of water activities from kayaking to snorkelling. With this package, you’ll be ferried directly from your hotel to the island, and enjoy a seafood barbecue buffet lunch.

(Image credit: Klook)

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6
Hiking at Mount Alab

Is the beach not really your thing? Do you prefer getting into the forest and just losing yourself in nature? Then hiking in Mount Alab might just be right up your alley. Also known as Gunung Alab to the locals, this hiking trail sometimes gets overshadowed by Mount Kinabalu, but it’s equally as scenic of a climb (and less challenging). From Crocker Range National Park, you can hike all the way up to the summit and enjoy lush views of the forest and mountain range. After everything, cool off at the Mahua Waterfalls. This package includes a guided hike to the summit with lunch included.

(Image credit: Wiki Commons)

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7
Camp under the stars in Mount Kinabalu

You’ll quite literally be seeing stars with this 3D2N excursion to Mount Kinabalu. Expert guides will be leading you through this camping experience in Mount Kinabalu which begins with a ride to Porohon Garden, way out of the city. From there, you’ll be hiking through the trail to the dedicated campsite and enjoy a picnic lunch by the waterfall. When night falls, it’s time to head into the forest for a spot of stargazing. The following day, you’ll head to a second campsite by Dolungang Waterfalls.

(Image credit: Nick Dietrich/Unsplash)

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