From Sabah to Sarawak: 8 Exciting East Malaysian Cities to Visit

From Sabah to Sarawak: 8 Exciting East Malaysian Cities to Visit

Happy Malaysia Day!

While 31 August marks a very special day as Malaysia’s Independence Day, there is also another date that is highly significant to the country. On 16 September 1963, the Federation of Malaya officially welcomed Sabah (formerly known as North Borneo), Sarawak and Singapore (which later exited), to officially become Malaysia.

Rich with nature and culture, there is so much to see and explore in both Sabah and Sarawak. It’s time to plan that trip to East Malaysia, but which cities should you go to? Let us help you pick.

SABAH – Negeri Di Bawah Bayu (The Land Below the Wind)

Kota Kinabalu

Why you should come here: Beautiful beaches, blissful greenery and Malaysia’s highest mountain

With its excellent location overlooking the South China Sea, the capital city of Sabah thrives with white sandy beaches and lush rainforests. Sip on a refreshing cocktail as you watch spectacular sunsets at Tanjung Aru, or make a daytrip the beautiful islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park (Gaya, Sapi, Manukan, Mamutik and Sulug) via a 20-minute speedboat ride. Those seeking for some greenery can head over to Kundasang, where verdant national parks promise a tranquil atmosphere. For a bit of an adventure, challenge yourself by scaling the 4,024 metre-high Mount Kinabalu, the tallest peak in Malaysia.


Why you should come here: Stunning islands and world class scuba diving

For most travellers, the shore town of Tawau serves as the gateway to Sipadan, routinely cited as one of the best scuba diving spots in the world. The awesome macro diving scene in Sipadan draws thousands of avid divers hoping to catch sight of the majestic tiger sharks and the amazing vortex of barracudas swimming in perfect motion. Kapalai Island boasts Maldives-esque overwater villas, while those seeking a unique accommodation experience may opt for Seaventures Resort, a huge former oil rig, which is now a diving resort. For pretty beaches, great snorkelling and a glimpse of the everyday life of the Bajau Laut people (Bornean sea gypsies), Mabul Island makes for a very interesting holiday.


Why you should come here: Precious wildlife and pristine tropical rainforest

Sabah’s second biggest city is the starting point of many eco-tourism activities. Check out the playful antics of rescued Orangutans, who call the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre home before they move back into the wild. More of wildlife spotting including proboscis monkeys, Bornean pygmy elephants and various rare bird species can be experienced with a scenic river cruise along the Kinabatangan River Cruise, the longest river in Sabah.


Why you should come here: Succulent seafood, duty-free shopping and awesome wreck diving

Nicknamed the ‘Pearl of Borneo’, Labuan is well-known amongst locals as a great holiday destination for shopping and seafood. Thanks to its duty-free zone, items like chocolates, perfumes and alcohol are a top-selling items to take home. The sun-kissed beaches of Labuan are a delight to explore, while the underwater scene flourishes with much vibrant marine life with a few World War II era shipwrecks making Labuan a hot destination for scuba divers. After all the awesome activities, indulge in fresh seafood cooked in local flavours!

SARAWAK – Bumi Kenyalang (Land of the Hornbills)


Why you should come here: Relaxed city life and unique Malaysian Bornean culture and heritage

Despite its name Kuching, which means cat in English, the capital city of Malaysia’s biggest state is not occupied by cats, though they do have a Cat Museum which houses thousands of unique cat paraphernalia. With the mighty Sarawak River running along the city centre, the city is well-known for its laid-back and relaxing vibes. Take a boat across the river to sample the city’s best Mee Kolok (noodle dish with minced and barbecued pork) or buy some delicious Kek Batik (chocolate cake with biscuit pieces) to bring back as souvenirs. Another highlight of the city is the Sarawak Cultural Village, which depicts the lifestyle of various indigenous tribes of Sarawak. Best to come here during the annual Rainforest Music Festival for awesome live musical performances


Why you should come here: Delicious heritage foods

Rich with Fuzhou heritage, Sibu offers a slightly different vibe from the other Sarawak cities. One of the best ways to experience it is through the cuisine. Feast yourself on delicious Mee Kampua (noodles tossed in dark soya sauce and served with meat pieces), Mee Udang (noodles in prawn broth), or Red Wine Mee Suah (noodles with a chicken and red wine broth). If you’re up for more food adventure, check out some interesting ethnic tribal foods, such as pansoh (meat in mixed herbs and tapioca leaves, cooked inside a bamboo) and kuih jala (sweet and crispy munchies made from rice flour and sugar), both a longhouse staple of the Iban tribe. Meanwhile, the Melanau tribe’s cuisine include umai (fish ceviche), linut (sago goop), sago pellets and sago worms.


Why you should come here: Million-year-old caves

The city of Miri is not only rapidly booming because of its status as an oil city, but also known as the gateway to some of the region’s most spectacular natural sites. The biggest national park in the state, the 52,864-hectare Mulu National Park, is one of four Malaysian attractions listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Limestone karst formations, rock pinnacles, and pristine flora and fauna aside, the park also features some of the most incredible caves including the Deer Cave, the Clearwater Cave and the Sarawak Chamber, the largest known cave chamber in the world by area.


Why you should come here: National parks and one of the oldest caves in Southeast Asia

Bintulu is not a typical tourist destination, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit it anyway. Its laid-back vibe, fantastic cuisine and easy access to some of Borneo’s best natural attractions might surprise you. Pantai Temasya is a great place to bask in stunning sunsets and enjoy local delicacies such as rojak sotong (squid and vegetable salad) and air batu campur (crushed ice dessert). Don’t forget to pay a visit to the Similajau National Park, a relaxing place with sandy beaches and verdant forests. For the ultimate adventure, make your way to Niah National Park (also accessible via Miri), where lies one of the oldest caves in Southeast Asia and also home to the earliest human remains that have been discovered in Southeast Asia.

GETTING THERE: AirAsia flies to various destinations in Sabah and Sarawak. Book your seats now at

Irvin enjoys conversations with the trees and the stars. Sometimes they share recipes, sometimes they share jokes.

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