Sabah’s community-based tourism answers market’s call for conscious travel

Travel operators, agents and corporate groups will find meaningful and sustainable itineraries that allow for travellers to immerse in the local culture and give back to the community

Nature lovers must visit the Kinabatangan River, located in Sandakan, the gateway to Sabah’s wilderness
Nature lovers must visit the Kinabatangan River, located in Sandakan, the gateway to Sabah’s wilderness

Brought to you by Sabah Tourism Board

Sabah’s community-centric and rural-based tourism options appeal to the new profile of Mindful Explorers – defined as people who seek to contribute to regenerative and sustainable means of tourism.

Travellers can participate in a community-based tour that gives them the opportunity to immerse in the local culture, gain an authentic and rewarding experience while giving back to the community in the Malaysian state.

Travellers seeking a cultural experience can head to Kudat, the northern part of Sabah, and stay in a longhouse alongside the Rungus community, known for its rich culture. Majority of the Rungus people are skilled in crafting gongs, colourful beadwork and other handicrafts.

Kudat is also home to some of the finest white sandy beaches in Sabah.

Kiulu and Kadamaian

Adventure-seekers can explore the Kiulu and Kadamaian rivers in the Tamparuli and Kota Belud districts, known for their grade 1-2 water rapids – perfect for those looking for a ride on nature’s rollercoaster.

Visitors can join the villagers in their daily forage for edible or medicinal plants, or make their way to a scenic small stream or waterfall only known to the residents. They can also partake in jungle trekking, hiking, camping and stargazing.

Some can even try their hand at paddy farming, rubber tapping, traditional basket weaving and beads crafting.

Kadamaian is one of Sabah’s fastest developing rural tourism attractions, and has a goal of becoming a world-class rural tourism destination by 2025.

The Project Picasso by non-governmental organisation, Meraki Daat Sabah Initiative, set to begin in 2023, aims to transform such identified water villages into Instagram-worthy tourist attractions in Sabah – by painting the stilt houses in creative ways.

The Kinabatangan River and Rundum Highland
Nature lovers can visit the Kinabatangan River, located in Sandakan, the gateway to Sabah’s wilderness and the second longest river in Borneo and Malaysia.

The river and its surrounding area are home to various unique animals because the rich biodiversity offers them the perfect habitats.

Travellers can take a boat ride on one of the river’s branches and spot some of Borneo’s most iconic species – orangutans, proboscis monkeys, saltwater crocodiles, hornbills, and pygmy elephants – on the river banks.

To truly experience the life of the Orang Sungai, tourists can stay at one of their rustic traditional wooden stilt homes, join in their cultural activities and experience the local way of farming. Forest conservation programmes are also available to visitors.

On the other hand, Rundum Highland, set up by the Murut community in Tenom, delights with its fresh, cool air and scenic nature views.

Sabah’s rural areas also feature marine and nature parks, wildlife sanctuaries and forest reserves.

Community-based tourism (CoBT) is an initiative to promote sustainability and improve the livelihood of the community in an area, while getting the residents involved in developing and managing their own tourism destination and products.

It is also a great way to empower and create more employment for women and youths.

Sabah is home to more than 30 different races and ethnicities, and boasts a range of more than 80 languages and dialects. The different diverse groups live together to form a homogenous community, while still retaining their own cultures, customs, traditions, arts and festivals.

Keen to explore a meaningful and sustainable itinerary?
Agents and operators keen to consider CoBT can find out more about rural tourism options in Sabah here.

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