The town of Kudat is located in the State of Sabah, East Malaysia on the Island of Borneo. The Kudat Sabah area is popular with the more adventuresome travelers because it represents a glimpse into tribal cultures that still include members of a generation before there was any significant Western influence.
Sabah as an interesting history. Although Chinese first traveled to Sabah and integrated with the native population to trade centuries ago, the area was first colonized by a the North Borneo Chartered Company aka the British North Borneo Company in 1881, a late entrant to the worldwide colonial land grab. After the Japanese invasion of WWII and subsequent expulsion, the company possession was converted to a Crown Colony just as many former colonies were becoming independent. In 1963 Sabah, as it was now known, joined Malaya and adjoining Sarawak to become the Federation of Malaysia. The British influence remains today but the tribal roots are stronger.
Today, travel to Kudat is safe and painless. Simply fly into to Kota Kinabalu International Airport (BKI) from larger gateways like Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, or Singapore, or Manila. Once in Sabah's capital, rent a right hand drive car or hope a tour bus North.
If you are not distracted by One Borneo Mega Mall on main highway out of town you'll hit Kudat in about 1.75 to 2 hours. The roads are two lanes, hilly and curvy. Expect occasional washouts and frequent dogs and cows on the road. There are many AWAS (caution) signs along the way, enough to convince you that caution applies to the entire trip.
As late as 50 years ago and pre-independence traveling overland to Kudat was a multi-day adventure driving or walking through mud. Most people got there by boat instead if they ventured there at all.
The tribes of Borneo are justifiably famous for astonishing traditional costumes. Most are black based with colorful beads, woven cloths and hats, silver coin belts, and bells. Today, as in times past, traditional clothing can still be seen at special occasions including weddings, harvest festivals, and cultural events. The exact configuration and combination of clothing is determined by the specific tribe, with each tribe fiercely proud of their traditional dress. You may be able to buy parts of the clothing, especially bead souvenirs which seem to be everywhere.
While most residents of Kudat now live in separate houses, often detached versions of the elevated longhouses, there are still a few older longhouses to visit. Also tourists can see reconstructed longhouses, which sounds fake but is actually authentic because the wood structures were replaced every few years in the hot damp weather anyway. In these longhouses multiple families share a common enclosed porch that gives access to individual private rooms. Living together provided protection from human and animal attacks, as well as other benefits like built-in babysitting. When you visit a longhouse it is polite to tip for taking photos and to buy some handicrafts from the residents.
The Tip of Borneo and the Beaches
At the northernmost point of land on the huge island of Borneo, where the Sulu Sea meets the South China Sea, locals have developed a tourist attraction based on nature. Walk out on to the rocks and see the waves crash as they erode the limestone rocks. Enjoy the nearby mile long sandy beach or on the Sulu side the sheltered bay that is shallow enough to walk out for a half an hour before you feel you must turn back. Relax under a coconut palm or sip local fruit juices at the little cafe. Spending time at the Tip of Borneo is no trip to Disneyland, it is a step back in time to simpler times. Kind of like chilling on a south sea island.
There are other even more forsaken prestine beaches. Explore with your rental car or ask the local where they like to swim in the ocean. You might just find yourself on a white sand beach with no one in sight but the birds.
For more local flavor, head to the Tamu or local market for a full sensory feast. Local fishermen sell their catches - a dazzling array of seafood, crabs, tropical fish and things you may never have seen pulled from the ocean. Market vegetables and forest fruits are also on offer and all manner of staples like rice, honey and oil can be found. Most markets have a section of food carts where local dishes can be sampled. You might even browse the clothing and imported plastic items if you need a new bowl or sandals.
Located as it is on a tropical sea, Kudat is a good base to go deep sea fishing from. There are organized fishing tours available through travel agents or the desk at your hotel, but for a really authentic experience head for the docks at the end of the day and make a new friend. Maybe you can tag along on a real Borneo fishing trip with a local. These guys work hard for their living and they may be open to some extra cash for a ride along.
Kudat boosts a modern golf resort right on the sea that is worth staying at if you want a little bit of luxury. More expensive than the hotels designed for locals, but cheaper than anything you will find in Western countries, the golf resort is a great place to relax and hit some golf balls.
However you plan to spend your time in Kudat, Sabah, remember to slow down and take things easy. This is a small town built around agriculture and fishing, not the big city. There are fantastic beaches, bathtub warm waters to swim in, and friendly locals to interact with. The local girls can be amazingly pretty and pretty much everyone will be friendly toward a guest. The hot spicy foods will warm your tummy and there is coconut trees and mango trees a plenty to ensure you have plenty of fresh juice to drink. Relax, soak in the culture and enjoy Kudat at the tip of Borneo.