Kudat Town

Continuing on from my last post, the closest settlement of any size to the Tip of Borneo is Kudat, a town of modest charms.

Old wooden shophouses in Kudat Town
Old wooden shophouses in Kudat Town

Difficult to imagine, but this place was once the capital of North Borneo, indeed the first capital, established in 1881. K.G. Tregonning, in his book Under Chartered Company Rule writes of Kudat:

Great hopes were held of it … These high hopes did not eventuate…A small town grew there, but it was always a sleepy hollow and in 1883 (the capital) moved to bustling Sandakan.

Sleepy hollow is probably still a fair description. There are signs of life around the fish and vegetable market but otherwise this town remains pretty sleep-inducing (but maybe I’m being unfair).

Kudat Clocktower
Kudat Clocktower

One of the reasons why Kudat and the surrounding area never took off under British North Borneo (Chartered) Company (BNBCC) rule was due to a lack of workers. The indigenous Rungus people were far too smart to take on the back-breaking hard labour that the British had in mind. BNBCC tried importing Hakka workers from southern China and offered them free passage, tools and plots of land. This was partly successful and many went on to establish coconut and other plantations but others preferred to open shops.

Chinese Temple in Kudat
Chinese Temple in Kudat

Less well-remembered these days were attempts by the British to bring in Filipino workers and, in 1892, Philippine national hero Jose Rizal visited Sandakan to discuss establishing a Filipino rice-growing colony in Borneo of some 5,000 families. Due to opposition from the Spanish authorities in Manila and other reasons this proposal never came to fruition.

Jollibee Logo on Malaysian Fishing Boat
This Jollibee logo on a Malaysian fishing boat in Kudat is evidence of Filipino influence.

Rizal’s scheme might have failed but today Filipinos are in Sabah in vast numbers – between 800,000 and 1.4 million depending on whom you listen to. Many of these are undocumented (illegal) migrants who arrived by short boat trips from the southernmost Philippine islands which are only a stone’s throw away.

Aerial view of one of Sabah's many water villages, many of which are home to undocumented migrants.
Aerial view of one of Sabah’s many water villages, many of which are home to undocumented migrants. This one is in Kudat town.

Many of these illegals have settled in water villages (ramshackle huts on stilts above the sea) which cling to the coasts of Sabah like iron filings to a magnet.

I digress. What other attractions are there in Kudat which I can tell you about?

Town centre, Kudat
Town centre, Kudat

There is a golf club said to be oldest in Borneo, there’s a clock tower, a fish market and the Esplanade where seafood restaurants attract the locals in the evening.

View of fishing boats at Kudat Esplanade
View of fishing boats at Kudat Esplanade

On the outskirts of town is the airport, built on the old airfield which was constructed by the Japanese during WWII using forced labour from Java and locally. The airfield was heavily bombed by the Americans towards the end of the war.

Kudat Airport
A sleepy airport for a sleepy town. It is served by MAS Wings flights from Kota Kinabalu.

About 11km north of Kudat town is Bak Bak beach. It is not great for sand but has some interesting rock formations to explore.

Bak Bak Beach, Kudat
Bak Bak Beach, Kudat

Kudat Town is nice and peaceful and the people are friendly but if I were to return to this corner of Malaysia again I would concentrate on the Tip of Borneo and Simpang Mengayau beach.

Bak Bak Beach, Kudat
Bak Bak Beach on a weekday.

Long Drive to the Tip of Borneo

Tip of Borneo Map

I was in Sabah last month to explore some more places in Malaysian Borneo. I wanted to visit the Tip of Borneo, the northern-most point of the island of Borneo, and the most northerly point of Malaysia, excluding some outlying islands.

It is located just over 200km from Kota Kinabalu airport from where I rented a car. Here are some of the points of interest I found along the way.

Rumah Terbalik

The first stop-off was to see Rumah Terbalik, the upside down house near the small town of Tamparuli.

Rumah Terbalik, Tamparuli, Sabah
Rumah Terbalik, Tamparuli, Sabah

You might wonder why anyone would go to the expense of building an upside down house and not even be able to live in it. There are actually quite a few of them in the world (Germany, Austria, Poland among other places). There’s even another one in Malaysia, in Melaka, which I guess I should go and see one of these days.

Rumah Terbalik seems to be on the itinerary of many Sabah tours and draws in a steady flow of visitors paying RM10 per person (for Malaysians) and RM18 (for foreigners) so presumably it is a profitable venture. It’s quite well organised with guided tours, a gift shop and restaurant. Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside the house otherwise I could show you all the household items stuck to the ceiling (the owners might want to review this policy in this selfie-obsessed age).

Rumah Terbalik, Tamparuli, Sabah
Even the car and pot plants are upside down.

Tamparuli Suspension Bridge

Next I stopped to walk across the pedestrian suspension bridge crossing the Tamparuli River in this colourful market town.

Tamparuli Suspension Bridge
The pedestrian suspension bridge is on the right while the single lane road bridge is on the left.

The suspension bridge (or hanging bridge as they are called in Malaysia) is in constant use by school kids and other pedestrians. Although it sways and bounces underfoot, its structure is quite solid but you need to keep an eye out for missing planks. More precarious looking is the road bridge, just a few feet above the river level. Bridges in Sabah have a habit of being washed away in the rainy season.

Tamparuli Suspension Bridge

At the far end of the bridge is a small memorial to two British soldiers, Private JWN Hall and Driver DC Cooper who drowned here in May 1960 while trying to negotiate this bridge in a Land Rover during a flood.

Ling San Temple, Tuaran

The next settlement of any size on this road in thinly-populated Sabah is the town of Tuaran. The population here are mostly ethnic Dusans and Bajau but the sizeable Chinese community have built themselves a very fine temple with an ornate 9 storey pagoda.

Ling San Temple and Pagoda, Tuaran
Ling San Temple and Pagoda, Tuaran

According to the plaque outside, construction of the pagoda began in 1990 and was completed in 2005.

Journey to the West character at Tuaran
A character from ‘Journey to the West’ at Ling San Pagoda.

Kampung Tenghilan

In need of some water, I stopped off at the village of Tenghilan where there is a row of half-century old wooden shops of a sort seldom seen these days.

Wooden shophouses at Kg Tenghilan, Sabah
Wooden shophouses at Kg Tenghilan, Sabah

There is a small monument here with the markings 1881-1981 and a map of Sabah, appearing to commemorate a centenary. The monument is built above a small menhir which once bore a plaque but that has been removed so its significance is unknown.

Snooker match at Tenghilan, Sabah
Rustic billiard saloon at Kg. Tenghilan

Simpang Mengayau Beach

Almost at the Tip of Borneo is a magnificent white sandy beach which must be one of the best in Malaysia and a well-kept secret.

Simpang Mengayau Beach, Tip of Borneo, Kudat, Sabah
Simpang Mengayau Beach (sometimes called Kalampunian Beach), Tip of Borneo, Kudat, Sabah

As you can see from the photo, it is not too crowded. There are no lifeguards and no facilities but there are a few places to stay (Borneo Tip Beach Lodge, Tommy’s Place etc). If you want to get away from it all you should consider this gorgeous 5km long beach which is reckoned to have the best sunsets in Borneo.

Simpang Mengayau Beach, Tip of Borneo, Kudat, Sabah
Simpang Mengayau Beach seen from the Tip of Borneo.

Tip of Borneo

Finally I reached my destination.

Tip of Borneo marker
Tip of Borneo marker.

The vegetation on this windswept headland is not typical for Malaysia.

Approach to the Tip of Borneo
Path leading to the Tip of Borneo.

Some of the sheltered coves here look more like Cornwall than the Tropics.

Sheltered Cove at Tip of Borneo
Sheltered Cove at Tip of Borneo

And here, below, is the actual Tip of Borneo with the South China Sea to the left and the Sulu Sea to the right.

Tip Of Borneo
Tip Of Borneo. Visitors are asked not to go beyond the barrier for safety reasons.

In my next post, I’ll share a few more places that I covered on my Borneo trip.

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