Cover Photo credit: Cabana Retreat

From luxe beach villas and eco jungle camps to mountain-top cabins, go off the grid with these unique stays only found in Sabah.

Blessed with untouched beaches, idyllic islands, exotic wildlife and verdant rainforest, East Malaysia is a treasure trove of natural wonders and adventure, with a dash of mystical charm. Though its attractions are closely-guarded local secrets, word of their beauty is spreading by word of mouth. While key attractions like Mount Kinabalu, the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park of islands, and Danum Valley have gained international acclaim, there are off-the-beaten-path retreats beckoning nature lovers to experience and then fall asleep, in the cradle of Sabah’s unique ecology. From hidden rainforest camps, glamping setups to luxurious and rustic lodges, here are some outdoor escapades that sum up Sabah’s lush beauty.

1. 9 Huts on a Hill

Three hours out from Kota Kinabalu is this yoga and eco resort in Bak Bak, Kudat. Each hut is designed according to native Rungus architecture with the intention of bringing holidaymakers closer to the indigenous way of life. In keeping to its eco-friendly motto, the huts are built with locally sourced material, and encourage invigorating activities like yoga, cross-fit, muay thai, or swimming, and a taste of organic fruits and seafood, that perfectly encapsulate seaside living.

2. Tungog Rainforest Eco Camp

Another conservation retreat set on the Kinabatangan River is the Tungog Rainforest Eco Camp. Dubbed a birdwatchers' paradise, visitors can easily spend hours spotting up to 5 species of fauna by day on a camp platform, and retreat to 10 cabin huts to dwell in the forest sounds by night. It is also a port of call for many a research trip and educational outing, with 18km of forest trails, limestone formations and swamp forests to explore.

3. Cabana Retreat

Occupying a stretch on the Rampayan Beach of Kota Belud is this Instagram-famous pop up beach resort, the first of its kind in Malaysia. Glamping style tents are pitched for this luxury outdoor living concept, with the comforts of a hotel, and the connection with nature. Couples, families, parties and groups alike will enjoy the tranquil setting and the various sized tents, with activities like open cinema, barbeque and even in-room dining. Above all, it’s the perfect setting to do for the ‘gram.

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4. Mt Kinabalu Holiday Camp

Most tourists make their pilgrimage to the highlands of Ranau en route to their Mount Kinabalu climb. Its cool climate, and of late, a cute collection of huts dubbed the Mt Kinabalu Holiday Camp, have given tourism an extra boost. A line of woody leaf and colourful triangular cabins give tourists a chance to wake up to a beautiful backdrop of Mount Kinabalu, or go to sleep under a night sky twinkling with stars. During the day, explore the surroundings that also offer views of the largest lake in Sabah, and further on, a breathtaking 360-degree viewpoint.

5. Wind Paradise Mongolian yurts

Just 9 minutes from Kundasang township and on your way to Sabah’s very own New Zealand of ‘Desa Milk farm’ is an attraction not to be missed — the Wind Paradise Mongolian yurts. The rounded tented structures were introduced to Sabah in 2011, and is quite an experience to live in. Don’t be fooled by their unassuming façades: each yurt is furnished with its own toilet and water heater, and the largest yurt sleeps 4 persons comfortably.

6. Tampat Do Aman

Derived from the native Rungus language for ‘place of peace’, Tampat Do Aman promises just that, situated in the northern-most tip of Borneo. The eco-lodge and jungle camp stretches across 6-acres of land in the vicinity of 8 world-class beaches. The traditional-style accommodation is made up of 4 single room chalets and 2 family-style chalets, with en-suite bathrooms. Each unit strives for ecological standards by providing basic comforts, but most significantly, gives access to both jungles and beaches; hallmarks of the ultimate Borneo experience.

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7. North Borneo Biostation

Born out of love for diving and nature research, this unique concept is a platform for tourists and scientists and their explorations of Sabah’s biodiversity. The North Borneo Biostation resort is situated on a 7-acre strip of secluded seafront facing the Sulu Sea, with 20 cosy wooden chalets built from tropical hard wood. Each unit is attached with an open air porch for dwellers to experience the lush coconut grove setting, when they're not diving, caving or windsurfing.

8. Kudat Riviera

Need a private villa for an intimate party or family weekend? Kudat Riviera is an upgrade from the norm, a luxury villa estate spread along 6km of coral-fringed coastline. Built as exclusive holiday villas for travellers in search of privacy and sophistication, the villas come in various sizes and features, with beach front or hill views, fully equipped and tastefully decorated.

9. Dreamland Beach Holiday

Designed as summer lodgings by the sea, Dreamland Beach Holiday comprises 38 vibrant rooms with beachfront views in Kudat. Perfect for groups and families, the site provides outdoor pool, garden and bar, and a slice of idyllic island lifestyle. Each abode comes with comforts like bathtub, air-conditioning and flat-screen TVs, for when you’re not out and about cycling, dining at the on-site restaurant or dipping your toes in the sand.

See also: 8 Eco-Friendly International Schools In Malaysia

10. Sukau Rainforest Lodge

Recognised as a National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, Sukau Rainforest Lodge is strategically perched on the Kinabatangan River, an important waterway in Asia. It is also among the first lodges designed in accordance to ecotourism principles. Positioned as the gateway to Sabah’s prized wilderness, the lodges thoughtfully cater to a luxurious guest experience, with 20 well-appointed rooms opening to lush gardens. Observe a host of conservation activities, or take part in naturalist-led excursions like star-gazing, wildlife safari and jungle trekking.

11. Hibiscus Villa Borneo

Located on the west coast of Sabah is this private holiday villa that straddles the jungle and a secluded beach. A truly exclusive experience, Hibiscus Villa Borneo accommodates up to 9 guests in a spacious 6,000 sq ft space, 2-storey space, with 3 bedrooms and amenities like an infinity pool, onsite housekeepers, chef and sophisticated furnishings that of interior design magazines. You can also head to the beach for a swim or some scuba diving, or make for the forests, where trekking, mountain biking and mangrove touring will keep you occupied for hours.

See also: Luxurious Holiday Homes For An Active Traveller

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