Kota Belud, is a town located between Sabah’s state capital of Kota Kinabalu and the northernmost point of Sabah, Kudat. While some may consider it a mere rest-point between the two bustling points, Kota Belud is not without its own appeal. For the local ethnic Bajau tribe people, the town has long been recognized as their unofficial capital. As of 2010, Bajau and Dusun people make up the most of its 90 thousand strong population, along with a Hakkan Chinese minority. Kota Belud is fast developing and it won’t be long before it establishes itself as a point of interest on its own.
Via the roads available, Kota Belud is accessible from Kota Kinabalu and Kudat, through a variety of means. At Kota Kinabalu, minibus and share taxi services begin from 6am-6pm, for RM 15 per passenger, departing from Padang Merdeka on a once-full basis, a journey that takes approximately 2 hours. By bus, services are offered by Salam Bumimas, at times and prices as listed below.
A trip to Kota Belud would not be complete without a visit to the local Pasar Tamu, a market where locals exhibit their numerous products to customers. With products ranging from vegetables to cakes, the market promises to entice the senses of all daring visitors through its blend of colours and smells. Prices are by no means fixed and such, the art of haggling and negotiating would come in handy here. Once a year in October, an annual market would be held on a grand scale, by the name of Tamu Besar. Then, locals would go all out with their goods as well as displays of their culture. In particular, Bajau cowboys will then display their prized horses in wonderful adornment as well as showing off their unrivalled horse-riding skills. As well as exhibitions of traditional sports such as buffalo racing, there would also be the Sarempak/Senisip beauty pageants, for those of the fairer sex. Given such a colourful atmosphere, one would be wise to book their calendars beforehand for this one of a kind experience!
The Mantanani Islands are a collection of 3 islands located to the northwest of Kota Belud. Its largest, known as Big Mantanani Island, is a knife-shaped like island with a beach stretching as far as 2.5km. Compared to the other more famous islands around Sabah, the island’s relative obscurity means that much of its beauty has remained hidden, up to today. With visibility up to 40 metres, it is common for visitors to find many ray species such as the marbled sting ray and blue spotted ray amidst other fish schools in the surrounding waters. In muck diving, visitors can also notice the presence of jaw fish ribbon eels, seahorses, imperial shrimps and even the blue ringed octopus, scattered among the shipwrecks of old on the sea floor. For snorkeling and diving guidance, Mari Mari Dive Centre provides this service with instructors certified by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), catering to both beginners and experienced divers alike. Alternatively, if diving is not your idea of a good time, one can also choose to go island trekking and experience life as the locals do at the fishing village nearby. Either way, one can almost guarantee that this island paradise will not disappoint!