East Malaysia essentially comprises of the states of Sabah and Sarawak and the Federal Territory of Labuan.
The majority of the population in Sabah and Sarawak comprise of the indigenous tribes like the Kadazan Dusun and the Ibans. It is the warm hospitality of these people that make a visit to East Malaysia so satisfying.
Both Sabah and Sarawak are well known for their unspoilt thriving rainforests. Labuan, on the other hand, is an island off the coast of Sabah and is better known as the offshore financial centre of Malaysia.
East Malaysia, Sabah - Land Below the Wind
Dubbed as the “Land Below the Wind”, Sabah has one of the most widely diversified ethnic groups in Malaysia.
There are over 80 dialects spoken among the 32 indigenous communities found in this state. Just like its people, Sabah also has a wide diversity of things to do for its visitors.
The state capital city of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu, located on the West coast of Sabah is becoming a more popular getaway for ecotourism. There are certainly plenty of eco adventures like caving, scuba diving, mountain climbing, river cruising and white water rafting that visitors can try out to get their adrenaline pumping.
Kota Kinabalu city itself also has many places of interest to visit. There is the Gaya Street Market which is famous for handicrafts and pearls and if you want to get a breathtaking panoramic view of the city, you can venture up to the Signal Hill Observatory. This is the highest point around the city. The name is derived from the flag signals that were sent up to the hill whenever the mail ship arrived at the port.
Just outside the city are several international class resorts. The Shangri-La Tanjung Aru and the Sutera Harbour resorts offer visitors a touch of luxury with a splendid view of the sea.
Last but not least, a trip to Sabah will never be complete without climbing the highest mountain in South East Asia, Mount Kinabalu. It stands 4,095m above sea level and the summit can be reached in a day of hard climbing.
East Malaysia, Labuan Island – Offshore Financial Center of Malaysia
Situated around 10 kilometers off the coast of Sabah is Labuan Island. This is the only Federal Territory that is located on East Malaysia. Apart from being the offshore Financial Center of Malaysia, the island is also a duty free port.
Diving aficionados will find Labuan an interesting destination as the area around the island has several sunken wrecks that provide an unparallel wreck diving experience.
On land, there are several religious sites like the An’Nur Jamek Mosque and the Sikh Temple that was inspired by Amritsar’s Golden Temple in Punjab, India which visitors can view during their trip to Labuan.
East Malaysia, Sarawak – Land of the Hornbills
Relatively untouched by modern development in the interior, Sarawak is said to be a paradise for the eco adventurer.
Sarawak is also the largest state in Malaysia, covering an area almost as large as the whole of West Malaysia. The state capital is Kuching. Literally translated, it means “Cat City”. Although, I have yet to find hordes of stray cats roaming the streets of Kuching!
Sarawak has a very interesting history. It was in fact a piece of real estate that was owned and ruled by the Brooke’s family. James Brooke, a British trader who helped the Sultan of Brunei surpass a rebellion against the sultanate, was accorded the title of “Raja of Sarawak” in 1841. After three generations of the “white rajahs” rule, Sarawak was ceded to the British Crown in 1946.
The main tourist belt found in Kuching city is at the waterfront. The waterfront promenade is fronted by a row of old shop houses that predate the First World War. Today, these well preserved historical icons of Kuching city double as a handicraft bazaar for tourists.
Just on the outskirts of the city is the Sarawak cultural Village. The village showcases all the lifestyles of major ethnic groups found in Sarawak. It is also the site where the Rainforest World Music Festival is held yearly.
Like the kadazan Dusun of Sabah, the indigenous communities of Sarawak, the Ibans, Bidayuh and Melanau are warm in their hospitality with visitors to their community. In fact, visitors can chose to stay in the longhouses along the Batang Ai River and Rejang River to experience how these people actually live all under one roof!