The Malaysian state of Sabah sits on the northeastern tip of the island of Borneo, which is shared with Indonesia. The second largest Malaysian state after Sarawak, Sabah is the tourist hub of East Malaysia; with white sandy desert islands, a plethora of wildlife and good air links to the rest of Southeast Asia, many make Sabah their only stop in Borneo.
The capital of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu, is located on the west coast. Kota Kinabalu (KK for short) is usually the first stop-off point for visitors as it has an international airport serving Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines and most major cities in the rest of Malaysia. With islands rivalling anything that can be found in Thailand only 20 minutes away by boat and comprehensive tourist facilities, KK can make a good place to rest if you are experiencing travel ennui.
A completely different atmosphere can be found on the foot of Mount Kinabalu, which can be reached easily by bus from KK. One of the highest peaks in Southeast Asia, Mt Kinabalu is a relatively easy climb with no need for specialist equipment, although cool weather clothing is recommended. Many only visit the mountain itself, but it's actually the highest point on a range called Crocker Range. There are two national parks within Crocker Range; Crocker Range National Park and Kinabalu Park, which surrounds the area around Mount Kinabalu itself.
If climbing mountains isn't really your thing and you want a more laid-back approach to spotting animals, the Kinabatangan river is the place to go. Running through the west of Sabah, the banks of the Kinabatangan are hemmed in by palm oil plantations; however an initiative set up by WWF called the "Corridor of Life" has seen the restoration of some trees along portions of the river. It was hoped that these corridors of fruit trees would allow animals, such as orangutans, to travel between protected areas rather than being stuck in isolated islands of protected forests growing amid seas of palm oil plantations. In some areas this has worked so well that a tourist trade has sprung up, and it's now possible to go on river cruises on the Kinabatangan to spot an impressive array of wildlife.
Not far from the Kinabatangan river is a protected area called Danum Valley. Primarily a research centre, it also hosts the odd tourist either in the research centre itself or in the very upmarket Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Nestled in almost pristine forest, the diversity of wildlife here is impressive.
Yet more impressive and more budget restrictive is Maliau Basin. Before you can even set foot in here, you have to make sure that your travel insurance covers helicopter evacuation. However, the sheer natural beauty of this place can outweigh the stupendously high cost of visiting.
For those who are more scuba inclined, there is, of course, Semporna and Sipidan. Off the east coast of Sabah, Sipidan island floats glintingly in the Celebes Sea. World renowned as an "it" destination for any discerning diver, the underwater wildlife here is wonderful. Its lesser appreciated little brother, Mabul island, also plays host to some impressive underwater wildlife, albeit of the micro kind.