There is always a certain amount of anxiety when travelling to another country and when it comes to the Asian countries, there is also the heat, humidity and jet lag to contend with.
For me, however, once I stepped off the second flight – a two-and-a-half hour journey from Kuala Lampur, mainland capital of Malaysia, to Sabah’s capital Kota Kinabalu – all the nervousness and exhaustion was forgotten. I had arrived in Sabah, Malaysia's region of paradise on the island of Borneo, where everything, and I mean absolutely everything, is surrounded by dense, tropical jungle.
An introduction to Malaysia's Sabah
As one of the 13 states of Malaysia Sabah is – along with Sarawak – one of two states on the island of Borneo. It is also the second largest Malaysian state, covering 73 633 square kilometres.
Of the 27.5 million people living in Malaysia, Sabah region houses slightly over 3.2 million and comprises over 30 different races and more than 80 dialects, with each group having its own colourful culture, traditions, festivals and customs.
It is no surprise that in Sabah’s biggest product is timber, considering that it is situated in one of the world’s largest rainforests. Tea is another huge industry where one small plantation can produce five tons of organic tea daily.
The history of Kota Kinabalu
Seventy percent of Kota Kinabalu is built on land reclaimed from the sea. The city of Kota Kinabalu began as a tiny British settlement on Palau Gaya, dating back as far as 1881. The settlement was burnt down in 1897 and moved across to where the city now stands, where it became known as Jesselton.
Jesselton was then destroyed during WWII to liberate North Borneo from the Japanese. Jesselton was then renamed Kota Kinabalu, after Mount Kinabalu, in September 1968.
The World Amateur Inter-Team Golf Championship golf course
The main purpose of my visit to Malaysia's Sabah region was to attend the second round of the 2011 World Amateur Inter-Team Golf Championship, an annual event that entails six rounds of golf throughout Malaysia and a grand final where five teams from each qualifying round meet.
Dalit Bay Golf Club and Sutera Harbour Golf Club were the two designated courses for the event, and I was fortunate to play both of them during my trip.
Dalit Bay is located on the border of the Shangri-La Rasa Ria resort, a mere 45-minute drive from Kota Kinabalu's city centre. Two rivers border the course and once again Mount Kinabalu is visible from certain holes. And don’t be surprised if your round is halted at any stage by a thunderstorm or heavy tropical downpour. It seems like it wouldn’t be a normal day in Sabah or Malaysia if this doesn’t occur.
Being the only night-golf course in East Malaysia, Sabah's Sureta Harbour offers a spectacular teeing experience after hours. When 20 of the 27 holes are floodlit, it allows you to enjoy a full round of golf well into the late evening.
Just don’t expect it to be any cooler or less humid, and thunderstorms are still a big possibility in the dark!
Other golf courses in Sabah, Malaysia
In total, there are 18 golf courses throughout Sabah, with some requiring a short flight along the coast to get to, while others are situated inland.
For an all-round different experience try Mount Kinabalu Golf Club just outside Kota Kinabalu. If the altitude doesn’t take your breath away then the surrounding views of the countryside and mountains are bound to. It is said that when the thick fog rolls in around the area, you begin to feel as if you are playing in the clouds.
While golf in Malaysia is an impressive attraction in itself, it is not the only entertainment in Sabah and you will definitely find yourself spending as much time exploring what the rest of the state has to offer as you do on the fairways and greens.
General tourism in Malaysia and Sabah
In Malaysia, Sabah plays host to the country's highest peak – Mount Kinabalu's 4 095.2 metre peak can be seen from the city. The peak is nine times the height of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur – the fourth-highest building in the world.
There are many walking trails around the park where you may encounter a rafflesia plant, the largest flower in the world, or even spot an orang-utan or Proboscis monkey. If you are brave enough, join one of the excursions up to the summit.
To immerse yourself in the culture of Malaysia Sabah's tribal villages is a must to visit. Here you will learn about the ancient tribal head-hunters, a tradition for which Sabah is known worldwide.
Another must in Sabah is seafood, largely due to the proximity of the populated areas to the South China Sea. Most of the restaurants keep their stock alive in large water tanks and you get the opportunity to view what you are about to eat. This may be a turn-off for more sensitive eaters, but hey, at least it’s fresh.
Unlike Malaysia, Sabah and its capital Kota Kinabalu is a region of Asia relatively unknown to South Africa, but I would most certainly return to see the rest of the island and play some more of the wonderful golf courses. It’s also not a very expensive trip, so save up some bucks and start exploring somewhere new.
World Amateur Inter-Team Golf Championship 2012: Upcoming events in Sabah and Malaysia
■ Round 2: April 16-19 – Venue: Sabah, Sutera Harbour Golf Club and Dalit Bay Golf Club
■ Round 3: May 14-17 – Venue: Johor, Tanjung Puteri Golf Resort and Horizon Hills
■ Round 4: June 11-14 – Venue: Sarawak, Sarawak Golf Club and Sarawak Club Golf Resort
■ Round 5: July 9-12 – Venue: Melaka, Tiara Golf Club and Ayer Keroh Country Club
■ Round 6: September 10-13 – Venue: Kuala Lumpur, Templar Park Country Club and Kota Permai Golf and Country Club
■ Grand final: November 6-8 – Venue: Perak, Royal Perak Golf Club
■ Open to all amateurs with an official handicap – Men: handicap of 18 or less, women: handicap of 24 or less
■ Format – Stableford.
■ Registration fee – (US)$2 300 / R17 755.67 per team
■ Website – www.ewaitgc.com
SABAH, MALAYSIA QUICK FACTS
Sabah – Of the 13 states in Malaysia Sabah is the second largest.
Geographic location – Sabah occupies the top portion of the island of Borneo and along with Sarawak is separated from Peninsular Malaysia by the South China Sea. Indonesia is the neighbouring country of Sabah.
Area – 73 633 square km
Population – 3.2 million
Capital City – Kota Kinabalu
People – The indigenous people of Sabah are split up into over 30 different groups, with the Kadazan/Dusun tribe making up 30 percent of the population.
Weather – Sabah and Malaysia experiences tropical weather year-round. Temperatures range from 21ºC to 32ºC. Annual rainfall varies from 1 500mm to 3 000mm.
Main holidays – New Year, Hari Raya Aidiladha, Federal Territory Day, Chinese New Year, Awal Muharam, Maulidur Rasul, Labour Day, Wesak, King’s Birthday, Christmas.
Currency – The monetary unit of the country is the ringgit Malaysia and is written as RM.
Time – Eight hours ahead of GMT, which makes Malaysia and Sabah six hours ahead of South Africa.
Measurement – Malaysia follows the metric system.