The Sabah tourism industry is awakening and in the process of expanding infrastructure to capitalise on its unbeatable natural beauty, its paradise islands with pristine beaches and world class dive sites so the rest of the world can discover this absolute jewel in the Malaysia tourism crown.
One of the most magnificent dive sites in the world is located 35km south of Semporna on the east coast of Sabah in the Celebes Sea, it is called Sipadan Island and it was formed by living corals growing on top of an extinct undersea volcano.
Mount Kinabalu is located within the Kinabala national park, it is the highest mountain is SE Asia and it has been attributed world heritage site status since 2000.
Layang Layang Island is a coral atoll that lies 300 km north west off the coast of Kota Kinabalu. It is a 14 km wide island that boasts of walls dropping to depths of 2,000 metres.
The Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary is an example of a conservation project that has turned into a major tourist attraction.
But one of the untold beauties of Sabah tourism is the warm and friendly welcome that is so typically Sabahan, yes the people of Sabah are also a treasure to be proud of.
The Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary was set up in 1964 to care for orphaned Orang Utans and now the 4,300-hectare site specialises in education on not just Orang Utans but also conservation, research and assistance on other endangered species such as the Sumatran 2 horned rhinoceros.
Sabah is not all about dive sites and mountains as the flora and fauna that can be seen on nature, wildlife and conservation tours in the various national parks is a popular attraction as are the caves, watersports and history of Sabah.
Please note this is just a short list of fish you can expect to see as well as the turtles and the varying species of colourful schooling coral fish you can understand how Layang Layang Island is rated as a top ten dive site in the world.
An example of what marine life to expect is; manta rays, dogtooth tuna, reef sharks, humpbacked parrot fish, samp divers, razor fish, moray eels, amber jacks, hammerhead sharks, leopard sharks, groupers, trigger fish, fusiliers, barracuda, skinner fish, bat lips, sweet lips, soldier fish, titan trigger fish, horse-eye jacks, grey reef sharks, sun fish and sting rays.
It would command too much space on this page to write about every island so I will include just one more and it is arguably one of the most impressive.
Off the coast of Kota Kinabalu is the closest example of the islands surrounding Sabah, the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park that consists of 5 islands, namely; Gaya, Sulug, Sapi, Manukan and Mamutik islands, all lying a short boat ride from Kota Kinabalu city at between 3-8km.
The numerous surrounding islands with crystal clear waters provide Sabah tourism with many popular dive sites that can be accessed via organised tours.
When each dive offers the possibilities of witnessing species such as manta rays, eagle rays, scalloped hammerhead sharks and whale sharks, it is little wonder that Sipadan Island attracts the attention of more & more interested visitors every year.
The geographical location of Sipadan Island in the heart of the Indo-Pacific basin puts it in the centre of the richest marine habitat in the world.
Sipadan Island is the only oceanic island in Malaysian waters and visibility of over 30 metres is common making it an ideal location to view the abundant marine life consisting of over 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of different coral species.
Year on year has seen an increase in visitors to Sabah but this upgrade and expansion is expected to yield significant improvement in the numbers of tourists as the routes into KKIA will increase boosting the Sabah tourism industry and expanding the opportunity to experience a truly extraordinary destination.
In 2009 Kota Kinabalu international airport handled 2.3 million visitors but when the current upgrade and expansion work is complete (due Q4 2010) then the airport that is the gateway to Sabah will be able to handle up to 12 million visitors annually.
Sabah National Parks
Layang Layang Island
Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary
But you must book early as the number of dives per day has been limited to 120 people during the hours of 6am to 4pm, this has been done as a measure to help preserve Sipadan islands pristine coral environment.
The schooling barracuda and big-eye trevally, that often gather in thousands forming spectacular tornado-like formations, are one of the highlights of this amazing and world renowned dive site.
All the islands offer crystal clear water perfect for snorkelling and scuba diving and there are also some white sandy beaches to relax under the sun
Many of these islands are also blessed with pristine beaches that are ideal for relaxing or just going out snorkelling around the colourful corals.
Tourists can climb the 4101 metre mountain on guided tours only to experience the awe inspiring site of the sun rising over the South China Sea.
Layang Layang Island has 12 separate dive sites around the islands pristine crystal clear water that offer visibility between 30 and 60 metres all year and the abundance of pelagic life is astonishing. The nearest human habitation is over 300 km away meaning that the Layang Layang Island marine life enjoys near total isolation from human encroachment.
The Sabah Tourism Industry