In a nutshell
One of the more rural and isolated places for tourists to explore in Malaysian Borneo, Kudat is a small and remote port town located in Sabah state. Many describe its location in terms of the ‘dog’s head’ shape of this region, with Kudat ending up somewhere around the left ear of this shape.
Why go to Kudat
There are a few highlights for intrepid travellers to explore, but generally people don’t tend to stick around for too long – perhaps a couple of days at the most. It’s a good way to experience a more laid back and traditional lifestyle, and many here still occupy longhouses in small villages on the outskirts of town.
In Kudat itself, most choose to explore sights like the local temples, markets and Chinese shophouses, but there isn’t too much to keep one busy. There is a golf course if that’s your thing, and also a bee farm and gong factory that tend to attract tourists,
The real draw of visiting Kudat is to explore the area’s beautiful and quiet beaches and rugged coastline. At the beaches there are some great spots for snorkelling, as well as dive sites. Some of these have great environmental credentials, others not so much, so it is worth doing some research to make sure you choose a dive school that offers the experience you’re looking for. Other activities and water sports available at the tip of Borneo include cycling, surfing and canoeing.
When to go to Kudat
As with the Sabah region in general, Kudat can be visited year round. Rain isn’t uncommon with its tropical climate but there’s no season where the rain causes particular problems with travel.
Where to stay in Kudat
There’s a fairly limited choice of accommodation in the area – even road links were only properly established in the 1990s, so whilst tourism does exist, it’s not exactly a hive of activity. It’s definitely somewhere that booking in advance is recommended, the last thing you want is to end up without a bed for the night!
You have three main options really when it comes to location – either staying in Kudat town itself, handy for restaurants and transport connections, staying at the actual tip of Borneo in one of the beach resorts for beautiful scenery, or on the sleepy island of Banggi just off the coast if you’re looking for something really remote.
If you’re travelling on a budget, there aren’t too many very cheap backpacker options or hostels available, so it’s worth making sure you do a bit of pre planning so you don’t end up blowing the budget. The mid range is fairly well represented and further up the scale there are some more expensive, although not necessarily too luxurious options.
Where to eat in Kudat
When it comes to food and drink, seafood is definitely the most famous cuisine in the region and forms the basis of most of the menus in Kudat. There are restaurants on the seafront itself in stilted buildings built over the water which are supposed to be pretty good, and one of the most popular options to try for seafood is Kampung Kelapa, a Chinese family run outlet behind the market where you choose your fish of choice from tanks and pay by weight.
Budget food can be found at the many small local coffee shops around town, which have predominantly Malay menus, whilst Selera Ria is a more upmarket stop off for coffee and cake.
There are also a couple of good beachside options at the tip of Borneo, where you’ll find freshly prepared local cuisine at good prices. Try Tip Top Restaurant for good western and Malay dishes or La Playa Beach Bar for pizzas and a cold beer.
How to get around Kudat
By far the easiest way to get around Kudat and the surrounding area is to hire a car and drive yourself. Most of the tourist attractions are fairly spread out, with many outside of the town itself, and if you’re having to rely on public transport or taxis it’s either going to be time consuming, expensive or both. Most choose to rent cars from Kota Kinabalu as there aren’t too many rental options in Kudat itself, and the town is pretty accessible by road these days.
If you can’t rely on your own wheels, then there are other options. Near to the bus depot in the centre of town you’ll find taxis and vans. As a sample rate it costs in the region of MYR240 for a private taxi to and from the tip of Borneo and MYR25 per person return if you take one of the vans that fits around 11 people and which normally leave once full.
How to get to and from Kudat
Transport connections with the rest of the island are improving, and there are a few options for getting in and out of Kudat. Generally most people tend to travel to here from Kota Kinabalu and then back again. There is a small airport that is served by MAS Wings, and flights take place several times per week from here to both Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan, tickets are cheaper if you book in advance.
It takes around 3 hours on average to drive to Kudat from Kota Kinabalu, unless you leave the city in rush hour, and it’s a fairly straightforward drive with a few pleasant stop off points on route. Be cautious when it comes to fuel as fuel stations can be few and far between.
Alternatively you can reach Kudat by bus - an air conditioned bus leaves from KK at 9am and then heads back at 2pm although it doesn’t always run due to lack of demand. Non air conditioned buses and vans are also available - expect to pay around MYR25 for a van.
Is Kudat a safe place to visit?
Kudat is a remote and rural community and generally considered to be pretty safe. Just be aware that many are living without much and you’d do well not to flash too much cash or valuables around as thefts can and do take place from time to time.