11th April, 2017
A Rungus longhouse
KUDAT: Getting to know the Rungus ethnic community is the perfect introduction to Sabah’s northernmost district of Kudat and its array of tourism offerings.
Their unique traditional handicrafts and cultural dances aside, they are the only indigenous group in this state who dwell in longhouses.
Kudat is also known for its fresh seafood, as well as Tanjung Simpang Mengayau – dubbed the Tip of Borneo – which affords stunning views when the sun sets over the horizon, where the South China Sea meets the Sulu Sea. Not many people, including this writer (Kurniawati Kamarudin) before her recent maiden trip to this quaint town, seem to be aware of its attractions.
Visitors to the state capital Kota Kinabalu probably give it a miss because it takes a good three hours to get to Kudat by car.
Air accessibility is limited too as Malaysia Airlines operates flights only twice a week from Kudat to Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu and that too using its 19-seater Twin Otter aircraft.
About 80,000 to 100,000 domestic and international tourists visit Kudat annually, but the local tourism authorities are confident that visitor arrivals will swell once the Sabah Pan Borneo Highway is completed.
The project includes the RM2.5 billion 130-kilometre coastal highway from Tuaran (located about 32 kilometres from Kota Kinabalu) to Kudat which, when completed in five years time, is expected to cut travelling time between Kota Kinabalu and Kudat by half to one and a half hours.
“We expect the new road to boost Kudat’s economy and tourism industry,” predicted Kudat district officer, Sapdin Ibrahim.
Speaking to reporters participating in the 2017 Sabah Media Tour from March 23 to 26, organised by the Information Department, he said preparations were already underway to build the necessary infrastructure and facilities to lure more tourists to the northern part of Sabah.
A total of 18 media representatives took part in the four-day visit to Kudat and Kota Belud, which was the first edition of the department’s 2017 Sabah Media Tour.
At the end of the trip, the main takeaway for this writer was that Kudat was indeed a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered by tourists near and far.
The district of Kudat has two sub-districts, Matunggong and the fascinating Pulau Banggi, which is the biggest island in Malaysia and has in its vicinity other islands like Pulau Balambangan and Pulau Malawi, as well as a cluster of smaller islands.
The still pristine islands and their white sandy beaches are delightful and bound to be a hit with nature and adventure lovers when tourism picks up in this part of Sabah.
Kudat’s population comprises the Bajau Ubian (mostly fishermen living in the coastal areas), Rungus, Suluk, Murut and Dusun ethnic groups, besides the Chinese and Malay communities.
Usually, tourists make a beeline for the longhouses belonging to the Rungus, who are mostly farmers and make up 15 per cent of Kudat’s population of 119,200.
Each longhouse represents an entire village, with each family allocated a room. At night, the parents and their daughters sleep inside the room while their sons sleep outdoors. The village head usually stays in the room right in the middle of the longhouse.
One of the doors at the longhouse is kept closed but in the event of a death, it is opened to allow the body to be carried out of the longhouse.
The Rungus natives collect one of Kudat’s best honey and are also skilled in the art of making crafts like beads and gongs, which are sought after by tourists.
Tanjung Simpang Mengayau, a scenic sleepy hollow located about 25 km from Kudat town, is the pride of the people of Kudat as it is located at the tip of the island of Borneo, the third-largest island in the world.
Sapdin said any visit to Kudat would not be completed without a trip to Borneo’s northernmost point, also dubbed the Horn of Sabah.
He whisked the media group away to the cliff at Tanjung Simpang Mengayau at the nick of time to catch the famed sunset and the dazzling spectacle mesmerised them all.
This place used to be a favourite landing point for the pirates in a bygone era and it was also an important gateway for Chinese, Indian and Arab trading ships.