The country of Malaysia splits into two distinct regions, where the South China Sea pours in between. The peninsular Malaysia embraces 11 states and 2 federal territories (Kuala Lumpur & Putrajaya), while the East of Malaysia nestles two other states, Sabah and Sarawak, also not forgetting a third federal territory, the Island of Labuan. So as you can imagine, geographically, Malaysia is almost as diverse as its culture!

Introduction to Sabah

Though divided into two parts, one thing is for sure─ the stable multi-cultural climate for harmonious relations among people of diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Malays, Indians, Chinese and ethnic communities all in one bubbling and bustling melting pot, creating eclectic gastronomical pursuits and a home that hosts hundreds of colorful festivals. It’s no surprise why Malaysians love a good party.

If you yearn for the exhilarating sense of adventure, Sabah is the perfect place for jungle trekking, cave exploration, white water rafting, mountain climbing or deep sea diving. Your taste for the exotic culture will be more than sated by the numerous ethnic customs and celebrations which include living in longhouses or homestays and tasting the potent rice wine called “lihiing” or “hiing”. Alternatively, you can just laze all day on a secluded private beach or tee off in a championship golf course in any of the many world-renowned holiday resorts.

The charisma of Malaysia is shaped by a palpable yet palatable contrast of themes. Towering skyscrapers cast shadows upon wooden houses built on stilts while luxury jungle lodges can be found deep within virgin rainforests. Lofty mountains peak through the clouds while dense rainforest-clad slopes stretch into floodplains thriving with wildlife. Highland hideaways roll down unto warm sandy shores. It’s the best of both worlds.

Essence of East Malaysia

The East of Malaysia, or better known as the wild island of Borneo sits poised amidst the whirs of ancient folklore and mystical legends.

The tittle-tattle that enkindles the east is mystical, mysterious and one of primeval essence. The Eden of the East summons mystical images of an unknown and unexplored world. But both Sabah and Sarawak’s bloom into sovereignty was a struggle through centuries of various South East Asian game of thrones by the Bruneian empire, the Japanese Occupation, the British colony and the Sultans of Sulu. Outsiders lusted for the wealth of both lands that is brimming with an abundance of natural resources.

Sabah was a gem for British business in the late 19th century, when it was known was North Borneo and administrated by the British North Borneo Company. After much resistance, revolts and rebellion against the British colonization, the Japanese occupation and the Bruneian rule, North Borneo attained self-government on 31st August 1963.

However, Sarawak’s strut towards independence was a result of an adventurous English man by the name of James Brooke and his success in pacifying revolts between the native’s rebellion against Brunei’s authority, which then rewarded him the title as First Rajah of Sarawak in 1841. After years of the White Rajah’s ruling from one bloodline to the next, after years of problems like piracy and armed resistance by the natives, a new constitution was granted in 1941 by the Rajah which paved the way for self-governance by the people. And finally, Sarawak achieved its independence within Malaysia in 1963.

Tribal traditions remain as the heart-beat of these two states. 32 ethnicities make up for Sabah’s 3 million plus inhabitants, the largest indigenous groups are the Kadazan-Dusun, Murut and Bajau. The first two are hill tribes, which are comprised of many sub tribes, while the Bajau are a nomadic sea-faring people who live throughout the Maritime (island) region of Southeast Asia.

The Kadazandusun folklore lives on as one of the more popular legends that envelopes the Majestic Mount. Kinabalu. The Kadazan-Dusun tribe honor the mountain as a resting place for the spirits of their departed, and thus it is sacred to them. The Rungus are arguably the most traditional of the indigenous tribes, a sub-tribe of the Kadazandusun the Rungus live mostly in the north near Kudat, many still live in longhouses.

The East’s native allure further spreads to the “Land of the Hornbill”, Sarawak rich with 40 ethnicities, each with its own language and customs. Major ethnic groups include the Iban – the state’s largest group who were formerly known as headhunters. Iban are a longhouse-dwelling people with an impressive knowledge of the flora and fauna of Sarawak. Other groups include the Melanau – fishers and farmers believed to be one of the original settlers of Sarawak and who still practice many traditional animist customs; the Bidayuh – land-dwellers mainly concentrated in the west of the island; and the Orang Ulu – a group including many river and plateau-dwelling tribes. The majority members of most tribes have adopted either Muslim (Melanau) or Christian (Iban, Bidayu and Orang Ulu) beliefs, though some still practice traditional.

The East of Malaysia is a treasure trove of natural and cultural delights. Borneo takes you on a trip to where nature is at its most flamboyant, to where the jungles still evoke primordial mystery, to where the great apes dwell, Borneo will take you for a walk on the wild-side.