A Rungus boy in traditional wear with the Kalampunian Beach located near Tanjung Simpang Mengayau in the background. - Photo from Tourism Malaysia
Never mind the usual suspects of beaches near Kota Kinabalu or the diving sites off Sabah. It’s about time to try a relatively unspoilt area instead!
Robert Frost once wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.” He could very well have written about Tanjung Simpang Mengayau, a mere dot on the map of Kudat district in Malaysia. Relatively unknown due to its remote location, Tanjung Simpang Mengayau doesn’t get many visitors, and for now, this outpost on Borneo Island remains a paradise.
This promontory in an isolated part of Sabah northeast of Kota Kinabalu, is reachable after three hours’ drive, the last part of which is over unpaved dirt roads snaking through a small traditional Borneo village. A proper road to these parts, in fact, was only built as recently as in the 1960s, prior to which access was made possible only by navigating a boat along the coast.
But those who don’t care for a little discomfort – though it must be said, the views along the way are spectacular – will be rewarded, at journey’s end, with a landscape so magnificent that you will believe in the existence of heaven on earth.
The crescent-shaped Kalampunian Beach here is carpeted in pure white sands on which gentle waves lap to the shore. This sweeping coastline, fringed by casuarinas trees and said to be one of the most inspiring vistas in Sabah, leads up to the rocky headland called Tanjung Simpang Mengayau, the northern-most tip of Borneo.
The Tip of Borneo at Kudat – Tanjung Simpang Mengayau. Photo from Tourism Malaysia
Now, imagine standing on this cliff edge and looking out to where the South China and Sulu seas meet in a great clash of waves. Dark and wet sandstone boulders stretch out into the sea like beached humpback whales in a spray of ocean mist. The winds blow in forceful, frightening gusts, wafting a fine vapour of sand into the air. Visitors stand in awe with tousled up hair and billowing skirts. It feels like you are in a remote frontier, facing wild and unknown possibilities – it’s exhilarating. Perhaps this was what Ferdinand Magellan, fabled to have stopped here during his circumnavigation of the globe, felt those many years ago.
It hadn’t always been such a solitary place, though. The name, Tanjung Simpang Mengayau itself is derived from the Rungus words sampang mangazo referring to the great battles once fought here in the 18th and 19th centuries by the locals. According to legend, the coast was a favourite landing point for looting pirates, and Rungus warriors bravely fought them off in bloody battles to protect their land. Tanjung Simpang Mengayau then became the perfect lookout point for incoming pirate attacks.
Though it is uncertain how long the Rungus have been occupying the area, they are considered to be the most traditional tribe in Sabah due to their isolation from the bigger towns for so many years. While many have adapted to modern living rather well, the older generations still clutch to their unique culture and traditions.
Many of the female elders continue to wear traditional brass coils on their arms and drape colourful beads around their necks. Their basketry, weaving and beading works are said to be legendary, and while modern ways have overtaken their more traditional lifestyle, it is still possible to visit a Rungus village and experience a night’s stay in their longhouse at Kampung Bavanggazo.
Besides the homestay in the Rungus longhouse, there are only a handful of places that can accommodate tourists in Tanjung Simpang Mengayau and Kudat, reflecting the district’s relatively new exposure to tourism (See “Accommodations” below).
However, there are still a number of cultural experiences here that warrants a tourist to put up at least a night in the area, such as seeing gong artisans at work in Kampung Sumangkap and the small apiculture industry at Kampung Gombizau. The people of Gombizau, familiar with the local botanical properties, have also commercialized a type of cure-all called ubat seribuor potion of a thousand uses made of wild plants, roots and herbs. Reputed to alleviate various health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes, it is a worthy souvenir to bring home.
Each year, Kudat also plays host to several interesting events such as the Gong Fest in Matunggong village in October and the Coconut Fest in July (coconut being an important crop in the district). There is also a special outdoor orchestra performance at Tanjung Simpang Mengayau each year (late June/early July) that attracts crowds to the area – one that begins at the hour the sun sets on the horizon, promising a glorious musical event to remember.
The Gong Fest in Matunggong village is a spectacle of sound and sight! - Photo from Tourism Malaysia
Even without all these touristic events, it’s easy to fall in love with Kudat, and especially Tanjung Simpang Mengayau. No wonder the Rungus people were especially defensive of their beloved land and put up a real good fight those centuries ago!
The Kudat Golf & Marina Resort offers 88 rooms ranging from standard to deluxe suites. Published room rates start at RM220 nett all the way up to RM450 nett inclusive of breakfast. Facilities available at the resort are an 18-hole golf course, semi-Olympic size swimming pool, fitness centre, sauna, tennis court and children’s playground.
There are a number of budget accommodations at Kalampunian Beach located along the road that takes you to the Tip of Borneo. Though not high-end resorts or hotels, these no-frills accommodations provide comfortable and clean amenities at affordable prices. Best of all, they have great views of the beach and sunset.
Tampat Do Aman is a low-impact “jungle camp” located at the fringe of the Sabah state forest reserve and just 10 to 20 minutes’ walk to the Kalampunian Beach. Tampat Do Aman provides guests with two types of sleeping arrangements, either in traditional Rungus longhouses (complete with mosquito netting) or in semi-permanent tents (tents on raised wooden platforms with thatched roofs). Rates are RM30 per person per night in the longhouse or the tents. Do note that Tampat Do Aman has common toilet and bathroom facilities and no hot showers.
The jungle camp also has a beach-front restaurant, Tip Top Restaurant and Bar, which serves western and Asian dishes; and an activities centre that rents out recreational equipment such as snorkelling gear, bicycles and arranges for jungle trekking trips. Future plans here include building more chalets, a dive centre, a wildlife sanctuary and a Rungus cultural centre.
BorneoTip Beach Lodge is located right across the road from the beach where guests can enjoy nice beach and sunset views. It has 12 beach-facing rooms fitted with comfortable beds, warm showers and air conditioners. Guests can choose from rooms that sleep two, three, four or five, priced at RM150, RM180, RM200 and RM240 respectively. All prices are net and include breakfast. The lodge also has a restaurant and a mini lounge.
Tip of Borneo Resort is also known simply as Tommy’s Place. Guests just need to cross the road to get to the beach on the other side. It has eight rooms priced at RM130 for a room that fits two and RM160 for a room that fits three. Price is inclusive of taxes and breakfast. Tommy’s has a restaurant that serves a selection of local and western dishes.