Journey to Kunak, Sabah – A travelogue by Kay Stanford Jr Kastum

For those of you who are a Sabahan or have been to Sabah before, you would definitely agree with me on this one; Sabah is pretty much still in touch with nature. There are still so many places for you to discover. From the mountains to the valleys, there’s always a new place to experience and visit in this great place dubbed ‘Land Below the wind’. I’m sure most people have heard of Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Tawau or even Kudat. But have you heard of a place called Kunak?
Parents home in the Estate

Some of my friends here in Kuala Lumpur, in peninsular Malaysia would mistaken it for ‘Kudat’ most of the time. Kunak is actually located in the east-coast of Sabah. Our whole family relocated to Tawau and eventually to Kunak from Kudat. My dad works with an oil palm estate company then known as Mostyn Estate. Now it’s known as Golden Hope Plantation.
My friend Jai, a Bugis

I stayed in Kunak mostly during my school days breaks. I stayed in Tawau town since I was studying there. The distance between Kunak and Tawau is around 83 kilometers. So, what’s up with Kunak? Well, based on my experience living in an plantation estate, life is good here!

Madai waterfallsmadai-waterfalls.jpg
I believe the Kunak population is mostly Bugis and Bajau. There are quite a number of Kadazan dusunpeople here who owns lands through the efforts of Tun Fuad Stepehens? as I was told. They were relocated from Kota Kinabalu area for some kind of program. Thus we have this area in Kunak just before the town called ‘Kampung Kadazan’ where most of the families who runs and owned agricultural lands (mostly for palm trees) are concentrated and lived quite close to each other. Other races includes Chinese, ‘Orang Timur’ (Originally Irian Jaya descendants from Indonesia), the Suluks, Cocos and the Tidungs to name a few. The Cocos also have a great history. They were descendants from the Cocos (Keeling) Islands now under Australia.

Agricultural is the main business in Kunak, palm oil mostly. These crude palm oil (CPO) is exported to other countries like Japan as well as for the Malaysian market. Second biggest plantation in Kunak would be the cocoa. Have you eaten ripe cocoa? It taste so good!
My sister,Madai tree-hugger

Anyway, since Kunak is situated near the sea, fisheries are the other important source of income for this little town. You get only fresh seafood here. Very reasonable price too. When you have a chance, go to one of these restaurants: Fook Seng Restaurant or Vui Kee. They are the best in town my friend! For your info, if you are a Muslim traveler, Vui Kee is a ‘Halal’ restaurant. By the way, locals here refer’s Kunak as ‘Pekan Koboi’ or cowboy town. No horses here but I guess it’s because it’s a small town.
Canopy Walk

There are one or two hotels in town but their operations are a little bit suspicious. (If you know what I mean). There are of course government rest house which I believe you can rent? Can’t help you there with that info. Otherwise you can contact me and I will ask my mom to let you use my old bedroom for a night or two 😀

I love trees!my-tree-custom.jpg
A great place to visit while in Kunak just have to be the ‘Madai waterfalls’. It’s just less than 1 kilometers from Kunak town. This 40 meters high waterfall is really awesome and beautiful as well as breath taking especially when it’s not a dry season. The area is managed by the state forestry department of Sabah and you need to pay a small fee to enter. There will be staircase to reach the waterfall area. You can even swim in it if you want to. Within the compound, there is also a canopy walk. Really fun stuff. You would be able to spot some forest wildlife as you go about.

Another must see or should I say a must-experience place would be the Madai Caves. It’s not far from the main road and you can go there after visiting the falls. Madai caves is also a habitat of these birds called ‘swiftlets’.
Road entrance to Madai Caves

The friendly locals

They made their nest using their saliva and that my friend is like gold. These natural product are highly sought after for it’s medicinal purpose. It’s called ‘birds nest soup’. In the Hong Kong market, it is said that price can fetch up up to USD1500.00 per kg!! The bird’s nests are harvested twice a year. If you are thinking of going over the next season to harvest, well chances are very slim. Only the ‘Idaan’ people are given the exclusive rights to do it. They have been doing it for hundreds of years.
My sis again :|, background is the cave

If you are planning to visit the caves, it is advisable to bring a local guide at least. I heard stories of western ladies being raped after going into the caves without any guides etc. But I believe that’s not true, but then again just be cautious.
Near the cave mouth

Cave Entrance

Once reaching there, all you need to do is get permission from the elders and you should be fine. They may be some folks there who will offer to be your guide. It’s up to you to use their services or not. Oh by the way, Madai has also been an archaeological sight to the discovery of ancient civilization that can be dated as far as 15,000 years. Cool eh?
They say this one looks like the statue of ‘Mother Mary’

Other interesting things to check out in Kunak would be the natural hot springs as well as the local wine made by Puan Catherine Makansang in Kampung Kadazan. She makes the best ‘Montoku’ drink! 😀 (Montoku is a local alcohol brew made from fermented rice)


Kay Stanford Jr. Kay Stanford Jr Kastum is a guest blogger from and A Sabahan who live in Kuala Lumpur, has an interest in stuffs like music, photography and video editing but does not have the right tools to do it.

112 thoughts on “Journey to Kunak, Sabah – A travelogue by Kay Stanford Jr Kastum

  1. hanan

    kunak bagaikan mutiara yg tersembunyi,
    cuma orang yg pernah datang ke kunak jak tau,
    what is the best in it…
    luv kunak….

  2. kuting misalah bah

    askum ,pada semua orang2 kunak saya berasal dari kunak,kalau diikutkan cerita dari semua orang yang komen ttg kunak ada betulnya.Kunak kurang pembangunan ,setiap lima tahun YB bertukar tetapi pembangunan takat itu saja.saya kesihan tengok bangsa bajau tidak maju seperti bangsa lain mgkn tak nampak lagi tapi apa salahnya kalu bangsa bajau bugis suluk dan lain bersatu bangunkan kunak.dari segi kawalan keselamaan dkunak hanya perkara tertentu terutama kalu libatkan x lesen ,x i/c dan dadah.saya harap mereka yang sudah bergelar doktor cikgu peguam dan x kisalah apaPun kerja cubalah kita bersatu bangunkan kunak banyak perkara yang kita x tau dan x nampak kunak banyak korupsi.SAYANGILAH KUNAK DMANA ANDA BERADA YANG SUDAH MENEMPA NAMA X KIRA BANGSA BUGIS BAJAU SULUK D LLN ANDA SEMUA PERNAH BELAJAR DISMK KUNAK D SMK KUNAK JAYA ANDA SEMUA DARI DAERAH KUNAK.PASTI KITA INGINKAN SESUATU YANG BARU PADA KUNAK.

  3. wanie

    i’m a student in penang.v r going to do “baktisiswa’ in kunak jaya..
    abt 35 stdents r going there..this is our very 1st time..
    hopefuly can sumbody suggest where our lecturers can stay..
    v students will b living with ‘keluarga angkat’..
    how can v go to the fall and cave from the kampung..can v just walk??
    (need to save budget haha)..tq

  4. sya-sya

    hola…..bdk2 knk..sya kas student smk knk gak,form 5 2008…clazz 5upm….bdak nakal bro….sya rindu bdak2 clazz sya 2…tak tau kat na da sume…contact2 bh lau dpt email ne…huhuhu..


    Kay…God bless to your whole families…Your dad is a most dedicated doctor that i ever meet whom we always called it as “deresa” by the bugises… Serve to the community in Mostyn yang nombor 1… .The only thing that I hate to pass by your house area were the dogs….hahahahahaha….Memories….Run…Run…Run for your life…. sweet moment baitu… by the way Jai @ Jaipong or Suak are friend of mine too…. Jai is the glamour name but we always called him “Suak”…..Again God Bless to your Whole families…Cheers

  6. kaystanford Post author

    Wah Dean Kunak. Thank you. Hope you and your family are also blessed with all the good things in life. Yeah I know the dogs… sometimes ada urang kena gigit bapa saya juga yang rawat… sorry for the kids and other people. But I think they all survived.. he he

    Si Suak… ya. Nama glamor is Jai bah. He is now back in Sabah I think.

  7. faiz mohd zahri

    Akum semua warga2 kunak… Saya bukan asal dari kunak… Tapi bertugas di daerah kunak… Sesiapa yang masih berada di kunak, saya menjemput kawan2 semua hadir di program saya di dewan sri kunak, pada malam 31 disember ini untuk sambutan tahun baru… siap ada pertunjukkan bunga api lagi… pertandingan karaoke… peragaan kebaya… cabutan bertuah.. ada hadiah handphone kami kasi… matlamat saya hanya untuk melihat perpaduan kaum di daerah kunak… satukan semua kaum2 dalam 1 dewan… jemput datang yea kawan2…

  8. Cindy

    Aww… read this post again in the year 2013. Sure brings back memories! I miss Kunak… To this day, Kunak will always have a special place in my heart, especially Mostyn Estate – the place where I grew up (well, sort of).

    PS: Kay, you should’ve posted MORE of my pics. Kasi lagi glamour bah! Ha ha ha

  9. Pingback: Kau pernah pigi Kunak? | Majalah Online Untuk Sabahan

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