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. Pingback: Kastum Family » Journey to Kunak, Sabah - A travelogue by Kay Stanford Jr Kastum

  2. cindy

    Wow.. famousnya muka sia.. appeared like 2,3 times in this post. :mrgreen:

    Yep, if you guys ever come to Kunak, those are the places that you should check out. And by the way, Kay’s bedroom is the “coolest” room in the house. I have no idea why.. probably the location is strategic and the wind blows to his window all the time. 😀

    (PS: By coolest, I mean coldest)

  3. bebek

    i been there too a few years back… and as an avid writer, i wrote about how the local and pewaris earn a meagre few thousands ringgit and divided by many many family members and hence they only get meagre income from this multi million dollar industry……… all of these because of middle men, perebutan harta pusaka di kalangan pewaris dan lain2…………………….

  4. amik

    kmajuan pekan Kunak tersangat slow bg sya. slama 31thn sya mbesar d Daerah Kunak, apa yg hanya bleh d banggakn ialah hanya bangunan Miliwema 2 tingkat & jg hospital Kunak yg masih blum dpt meyakinkn kami.
    Anak2 kelahiran Kunak jg yg berjaya dlm hidup ramai yg meninggalkan Daerah Kunak & btugas, berkhawin & menetap d semenanjung tanpa menghiraukn negeri sendiri, daerah sendiri apatah lg bangsa sendiri.
    Sya berani berkata sedemikian krn sya bleh menyebut satu per satu kawan2 sya yg hanya meninggalkn nama mereka di daerah Kunak dan pada koloni bangsa mereka TANPA meninggalkan apa-apa sumbangan dan jasa.
    TQ kay, U buat ni artikel walaupun u bukan anak kelahiran Kunak.

  5. Kay Kastum

    Hi Amik.
    Bagi saya Kunak masih mendapat tempat istimewa di hati saya. Rata-rata orang-orang di Kunak adalah peramah dan sentiasa tidak leka dengan senyuman.
    Saya rasa Kunak akan membangun dengan caranya yang sendiri. Tidak semestinya dengan adanya bangunan-bangunan besar dan gedung ternama, keadaan akan menjadi lebih baik. Seperti di KL di mana saya bekerja, hampir semua orang yang saya jumpa di jalanan selalunya pemarah. Tapi bukan semua lah.
    Terima kasih kerana meninggalkan komen Amik.

  6. amik

    I’m proud of u kay.. C Jay Pong pun dpt Space jgk d intenet ni.. Mana tau kan, Tom Cruise terbaca ni artikel and tetiba ada idea pulak mo buat stunt di air terjun madai mesti dia carik Jay sbg Mat Rempit. Kay, gua sengaja write in bahasa so that orang2 Kunak dapat faham 100% msj sya apatah lg budak2 Mostyn yang da pandai2 tu.

  7. Kay Kastum

    ..kasi chance si Jai Pong glamour bah. Saya rasa dia ada potensi untuk membawa watak Mat Rempit yang ketagih kasih sayang… 😀

    Suruh si Jai Pong tengok ni. Biar dia berinspirasi!

  8. amik

    find me at friendster and keep in touch.. u ni baru mo tidur ka atau da bagun tidur.. heheh
    Gua baru mo tidur ni.. see u later.

  9. Zell@tola

    Kalau nk di ikutkn betul gak apa yg amik kata 2.Bkn apa gua kta cm2 sbb kpimpinan d daerah knk rata2 d monopoli oleh 1,2 kaum jak sedangkn kta ada pelbgai kaum d knk..Sifat perkauman cukup jelas hnggakn ramai org yg bkn beasal dri daerah nie yg bmaharajalela.Gua bkn apa kesian gua tngk knk tlalu mundur bebanding tmpt lain,nk kata tiada sumbr bumi 2 mstahl bb knk tknal ngn hasl buminya cntoh perikanan dll.Apa pn gua syg knk n specly mostyn.Harap2 pemimpn knk dpt bca artikel gua..Special thanks for u kay..Gua ingt lg bapa u suntik gua..Sori artikel gua pnjang.Bg peluang org kta majukn tmpt kta.Rojer n out.

  10. tola@zell

    kna sakit malaria..gua tabik spring dngan papa gua dia doktor yg tebaik pernah gua jumpa ,bab apa?dia x lekang dengan senyuman..n dia fham apa yg pesakit dia nk..gua memang respectlh..: ),

  11. amik

    oklah tola.. ko mmg pure budak mostyn lahh…
    tp sya ada trnampak comment ko di laman durian merah ko pernah nampak kelapa sawit putih..
    ko x gila sbb malaria ka ??
    pis-pis kacang pis..

  12. Lecky

    sia mmg ingat si tola kena malaria la. komen 2 inci lebar pun, dia sakap artikelnya panjang. cubak kamu baca balik yang di ujung2 komennya.
    sia dr kota belud kampung, taginambur.. baru 4 bulan karja di kunak, apa yg siok d kunak ni daging payau (p****k) fresh2 bah..

  13. zell@tola

    hi amik..gua pnah tngk kelapa swit puthlh,x cya nanti gua bg tngk ko..gua malaria dh lma dh,time kecik2 dlu..skng dh oklh..apa pn mostyn memang kukuh kt hati gua..rock sampai kemek he..he..choww

  14. zell@tola

    hi lecky..gua ingt memang pnjang artikel gualh tup-tup pendk lak jdnya..ko bru kat area kunak ko akn tau tempat2 istimewa kt kunak ni so rajin2lh kuar.ko akn tau btapa istimewanya knk d hati ktaorang..ko makan payau d mana oooo..gua harap ko enjoy d knk ni..SELAMAT BERTUGAS..

  15. Sue

    aku pn org kunak bahh..mmg btl jgk la ckp diorg tu..kunak a bit ketinggalan tp aku ttp bangga dgn tmpt kelahiranku tu ..well sbnrnya tdk jgk la mundur btl kunak..kira ada kemajuan sdh ba tu..slow2 ba kan gaban?hehe PEACE ^_^!

    rindu aku mo blik kunak!!

  16. Tuck

    Thanks for the insight, just came back from Kunak yest, stayed at my friends place, and is photographed in your 2nd pic of Jai. The shop behind the motorbike by the name Thau Yuen belongs to my friend’s dad, stayed there when i was there :):).

    Love Kunak!

  17. kaystanford Post author

    Tuck– Hey cool man. I’m gonna miss Kunak a lot since my dad will retire soon and going off to Kudat.

    Adam– Harap ada orang boleh tolong. Not so familiar dengan Binuang Estate.

    DrIzadThank you for giving the opportunity 🙂

  18. adam

    wait2..xda sape yg familiar dgn binuang estate?? aisyeh…binuang estate near to sunggang estate..anybody know??

  19. kanoy

    wow, this is the best blog i’ve ever kunakian person pun i’ve never thinking and proud to tell other people about kunak.but,thanks for u kay.u change my mind set. I LOVE KUNAK. huhuhuhu… my kunak, i will do my best to bring my kunak at tip top place. hope i can be the one lah…heeeeeeeeee… owesome blog.incredible mengalahkan incredible hulk.great, good job and )*!^@%#>?”)*@^ heeeeeeeeee

  20. LaN'S@Lei



  21. ija

    gua pun org kunak jg bah,ada tau ladang giram?aku tinggal sanalah…….aku pun sokong lan bdk pengkalan tu…mudah2an 2020 kalahlah kota langit kolompo…..

  22. syerie kunak rupa nya ko ija…weina,gram 2 kg tcinta ku 2…ko tu ka,msjd gram??????
    aku tggl blakng jak 2..sbela umah imam yunus,dpan uma pck kadir…wakkakakakak..sbela uma pck kadir
    2 org plipin,sbelnya lg umah bkal pak n mak mentua..hahaha

  23. ija

    ooooo….. ko ka ngah???????????msjid giram??????????aku pun tinggal d bhgian brisan rmh pak jeral.ko tau ka???????????amcm kunak???ko blik ka raya ni?aku ndak la tp papahal ko bgtau jak aa kunak skrang

  24. syerie

    weina,mst la…idup knak..kcil cmna pn kg kta jak…best apa duk knak 2..aromaterapi
    dr pngklan pn ada…wakakakakaka

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