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. ija

    bkn tu sjak palauh2 pun ada…ndada d tmpt len tu,tu la speselnya knk dr tmpt len,len lg milimewanya hehehehe

  2. Kay Kastum

    Ija– Selalu… ni cerita pasal Kunak saya la yg tulis bah. Dulu saya tinggal di Mostyn, well bukan sepenuhnya la, tinggal di Tawau, pas tu di KL… 🙂

  3. ija

    mostyn???aku pun femiliar jgk ngan mostyn,aku d giram bah dkt jak kan…kehel mana??aku pun kehel jg skrg(damansara) tawau dmana?

  4. syerie

    btl 10 pn ada..c2 la aku bli pen time yg pling best kdai mkannya,restoran bilal..
    roti canainya,fuh!!!! shngga mnjilat ibu jari kaki beb..

  5. ija

    kay kastum__bkn curi tulang tp ada klass.klcc???dkt jak tu pelek nya,,dlu aku tggal d ampang slalu la aku limpas klcc nek bas..

  6. Pingback: Life is good | My views on living in KL, technology, internet and online money making.


    saya org semenanjung yang berkawin dengan orang kunak, pertama kali mendengar nama tempat ini,terasa asing,
    seolah-olah ia berada di pedalaman, dan jauh dari kemajuan, tapi setelah saya menjejakkan kaki ke kunak. pandangan saya berubah, ternyata kunak tidaklah seperti apa yang pernah saya bayangkan, banyak juga tempat2 menarik yang saya kunjungi, tidaklah seteruk yang diperkatakan mereka yang merantau ke semenjung . cuma tempat ini seolah-olah tidak mendapat perhatian pihak atasan, saya melihat kunak berpotensi untuk maju, tapi sayang mengapa tempat seindah ini, tidak dimajukan. padahal kekayaan bumi yang menghijau, mampu menarik minat pelabur luar jika kunak benar2 dimajukan. apapun saya berharap ada pihak yang mengambil inisiatif untuk memajukan tempat ini. usahlah melihat dibandar besar sahaja, tapi perhatikan juga mereka yang terpinggir di pedalaman.

  8. jamrie

    tq bab wat blog ttg kunak… la 1st time sy bka lman web pkan kunak..wat
    sume ex student smk kunak t’utama form 5 2008, especially 5 utm tq 4 ol d memories n don 4get me

  9. max

    i never know that kunak have such interesting place……. i definitely go there someday……. send my best regards to your lovely sister…… 🙂

  10. jumaq

    assalamualaikum semua warga kunak.i am also from kunak…eventhought kunak is not a big town and just a small town but i was grew up there….i proud to be a one of the i am so far from kunak but i still miss my hometown(kunak) i want to contribute something to kunak….i want back kunak……….i love u kunak……i hope u all from kunak have the same feeling with me…..

  11. aneye_07

    mekum bdk jati kunak apa crita…..walaupun kunnak blum dikenali sepenuhya.. tapi aku love kunak aaaaa..

  12. dahlan iskan

    my dear,
    I am Indonesia, chairman of the Jawa Pos Group, 56 years old. I will going to Kunak, from tawau at Februari 19th, 2009. I will visit the first pulp project in the world using empty fruit bunches of palm di Kunak.
    What kind of transportationI can use? By public bus? How many hours from Tawau to Kunak? Or must rent a car in Tawau?
    I will build the same project in Indonesia.
    dahlan iskan

  13. Kay Kastum

    Dahlan, Last time I was there, there’s a bus station near Bandar Sabindo in Tawau. You can get all the buses for Kunak, Semporna, Lahad Datu, Sandakan there. Journey from Kunak to Tawau is roughly under 2 hours if not mistaken.

  14. superzam

    kunak famous with the green industries,
    i. pulp and paper > caming very soon, 600 position vacant for Kunakian & will taking over more than 100 billion ringgit per annum from importing paper from other state.
    ii. biogass > international contribution to UNICEFF by renewal energy.
    iii. Bioplant > capable to supply 14MW electricity to the Govt.
    iv. Palm Estate > Develop more than 100 thousand hectare of palm oil tree for the environmental ecosystem and producing raw material for the world vegetable oil.
    v. Palm Oil Factory > Contributing high tech technologies and income for country development.
    vi. Logistic > Learning for the improvement to achieve the European Standard.
    vii. Oil Refinery > Exporting the product to other international country.
    and don’t forget to the KILANG IKAN BILIS.

  15. Carrol

    After reading this I think we may well stay in Kunak during our trip to Sabah this year. I wanted to see the caves but The people sound so nice. I am a little concerned about the available accomodation but will take a chance. Does anyone have any advice here?

  16. june

    Gua Madai, makcik ku salah salah seorang pewaris Gua Madai. Last week aku sama family vacation ke Sabah (aku org sarawak) psikku kawin sama org sabah bah. Kami ada singgah ke Kunak tapi cuma sempat ke simpang nak masuk ke Gua Madai aje. Skrang ni nak masuk Gua Madai kena ada pas ke? Aku tengok pas makcik ku (pewaris madai) sama suaminya dan anak2nya je. Jadi..makcik ku banyak cerita tentang gua madai ni..harap suatu hari nanti kalau aku visit sabah lagi, nak pegi gua madai…best jugak vacation di Sabah ni, aku sama family selalu makan angain KL dan few places di Semenajung, tapi vacation ke Sabah kali ni paling best. kami duduk rumah makciku di lahat datu…

  17. dinnes

    Hai kawan kawan saya sedang cari ikan bilis , ikan kering dan udang kering , hendak beli secara wholesale . Dinnes – 0127678757 .

  18. Flora

    Hey, everyone there, I am so glad to find this articles (about Kunak), I am an auntie (51 years old- Chinese) now living in Petaling Jaya. But I was brought up in Mostyn Estate (Previously Known) & now Golden Hope. I miss Kunak So much , esp the people there.
    I miss my Primary school, Pai Sheng , my secondary school ,SMK Kunak, of course some of my friends there.
    I hope I can be there one of this day cause my late father still left a house in Kampung Bahagia, Mostyn.

  19. sariy

    salam….kunak???terkenal dengan ikan yg murah..yg paling best banyak kerepek mcm2 rasa….banyak d jual d sinpang empat kunak..ada mcik namma ( makcikku ba) sana menjual kpek..dari keropok TASEN sampai kerepek ubi bergula saiz a3 pun ada…buah2n??buah salak mandor sabur ada..mau try??tanya jak org2 simpang 4 tu mana rumah mandor sabur..samada mau petik sendiri @ tempah jak..blh ba….d kunak mcm2 suku kaum da…saya sendiri tao ugi ( or bugis ) org bugi d kunak ni sangat rajin..saya sangat respek..keja d estet, 6, 7 tahun naik haji..rajin dan pandai simpan duit..anak2 estet jgak yg ramai keluaran U ” dah jd cekgu dan pegawai2 tinggilah…eh, melelut sdh..oklah cita pasal kunak 1 hr 1 malam pn ndk hbs..yg jauh nuuuuu kolumpo tu, ndak susah ba dtg kunak ni….ada hotel mostyn jgk….ba, oklah….nnt len hr cita lg bout Kunak..salam…………………

  20. Nina Farah Collins

    I’m really pleased to have found this site. I live in London now but am anglo-malay (my Mum is from Ipoh). My father was assistant manager of Giram Estate in the 1960s. I’ve never been to the area myself. But my husband and I are planning to visit Kunak and the estate in Jan 2010. So, I need some advice. How do I get to Kunak and Giram Estate? And is there any places to stay? And where can I find a guide?

  21. hearrychals..

    aku teruja bca artikel nih..huhu..bangga aku sebagai anak kunak..
    mo komen cket buli ba kan…
    bagi aku,kunak ni ok cuma undang2 dan pemerintahan yang xok..pasukan gerak2 khas tuh la yang banyak makan rasuah..
    pastu bangsa yang kuat pengaruhnya tindas orang xtentu pasal…cuba la kunun kita semua yang berbangsa bugis,suluk,n bajau bsatu hati..ndak payal lagi berbunuh2 berebut tanah orang..(sdar2 la sapa terasa nih..)

  22. nik

    Hmmm…sound interesting. I look forward for how Kunak will be in 10 years from now. I’m coming soon…& may be my service may contribute something to Sabah state. Amiiin.

  23. herryjanggot

    best jugak tengok gambar kunak.rindu plak dekat kampung saya di lahad datu.baru ni saya balik kg singgah kejap umah kakak saya di kunak.tinggal di kl selama 10 tahun tidak balik.jawapan saya di sini kunak sudah banyak perubahan.yes….kunak boleh…yezzaaa…

  24. putramaling

    sama-samalah kita majukan kunak dengan memberi pandangan dan teguran membina.Untuk pegawai daerah , yb adun dan parlimen berkenaan yang bertanggungjawab memajukan kunak. buatlah sesuatu

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