The Closest Thing To Paradise

Fuck it. I’m staying here forever. I’m in love with The Tip Of Borneo and I never want to leave. It’s one of those places that you have to get to before it goes the way of Lands End with a hideous visitor centre. It’s already developing but right now it still has that middle of nowhere feel to it, with stretches of beaches intersected with headland creating coves where you can chill out for a day or even camp overnight if you have a tent that can withstand the kind of tropical rain you could drown in. Not that it even rains every night, we’ve had some of the best weather we’ve seen since we got to Borneo, days of sunshine with a smattering of clouds rolling in just in time to make sunset that extra little bit more drool-worthy.

Yeah I won’t be sad to spend a bit of time here even if it is covered in sand.
This cat looks like it spends a lot of time telling kids to get off its lawn.

There are things to do aside from lounging around and binge reading Peter James novels whilst whingeing that it’s too bastard hot and drinking beer. Tip Top Restaurant, which doubles as sort of a beach-side common area for Tampat Do Aman which owns it, rents out all manner of stuff and things to entertain you as well as arranging little trips and excursions if you haven’t melted by the time you’ve finished breakfast.

This doofus is Pappin. She’s going to be a mum soon and she’s probably the cutest little doggo on the Tip of Borneo.
This handsome chap is Russo. If he were human he’d be a cult leader. You can’t not fall in love with him as soon as you meet him.

Tampat Do Aman itself is also pretty cool with different types of accommodation spread out through a jungle setting. The chalets have their own flush toilets but the longhouses share seven compost toilets which are a bit away from the rooms so your forest walk for your nighttime nana wees might take longer than your actual piss, but it’s not unpleasant. So here is some of the shit to do in the closest thing to paradise I’ve ever had the pleasure of putting in my eyeholes.

Longhouse at Tampat do Aman.
The rooms to each side are small and dark but comfortable.

Go to the Tip… it’s kind of the rules, guys. We were picked up from Kudat by Mus and were driven to Tampat Do Aman, shown our room, dumped our stuff and got back in the ute to go the 2½ km to Tip Top where we registered and set up our tabs for everything from accommodation to food. We figured we’d go for a little stroll, it was around 4pm ish so it had cooled to a point where you could just about function without losing your body weight in fluid through your face. We didn’t mean to walk to the Tip but we realised we’d walked so far that we might as well go for it. You can get most of the way there along the beach before you cut up onto the road to walk the last kilometre.

The monument at the Tip of Borneo. If you want a human-free shot then maybe don’t show up at the weekend.
I would caption this photo “A local Rungus man fishes from the Tip of Borneo” but I didn’t speak to him so I’ve no idea where he’s from. He could be from Scunthorpe for all I know.

It was Saturday which meant it was busy but it wasn’t super stupid can’t move for humans busy and guys, it’s incredible here. The tide was out so we could walk past the barrier onto the rocks to get to the actual tip. I’m not usually one for rule breaking but the rock formations alone were worth this minor act of rebellion. It’s a petrologist’s wet dream, even the rock pools are interesting shapes, it’s sort of like the surface of the moon except with water and a breathable atmosphere and a bloke fishing off the end. Yeah so fuck all like the surface of the moon really. We went back a few days later when there was no one there apart from one fisherman which meant we could get our obligatory selfies in front of the monument.

There’s some decent snorkelling to be done. It’s all about the coral here, there’s not an abundance of marine life and the most interesting thing I saw was an indifferent puffer fish who had exactly zero interest in being my friend. The coral is still small, you’ll not see huge colonies bigger than me after a week long cheesecake binge, but the gardens look unspoilt and they’re gorgeous explosions of colour. Maybe if it doesn’t become exposed to too many flapping tourists who insist on using the coral as their own personal foot rests it’ll grow and flourish and eventually become the kind of world class coral your Instagram gallery would be proud of.

We did manage to nearly drown, though by “nearly drown” I mean we swam a little bit far out and you know that thing when you’re swimming but you’re going literally nowhere? Yeah, that. I didn’t have fins on so I was relying on breast stroke but not the kind that’d get you arrested in a public. Fnar fnar. Turns out that wasn’t going to get me back to shore and I can’t really do front crawl, I tend to just look like I’m being attacked by a shark without gaining any actual ground. Tarrant, who’s a stronger swimmer than me and did have fins on, had to tow me a little way and that combined with my shark attack stroke eventually got us out of the tide that was trying to carry us off to have soggy adventures we didn’t particularly want.

The sunset on night one. It just kept on getting better.

By the time we got back I had to sooth my obvious trauma with beer so we saved the kayaking for the next day. That’s amazing too, we paddled the same way we’d snorkelled just to marvel at the coastline. Apparently it’s not advisable to paddle around the Tip where two oceans meet, it can get a bit choppy. There’s hardly any development, just the odd little house here and there and guys net or line fishing from the rocks. If the sea is calm as it was for us you can just float over the coral gardens and you can literally see right down to the bottom, every detail. We didn’t, but you can probably take snorkelling gear with you and beach your kayak if the water is deep enough to do so without scraping it over corals and go for a bit of a swim.

So we already kind of knew we weren’t going to get the kayaks back to the beach without incident. We’ve been sea kayaking twice before together, and I’ve been sea kayaking a few times before that, and out of all the times I’ve taken a kayak out on the ocean I’ve managed to get it back to shore without capsising exactly once. That’s it. Once. Fortunately, sea kayaks are the kind you sit on top of so if you roll them you can just splutter your way back to the surface, try not to take the front of the vessel to the face, wave goodbye to your dignity and flip them back up the right way and they don’t hold water.

These ones aren’t sea kayaks. They’re river kayaks. They filled with water, we might as well have been trying to push the fucking Titanic ashore, and we both had to get help to push them back out, try and empty them and haul them back up the beach. In hindsight we should have just gotten out before the admittedly tiny surf and pushed it ashore from there but where’s the blog post in that?

You can do jungle trekking if you fancy it. Nah, you’re alright thanks. We’d been on plenty of jungle treks recently thankyouverymuch, I don’t need to trek through another fucking jungle for a good couple of weeks now. Howard, the Englishman who owns Tampat Do Aman, teaches jungle survival, can take you on a walk for a couple of hours, or for an overnight trip into the jungle.

Nah, I’m never going to get bored of gawping at the sky porn here.

We skipped this in favour of being more or less horizontal by a beach which I feel is a much better use of our time. That’s by a beach, not on a beach, because the latter would involve too much actual sand. I like to know the beach is there and I like to look at it occasionally, I just don’t like it on me. As I write this I’m sat at Tip Top alternating typing with gawping at the turquoise, still ocean and wondering if there’s some way I can have a rich benefactor pay for me to just stay here forever.

Secret Place Cafe & Camping. Another accommodation option if you’re ultra-budgeting. I personally can only spend a maximum of one night at a time that fucking close to sand so if I did return to the Tip of Borneo I’d probably still head back to Tampat Do Aman.

We did, however, splash out on a mangrove river cruise, the idea being to spot wildlife but I think you need to be incredibly lucky to see anything more than a macaque that’s probably working out the trajectory required to launch itself at the boat and relieve you of all of your possessions. As Mus says, macaques are the gangsters of the jungle. They do actually seem to leave you alone here, hopefully it’ll stay that way. It’s a fun little tour though despite the fact they’re taking you up a river infested with crocodiles that have the potential to view humans as lunch in a boat that lists from side to side more than me after three Chardonnays.

The sunset on the last night. Not an awful way to say goodbye.

Jackie picks you up from Tip Top and takes you to his village, Loro Kecil, which only has 169 humans in a small smattering of houses. He apologised for the state of the beach telling us that storms and tides constantly wash the shite up which I can understand, but the village is strewn with litter too, I think apathy perhaps plays a large part which I can understand when you’re fighting a losing battle against the tonnes of trash in the ocean.

Howard assured us that they do get waves you can surf on but I’m more than happy with this to be fair.

This cruise then. There were five of us which meant we had to take a larger boat, Jackie can only fit two or three humans in his, which meant we’d have to turn around a bit earlier but we still got to see a lot of the river and the mangroves which, for some reason, stank like sulphur. Or sewage. More likely the latter seeing as we sailed past homes with outhouses positioned on platforms over the river with no visible plumbing.

Mangrove reflections. Just be glad it’s not smell-o-vision.

We sailed slowly down the river trying to catch a glimpse of proboscis monkeys or crocodiles of which we saw neither apart from the lines of bubble breaking the surface betraying the presence of a croc. Jackie told us they’re dangerous but they stay away from the mouth of the river so the kids that were fishing there weren’t likely to become dinner which was a relief because as much as I dislike children I don’t wish to see them being relieved of their limbs by a large reptile.

Probably not considered road-worthy in most countries. Probably including Malaysia.

Another day we rented a scrappy little semi automatic bike with questionable brakes and a kick start to explore the area beyond Tip Top and its perfect stretch of beach. There’s something deeply satisfying about kick starting a bike, unless it refuses to start leaving you pathetically kicking at it like a lame donkey. Of course Tarrant got it started first time every time. I swear it was mocking me. Anyway, there’s an island called Pulau Kulambu which you can walk out to along a sandbar so we headed there first for a swim because the simple act of wearing clothes causes rapid fluid loss. Shit me, it’s hot here.

Ugh. Stop It. Stop being so fucking gorgeous! (But actually don’t).

And this sandbar? It would be utterly idyllic, the stuff of postcards, if it weren’t for all the rubbish, predominantly plastic. It seems very little is done to deal with the issue of litter on beaches in Sabah which is gutting because they’d be world class otherwise. The stretch of beach in front of Tip Top is spotless, mind, but that’s probably because Howard bribes backpackers with beer to collect a bag of trash a day, and I’ll pretty much do anything for beer as long as it doesn’t involve cock.

Tip of Borneo, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia
Stayed at: Tampat Do Aman

Useful shit to know…

  • Tampat Do Aman is owned by Howard who is married to a Rungus woman, they employ a shit tonne of local people to help with their various projects. They’ve got lots of different accommodation choices, we’re tight bastards so we’re in the longhouse which is only RM45 per person per night, plus the shiny new RM10 a night Tourist Tax the Malaysian government has decided to impose on foreigners. If you stay here and you can get to Kudat between 1.30pm and 2pm they’ll fetch you from outside Ria Hotel for RM15 each. If you arrive outside those times they’ll arrange a taxi for you for RM50 each. They also own Tip Top Restaurant on the beach which rents out kayaks, surf boards, a motorbike and snorkelling gear to everyone, but at a discount to guests. Also, you can just put everything on your tab thus eradicating any need to carry cash, just like the Queen.
  • If you’re on a really tight budget and have your own tent you can camp on the beach for free, or if you want to camp but want access to facilities or need to borrow a tent you can try Secret Place Café & Camping. He charges RM50 per tent which is good for two people, or if you have your own tent he charges RM20 each to pitch there. He also hoards dogs. There are a shit tonne of dogs in various states of repair but he’ll feed any mutt that rocks up.
  • I believe you can also stay in the villages. Jackie who runs the mangrove cruise talked about hosting foreigners and he’s in the process of building a longhouse but I’m not sure how you’d go about staying with him. Just show up I guess? I met another woman who had previously stayed in Kampung Bavang Jamal near Pulau Kulambu, apparently they’ve built a longhouse but you can’t book, you just have to show up. I’ve also no idea of prices but I would imagine it’ll allow for a way more authentic Rungus experience.
  • Getting to and from Kudat, about 30kms from the Tip of Borneo, is a piece of piss. A bus leaves KK at 8.30am and returns from Kudat at 2pm and costs RM25 each. Or you can go to Padang Merdeka and catch a mini van for RM30 each, or RM35 on public holidays, they leave when full several times a day. It’s the same going back, the mini van stand is close to the Peton gas station but Kudat is tiny, you’ll have no problems finding it.
    We took advantage of the RM15 shuttle to Tampat Do Aman so I don’t know how much a taxi would cost to the Tip if Howard wasn’t arranging it for you. Taxi is your only option though, there are no buses.

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