At the moment everything up here at the Tip of Borneo is pretty much free. I say at the moment because I still can’t believe a place this perfect exists in 2017 without being overdeveloped to the point of destruction. You can park everywhere for free, you can access every beach for free and no resorts have claimed a patch for them and their guests only. You can have a fire on the beach, in fact it’s actively encouraged to try and keep it free of driftwood, and you can camp on pretty much any damn beach you want for free so we did, but on the east coast so we could watch shit rise instead of go down for a change.
Howard recommended a beach and Mus drove us there but it was a lot closer to Kudat than we thought it’d be, we’d been told there were some really nice beaches on the east Tip, and as he drove us he warned us about keeping our valubles on us whilst we slept. “Because the gluemen,” he told us. I looked at him. “Gluemen?” “You know,” he replied and mimed sniffing glue. Oh fucking great, where the fuck was he taking us? Inner city Manchester?
He dropped us at a narrow strip of beach which looked nothing like what Howard had described, but it was fine. There wasn’t as much trash as I was expecting, just a lot of driftwood including several whole bastard trees which actually looked pretty badass, and it wasn’t stupidly secluded. It was walking distance from the main road, there was a watermelon farm right there too and off on the hill there was a huge, posh looking house.
As Mus drove off we eyed the ominous black sky and the rain off in the distance and questioned our life choices. We had a little bit of phone signal, worse case scenario we call Howard and beg him to pick us up. I collected firewood and Tarrant did battle with the shelter in the wind, trying to manoeuvre it into position to protect us if a storm came in from the Sulu Sea, its moody green a stark contrast to the idyllic, clear blue of the South China Sea on the west coast.
We set up camp, it only rained a little bit for a short time, then we spent the afternoon just chilling and reading, watching the clouds change on the horizon and rainstorms skirt the area and disappear as the sun warmed us. We chatted to locals who’d come down to the beach to fish and watched them go about catching their dinner for the evening until the sun went down.
Turns out the sunset is pretty fucking awesome from the east coast as well. The sky lit up with stunning but subtle pastel colours just getting better and better, but it was when the sky grew black that the east coast came into its own. We had the fire burning not for warmth, just because who doesn’t love a fire? Beers were on the go, noodles had been applied to faceholes, I was getting into my book and Tarrant told me to turn my tablet off and look at the sea. Was that… was that bioilluminesence or just light reflecting off the crest of the waves? Reality check, there’s no light here, the moon wasn’t up yet, it’s got to be something in there.
We shuffled down and had a look and yes, it must be plankton or jellyfish or something, large groups of them glowing an eerie green colour. Something got washed ashore, we ran to it like the tourists we are and shined a light. Nothing. It must have been washed back in already. We turned our lights off and seconds later a blue streak of neon something u-turned in the sand and back into the ocean. Utterly incredible.
We didn’t get to see the full moon rise or even the sun on account of the cloud over the horizon but it was still an awesome night by a fire just chilling out. I fucking love camping. I spent a long time trying to convince Tarrant that crabs weren’t nocturnal and the beach was only full of crabs big enough to remove a toe right now because they were going to bed. I literally have no idea, I just made it up so she didn’t have a nervous breakdown, they could have been rare venomous man-eating crabs for all I knew. That’s one of the things about sleeping in an open shelter as opposed to a proper tent with zips. Zips give you more of a sense of security. Crabs can’t operate zips. I like the shelter but it’s not conducive to a good night’s sleep. You don’t sleep on the beach in a shelter so much as lie awake wondering what every single fucking noise is.
Not a single fibre of my being wanted to leave the Tip of Borneo despite several creatures wanting my blood. Seriously, it’s like, here humans, have some paradise, but you’ll pay for it with your life liquid. My skin is covered in tiny volcanoes of pus and platelets where I’ve hacked at sandfly and mozzie bites. It’s also a budget killer but that’s mainly on account of our penchant for beer and ice cream. We’ve seen more stunning sunsets here than we’ve seen in our entire trip I think and we’ve eaten some of the best food at Tip Top Restaurant, these ladies know how to knock up a decent feed and if you ask them to show you how they’ll happily oblige. I didn’t because I don’t cook. Cooking is something other people do. I just do the eating part, all too often in excess as the flab around my midriff that could insulate Siberia will attest to.
Some days the ocean is so still it’s like a lake, though Howard assures us that they can get five metre surfable waves. Either would be equally incredible I think. The still water is the stuff of postcards but if the waves whipped up I’d be straight in there with a body board, utterly failing to catch waves and getting repeatedly dunked. It’s too bloody easy to be here, too easy to get caught in cycle of early mornings, hearty breakfasts, hours of relaxing, reading, writing, drinking and enjoying the perfect views.
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.
- As for getting around, you’ll need your own transport, a phone number for a reliable taxi driver, or Howard can rent you a motorbike. Failing that you can rent them at Tommy’s Place closer to the Tip. Both are RM80 a day but Tommy’s will ket you keep it over night.