Sabah Malaysia (Borneo) No.1 – Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan & Turtle Island!

We arrived in Sabah at Kota Kinabalu (KK) which is the capital of Sabah. At the moment it is the dry season (meaning not much rain) so their open water drains and sewage systems made it to be not the most pleasant smelling place, so first impressions where not the best.

On our first day we made our way to the waterfront to try to drink away our sense of smell. (haha!) We ended up having a lovely evening as Nat’s friend Nabeela (from her Int’l school days) joined us for drinks and dinner. We had a nice Thai dinner and a nice catch-up.


The second day we stayed in KK we mainly explored the city a little bit, relaxed and planned the next couple of days. We enjoyed some yummy (and cheap!) Malaysian food in the evening.

On our third day in KK we went on an ‘island hopping trip’ in the marine national park right off the coast of KK. It was a bit busy and touristy and the snorkelling was ok. To top off our fun times in KK, Nat got eaten alive by rampant sand flies on these little islands leaving her with 40+(!!) itchy-as-hell infuriating raging bites for days. Not fun.

That evening we had arranged to rent a car from one of Nabeela’s local contacts. The young local doctors call her Aunty Betty and she is an 80 year old Chinese Malaysian sweetheart who has worked all her life and now continues to busy herself renting out her 14 old cars to young doctors and professionals. She picked us up and drove us to the car that she was going to rent us. Little did we know that she was in fact 80 years old, partially deaf and going off her driving ability partly blind! It was a crazy experience to say the least! Nonetheless, we survived, she survived, and she was super lovely renting out one of her better cars to us to drive all around Sabah.

We were very happy to rent a car at the fraction of the prices of car rental companies, although there was a reason it was a fraction of the price. The age of the Proton Wira was undetermined, the temperature gauge was hot and cold in its working fashion, speedo and odometer never worked (so guessing your speed was rather interesting).

Nevertheless, old Betty (as we appropriately named the car) got us to where we needed to go safely. Not thanks to other Sabah traffic though!

Our first stop on our road trip around Sabah was Sandakan. Sandakan was far from being an amazing first stop on our trip but the next day definitely made up for it. About a 1 hour boat  trip from Sandakan was an amazing conservation project held on Turtle Island. Turtle Island is a sanctuary for Green and Hawksbill turtles. Our chase for turtles continued! 🙂

The island gets, on average, 20 female turtles laying eggs every night, which are then removed from the original nests and placed in protected hatcheries to bring the turtle eggs full term. This also keeps them out of harms way from predators (such as the many big lizards roaming the island).

His favourite snacks are turtle eggs!

The area around turtle island and neighbouring islands has been a protected place for some time now with a commercial fishing ban in place. This makes it an ideal spot for these beautiful creatures to lay their eggs in peace. However, because it is such a popular spot for turtles to lay eggs, the park rangers have to remove the eggs from their nests, otherwise other mama turtles will bury their eggs on top of other eggs and smother them. There is simply not enough space for all the turtles to lay their eggs.

In the evening we all had dinner in their dining hall after which we had to wait around until it was “turtle time!” as they said. The island is subdivided in different sections and the rangers roam the beach to watch the turtles lay their eggs. They do not disturb the mama turtles whilst they are in the process of laying the eggs which can be close to 100 at a time! They stay silently near the mama turtle, without light, and place the eggs in a bucket. After one of the turtles is done, they call all the people (we were about 10 tourists) to come have a look. We were able to see a big tired mama who just finished laying 82 eggs that night!! It was incredible and we were lucky enough to get a quick picture with her before she got ready to venture back out to sea. She was 107cm long and 95cm wide, which is apparently quite big for green turtles. So we really did see a big mama!

Big mama
Selfies with tired mama. So special!

Then we were taken to see the hatchery and see how they nest the eggs underneath sand in a protected area away from the lizards. They have to cover the eggs and stops moving them within 2 hours of being laid otherwise they will not develop. We learned that the temperature of the eggs determines their sex so they had one hatchery in the sunshine which will turn out to be “hot chicks” (as the guy said) and the other in a more shady area which will be “cool guys”!

Then finally, and perhaps the highlight, or at least equally as impressive as the big mama was the releasing of the baby turtles! We witnessed them releasing 52 female baby green turtles which was an incredible sight and experience. They were so cute and little and were flopping everywhere keen to get going. Some got a bit lost and went the wrong direction and we had to help send them the right way. A couple even climbed over our feet!

turtleisland (2)


Safe to say, it was an amazing and incredible experience! Definitely recommend it to anyone who loves animals and turtles. Very special experience!


Useful Travel Tips:

  • We booked our Turtle island trip directly with the Crystal Quest Jetty Company. You are able to book it through an agent, but they charge twice as much! It was RM723 (approx. AU $220) for both of us. The prices we got quoted from the agents were this amount per person! Unfortunately you can only book with Crystal Quest via the phone or in person at their office (i.e. not via email). (
  • If you want to drive around Sabah make sure you have balls of steel and a hell of a patience for terrible drivers! All highways are single lanes through the mountains and hills  with lots of slow trucks you need to overtake when you get the chance!
  • Avoid staying in Sandakan town very long, as there is nothing to do there for tourists besides the day trips. A better option would be Sepilok nearby (which we will cover in our next blog post).



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