5 Malaysia’s Hidden Gems That Will Leave You in Awe

The 3 out of 5 destinations under the 3C (Conservation, Community and Culture) program has been published! Pulau Banggi, Lubuk Yu and Ulu Baram are hidden gems for adventurer and traveler with a cause. In support of HUGS Project‘s effort to enhance and promote eco-tourism, We at Kokonutlist bring out the 4th destination on this list, Pulau Selakan!

1) Pulau Banggi

2) Lubuk Yu

3) Ulu Baram

4) Pulau Selakan

islands in Borneo
Selakan Jetty

Located in the district of Semporna in the state of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, it is a turquoise gem in the heart of Celebes Sea. Pulau Selakan is an island within the Tun Sakaran Marine Park. This marine park is one of the most well established in Sabah with several islands in it including Bohey Dulang, Bodgaya, Mantabuan, Sibuan, Maiga,  Tetagan and Sebangkat. Out of all these islands, Selakan is the only one with its community and heritage still intact. The majority of them live on stilts. Total inhabitants of this exquisite island are around 500 including the Sea Gypsies or Bajau Laut.

borneo marine park
The children of Bajau Laut

The HUGS Project lead by Laili Basir has been promoting the 3C program in this region for years. They conduct yearly trip here as part of Semporna eco-tourism tours. It is one of the ways to help the economy of the locals while preserving the surrounding Tun Sakaran Marine Park area. One of the best reason to visit this island is that it is free from the monsoon season, how cool is that? Almost all islands in the east coast peninsular are affected by this dramatic season which brings heavy thunderstorms and tidal waves.

marine park of asia
Islands in Tun Sakaran Marine Park

Selakan and its surrounding islands are known for its beautiful landscape and spectacular coral formations. This area is included in the Coral Triangles of the world, means the majority of coral reef species of the world can be found here! On top of that, it holds some of the most fantastic hiking trails! One unique fact about Selakan is, it is home to the giant Coconut Crab, the most prominent arthropods families in the world. HUGS Project conduct tours to see this quirky creature with, of course, guided by the locals. This is part of the activity of Selakan exploration trip.

crustacian in borneo
Coconut Crab in Selakan

Teluk Kima is a spot in this island where giant clams fossil were found on the rocks. It is so much that the name of this place derived from it. Teluk Kima is a perfect spot for those who like a swim in a beautiful beach while enjoying the sunset or even sunrise. Another interesting point of Selakan is the volcanic sands. Selakan is one of the islands that are made up from a big volcano eruption about 27,000 years ago. This leaves Selakan with a form of sands that can only be seen after the rain. It is said that the sands have a lot of healing benefit and can circulate positive energy.

volcanic beaches
Teluk Kima, Selakan

The island’s native has an eccentric heritage named Dapur Lapuhan. It is a handmade cooking pot made of clay and volcanic sands. The design and the way they make it is different than the rest of Malaysia. HUGS is promoting it as one of the top attractions here to preserve it as the knowledge is slowly dying. Furthermore, the graves marking are made of unique wooden carving, something you rarely see in other parts of this country. On top of that, visitors joining Laili’s trip will get the chance to learn the secret in making Bajau Laut cooling powder, a kind of cosmetics use by the tribe to protect themselves from the sun, how amazing is that?

craft of semporna
Dapur Lapuhan by Selakan Natives

That is not all, the friendly locals will also show you how to weave the pandan leaves until it becomes a mat and the process of making Lepa-Lepa, a traditional wooden boat. As for food, visitors can join hands in preparing the exotic Kahanga and Tehe-Tehe Rice which uses sea urchin as its main ingredients.

people of borneo
Selakan Heritage

The activities conducted by HUGS Project are also to gain funds to upgrade the school and improving the dental health of the inhabitants of Selakan mainly. As they are predominantly Muslim, HUGS Project also conducts free circumcision (khatan) program for the boys. Check out the video below prepared by Laili himself!

This trip is also part of the I LOVE BAJAU LAUT Project which covers Humanity Mission (Program Kemanusiaan) to other islands in Semporna especially Pulau Maiga where the people there are in dire need of health checks and necessities. Thus, donation for this cause is very much appreciated. In 2017, a famous rock singer and performer, Amy Search join this charity trip and spend his holiday in Selakan. Hari Malaysia Fiesta held by HUGS is a sub-program that also took place here in September 2017. One of the entertainment program during this trip is called ‘Mengalai’. A form of exquisite traditional dance performed in a large group.

sea gypsies of borneo

To make this trip fun and exciting, HUGS project will also bring adventurers to a hike in Bohey Dulang Island which offers you a majestic view of the Tun Sakaran Marine Park. Bohey Dulang is one the most famous island here and we have featured it previously in top 3 most instagrammable islands in Malaysia. Well, let the picture speak for itself!

instagram worth place in borneo
View from Bohey Dulang

On top of that, a snorkeling trip to Sibuan and Mantabuan island is also part of the trip. The crystal clear blue water with coral formations and wildlife will leave you in awe for sure! It does not stop there, you will also be joining another hike experience in Bodgaya island, a 10 minutes boat ride from Selakan.

attractions in sabah
Corals formation in Sibuan

Volcanic rocks formed Bodgaya, it offers tremendous beauty for the explorer. It stands at 8KM long and 1.5KM wide covering an area of 796.4 ha. It is the largest island in the marine park! The ground slopes steeply upwards from the shore, leaving a narrow, wave-cut shingle terrace. The main rock outcrops have steep slopes which begin at elevations of between 1100M above sea level and have an average inclination of 45-60°.

islands of celebes sea
Bodgaya Island

The peaks of Bodgaya reaches a height of 455M at the western ‘arm’ of the island, while another peak at the eastern ‘arm’ reaches a height of 366M. These two peaks are separated by a valley, which cuts through from the north to the south side of the island. The sheltered slopes and valleys have the most abundant vegetation and tallest trees. Mangrove is well established along much of the coastal fringe. At the north side, some freshwater stream flows on the island.

borneo landscapes
An island jetty in Tun Sakaran Marine Park

An addition to the charity tour is optional trips to visit Tanjong Parapat Waterpark, Timbun Mata, Lato Lato, and other surrounding islands. Laili’s team also conduct few other projects around Semporna and Tawau such as Tebah Batang Community Project and Balung Cocos. Balung Cocos is a Columnar Basalt formed by volcanic lava from the eruption of Mount Maria thousands of years ago. It comes in a lot of shapes and forms but mainly hexagonal. This place holds one of the most distinctive columnar basalt known as Batu Bersusun. The logging activities near this place are at an alarming rate and Balung Cocos needs protection. Check out the video below for further info and details. Geology fans, good news for you as you can now join HUGS team in the discovery process!

HUGS Project next trip to Selakan ‘JOM BALIK SELAKAN’ will take place from October 25th to 28th, 2019. To reach Selakan island, a boat transfer from Semporna town is needed and this is included in the fee if you join Laili’s trip. Selakan Dive Lodge will provide the accommodation throughout the stay. It is the only homestay in this island and 100% owned and run by the locals.

the sea gypsies of borneo
Children of Bajau Laut or Sea Gypsies

The nearest airport is Tawau, Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines offer direct flights from Kuala Lumpur. So with all the facts above, why not join us and spend your holidays in these breathtaking islands, an adventure with a cause! Contact details are as below:

adventure tour guide
Hugs Project by Laili Basir

As we mentioned earlier, this article is part of a 5 series articles on Malaysia hidden gems in collaboration with HUGS Project. As we have reached the 4th one, the NEXT will be the fifth and last destination in this list, it will be epic!

Pictures Credit: HUGS Project and Laili Basir