Kudat: Tip of Borneo

A last minute change in plans takes us to the north of Borneo—and by north, I mean the tippy-top north—rumored home to the island’s most beautiful beaches [and sunsets].

By Dave

Filed in: Family Travel, Malaysia

The good folks at our guesthouse (Hotel Eden54) were able to quickly arrange a taxi from Kota Kinabalu to the Tip of Borneo, a three-hour drive.

There were a handful of other ways we could have gone about this—public bus and taxi combo, flight and taxi combo, renting a car—but at US$60 for door-to-door service minus the B.S., it was worth it for the three of us to go the private taxi route for this particular trip.

$60 may seem like a lot for a three-hour trip, but by the time we added up taxis between our hotel and bus station, two bus tickets from KK to Kudat (extra cost for our luggage if it happens to be a mini-bus), then another 40-min taxi ride from Kudat to our guesthouse, it just made sense to go the taxi route, and we’ve got no regrets.

Kota Kinabalu to the Tip of Borneo.

Even at 10am on a Wednesday, it was slow going getting out of the regional capital. Our driver was able to skirt much of the nastiness by utilizing secondary routes which were a bit more picturesque, but still pretty urban and industrial all the way up to Kota Belud. Once north of Kota Belud, however, the scenery changed dramatically to eye-popping lush, green, tropical colors and much less development than I expected. Lori and Noe enjoyed the ride too, just in a different way.

Noe is wearing his seatbelt, by the way. This is what travel looks like in Southeast Asia with a toddler much of the time.

An abundance of mosques and Catholic churches…we are no longer in Laos.

As we closed in on our destination, the roads narrowed and the turns became more frequent to the point that you begin to get a sense you’re somewhere seldom visited. Even with the daily tourist shuttles bringing people from Kudat to the Tip of Borneo monument, visitor numbers are still few in these parts. You have to make an effort to get here, and besides the Tip there really isn’t a lot for visitors to do but relax on remote and deserted beaches…but who’d want to do that?

It drizzled on our drive up, but sunshine and blue skies greeted us upon arrival at BorneoTip Beach Lodge—our home for the next three nights.

The bungalows aren’t on the beach, but pretty darn close, separated by a sleepy strip of road (the only paved one for miles) and a tree-lined parking area.

We were in one of the newer bungalows (#8), which was well-sealed with A/C and attached bathroom for about US$30. My only complaint with A/C and good sealing is that there’s often not the option to turn off the A/C at night, open up the windows and fall asleep to a cool ocean breeze and the sound of waves crashing. But it gets hot in these parts—really hot—and I suppose it’s a small price to pay for the added comfort—and it was one of our more comfortable tropical seaside stays.


Before hitting the beach, Noe went down for another hour to round out his afternoon nap.

We brought our baby monitor with us so we could hang out in the common spaces (or really as far as the signal will reach) wherever we stay. We’ve actually been doing this for the better part of a year whenever we travel away from home, but this trip was particularly well-suited for this set up. Often, we find we don’t need it, such as in the cases where we have a large covered porch or balcony all to ourselves.

Unfortunately, our monitor was not charged when we got to BorneoTip. Our bungalow did have a nice front porch area, but it was completely sun-exposed and blazing hot during afternoon nap time. So, we had to get a bit creative. Well, Lori got creative, finding a chair and sneaking behind the bungalow, reading in the shade…until a pack of dogs tried to attack her. After relocating her chair between our bungalow and the next, she was then nearly mauled by another pack of wild beasts…

Sure, cute, right? But multiple litters of puppies aren’t exactly what you want taking up residence under YOUR residence.

I know all too well from past experiences what these cuddly-looking monsters are capable of. Just try sleeping at 3am when mom’s out scavenging and puppy’s left all alone. It could be the most heinous sound you’ll ever hear that isn’t related to anything being tortured or murdered. Now, multiply that by a dozen (YES! There were more!) and we’ve got a real party. Fortunately, the puppies weren’t staying under our bungalow, but the next one, and with Noe’s sound machine and the A/C, I barely heard them but for maybe two or three brief episodes of midnight squealing.

Back to paradise!

After Noe’s nap finished up, we slapped swimsuits and sunscreen on and beelined it to the beach…

…which took exactly thirty seconds.

Noe’s a true beach bum in the making—he loves the beach and everything about it. I can’t think of too many things he gets more excited about. It’s not just playing in the sand and splashing in the water that he loves. Over the past year, we’ve been averaging three months between beach visits, but this is not frequent enough for our little boy. We may just have to do something about that in the future…

He also loves being on the water—boats are an obsession of his, and being on a boat is the ultimate for him at the moment, which is a very good thing, as we find ourselves on boats a lot these days.

He’s at a really fun age right now where he’s starting to understand a lot of what we tell him, but isn’t at the age of asking a million questions [yet]. It was fun to tell him on our way up here that we were going to the beach and he was going to get to swim and play in the sand. Now that we’re here, it’s fun to see his eyes light up and to see everything click.

Walking the beach, our biggest concern (if you could even call it that) was finding the calmest place for Noe to frolic. That is to say here on the Tip of Borneo, we found ourselves very fortunate—no trash to contend with, no sharp rocks or coral in the water, and hardly any other beachgoers.

We could have parked ourselves anywhere, but we got picky, which seems funny in hindsight, given the one item of concern that should have been on the top of our list hadn’t even crossed our minds.

After ten minutes walking towards the headlands where the actual tip of the tip is, we arrived at our perfect beach spot. Here in the fading light of the day, the surf was virtually non-existent, the sand clean and soft, and the water, clear and warm.

I blew up Noe’s floaty toy and we made our way out past the tiny breakers. It seemed like we could have walked for miles in waist-deep water. The water was so clear, we could see schools of fish passing by as we pushed Noe along. Perfect.

Lori and Noe were quite content in their splishing and splashing, but after the initial euphoria of our paradisiacal surroundings began to wane, I became increasingly aware of an acute burning sensation on both my legs. It felt like saltwater in an open cut. Some mosquito bites getting cleaned out, perhaps? No, this was much more uncomfortable and getting worse. Then it occurred to me—jellyfish.

But try as I might in the crystal clear water, I couldn’t see a single jelly—anywhere. Detached tentacles, perhaps. It wasn’t painful, so much as it was annoying—a buzzkill, so to speak. Once you realize you’ve been stung by a jelly—no matter how mild or painless—the thought is always in the back of your mind, and the paranoia sets in, particularly with a kid about.

I told Lori what I thought had happened, but they hadn’t felt anything, and didn’t for the whole time they were in the water. Hmm, maybe it was all in my head? The red marks behind my knees said otherwise.

With an hour left of daylight, we rinsed off and changed out of our swimsuits, then headed off down the road to the “village” to catch the sunset and some dinner.

It was a long twenty minute walk in the late afternoon humidity, but a picturesque one. We weren’t sure what we’d find in the village, but knew that there’d be at least one place to eat: Tip Top restaurant.

After walking the length of the village, we determined that Tip Top was pretty much the only game in town. With that said, if you only get one restaurant, you can’t hope for much more than Tip Top. Run by an exceedingly friendly and convivial Brit transplant (who also owns Tampat do Aman, the jungle eco lodge a few kilometers inland), Tip Top’s got offerings we’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in Sabah.

…along with pretty darn unbeatable sunsets right from the dining deck.

Red sky at night, sailor’s de—


The next morning, we awoke to some tropical nastiness. It started in the early morning hours and went on right through breakfast time. As luck would have it (or not have it), this was supposed to be our laundry day. We’d hoped to make it to Sandakan before we needed to do laundry, but with a toddler, it’s hard to judge these things.

In hindsight, we should’ve just waited a day, because the next day was gorgeous. But it’s hard to know in the tropics. Getting our clothes in earlier meant more time for them to try to dry before traveling on to the next location. BorneoTip didn’t offer laundry service, but Tommy’s Place next door did. They laughed at us a bit when we brought our bag of clothes over in the middle of a rainstorm, but it had to be done. And in the end, everything dried just fine.

While we were at Tommy’s, we grabbed breakfast. Between the two places, Tommy’s got the better breakfast spread (albeit a bit pricey for what it is). We’d come to find out that Tip Top has the best in the area (no surprise there), but somehow a 20 minute walk in a tropical rainstorm didn’t appeal to us this particular morning.

Noe was all smiles with his coco, so no complaints there.

Around 10 o’clock, we finally got a break in the weather. There was still a considerable amount of cloud cover, and the skies remained threatening. Not great for swimming.

Also not great for swimming—crocodiles!

Around 7am, we ran out of toilet paper. While I was up at the front desk waiting for another roll, I noticed a flurry of activity along the water—a number of locals accompanied by a uniformed official looking intently out to sea while motorboats paced back and forth.

Walking back to our bungalow, I ran into the Australian couple who was staying a few doors down (the only other people staying at BorneoTip midweek—they had been here already for two weeks) who updated me on the situation. Apparently, a fisherman had spotted a freshwater crocodile swimming around in the bay in the early morning hours, and other locals had also said they saw something to that effect from shore. The official on the scene said there hadn’t been a croc sighting in these waters in twenty years, and such encounters are extremely rare.

I couldn’t help but wonder if it had been a monitor lizard, as they have similar profiles under water and are much more common. My understanding is that monitor lizards tend to be less aggressive than crocodiles, and shy away from humans, so swimming in the same waters generally doesn’t pose a threat. But the fisherman swore it was a crocodile and that’s what it was being treated as.

In any event, it was strongly advised that we stay out of the water until the situation is resolved. Not totally devastating news today, given the weather situation.

Instead, we took advantage of the cooler weather and cloud cover to hike up to the Tip of Borneo monument, a scenic 15 minute walk from our lodge.

The walk along the top of the headlands offers a panoramic view of the bay and Tip of Borneo beach.

Noe’s favorite part of the walk was standing on various points of this marker and feeling the wind blow in his face.

Oh yeah, and the preggo. Watch out Noe, there’s something brewing in there…


It may not seem so based on the photos, but Lori is indeed carrying Noe less these days (I’m tripling up on the carrying, or, we make Noe walk himself around with his own two feet). It’s near impossible for me to take pictures when I’m carrying Noe, so I end up taking most of our photos when Noe’s with mommy. You may notice, however, that because of this, Lori’s been taking the camera more on this trip.

It won’t be too much longer until Lori’s “condition” precludes her from carrying the kid. For now, she’s trying to soak up the last little bit of time she’ll get carrying Noe in the carrier…before the new kid takes up residence in there and Noe exclusively becomes my heavy little travel accessory. Yay…for…daddies…

A rare toddler-free moment of quiet contemplation on the edge of the world. This is the northernmost point in Borneo. To the right, the Sulu Sea and the Philippines (about 90 km / 56 miles off shore). To the left, the South China Sea, and the Spratly Islands, one of the most disputed and contentious island groups in the world.

These days, Noe voices his desire to move on to something else by waving his hands in the air and saying, “All done. All done.”

But occasionally, he’ll opt to skip this step and go straight for the meltdown.

Time to go.


After lunch and a nap (we decided to join Noe this time around), the skies cleared and we got the green light to go swimming again. And by “green light” I mean that all the locals seemed to have moved on from the morning’s crocodile drama and were back in the water. When we asked the lady who runs our lodge if it was safe to go in the water, she just chuckled, saying, “None of us have seen nothing. If there was a crocodile, he’s long gone by now.” Good enough for us. That’s not to say we didn’t keep our wits about us. But as before, the ghost croc was the least of problems.

Like the afternoon before, the water was perfect for swimming. Unfortunately, my imaginary jellyfish struck again. This time, it was Noe.

We made it about twenty minutes with no issues and believed we were in the clear. Maybe the stinging was really all in my mind yesterday? But sure enough, I soon started to get a similar burning sensation on my legs as I did the day before.

I looked into the crystal clear water, but again, saw nothing. Then, a short time later, Noe screamed and tears started streaming down his face. We took him out of the water, and sure enough he’d gotten lashed by what most likely was a jellyfish tentacle. Though no actual tentacles were visible, the light pink streak on his little leg confirmed it. Fortunately, it appeared we weren’t dealing with a terribly venomous species—just an annoying one.

We monitored Noe closely for a few minutes until he was begging to get back in the water. As the tide was going out, we parked ourselves at the waterline for the rest of the afternoon, which proved a good decision.

Noe loves getting pummeled by the gentle surf and getting his swim trunks filled with sand. Who doesn’t?

Another day comes to a close at the Tip of Borneo, and we are treated to yet another amazing sunset. They weren’t joking about the sunsets up here. We decide to take a walk up to the top of the headland to get a different perspective.



The community’s modest seaside mosque hosting evening prayers.


The view from atop the headland—impossible to adequately capture on camera.



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