I’ve talked plenty here over the years about our ongoing quest for the perfect beach, even devoting an entire post to our search over the years and informal list of criteria we use. While researching the Sabah region of Borneo, we read multiple times that Kudat’s western beaches—particularly those in and around the Tip of Borneo, might be real contenders for some of the world’s best beaches. Now that we’re here, we can indeed confirm that these folks might be on to something.
For the last couple days, we’ve been exploring the long stretch of sandy perfection just steps away from BorneoTip Beach Lodge where we’re staying. But there’s rumored to be an even more stunning beach a short distance to the south, and that’s where we’re headed today—or at least, that’s the plan.
Breakfast on Kalampunian Beach
Yesterday, we awoke around 8 o’clock to driving rain. This morning was a very different story. Brilliant sunshine woke me up around six, and I couldn’t help but get out of the bungalow and go for a walk along the beach while Lori and Noe continued to snooze.
It was a perfect morning for walking barefoot along the beach, and a perfect time, as the sun had not risen over the tree line. I got about halfway to the village when it occurred to me that the other two lazy bums should really be enjoying this as well.
Twenty minutes later, I was back in the same spot walking along the beach, but with my small entourage. On vacation, I wouldn’t say that Lori or Noe embrace early morning wake-ups, but Lori’s generally thankful of the wake-up once she’s out and about.
We take advantage of the low tide by walking the entire way into the village via Kalampunian beach, until we arrive at our breakfast destination: Tip Top restaurant.
Our breakfast at Tip Top did not disappoint.
The plan after breakfast was to hire a taxi to take us just over two miles to Bavang Jamal beach, commonly known in traveler circles as “Secret Beach.” We figured there’d be some guy in the village who had a side business ferrying visitors to various places within the community. After enquiring with the folks at Tip Top, we were surprised to find that no such person existed, and that our best bet was to arrange a ride through our guesthouse. So…we called up our guesthouse and sure enough, Randy, the Sabahan owner, was happy to oblige. However, he was in Kudat town and wouldn’t be back for about an hour.
So, some unplanned beach time at Kalampunian beach. Then [hopefully] on to Secret Beach. Regardless, beach bumming at Kalampunian is not a bad to kill some time, particularly on a day like today. Noe certainly didn’t protest.
Best thing about the beaches around here in April—the weather’s hot, the water’s warm and clear, and we seem to have it all to ourselves.
Ten o’clock finally rolled around, and so did our ride. Off to Secret Beach!
Tip of Borneo.
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I’ll admit, the thought of walking had crossed my mind. Two miles in the morning on a largely shaded highway didn’t sound too bad. But once we were in the car, it quickly became apparent why it might not have been such a good idea—hills, lots and lots of hills. And, by ten, things were getting pretty steamy, which would have made the walk back excruciating for all of us. In the end, we made the right decision. And, the driver was able to bring us back later in the day, which was comforting, considering there don’t seem to be a lot of alternatives around here.
Bavang Jamal Beach (aka “Secret Beach”)
Bavang Jamal is a stunning little beach to behold. Unlike the Tip of Borneo beach, Bavang Jamal is hemmed in by dense jungle, punctuated by a conspicuous island to the south. It occurred to me, only after we had arrived, that this would have been a great beach to snorkel around. Unfortunately, I left my mask and snorkel back at the bungalow. No worries, as there were ample other activities to keep us busy until our afternoon pickup—not to mention that the water was so clear, you could just look down through the water and see what’s swimming around. I can tell you what we DIDN’T see (or feel, for that matter)—jellyfish! Not a single one.
The area we had parked ourselves just happened to be the best portion of the beach. In addition to being the only section with shade this time of day, it was also by far the cleanest. It was apparent the family who runs the cafe and campground here takes great care in keeping the beach clean—and there were trash bags of freshly collected refuse to prove it. The farther south I walked away from the cafe, the more crap I encountered along the high-tide line.
Before coming to Sabah, we had read much about the two major ecological crises impacting Borneo over the past decade: deforestation and marine debris/trash. It was hard to find a review of a beach in Sabah that didn’t mention trash being a problem. If there were exceptions, the beaches on Sabah’s west coast between Kota Kinabalu and the Tip of Borneo seemed to be just that. Sure, there were still complaints, but they were far fewer than everywhere else. As a result, that’s where we set our sights for our beach time.
Admittedly, with every passing year, it’s getting harder to find pristine beaches. Most of the beaches in Southeast Asia that appear pristine are because of tireless efforts shoreside in places that have some economic incentive to do so. But over the next decade such efforts will become increasingly futile, as both our consumption (and irresponsible disposal) of plastics and other harmful refuse increases. Yes, places like the Tip of Borneo still exist—but for how long depends on how quickly and effectively we all can curb our addiction to that stuff.
After a quick exploration of the other side of the beach, I grabbed some cold beverages at Secret Place Cafe and met back up with Lori and Noe, who were fully engaged in some intense sand raking. After some quality time in the shade, it was time to get back in the water.
We opted not to bring Noe’s floaty toy out to Secret Beach. Noe had become quite the proficient little kicker, and it was getting to the point where he seemed ready to kick it up a notch. I told him exactly what I was about to do and what he should do. He seemed to understand, so it was time to give it a try—and down he went, head and all.
And, just as I suspected, up he came with a big fat smile across his face. We repeated this another dozen times staying down just a bit longer and each time he took a big breath, closed his nose and mouth and came up smiling. Lori had done this with baby Noe about a year ago when she used to go to a friend’s pool every week, but it had been a very long time. Seems that the Mister will be swimming in no time! Maybe by then he will have grown into the floaty suit we have for him. Or he’ll skip that step altogether, who knows.
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After a jam-packed morning of beach bumming, it was time to head back to the lodge for a nap. But not before we have ourselves some lunch!
Secret Place cafe is this awesome rustic little place owned and run by a local family. It’s the kind of place that if we had been traveling long term (with or without Noe) I could see us staying for a while. It’s still a camping-only sort of place, with basic facilities, which is part of the appeal of Secret Place. The family was exceptionally friendly and the food was delicious.
These sorts of real-deal family-run places are getting harder and harder to find as the years pass by, so we’re happy to have spent time here, even if it’s just for a day.
Back at the Tip of Borneo
Back at the bungalow, Noe passed out the second his head hit the pad—and so did Lori’s, for that matter. I tried for a few minutes, but the sandman just wasn’t biting. Not really a surprise, I rarely have success napping. Instead, I grabbed the camera and headed to the beach for some blue-sky beauty shots.
To say it was hot would be an understatement. It was a HOT one, even in the water. I lasted about ten minutes before retreating back to the air-conditioned bungalow.
Noe lasted about two hours in his crib before wanting to nap with daddy.
After our nap, we tried one last swim in paradise. Unfortunately, the jellyfish were out in full force—this time we could actually see them. Tiny little guys—not the hugely venomous variety, but still enough to keep us out of the water. So, we moved on to other fun things, like eating.
Sunset-time again, and we’re headed back to Tip Top for dinner. We had a tasty dinner at Tommy’s the night before, but on our last night on the Tip of Borneo, Tip Top beckoned. Besides, I was in desperate need of anything besides a Tiger beer. The Singapore staple seems to have the market cornered in Sabah. If another choice existed in the area, I was sure I’d find it at Tip Top.
Beach. Nap. Beach. Sunset. I could get used to this.
Noe colored while we waited for our food and watched the sun set.
While Noe’s temperament on the whole has dramatically improved in the past week, meal time continues to be a challenge. That’s not to say that it wasn’t already becoming a challenge back home, but on the road, these things seem to get amplified. Throw in all sorts of new distractions (dogs, toys, other kids), and some nights he can be next to impossible.
Tonight, however, is a good night.
Noe’s coloring and eating most of what he’s supposed to be eating. The dogs aren’t running off with his food, and he’s able to entertain himself for five-minute intervals.
As for me, well, I’m sad to report that they only had…you guessed it…Tiger beer. But our food was excellent, the kid is manageable, and we were treated to another amazing sunset in this beautiful place.
Three out of four ain’t bad.
It’s been a thoroughly relaxing last three days at the beach, and there’s no doubt we made the right decision to come here.
Tomorrow morning, it’s off to the jungle on a bush plane!