I have been to Sabah a few times. But I have not heard of Pulau Banggi. Not until recently I read about it in the newspaper. Upon further reading, I found out that this little island is largely unaffected by development and most of the forest there remains intact. Besides, thick rainforest forms a canopy over almost 70 percent of the island. Other than its virgin forest, the island has beautiful white sandy beaches stretches in most of the coastline on the island. Therefore, Pulau Banggi is essentially a heaven for nature lover. Since this island is largely unheard of, Pulau Banggi may not be familiar to most Malaysian. But this island off the coast of Sabah is the largest island in Malaysia, surrounded by the South China Sea on the west and the Sulu Sea on the east. Situated at the northernmost tip of Sabah, the island is slightly bigger than Singapore and is home to about 20,000 people of various indigenous backgrounds.
Pulau Banggi is located in northernmost
tip of Sabah. It can be reached via Kudat in mainland Sabah by boat. Photo
courtesy by “SM Teknik Keningau” in Flickr.
The major indigenous people of this island is called the Bonggi which numbers at around 6000. Most of people living in Banggi are fishermen and some of them are hunters hunting wild boars in the jungle as well as collecting jungle produce. With tourism flourishing on the island, some folks taking up jobs as drivers offering to ferry tourists from Karakit to remote towns with their rusty old pick-up trucks. Some of them are boats operators capable of skillfully steering boat thru the choppy water and pelting rains between Kudat in mainland Sabah and Karakit. Their main diet is tapioca, a food which looks like pudding.
A jetty at Karakit. The only major town
in Pulau Banggi. Photo courtesy by “Kervinchong”
An indigenous of Pulau Banggi. Photo
courtesy by “Kervinchong”
Karakit is the main town on this island. There are other smaller towns but are located in the remote part of the island. Most of the towns here are undeveloped with Karakit as the main town and probably the biggest. Since this island is largely covered with trees and forests, accessibility has been a major problem especially for land transportation. There are hardly any proper tar roads on this island with most of the roads built with earth and they get muddy during rainy seasons. Therefore, the island’s remote villages are not easily accessible to tourists. For this reason, sea travel has been a major transportation system here with villagers using small boats to get from one village to another since most of the villages are located close to the coastlines. Other than its poor state of land transportation, basic necessaries such as electricity and water are hard to come by in most of the villages which makes tourists shying away from this island.
Even though Pulau Banggi is the poorest place in Sabah, its fortune will soon be reversed due to development by the Sabah state government in tourism. The government recognizes that there is vast potential in tourism industry which will bring in millions of dollars in revenue and also raise the living standard of the folks on the island. The Federal Government has been in cooperation with the state government thru a company called Felcra Bhd in the recent launch of a mega RM167 million project which is expected to bring in development to this island. In the mean time, solar power electricity is also planned in Karakit and other remote areas of the island.
Some tourist attractions in Pulau Banggi include its virgin forest, crystal clear sea water, white sandy beaches, as well as a non-hectic life away from the civilization. It’s going to be a meaningful experience if you could spend a few days on this island mingling with the local folks. Some outdoor activities that you could do here are exploring the island thru land and sea, animals observation, birds seeing, jungle trekking, spending nights at tree houses, exploring the local cultures and so on. You absolutely won’t be bored by spending your holidays here despite the lack of modern facilities. In fact, what Pulau Banggi has to offer is its back-to-nature lifestyle which to some of you who come from a city, might be a totally different experience.
A jetty and wooden waterfront houses.
Photo courtesy by “stefanottomanski”
A wooden jetty and some waterfront
houses in Pulau Banggi. Photo courtesy by “Kervinchong”
Speaking of food, Pulau Banggi is well known for its super fresh and tasty seafood and Karakit is the place to go for seafood hunting. Usually the seafood are prepared with the freshest catch right from the trawlers that bring in the days’ catches. There are plenty of waterfront restaurants run by the locals, mainly the Bajau Laut, Suluk and Bonggi. In fact, you could even have your own pick of the freshest fish right at the boats. It’s not a surprise that Pulau Banggi is one of the famous exporters of fish especially to the wholesalers in Kudat.
Some fresh catches of the day.
Photo courtesy by “Kervinchong”
Waterfront stalls run by the locals at
Karakit. Photo courtesy by “MHelmiAY“
Where to stay
There is a hotel next to the waterfront in Karakit, called the Bonggi Resort. The rooms are cheap, starting from only RM60 per night. The rooms are comfortable and they come with water and electricity. For the more sophisticated one, you can even choose the air-conditioned room over the fan one or you may try the Banggi-style wooden huts. If you were more adventurous, you can even have the option of staying up on a tree by staying over at a tree house. These tree houses come with a nice sea view and gentle sea breeze.
For reservation, call Bonggi Resort at Tel: 019-5878078 or 088-671 572(after 6pm).
How to get there
There are daily ferry service operates from Kudat, the island’s nearest mainland town, to Karakit and vice-versa. The ride takes only about an hour but sometimes it can be canceled due to stormy weather in the South China Sea and Sulu Sea.
To reach Kudat, you can take a three hour drive from Kota Kinabalu or a domestic flight from Kota Kinabalu. The flight is probably offered by AirAsia, you could go to its website to check on it. I would fly there in view of the driving hours which takes about 3 hours. Sometimes bad things can happen especially when the ferry service is canceled or rescheduled to next day due to bada weather especially during rainy seasons, therefore be prepared to stay overnight in Kudat. There is one hotel there called The Upper Deck Hotel, located just next to the jetty point, offers no-frills services at a reasonable rate. For details, call Sabah Tourism Board at Tel: 088-212 121.
Location and Map of Banggi Island: