Visiting a new place during the festival time is the perfect way to absorb the incredible local culture and lifestyle. Sabah is one of the best travel destinations in Malaysia. We have listed a few of the best festivals in Sabah. The list will give you a fair idea about the types of festivals and timing. Depending on your liking, choose the best suited time and plan the visit.
Chinese New Year
When: Beginning of February
Sabah is home to a large Chinese population who settled here as traders. The Chinese celebrate their New Year by lighting up the streets, decorating homes with lanterns, arranging cultural programs in city halls, and setting up stalls to sell goodies and Chinese delicacies.
When: End of April
The Bajau community of Sabah's east coast region of Semporna celebrate this festival. This fishing community has celebrates this event in honour of their tradition of building "lepa", a traditional single-mast sailing boat. Building these boats made from redwood is an ancient technique and is transferred to the next generation within the community only. During this festival, which started in 1994, decorated boats sail the seas to win the crown of the most beautiful "lepa".
When: Entire May
Sabah is a multicultural state that hosts 30 different ethnic groups. Each ethnic group has its language, traditions, arts and crafts, and way of living. Every year the Sabah Fest brings these groups together to celebrate Sabah's cultural diversity and unique heritage. Various programs are performed by each community depicting the highlights of their traditions.
When: May 30th and 31st each year
Rice is the staple diet of most Sabahn people, and for them, this crop is a gift from their God - Kinoingan. Legends say, Kinoingan sacrificed his only, beautiful daughter 'Huminodun' and sowed her body parts as seeds, which later grew to padi (rice). During the Pesta Kaamatan festival, which takes place during the first week of May. They conduct the Magavau ritual to invite the spirit of Bambaazon to the Pesta, as without the spirit of Bambaazon, the festival cannot go on ahead.
Pesta Kelapa (Coconut Festival)
When: End of June
Coconut has its importance in every coastal city around the world, and Sabah is no exception. Coconut trees are harvested on a large scale in Kudat. This festival highlights the importance of this tropical fruit in the social-economic structure of the Kudat people. World Coconut Day also falls on the same day.
Sabah Dragon Boat Race ( Visit Site )
Sabah Dragon Boat Race is held every year on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, at the Likas Bay. Dragon Boats and other streamers make their way across the River Milo to the rhythm of pounding drums and cheering from the crowd during the race.
When: Beginning of July
This event is celebrated in Kuala Penyu. Rumbia or sago forms an indispensable part of the daily diet of the Bisayas and Kadazan communities. They reside in the region of Kuala Penyu and the surrounding districts of Beaufort and Papar. Every part of the sago plant is used, and nothing is disposed of.
Hari Raya Aidil Fitri
Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan month and the beginning of the Islamic New Year by praying at mosques and arranging small get together for friends and relatives. The traditional way of inviting families and friends is by hosting an 'Open House'. Guests are treated to delicious festive food, including beef rending as well as Raya cookies and cakes.
Kinabalu International Climbathon
When: Mid October
Mt. Kinabalu's peak point is the aim for every hiker who participates in this competition held every October. The hike is about 12 miles long and tests every participant's physical and mental fitness.
Pesta Jagung (Corn Festival)
When: Beginning of November
The Pesta Jagung or maize festival is held in the Kota Marudu district at the start of November. Maize or jagung is an essential crop for the economic survival of the Kadazandusun community in Kota Marudu. Therefore, the people celebrate this festival to highlight its importance in their lives by holding various competitions such as Jagung cooking and planting competitions. They have cultural shows, parades, maize lantern and and the Jagung Fashion Queen competition.
Diwali / Deepawali
When: October or November
Diwali or Festival of Lights is a Hindu festival celebrated during October or November. Friends and family are called over to celebrate the festival, and all bow down before God to attain wealth, knowledge, peace, and fame.
Tamu Besar Kota Belud
When: End of November
Kota Belud, located an hour's drive from Kota Kinabalu, is famous in Malaysia for its cultural diversity. The peaceful co-existence of the Muslim Bajau community with other tribes like the Kadazandusun and the Irranun has led to developing a rich, artistic heritage of Kota Belud, unique to the region. All the communities dress up in traditional costumes and display their distinctive traditions, such as the riding skills of the Bajau community. Buffalo parade, Horsemen Tug of War, and the Buffalo race with Sack of Paddy are some of the festival's major attractions.
Kiulu 4M Challenge
When: Beginning of December
Kiulu, located about 40km away from Kota Kinabalu, is the 4M Challenge venue. 4M, which stands for four traditional Kadazandusun sports starting with 'M', comprise of managkus (running), mamangkar (bamboo rafting), manampatau (swimming with bamboo) and mamarampanau (walking with bamboo stilts). The K4MC sports contest, which tests mental and physical fitness, is also thoughtful about preserving and protecting nature, especially the Kiulu River. The primary purpose of this challenge is to promote eco-tourism.
Christmas in Malaysia is similar to that celebrated throughout many other parts of the world. Malays rejoice in the birth of Christ by decorating Christmas trees with small ornaments, offering midnight services and prayers, and hosting various activities at resorts and hotels. Streets, homes, and public places are lighted up during this festival.