Kudat Town

Continuing on from my last post, the closest settlement of any size to the Tip of Borneo is Kudat, a town of modest charms.

Old wooden shophouses in Kudat Town
Old wooden shophouses in Kudat Town

Difficult to imagine, but this place was once the capital of North Borneo, indeed the first capital, established in 1881. K.G. Tregonning, in his book Under Chartered Company Rule writes of Kudat:

Great hopes were held of it … These high hopes did not eventuate…A small town grew there, but it was always a sleepy hollow and in 1883 (the capital) moved to bustling Sandakan.

Sleepy hollow is probably still a fair description. There are signs of life around the fish and vegetable market but otherwise this town remains pretty sleep-inducing (but maybe I’m being unfair).

Kudat Clocktower
Kudat Clocktower

One of the reasons why Kudat and the surrounding area never took off under British North Borneo (Chartered) Company (BNBCC) rule was due to a lack of workers. The indigenous Rungus people were far too smart to take on the back-breaking hard labour that the British had in mind. BNBCC tried importing Hakka workers from southern China and offered them free passage, tools and plots of land. This was partly successful and many went on to establish coconut and other plantations but others preferred to open shops.

Chinese Temple in Kudat
Chinese Temple in Kudat

Less well-remembered these days were attempts by the British to bring in Filipino workers and, in 1892, Philippine national hero Jose Rizal visited Sandakan to discuss establishing a Filipino rice-growing colony in Borneo of some 5,000 families. Due to opposition from the Spanish authorities in Manila and other reasons this proposal never came to fruition.

Jollibee Logo on Malaysian Fishing Boat
This Jollibee logo on a Malaysian fishing boat in Kudat is evidence of Filipino influence.

Rizal’s scheme might have failed but today Filipinos are in Sabah in vast numbers – between 800,000 and 1.4 million depending on whom you listen to. Many of these are undocumented (illegal) migrants who arrived by short boat trips from the southernmost Philippine islands which are only a stone’s throw away.

Aerial view of one of Sabah's many water villages, many of which are home to undocumented migrants.
Aerial view of one of Sabah’s many water villages, many of which are home to undocumented migrants. This one is in Kudat town.

Many of these illegals have settled in water villages (ramshackle huts on stilts above the sea) which cling to the coasts of Sabah like iron filings to a magnet.

I digress. What other attractions are there in Kudat which I can tell you about?

Town centre, Kudat
Town centre, Kudat

There is a golf club said to be oldest in Borneo, there’s a clock tower, a fish market and the Esplanade where seafood restaurants attract the locals in the evening.

View of fishing boats at Kudat Esplanade
View of fishing boats at Kudat Esplanade

On the outskirts of town is the airport, built on the old airfield which was constructed by the Japanese during WWII using forced labour from Java and locally. The airfield was heavily bombed by the Americans towards the end of the war.

Kudat Airport
A sleepy airport for a sleepy town. It is served by MAS Wings flights from Kota Kinabalu.

About 11km north of Kudat town is Bak Bak beach. It is not great for sand but has some interesting rock formations to explore.

Bak Bak Beach, Kudat
Bak Bak Beach, Kudat

Kudat Town is nice and peaceful and the people are friendly but if I were to return to this corner of Malaysia again I would concentrate on the Tip of Borneo and Simpang Mengayau beach.

Bak Bak Beach, Kudat
Bak Bak Beach on a weekday.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s