skip to Main Content

I am the kind of person who rather got a key chain as a souvenir from a travelling friends/ family members/ colleagues, than a t-shirt.

Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate any gift that came from any acquaintance, a gift that came from the heart that is. At the very least, key chains are cheap. Even if you ended up not using it, there isn’t much guilt to bear. It’s small, so if it failed to serve you any purpose, losing it or accidentally losing it, would be so damn easy.

But, t-shirt is a different kind of story. Gifting a piece of clothing to someone, is a major risk to take.

Once upon a time, there was a story of a friend of mine who went to Hong Kong. She’s kind enough to get me and another friend, each a t-shirt – mine with a dragon print and the other friend got a Hong Kong Skyline print.

My t-shirt was too small and the other friend won’t even bother to collect the t-shirt from me, so it was kept for over a year in my car trunk.

Both t-shirts later ended up in a garage sale, sold for MYR2 per piece, simply because that other friend of mine didn’t give a rat a** over that t-shirt and my fat a** failed to slim down.

The point of my story is: as gift, t-shirts are complicated!

So, if you’re planning a holiday to Sabah, or you are already in Sabah, and you’re thinking of getting any token of remembrance to be brought back to your loved ones at home, maybe you should left the ‘I Love Sabah’ t-shirt aside first.

I don’t mean to entirely rule the t-shirt out as one of the option, but perhaps you should consider souvenirs that are simple, practical, heartfelt and really represent the true essence of what Sabah is all about.

Here’s the list to ponder :

Sabah Souvenir Choice #1 – Food

If your airlines of choice or your airport of origins, don’t have issues on bringing home foodstuffs, you should consider sharing the taste of Sabah with those waiting for you back home. Our special delicacies include;

I) Frozen Seafood

One of the most recommended place to get them is at Fung Seng Seafood Supplier in Inanam, which takes about 15 minutes drive from Kota Kinabalu city centre.

Fung Seng Seafood Supplier Sdn. Bhd.
No. 7 & 8, Jln Bakau,
Inanam Ind Est,
Jln Tuaran Km 8,
88450 Inanam,
Sabah, Malaysia
Telephone: 088-38 0018 / 088-380013

Don’t worry if you failed to go to both outlets, there are also shops selling frozen seafood at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport, both at Terminal 1 and Terminal 2.

II) Dried/ Salted Seafood

If bringing back the frozen one is so much of a hassle, no worries. You can always opt for seafood that are dried and salted. Dried and salted seafood are much easier to pack and carry. All you have to deal with, is to curb the strong, pungent smell. Ask the sellers to wrap and pack the dried, salted seafood for you.

If you’re in Kota Kinabalu, the best place to get it is, of course,at the very-well-known “Pasar Ikan Masin” or literally translated as the Salted-Fish market.

Don’t be fooled by the name, there are more than just fish available here – dried seaweed, squid, prawn, octopus, scallop, clam, starfish, sea cucumber etc, etc. If it came from the sea, you name it and there are more than 80% chance you’ll find it here.

The East Coast of Sabah (Sandakan, Lahad Datu, Kunak, Tawau and Semporna) is said to have a much cheaper dried-salted seafood since supplies are pretty much abundant due to their geographic location.

iii) Hand-made Chocolate

If seafood ain’t your thing and your sweet tooth is constantly craving for some sugar-coated delicacies, then why not try our very own super delicious hand-made chocolate. You can enjoy the rich taste of home-grown cocoa, mixed with a variety of exotic local fruits and herbs which translate into a taste so unique you know you could only find it here in Sabah.

One of the most well-known Sabah hand-made chocolates are those carrying the label of ‘Simply Chocolate’ . Established in the year 1995, SIMPLY CHOCOLATE prides itself in being one of the very first specialty Handmade Chocolate makers in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. You can get your hands on them, here:

Simply Chocolate Sdn. Bhd.
Lot 1 & 2, Taman Cendawan, Jalan Penampang,
88300 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

Tel: 6088-728850/714001 Fax: 6088-723302

Lot 46, 1st Floor, Block D, Warisan Square,
Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens, 88000 Kota Kinabalu.

Tel: 6088-447226

and also, here :

Simply Chocolate Cafe
Lot F825, 1st Floor, 1 Borneo Hypermall,
Jalan Sulaman, 88400 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

Tel: 088-485586

Take a peek at their delicious offerings, here :

iv) Amplang and Kuih Cincin

We’re still talking foodstuffs here. Though the name may sounds ‘alien’ to you, but they are indeed some of the many good tasting local food that Sabah has to offer you.

Amplang is a seafood cracker – namely, fish amplang, prawn amplang and squid amplang. Originated from the East Coast of Sabah, amplang is available in original or spicy flavour to suit the preference of your taste buds.

Amplang is square in shape and pretty thick for a cracker. It’s a fat cracker! But don’t let the look fooled you, this is the kind of snack that once you pop, you really can’t stop.

On the other hand, Kuih Cincin is a sweet delicacy. Kuih is literally translated as cookies or biscuit or snack or pastry or cracker (good God! I couldn’t find the exact translation for kuih! ).

While Cincin means ring – as the one you put on your fingers, which significantly applied on the shape of the kuih itself. It shaped like a flower, made by combining five rings to form its petal. The basic ingredients for kuih Cincin are flour and brown sugar. It’s just a simple snack, but it sure tastes good.

Where to find them? Easy, if you’re in Kota Kinabalu both amplang and Kuih Cincin are sold at the market next to the one selling the dried-salted seafood. It’s right by the roadside, there’s no way you would ever missed it.

Sabah Souvenir Choice #2 – Arts and Crafts

Where ever you went or go or planning to go, arts and crafts are always the best representation of one’s local culture.

Bring home a piece of art from The Land Below the Wind, shares it with your loved ones and re-lived those fond memories of your Borneo getaway.

And as for the local crafts, not only that they are nice to look at, most of them served a very practical purpose too.

I) Paintings

Sabah is never short of talented and unique local talents in fine arts. Here, especially in Kota Kinabalu, you could easily find a wide selection of paintings of local motives, in variety of medium, dimension and price range.

So, if visual art is really your thing, feel free to visit Sabah Art Gallery, which open daily from 9.00am to 5.00pm (except for Friday), at the following address :

Sabah Art Gallery
Jalan Muzium
88300 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

For more information, check out :

Right in the heart of Kota Kinabalu, there’s also an art gallery constantly displaying artworks by local artist and also some produces by talents from neighboring countries such as the Philippines.

The gallery goes under the name of Borneo Art Gallery which is located at the following address :

Borneo Art Gallery
Suite 2.28, 2nd Floor
Complex Asia City
Jalan Asia City, Kota Kinabalu

More information at

A short walking distance away, there’s also another mini gallery which is appropriately attached to the Wisma Budayabuilding (home for Sabah Ministry of Arts & Culture). The gallery adapts a partially open-air concept, so in good weather sometimes you’ll see the artist doing his painting outdoor. The exact location is at:

The Gallery next to Wisma Budaya,
Lorong Singgah Mata 2
Kota Kinabalu

If you happened to be at the Gaya Street Sunday Bazaar, you can also spot the local artworks are put on display at two or more booths along the shopping spread.

Expect a much lower price here compare to those galleries and hell yeah, they allow bargaining.

II) Practical Handicrafts

Be it made out of wood, leaves, fabric, bamboo, rattan, bronze, copper or clay, you’ll find that some of Sabah’s handicrafts are not only beautiful to the eyes but you can easily find a use for it in your household. Here are some great examples :

– The Bajau’s Multi-colored Food Covers – a very-well-known souvenirs from the Cowboy Town of Kota Belud. It is made out of dried and dyed leaves of a local plant named ‘mengkuang‘. The colors of this food covers are extremely vibrant which are a good representation of the colourful characters of the Bajaus.

– The Kadazan’s Wakid – basically, wakid is a traditional basket made of bamboo which is one of the very well-known handicraft of the kadazan-dusun ethnicity. It has a very unique shape and since it is actually a basket, so it will definitely serves the purpose as a basket. Nowadays, it is also available in miniature sizes, suitable as souvenirs and decorative item.

– Rungus’ Multi-colored Beads Accessories – when you’re in Sabah, you’ll come across these range of multi-colored beads accessories quiet easily. But what I found most interesting are those beads bracelet and necklace/ choker with the traditional motives of the Rungus, which is one of the many local ethnic in Sabah. There are colorful and eye-catching, and relatively cheap, compare to other handcrafted jewelleries –of which I will elaborate more on the next paragraph!

III) “Bling-Bling”

If bling is your thing, and so do your loved ones, then Sabah will be a delight for you. Here, especially in Kota Kinabalu Handicraft Market, jewelleries made out of semi-precious stones are well-known to be the most sort-after souvenirs among tourist.

Among others, crystals are the fanciest of colors, pearls are timeless and elegant, and if you dig much deeper there are also a selection of ruby, sapphire, jade and many more.

The prices are varied according to grades and craftsmanship. Expect the price to be as low as RM5, up to thousands of Ringgits!

If you can’t bear the hot and stuffy handicraft market, you can also shop for it in air-conditioned shopping complexes. The most well established name for this particular bling business is Jamilah Enterprise. You can find their outlets at the followings :

Jamilah Enterprise
Lot 3, Ground Floor
Block H, Sinsuran Complex
Kota Kinabalu


Jamilah Enterprise
Lot G-604, Ground Floor
1 Borneo Hypermall, Jalan Sulaman
Kota Kinabalu

Sabah Souvenir Choice #3 – Music

Bring home some music! Sabah has a very distinct sounds when it comes to local music. So why not serenades your loved ones back home with the melodious tune of Borneo or perhaps just go wild with your imagination and dance along to the rainforest drums!

I) Traditional Musical Instruments

Since Sabah is rich in its diversity of culture, the variety of instruments that composed this traditional symphony are unique to one’s ethnicity. Some may look similar, but if you really look at the intricate details on every instrument, you should’ve notice the unique signature that each of it carries. Here are some instruments to consider:

– The Sompoton – Sompoton is a traditional musical instrument of the Kadazan. It is made of double raft of eight bamboo pipes inserted into a gourd. The Sompoton produces a sound by blowing and sucking air through the mouth-piece on the gourd. Sompoton can easily be found at any handicraft outlets all around Sabah.

– The Gong – The Gong is highly significant in the culture of various ethnic in Sabah. I know it is made of brass or copper, it’s big and it’s heavy (you sure don’t want to pay for extra baggage just for this!), but the good news is the Gong can now be found in miniature sizes, so you can easily pack it in your bag and bring it home as a token of remembrance.

– Suling – Suling or Seruling, is literally translated as flute. Suling is traditionally hand-made using a slim bamboo pipe. Similar to Sompoton, Suling which is also a Kadazan-Dusun musical instrument, produces sound by blowing through the upper most hole of the bamboo pipe. It is not as common as the Sompoton, but it sure made an interesting souvenier for your loved ones, especially if they’re into music.

There are a lot of other traditional musical instruments, such as gendang (drums), Kulintangan (a set of smaller size gongs, that are the main instrument of the whole musical essembles), gambus (a traditional accoustic guitar) and so much more.

But, their weights and sizes are the major concern on why they are not the most convenient souveniers of choice.

II) Audio CD

The local Sabahan’s music scene has quiet a large niche of followers. Although you won’t see them as often on the national television, won’t heard them as much on the national radio, but these local artistes are getting their fair share of fame here in their home arena.

There are singers who sang in English and Malay, as well as those who are singing in their native tongue, such as Kadazan, Dusun, Bajau, Murut, Irranun and so much more.

But as the saying goes, good music transcend languages. If it is indeed the music to your ears, why not grab some CDs and share the music with your friends and family back home?

One of the longest surviving record store in Kota Kinabalu that is in my knowing, is this small shop named Polysound Music. You can get the audio CD (or the Karaoke-DVD/VCD) of Sabahan singers here:

Polysound Music Sabah

Wisma Cts, Lot No 6
Jalan Sentosa
Kampung Air, Kota Kinabalu

Actually, you can just walk into any record store that you came across and chances are those local music CDs will be in one of their shelves. Or, you can also find them being sold at weekend market (such as the Gaya Street Bazaar), just make sure you purchase the original. Say no to piracy!

Sabah Souvenir Choice #4 – Knick knack and All Things In Between

At the end of the day, when all those things prior recommended are way beyond your budget, no worries! There’ll always be something for everyone. Knickknack of any sorts, at any price, could actually convey a deeper meaning to the receiving end if, and only if you know how to choose the right one.

I) Key Chain

Yes! it is the most common of all souvenirs. They are cheap, you can buy them cheaper in bundles and nowadays, they come in a wide selection of designs with the beautiful images and motives of Sabah.

II) Sea Shell

Some are crafted as necklace or bracelet, some are made into a home deco items and some are sold in its original forms. Again, it sea shell. DO NOT BUY CORALS. It’s bad for the environment and it’s illegal.

III) Fridge magnet

As cliché’ as key chain in the souvenirs department. But I happened to know a lot of people who are avid fridge magnet collectors, and I believed most of us have a lot of acquaintance with the same interest. So, if the fridge magnet makes them happy, why not?

IV) Postcards and postal stamps

Cheap, memorable, unique. Those, I believed, are criteria for good souvenirs.

V) T-shirts

Go ahead, if you can’t help but wanting to buy t-shirts. There’s nothing wrong with that!

After all, the most important thing in buying a gift or souvenir is the sincerity that comes with it. All souvenirs that came from the (wallet and straight to the) heart, are precious and deserved to be treasured forever. Happy shopping!

Here’s a non-related video, about Sabah in general

About the author: Nizam Shadan is a born and bred Sabahan. She scribbles and doodles. If you care to read more of her rants, go to:

Back To Top