For six days of the week, KOTA BELUD, 75km northeast of KK, is a busy but undistinguished town; arriving tourists usually head straight to the jetty for Pulau Mantanani. Early on Sunday, however, the town springs to life as hordes of villagers congregate at Sabah’s largest weekly tamu. Fulfilling a social as well as commercial role, the market draws Rungus, Kadazan/Dusun and Bajau indigenous groups.
Though the market’s popularity among KK’s tour operators means there are always a few tourists, you won’t see many souvenirs for sale: instead you’re far more likely to come across dried fish, chains of yeast beads (used to make rice wine), buffalo, betel nut and tudung saji (colourful food covers used to keep flies at bay). Arrive early – if you’re coming from KK, set off by 8am at the latest.
Kota Belud’s annual tamu besar, or “big market”, usually held in October, sees cultural performances, traditional horseback games and handicraft demonstrations in addition to the more typical stalls.