With its reputation as a tranquil seaside town, Kudat is a popular short holiday destination for Sabahans. Its main claims to fame include fresh seafood, pristine beaches, Rungus culture and a number of pristine beaches.
Kudat is located roughly 190km northeast of Sabah's capital, Kota Kinabalu. On a map, the state of Sabah resembles a dog's head; Kudat is located on the peninsula which forms the left ear of the "dog". The district of Kudat is bordered by the Filipino municipality of Balabac to the north, the South China Sea to the west, Marudu Bay to the east and the districts of Kota Belud and Kota Marudu to the south.
Kudat Airport (in reality no more than a small airstrip) is located 6km north of downtown Kudat. The only airline serving this airport is MASWings, a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines which serves rural airports in east Malaysia. There are three flights per week on Twin Otter aircraft from Kudat to Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan. The aircraft essentially makes a return trip from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan with a stop in Kudat on both legs of the journey. Flying times are 40 minutes to Kota Kinabalu and 50 minutes to Sandakan.
There are a few options available for traveling into the area. If you're coming from KK airport, renting a car and self-driving from KK is a good option for travel. Be advised that there are few self-driving options available for rent once reaching Kudat town. Drive time is 3h except if you are leaving kk in afternoon rush hour 4-7pm or entering KK in early morning rush hour 07-09am.
Going N from KK the easiest route is up Jalan Tuaran from Karamunsing - follow signs for Tuaran. Then signs for Kota Belud, Once you go through Tengilan and over the mountain there is a Petronas Petrol station on the left. This is the last petrol Before Kudat. At the Kota Belud roundabout - The town is straight on and the bypass 1st left. To avoid Kota Belud take the bypass. At the end of the bypass there is a roundabout with no signs, turn left to kudat and right to Kota Belud.
Your own car means you can make a road trip from the journey, - stop at any village market Tamparuli, Tuaran, or Kota Belud Market. Then nicest way is to drive over the mountain to the Kota Marudu Turning (2h from KK, 1h from Kota Belud). Optional stops at the fruit, flowers and plants stalls on the way across the mountain, stop for food at the shops at the turning and then stop at the bee village, the Gong village or the Bead village or any markets in Matunggung or Sekuati. With your own car you can also stay at any of the many homestays along the road - Please book beforehand.
There is currently an air-conditioned VIP coach that leaves KK for Kudat daily at 9 am from the bus depot across from Dreamtel, and returns from Kudat at 2 pm. Advantage - slightly cheaper than taxi and carries large bags easily. However, it doesn't always go. There is also a non-air conditioned bus that leaves KK at 8 am and from Kudat at 1:30 pm. Each bus takes around 4 hours to reach its destination. The other public transport option is the long distance taxi's - 100m south of Dreamtel opposite the shell station. These are aircon, take 9 or 11 people and go when they are full so the wait is variable, short at beginning or end of the day: Long wait at lunchtime. The cost is rm25 (2014) per seat. if you have large bags and these need to go on a seat then you will have to pay for the seat. They will drop you at any location in Kudat - hotels etc but they finally stop at the terminal next to the Ria Hotel in the middle of town.
It is not advisable to attempt to do a day trip from Kota Kinabalu to Kudat as there would simply not be enough time to see the sights and you would end up spending most of your day going to and from Kudat. Plan to stay at least a night instead.
There is only one car rental service for self-drive in Kudat town (Melinsung Car Rental, +60 13-898 0997), but you must book your car at least two days in advance, as they tend to be in high demand. Call for rates and to have a car delivered. Otherwise, you can travel around the area by taxi or with a tour agent. Vans and independent taxis are stationed near the bus depot in Kampung Air. Vans can take between 7-8 passengers at RM20.00 - RM25.00 per pax return, while independent taxis take up to 4 passengers and charge RM150.00 - RM240.00 for a return trip to Simpang Mengayau (Tip of Borneo).
At Simpang Mengayau, cars and motorcycles are available for rent from Howard at Tampat Do Aman guesthouse.
There are many things to see and explore in the area, though they are all quite spread out from each other. This makes it easiest to self-drive in this area, but tours or daily rate taxis can also be arranged. If self-driving, take your time and stop at the many deserted beaches along the way.
Downtown Kudat - Along the seafront
Travellers driving to Kudat should note that there are only two petrol stations in downtown Kudat - one owned by Petronas and the other by Petron - and that both stations close early (Petron at 6pm and Petronas at 8pm). After these two stations, the nearest petrol stations are in the town of Kota Marudu, roughly 80km south of Kudat.
As with many other parts of Sabah, Kudat has seen an influx of mostly illegal immigrants from the southern Philippines fleeing the unrest in that region. Most of them live in poverty in dilapidated water villages (groups of wooden shacks on stilts built over the sea). While for the most part these immigrants do not mean any harm, most would not hesitate to relieve visitors of their valuables if the opportunity arises. Therefore, visitors are advised against needlessly showing their wealth when going around town. Similarly, visitors should refrain from visiting immigrant settlements and exercise a high degree of caution after dark.
Kudat is an overwhelmingly rural district. If you are lost at sea, or suffer a breakdown while driving on a rural stretch of road, it may be difficult for others to pinpoint your exact location. Thus, it is good practice to inform someone (for example a receptionist at your hotel) before heading off into the countryside or out to sea.