This is a Sipadan beach dive: Walk to the water’s edge at the north end of the island, swim out less than 20 feet, and watch the bottom disappear into blue abyss more than 2,800 feet deep. Great wall dives, a large and pristine coral reef surrounding much of the shoreline, crystal clear water, a deep underwater cave, and an undersea garden of corals, giant clams, countless barracuda, and flamboyantly colored tropical fish. Need we say more?
The rainforest of the Danum Valley is real jungle. On the animal scorecard are nearly 300 bird species, orangutans, howling gibbons, flying squirrels, elephants (the Asian variety), and the Sumatran rhinoceros. There are numerous trails in the park, but a naturalist-led tours is the best bet for seeing what life might have been like on Earth millions of years ago.
The streets of Kuching, Sarawak’s capital, are portraits of an earlier Asia. From Tua Pek Kong, a Chinese temple built in the mid-1800s, you’re only steps away from the Main Bazaar, a row of shop houses (house above, shop below) that’s been around since 1864; browse though seemingly endless handicrafts (including masks and blowpipes), curios, and antiques dating back to the days of the Rajahs. For a second round of shopping, head to the shop houses of India Street, where bargaining for spices and textiles is a fine art.