Exploring Museums in Sabah

Museums… we either love it or hate it. But if you want to learn more about a place, discover its history, and learn about other cultures, what better way to begin than by visiting a museum?

Sabah has a decent number of museums that are worth exploring. Have a free and easy day but don’t know what to do? Whether you are travelling alone or with family, consider visiting one of these museums if you find yourself in any of these locations.


1. Sabah State Museum (Kota Kinabalu)

Photo credit: Sabah Museum

Sabah Museum is easily accessible because of its convenient and strategic location. It is just a short drive away from Gaya Street (Kota Kinabalu centre of business) and the Kota Kinabalu International Airport. The structure of the main building was inspired by the traditional Rungus culture, and upon entering the museum, visitors will see a massive whale skeleton hanging in the main hall.

The main building featured natural history, archaeology, history, ceramics, and ethnographic galleries. Sabah’s history of broadcasting and a North Borneo Railway are also on display in an adjacent building. The museum complex also houses Ethno Botanical Gardens and Heritage Village, which allow visitors to see several traditional Sabah houses.

Visitors to the Sabah Islamic Civilisation Museum can enter the Sabah State Museum for free if they visit both museums on the same day. The purchased entrance ticket must be presented.

FUN FACT: The Sabah Museum was established in 1965 in a shophouse on Gaya Street, Kota Kinabalu. It was relocated to its current location at Jalan Muzium in 1984.


2. Sabah Islamic Civilisation Museum (Kota Kinabalu)

Photo credit: Sabah Museum

Curious about Islam’s origin and development? Explore the informative exhibits in this fascinating two-storey mosque-style museum. The Sabah Islamic Civilisation Museum, which is often overlooked, is about 15-minute walk from the Sabah State Museum. It sits on Bukit Jalan Istana, close to the Sacred Heart Cathedral Church.

This quiet museum houses galleries on Islam in Nusantara, Islam in Malaysia, Islam in Sabah, Prophet Muhammad, and Islamic Commandments. Visitors to this museum can learn about the history of the Islamic religion’s spread into Southeast Asia and its arrival in Sabah. Visitors can also view ancient Islamic artefacts from Middle Eastern countries such as Turkey, Morocco, Egypt, Iran, and India.

Visitors to the Sabah State Museum can enter the Sabah Islamic Civilisation Museum for free if they visit both museums on the same day. The purchased entrance ticket must be presented.


3. University Malaysia Sabah Museums and Gallery (Kota Kinabalu)

Marine Museum and Aquarium. Photo credit: Universiti Malaysia Sabah

With its own beach and jetty, Universiti Malaysia Sabah or UMS is unique among Malaysia’s universities. Aside from having a beautiful landscape and being surrounded by lush greenery, UMS has become a tourist attraction and has its own museums.

With about 30-minute drive from the Kota Kinabalu International Airport, UMS is home to the beachfront Marine Museum and Aquarium, which is popular among the locals. In addition to that, the varsity also features Medical Museum, Academic and Research Gallery, UMS Museum, Azman Hashim UMS Art Gallery, and Borneensis Gallery. A visit to any one of the museums will undoubtedly equip visitors with new understanding and perspective regarding the numerous studies conducted by the academic institutions.


4. Judicial Museum of Sabah and Sarawak (Kota Kinabalu)

The Sabah and Sarawak Judicial Museum is Malaysia’s first judicial museum. The museum, located on the 5th Floor of the Kota Kinabalu Court Complex and open to public, features galleries on the development of the judiciary in the state as well as the history of Malaysia’s formation.

The museum also preserves legal artefacts, such as the 132-year-old Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom. Also on display are the judge’s ceremonial robes; gavels; old court typewriters; old stamps and seals; and seal marks used in the 1960s.


5. Agnes Keith House (Sandakan)

Inside Agnes Keith House.

When in Sandakan, it is recommended that you pay a visit to the museum of Agnes Keith House. This house-turned-museum was formerly known as Newlands, a British colonial government quarters. It was occupied by American author Agnes Newton Keith and her British husband Harry Keith, who was a Conservator of Forests, when they first came to Sandakan in 1934.

The original house was destroyed during World War II. The couple rebuilt the home and became an example of post-war colonial wooden architecture. In 2001, the Sabah Museum and Federal Museum of Antiquities restored the house after it was left with no tenants before turning it into a heritage museum.

To provide visitors with a sense of life under British control in North Borneo, the house has been furnished with antiques and furniture from the colonial era. The museum also has a display that chronicles the life of Agnes Keith and her writings.

FUN FACT: Between 1934 and 1951, Agnes Keith wrote three autobiographical accounts of life in North Borneo. She spent the majority of her time in Newlands writing two books, Land Below the Wind and White Man Returns. Her other book is Three Came Home. During the war, Agnes was captured along with her son George and was imprisoned on Berhala Island in Sandakan before being transferred to Batu Lintang camp in Sarawak.


6. Agop Batu Tulug Museum (Kinabatangan)

Some ancient log coffins found and displayed at the Agop Batu Tulug Museum. Credit: CEphoto, Uwe Aranas.

This archaeological museum, shrouded in mystery, is limestone caves and ancient burial site that housed 125 log coffins dating back between 500 to 900 years. These ancient coffins have been linked to the Orang Sungai community and the Chinese people.

A visit to the museum will undoubtedly pique visitors’ interest in learning more about the mystery surrounding the presence of ancient coffins found in two caves namely Agop Lintanga, which means middle, and Agop Sawat (above). These coffins were arranged in tiers, with carvings of buffalo heads, monkeys, crocodiles, snakes, and ferns on some of them.

The caves were discovered in 1984. The Sabah Museum had since 1996 maintained the cave and upgraded facilities to include restrooms, building stairs, and office.

FUN FACT: In the Orang Sungai language, ‘Agop’ means ‘cave,’ whereas ‘Tulug’ means ‘sleeping place’ that refers to a site of burial for the dead. Aside from human skeletons, several items including Chinese artefacts and ceramics were also discovered in the caves.


7. Keningau Heritage Museum (Keningau)

Photo credit: CEphoto, Uwe Aranas.

There is no harm in paying a visit to this heritage museum when touring the interior district of Keningau. Built in 1946 as a Government Rest House, this rustic wooden building now serves as a museum. Malaysia’s Prime Ministers Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Abdul Razak had both stayed at this rest house, which was converted into a museum in 2008.

This museum is one of Keningau’s main tourist attractions, and it houses numerous historical collections dating back to colonial times. Visitors to this quiet, simple museum can learn about local history, indigenous culture, and heritage, among other things. If you wish to see the historical Keningau Oath Stone, then this is the place to be.

FUN FACT: In 2015, former Australian soldier Tomasz Ciseniewski donated historical photos and an Australia Army Slouch hat to the museum. Tomasz was a young second lieutenant in the Royal Australian Engineers’ transport troops stationed in Sabah to construct a road between Keningau and Sapulut. This was part of military aid to the state to protect its sovereignty after Indonesia launched an armed insurgency to destabilise the newly formed Malaysia.


Other Museums:
Tun Sakaran Museum, Semporna
Teck Guan Cocoa Museum, Tawau

Last reviewed: July 8, 2022

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