Tamu Besar

22 - 23 Oct 2017
Kota Belud, Sabah

What do beauty queens, horseman and daring buffalo riders have in common? They're all part of Kota Belud's annual open-air market.

  • When? 22 - 23 Oct 2017
  • Where? Kota Belud, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia.
  • Price: Free

Forget being crowned Prom Queen, Kota Belud's Ratu Sarempak (Sarempak's Queen) sounds much more exciting. As part of the annual Tamu (pronounced tah-moo) Besar festival in Sabah, one local woman will be crowned with this title as others enjoy the market atmosphere, delicious food stalls, buffalo racing and a horse parade.

Known as the biggest open-air market in Sabah, Tamu Besar attracts thousands of locals and visitors each year, arriving from far and wide. The market itself runs weekly from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. - but it's the additional activities that draw the large crowds once a year. Here you'll find coffee powder, woven baskets, wild honey, handicrafts, cloth, tobacco, traditional medicine, seafood and chickens. In years gone by this festival was an important time of the year for the people of Borneo. Here they could unite and learn of news from the remoter interior of the island and vice versa. The British taxed this type of open-air market during their occupation of Borneo, exploiting its significance to indigenous communities.

Beautiful Bajau girls don traditional costume for the highlight of the weekend; the crowning of the ratu. The Bajau people are skilled weavers and tailors and their love of bright colours produces embellished costumes for the beauty pageant. The buffalo racing is more down to earth, watching someone trying to stay saddled on a bull is basically a source of amusement. More difficult to navigate than horses, buffalo are clumsy steeds. At 1 p.m. the wild west theme is continued when the 'cowboys of the east' (an affectionate nickname) parade their colourfully adorned horses. This event often starts late as government attendees are renowned for their less-than-punctual arrival.

A kaleidoscope of sights, tastes, smells and sounds, this bright and bustling market is one not to miss if you're in Sabah during October. And who knows? If you get working on that perfect smile you might be the one crowned Queen for the day. Sounds okay to us.

*We do our very best to verify the dates of our events but please check with the official event provider before booking your flights. We would hate for you to be disappointed!