You could be forgiven for leaving Kota Belud off your must-see list, but this bustling town makes for a useful stopover en route to Mantanani or Kudat. Other than the gold mosque on the hill, and the presence of cows blithely wandering the streets, the town's Sunday tamu (market) – a congested, colourful melee of vendors, hagglers and hawkers – is definitely worth your camera's time.
Once a year in October, Kota Belud hosts the famous Tamu Besar, the biggest market organised in Sabah. The highlight is a procession of fully caparisoned Bajau horsemen from the nearby villages, decked out, along with their steeds, in vivid, multicoloured satin 'armour' and embroidered barding. The best way to experience this commercial event is to come not expecting to buy anything – soak up the convivial, occasionally manic atmosphere, and enjoy a good meal at the lovely food stalls.