Kota Kinabalu, East Malaysia’s capital city, doesn’t really personify Borneo – the capital isn’t a jumble of leafy greens and seaside shanties, but it is the place to go for a cache of Sabahan’s superlative sights. Most visitors head up here for a view of Borneo’s towering granite roof – Mount Kinabalu – but KK has plenty of attractive coastal towns and stilt villages worth visiting. A night spent in Kota Kinabula is well worth the occasion before you aim for the summit.
Home to the 4095-metre Mount Kinabalu – Southeast Asia’s highest peak, the Kinabalu National Park, located in northwest Sabah, is Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has one of the world’s largest collections of flora and fauna and the two-day journey across its landscape to get to the summit of the Borneo peak is a sure-fire adventure challenge for intrepid climbers.
Kinabalu National Park Intro
Towering over the island amidst puffy cotton wool clouds, Mount Kinabalu is the region’s top tourist draw and the centrepiece of the sprawling 754sqkm Kinabalu National Park. Ascending and descending the Borneo peak is no easy task and takes approximately two to three days depending upon the weather and your fitness level. It is, in no way, an easy climb yet visitors from far and wide still try to make the gruelling trek to the top. Invariably they either return sore and dejected or sore, triumphant and bearing spectacular pictures of the sun rising over the horizon at the peak. On a clear day you can see the Philippines in the distance but the top is usually enshrouded in early morning fog.
Kinabalu National Park Overview
Besides playing host to the mighty mountain – also known as Gunung Kinabalu – the Kinabalu National Park is a botanical paradise. Within the dipterocarp forest is an array of habitats supporting lush Borneo flora and fauna – it is home to the world’s largest variety of nepenthes, carnivorous pitcher plant. Most people make a beeline for the summit but the surrounding area is well worth exploring including the Kundasang War Memorial and the Ranau night market.
Once you’ve trekked up the mountain and needless to say, you’ve returned with aching muscles, take the time to soak in the Poring Hot Springs. Part of the Kinabalu National Park, it is one of the most popular weekend retreats for locals. Located some 43 kilometres away from park headquarters and surrounded by natural leafy greenery this manmade attraction is set in the jungle and features concrete pools and tubs with steaming sulphurous waters.
Kinabalu National Park History
If you’re looking for gravity-defying challenges then climbing Southeast Asia’s highest peak is definitely for you. The trip can be pretty gruelling yet Sabah’s star attraction is well worth the effort.
Mount Kinabalu, or Gunung Kinabalu as it is known to locals, was first officially climbed in 1851 by Sir Hugh Low, the British colonial secretary on Pulau Labuan. The biggest challenge in those days was the navigation through the impenetrable and supposedly ‘haunted’ jungle. These days Gunung Kinabalu still remains an adrenaline rush-inducing experience; the huge granite dome is accessible via the Kinabalu National Park headquarters. The centre is located 88 kilometres from KK where you can pay your park entry fee, registration as well as guide fees and you’ll receive your room assignments – be sure to make advance lodging reservations.
Climbing Mount Kinabalu is a heart-pounding adventure that will take about two days; there are two trails leading up to the summit – the easier Timpohon Trail and the more challenging Mesilau Trail. Climbers begin the journey to 3, 273 metre-high Laban Rata on the first day; spend the night at the rest house before setting off for the summit early the next morning. If you’re in need of a relaxing reward at the end of your 48-hour adventure ordeal, then the nearby Poring Hot Springs will ease your aching muscles after scaling the peak.
Highlights and Features
- Mount Kinabalu: The highest peak in Southeast Asia, this majestic mountain beckons visitors to scale its challenging heights. Standing at 4, 095.2 metres, Gunung Kinabalu has two trails that lead to the summit – the Timpohon Trail, a relatively-easier route, and the Mesilau Trail, which is the more taxing route.
- Botanical treasures: Kinabalu National Park is home to a collection of Borneo botanical jewels including 1,200 species of orchids, 26 species of rhododendrons and the insectivorous nepenthes (pitcher plant).
Good to Know and What Not to Miss
- If you’re not an experienced climber, then we recommend that you choose the Timpohon Trail for your trek up to the summit – though it is not a tremendously easier climb, it is still much more manageable than the gruelling Mesilau trail.
- The trek to the apex of Gunung Kinabalu will take at least, two to three days; accommodation options are available within the park and those trekking up to the summit can stay at the rest house in Laban Rata for their first night.
- Be sure to check into park headquarters by 09:00, so stay nearby the base of the mountain the morning before your trek up summit.
Park entrance fee
Foreigners: Adults – RM 15; Kids – RM 10
Malaysians: Adults – RM 3; Kids – RM 1
Climbing permit fee
Foreigners: Adults – RM 100; Kids – RM 40
Malaysians: Adults – RM 30; Kids – RM 12
Insurance fee: RM 7
Small group (one to three people): RM 85 – Mesilau trail extra RM 10
Large group (four to six climbers): RM 100 – Mesilau trail extra RM 20
Kinabalu National Park
Sabah Parks Office: 07:00 – 19:00 Daily
Sutera Sanctuary Lodges: 09:00 – 18:30 Monday to Friday; 09:00 – 16:30 Saturday; 09:00 – 15:00 Sunday
How to Get There: A shuttle bus runs from various points – Pacific Sutera, Magellan Sutera and Wisma Sabah – to the Kinabalu National Park headquarters early in the morning. Taxis from the Kota Kinabalu city centre can be a little pricey – ranging from between RM 140 – RM 160. There are express buses and minivans that run between KK and Ranau but their route takes you past the park entrance so it might not be a good idea especially if you’re not particularly savvy navigation-wise.