Things to do in Kinabalu Park

The majestic Mount Kinabalu with its peak piercing through the clouds.

The Kinabalu National Park located in Sabah state of Malaysia is definitely one of the world’s best nature wonders with its unique ecosystem. It has an abundant of flora and fauna living in the vast tropical rainforest which is 753 square kilometre big. The Kinabalu National Park also houses one of the highest peak in Southeast Asia, Mount Kinabalu that soars up to a height of 4,095 metres. It is a very prominent mountain due to its accessibility and its breath taking view at the peak. From afar, you can see the mountain has a number of peaks and combining together which looks like a jagged crown. These amazing features have made Kinabalu Park being declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 2000 which was then the first UNESCO site for Malaysia. The site gained its fame for its “outstanding universal value” and the role as one of the most important biological sites in the world. This article will let you know all about Kinabalu Park.

The Kinabalu Park has an interesting natural environment which showcases a wide range of habitats from tropical lowland, hill rainforest, and tropical mountain forest to sub-alpine forest. Besides that, it has been pronounced as Centre for Plant Diversity for Southeast Asia due to it being phenomenally rich in species of flora that can be found across a few regions. The park is also famous for its cool climate as it is situated around 1,500 metres above sea level. Nature lover will be captivated by the amazing natural environment that Kinabalu Park exhibits through its lush vegetation. The Kinabalu Park is also the starting point to climb the Mount Kinabalu.

WHAT TO DO?

The peak of Mount Kinabalu above the clouds.

KINABALU PARK

The main activity in Kinabalu Park is none other than climbing the Mount Kinabalu to reach its famous peak. However, you cannot just show up at the park and climb the mountain anytime you want. Instead, the organisation that managed the Kinabalu National Park which is Sabah Parks only issues 135 climbing permits per day. This means that it is highly unlikely that you would get to climb the mountain without any booking in advance as there are many visitors that will climb the mountain every day. In order to avoid disappointments, make sure to book your spot to climb the mountain as early as 6 months earlier. Here are some climbing Mount Kinabalu tips.

BEST TIME TO CLIMB

In case you are wondering and having a hard time deciding when is the best season to climb Mount Kinabalu, we suggest that you avoid climbing the mountain on October to January. During that time, the North East Monsoon hits Sabah and causes heavy rainfall frequently. Sabah also has another wet season during May to July which is the South West Monsoon. Mount Kinabalu is situated in the middle of a tropical rainforest jungle and under the typhoon belt. Rainfalls are to be expected all the time. Although the weather in Sabah is fairly unpredictable, there are a few months in Sabah which is considered as dry season and rainfalls appears to be lesser than other months. The best months to climb Mount Kinabalu will be February, March and April.

The visibility during the hike can be quite low because of the mist.

As climbing the Mount Kinabalu is an outdoor activity, it is very susceptible to bad weather such as heavy rains and thick fogs. One of the reasons to avoid climbing the mountain during wet season is the climb towards the summit will be cancelled with no refund if the weather is bad. The cancellation is due to the bad weather that will expose climbers to a dangerous and risky climbing condition. The summit trails includes a steep hike up the rocky and uneven surface of the Mount Kinabalu peak guided by guiding ropes. Heavy rainfall will cause the rocky surface to be very slippery and it is dangerous for hikers to climb. Thick fogs is also very unsafe as the visibility will be very limited and climbers might get lost. However, Mount Kinabalu is still available for its challengers all year round. Wet seasons simply just means it is more likely to rain but it does not necessary mean it rains everyday all the time. Climbing during the dry season and avoiding the wet season means that there is a higher chance that your summit hike will not be cancelled due to bad weather but it is not a guarantee still.

Climbers slowly ascending the mountain in hope to catch the sunrise.

HOW HARD IS THE CLIMB?

With a large number of climbers attempting to reach the summit of Mount Kinabalu every year, it seems that the mountain is one of the must go places and a fairly easy hike. The Mount Kinabalu climb is one of the most accessible taller mountains because it doesn’t need any special skills or climbing equipment as a prerequisite to reach the summit. The climb seems to be doable by most of the climbers too. However, there are mixed reviews of how hard is the Kinabalu climb actually is. The climb is achievable by anyone who has a reasonable level of fitness. Elders and children have also reached the mountain’s peak without any problem.

The hiking trail is actually very easy in the book as it is just a long walk up the mountain. The trail is dominated by mostly steep, inclining and uneven paths with some describing it as walking up thousands flights of stairs. It is quite challenging in terms of physical for many people. After reaching the base camp at Laban Rata Rest house, around 7 hours of hike from Timpohon Gate the starting point for climbing the Mount Kinabalu, climbers will stay a night at the base camp before resuming the hike before dawn on the next day. The trail to the summit might be very challenging to many people as it is a steep climb up in a pitch black environment. The summit climb will be supported by guiding ropes to hold on to. After a relaxing moment on the peak, climbers will then go back to the rest house before carrying on to descent the mountain to the Timpohon Gate. The descent down the mountain might just be the most challenging part because of its steep trail and climbers might be tired from the hike before. Your leg will certainly take some beating before reaching the Timpohon Gate.

SAFETY

After the earthquake incident during 2015, many have questioned about the safety of Mount Kinabalu. The Mount Kinabalu is still operating (as of July 2018) and serves thousands of climbers every year. The earthquake caused Kinabalu Park to close of the whole area for repair and rehabilitation but was opened again once everything is in good conditions including the climb to Mount Kinabalu. The Mesilau trail however has been damaged seriously by the earthquake and is closed. In regards of safety issue, the trails to the mountain are actually very safe and is supported with guiding ropes for very steep trails. Every day there are still many people who have successfully and safely reach the peak of the mountain and come back down. Natural disasters are beyond the control of the park administration but as long as climbers follow the instructions of the mountain guides and stay on the trail, the risk of any accident or injury will be lowered. If the climb is dangerous due to bad weather or any other reasons, the experienced mountain guide will stop the climb to ensure safety of the climbers.

Some of the steeper trails to reach the peak of Mount Kinabalu.

FITNESS LEVEL

In regards of fitness level, the Mount Kinabalu is definitely achievable by most of the people. You don’t need to be an elite athlete to climb the mountain. If you are doing regular exercises and playing sports on a weekly basis, it is likely that you are fit enough to reach the summit of the mountain. If you are not confident on your fitness level, training can easily help to build up your fitness level and sufficient to reach the top of the mountain. Around 6 months before you climb the mountain, walk or jog around in a park or near your neighbourhood for around an hour consistently twice a week at least. Then as the date to climb the mountain gets nearer, start to walk at paths which is inclined or steeper to let your leg know the similar feel when climbing a mountain. You should be fine to go if you can do these easily.

CLIMB DURATION

The climb on Mount Kinabalu takes 2 days on the mountain. Climbers will begin the climb on the morning of the first day to reach the rest house which is around 7 hours of climbing. Then climbers will stay at the basecamp for the night. Then, climbers will need to start climbing before dawn in order to be able to catch the sunrise at the peak of the mountain. This would take another 2 to 3 hours and then the same amount of time to go back to the base camp after reaching to the top. From the base camp, climbers will descent back to the Timpohon Gate which will take around 7 hours too to end the journey. It is compulsory for climbers to stay at least one night at the base camp as the park does not provide permits to climb the mountain in one day.

The Laban Rata Resthouse for climbers to stay the night.

EQUIPMENT

Even though the climb is relatively easy, some preparations and standard equipment are still necessary to ensure climbers safety and lower the risk of accidents. Some of the best equipment for climbing Mount Kinabalu that are needed is a good hiking shoe, warm clothing for high altitude, waterproof backpack, head lamp for the summit trail, high energy snacks to recharge climbers’ energy, waterproof gloves, windbreaker and others. As the weather conditions on the mountain can change very quickly anytime, it is better to be prepared in order to overcome any situations that might occur. Raincoats and poncho are also required to keep you and your backpack dry if it rains. Being wet on a high altitude will be hard for the body to keep warm. The attire for the climb are actually preferences but there are some suggested preferences. Jeans are not recommended as it will be very heavy if wet and warmer clothes when you are at high altitude. The temperature at the base camp can go below zero degrees on very cold days. Other than that, one of the most important thing during mountain climbing is to keep your backpack light, try bringing only necessary thing as extra stuff will just be a burden.

ALTITUDE SICKNESS

Climbers will need to take note of the possibility of high altitude sickness affecting them too. Climbers practically climbs the peak of the mountain in less than 24 hours. The rapid elevation on height might cause some of the climbers to be affected by altitude sickness which causes symptoms such as headache, nausea, short of breath and others. Climbers are to notify their guides immediately if they suffer from the sickness as it is lethal. One way to prevent the altitude sickness is to overnight at the area near Kinabalu Park to acclimatize. Furthermore, it is important to pace yourself during the climb so that you won’t be tired too quickly and stop at the shelters along the climb to take some rest.

The Kinabalu Park Botanical Garden houses a huge variety of floras.

KINABALU PARK

Other than climbing Mount Kinabalu, there are also other things to do in the Kinabalu Park such as touring around the park which has numerous trails to enjoy the amazing scenery of nature. The park has more than 4,500 species of flora and fauna with some of them endemic to the area only. You can go on these trekking trails yourself and immerse into the wonderful tropical rainforest jungle surrounded by a biologically diverse natural environment. Some of the famous plants that can be seen in the park are the Rothschild Slipper Orchid which is known as the most expensive orchid in the world and also the Rafflesia flower which is known as the largest flower in the world. Other than that, there are also animals like mouse deer, squirrels, gecko roaming around the jungle. Birdwatching are also done often in the park with approximately 326 species of birds are living in the jungle. You can also join the guided tour conducted by Sabah Park’s interpretation guide which is scheduled at 9.00 am, 12.00 noon and 3.00 pm daily. The informative and knowledgeable guide will bring you to spot the different flora and fauna found in the park and also describing some interesting facts about them.

The world's largest flower, Rafflesia found in Kinabalu Park.

PORING HOT SPRING

Moreover, your Kinabalu Park tour can be further elevated by visiting the Poring Hot Springs which is around an hour ride from Kinabalu Park. The hot spring has many pools of warm therapeutic hot springs for visitors to dip in and relax their bodies. Climbers from Mount Kinabalu likes to come here after the climb to soothe their bodies. There is also a butterfly farm consisting of an open garden and an enclosure which houses a huge number of butterfly. Apart from that, you can go on to the famous Poring Canopy Walk to see the abundance of wildlife from a different perspective. There is also a bat cave, a waterfall and some other gardens in the Poring Hot Spring for visitors to enjoy. Some of these areas needs to be paid for entrance while some are just free admission.

The Poring Hot Spring has numerous pools with warm therapeutic waters to dip in.

WHERE IS IT AND HOW TO GO?

One of the more popular questions that tourist always asked about is where is Mount Kinabalu and how to get there? The Kinabalu Park is located around 90 kilometres away from the city which is around 2 hours of car ride. Travelling to the park might prove to be a nuisance for those who are not familiar to Sabah. There are many ways to go to Kinabalu Park from the Kota Kinabalu City Centre. You can either get a shared taxi at Jalan Padang which costs RM15 - RM20 each way per passenger that departs only when the taxi is full or take the minivan at the Long Distance Bus Station near the night market in the centre of the city which costs RM15 that is will also depart only once the van is full.

If you do not want to risk waiting and messing up your schedule, you can take the coaches at Kota Kinabalu North Bus Terminal in Inanam that costs around RM10 – RM15. As the coaches are travelling to Sandakan, Tawau, Semporna and other places far from Kota Kinabalu city, some of them might charge you at a full fee around RM70. The coaches will stop at the side of the road once they reach the park and drop you off as their final destination is elsewhere. Next, you can also choose to rent a car and drive yourself if you are familiar of driving at the left side of the road. You will of course need a driving license and there is a wide range of selection for the vehicles from sedan, SUV to 4WD, MVP and even minivans. It will cost you around RM100 to rent a sedan for one day. With the help of a GPS, you will be able drive to there easily.

Driving up the curvy road towards Kinabalu Park.

The easiest way to go to the Kinabalu Park without hassle is actually joining tours by tour operators. There are many tour operators in Sabah that offers either day tours or overnight tours to Kinabalu Park and places near its area. If you choose to join one of their tours, they will arrange everything for you including transportation, accommodations and meals along with a guide to bring you explore the area.

IN A NUTSHELL

The Kinabalu Park is an absolute jewel in the Borneo. Nature lovers will fall in love with this place immediately when they reach the park that is located in the middle of the forest. The park’s cool and relaxing ambience makes the tour around the park very peaceful. Whether if you just trek around the trails in the park, visit the Poring Hot Spring or climb the magnificent Mount Kinabalu, Kinabalu Park will be a good spot for you to visit to explore the wonders of nature.