Mount Kinabalu, located at the state of Sabah in Malaysia is one of Southeast Asia’s tallest mountain with the height of 4,095 metres. It is also one of the most sought after mountain for people around the world to climb because of its accessibility where no special climbing skills or equipment are needed to conquer the peak of the mountain.
Clear view of Mount Kinabalu during the day.
In order to climb the mountain, you will need to book in advance in order to get yourself a climbing permit that is limited to 135 person daily. Due to the large number of visitors wanting to climb the mountain every day, it is suggested to book 6 months in advance to avoid disappointment for climbing reservation. You will need to reach the Kinabalu National Park Headquarters before being transferred to the Timpohon Gate for your hiking journey to begin. Kinabalu Park Headquarters is located 1,585 metres above sea level at a spot along the hill roads going towards Ranau, Sandakan or Tawau. It might get tricky in order to reach the headquarters. This article is intended to provide information on the ways to go to the Kinabalu National Park Headquarters in order to have a satisfying Kota Kinabalu experience.
The second busiest airport in Malaysia, Kota Kinabalu International Airport (Image Credit: Flickr//elsenlee)
Overseas traveller will need to travel to Sabah by plane and if the flight does not reach Sabah directly, a transit will be taken at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). If you fly to the KLIA, you will need to book another flight to the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) in Sabah in advance for the transit. Airlines such as Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia or Malindo do provide flight from KLIA to KKIA. You can check out their prices online and the earlier you book the higher chance that you will get a cheaper price. Besides that, there are also some flights that flies directly to the KKIA from Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, Australia and other countries. Do check whether your country has flights to reach the KKIA, if not you should be travelling to KLIA then fly to KKIA.
Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of Sabah
From KKIA to Kota Kinabalu City Centre
The transports from the airport to the city are relatively convenient. You can either travel by bus, taxi, ride-hailing transport services or even rent a car. Other than that, you can even join a Mt. Kinabalu tour provided by local tour operators as they will provide you with a complete service that includes transportation. Here is a detailed explanation of how to get to the city from KKIA.
1) By Airport Bus
There is a special airport shuttle bus service that leaves the KKIA airport approximately every hour. The first scheduled bus will leave at 8.00 am every day and the last bus will leave at 8.30 pm (as of December 2015). In order to take the bus, you just have to purchase your ticket at the ticket booth. The airport bus ticket booth can be seen easily upon leaving the arrival area. The price for the bus tickets are 5 Ringgit (RM5) for adults and 3 Ringgit (RM3) for children. The airport bus will have 3 drop-off points in the KK city centre which is the Center Point, Horizon Hotel and then finally stopping at Padang Merdeka. Remember to get your tickets ready before boarding the bus. The journey could take anywhere from 20 minutes to around 30 minutes or more depending on the traffic.
Shared taxi like this can be found in the city centre. (Image Credit: Flickr//Jörgen Nybrolin)
2) By Taxi
Taxis are also available if you want to travel faster. The standard prices for the taxis to take you to the KK city centre is RM30. If you are leaving the airport at midnight with the taxi, there will be a surcharge that amounts up to a total RM45 taxi trip. You will need to hire these taxi through buying a ticket from the taxi counters after leaving the arrival hall. Do not forget to take the taxi ticket and show it to the drivers.
3) By Minibus
You can also take the public bus available which is in the form of old minibus. The minibus No.17 will drop you off in the city area at Terminal Wawasan and it costs RM 2 each way. From the terminal, you can take the City Bus to the city centre with just RM 1.
4) By e-Hailing Services
E-hailing services such as Grab or MyCar are also available for you to travel with. The fares are usually around RM 10. It takes around 15 minutes to reach the city depending on the traffic. Besides that, the drivers are usually locals and able to speak English too. Malaysians are known to be very friendly and welcoming people. You can ask them about what is famous in the area and they would make a good tour guide.
5) By Renting a Car
If you are planning to drive yourself around the city and to Kinabalu National Park, car rental services are also accessible. There are many car rental services operating throughout the city where you can search them online and pre-book before you arrive at the KK Airport. Most of them can send your car to you at the airport. If you had not pre-booked any car rental yet, fret not as the airport has also a few counters that you can rent car from. There are a wide range of cars to rent from MVP, SUV, 4WD, vans and others. It will cost you around RM110 for a basic sedan and a more expensive rate for bigger engine capacity vehicles.
The entrance of Kinabalu Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Image Credit: Flickr//Graham B. Giles)
From KK City Centre to Kinabalu National Park
There are a few different ways to go to Kinabalu National Park from the city centre. The costs for each of them are different. It is not suggested to reach the park by e-Hailing services as there is a big chance that there might be no driver willing to accept your request because the ride is simply too long and far from the city. Thus, relying on the e-Hailing services is not advised. However, you can either take the shared taxi, minivan, coaches, rent your own car and also pre-arranged transport from local tour operators.
1) By Shared Taxi at Jalan Padang
You can go to Jalan Padang area which is between Padang Merdeka and the roundabout at Plaza Shell for a long distance shared taxi to the park. The taxis are usually a Toyota Unser which can fit 7 passengers. The price are around RM 15 – RM 20 each way per passenger. However, do take note that the taxi will only leave when they are full. You might need to wait for some time before the taxi departs. Even so, you can pay for the missing passengers and request for the taxi to depart without it being full.
The Pekan Nabalu along the way towards Kinabalu Park is a famous viewpoint for Mount Kinabalu. (Image Credit: Flickr//Borneo Encounter Tours & Transportation)
2) By Minivan at the Long Distance Bus Station
If you want to take the minivan, you can get one at the Long Distance Bus station near the night market in the centre of the city. The ride will cost you RM 15 and take you directly to the Kinabalu National Park Headquarters. However, the minivan will also depart only when it is full. Which means there are more seats to fill compared to the shared taxi but it is slightly cheaper.
3) By Coaches at the Kota Kinabalu North Bus Terminal in Inanam
At the Kota Kinabalu North Bus Terminal in Inanam located slightly further away from the city, you can take the long distance coaches to Kinabalu National Park. These coaches that departs to Ranau, Tawau, Sandakan or Semporna will pass by the Kinabalu National Park. You can request them to drop you off at the entrance. The price for the trip will be around RM 10 – RM 15 but some might charge you the full cost of the trip even though you leave halfway which can be RM70 or more.
The curvy and sometimes misty mountain roads on the way to Kinabalu Park.
4) By Driving Yourself
You can rent a car and drive yourself to the Kinabalu National Park if you want to. There are many car rental services all around KK city. They also provide many types of vehicles from sedan, 4WD, SUV and even minibus or vans. The rent can go by hourly, daily or weekly. Do note that Malaysia roads are driven on the left side, if you are familiar or okay with that, driving yourself to the park is possible. The distance to Kinabalu Park is approximately 90 kilometres from the KK city. The road towards the park is easy in the front part but slightly challenging in the later parts of the journey as you will be driving uphill and the roads can be steep and curving.
5) By Arranged Transportation with Tour Operators
There are many tour operators that can arrange a private transportation for you to the Kinabalu Park. Some of them can pick you up directly from your hotel too. However, most of the tour operators offers a complete package to Kinabalu Park. You will need to follow their schedule if you booked with them. Whether you are having a tour at the Kinabalu Park or attempting to climb the Mount Kinabalu, if you were to book with a tour operator, they will most likely arrange everything for you already.
Back to KK City Centre from Kinabalu Park
There are also few ways to get back to the city centre from Kinabalu Park. One of them is to hail a coach ride at the opposite of the entrance at Kinabalu Park Headquarters. There will be coaches travelling to KK city from Sandakan. Keep your eyes on the coach that has Sandakan indicated at its front and stop them to go on the ride. Other than coaches, you can also get minivans and shared taxis to take you back to KK city. Some of them might stop by at the entrance if you are lucky. Otherwise, you will need to stop them when they pass by. There is supposedly a schedule for the buses, but it does not seem to be on time. The rate for the rides will be more or less the same as what you paid going up to the Kinabalu National Park.
If you are planning to spend a night at the area, there are a few accommodation that you can choose from near the area such as the Kinabalu Mountain Lodge, Ayana Holiday Resort, J Residence Nabalu and others. You can find a range of budget hotels or more expensive and luxurious ones in the area. You can also choose to stay inside the Kinabalu Park as they do offer accommodation like lodges and hostels or even suites.
It is important to plan your trip to Kinabalu Park before you go on the trip especially the transport aspect. This is because travelling to the park from the city normally takes 1.5 – 2 hours. If you are taking the shared taxi and minivans where it only departs until it is full, it might even take more time to reach Kinabalu Park. In addition if you are climbing the mountain, do note that there will be a cut—off time at Timpohon Gate. If you fail to reach on time, the gate will be closed and you are not allowed to start the climb. So, do take in consideration of the aspect of time when planning your transport.