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Kinabalu National Park, Sabah, Malaysia

On arrival, Kinabalu National Park’s main draw is obvious. The cloud-shrouded peak of Mount Kinabalu is omnipresent, rising to 4,095 meters, one of the tallest mountains in Southeast Asia.
Kinabalu National Park, Sabah, Malaysia

The Overview

Each year, this mesmerizing granite massif inspires some 20,000 visitors to endure the trek to its summit and back. Sunrise at Low’s Peak is well worth the thigh-burning, knee-jarring, ankle-straining experience. Along the way up, rough-hewn steps hamper getting into a good walking rhythm, while rain and moisture make the path slippery, and altitude saps much of what remaining energy is left.

Rest houses are spaced every kilometer or so along the trails. Guides are mandatory, and optional porters are well worth the cash.

The climb can be accomplished in a day, but most extend it overnight, stopping at the 3,273-meter point, Laban Rata, and making a painfully early start, around 3am, to reach the summit for sunrise. Ascending via the longer, but less severe, Mesilau trail and descending on the Timpohon trail is also an option.

Ironically many visitors miss the park’s full beauty by focusing on the frantic rush up and down the mountain. Kinabalu National Park’s 750 square kilometers is one of the world’s densest biodiversity sites. Its staggering flora and fauna, and almost unparalleled endemism gained its section as the country’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. It boasts more than 700 varieties of orchids, 500-plus types of ferns, with combined plants species totaling more than 6,000. These include insect-eating Pitcher Plants, and the Rafflesia arnoldii, a parasitic plant with the world’s largest single flower.

There are 326 species of birds. Thomas’ pygmy-squirrels, Borneon gibbons, leaf monkeys, wild orangutan, slow loris and tarsier are just a few of its more than 100 species of mammals. Add to that more than 600 species of butterflies, and you begin to get a good picture of this park.

Guided hikes to the Mountain Garden and along the park’s gentler trails can be arranged at the excellent, well-equipped visitors’ center (, which features enlarged maps, a permanent museum exhibition, a multimedia center, herbarium and research facility. Or walk the suspended gantries over the Poring hot springs at the park’s borders. The natural jacuzzi is a great way to rest bodies battered by hard hikes.

When to Go

April offers the best weather, while November and December are the wettest and best avoided.

Getting There

The park is two hours by road from Kota Kinabalu. Fly direct to Kota Kinabalu from key Asian destinations, or take one of the many daily, connecting flights from Kuala Lumpur.

Where to Stay

On the mountain at Laban Rata (Tel: +60 8 887 1454. Price: Rooms from RM546), it’s advisable to book three months in advance. In the park, Mesilau Nature Resort (Tel: +60 8 887 1733. Price: Rooms from US$800).

T+L Tip

Be aware of additional costs when climbing Mount Kinabalu: the park-entry fee is RM15, a climbing permit is RM100, guide fees are priced from RM70 per climb and porter fees are RM100 for a summit climb.


Published on Aug 28, 2009

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