This is probably the first time my sister has come to meet me overseas and we haven’t done something utterly terrifying like a bungy jump or a skydive or a trek up a fucking hill to altitudes that your respiratory system would most definitely not approve of. She did want to climb Mt Kinabalu but it’s really quite expensive. I mean, we’ve both thrown a lot more money at much bigger hills but proving to the world that my fitness levels are comparable to that of a chain smoking sloth with a well used Deliveroo app wasn’t the purpose of this trip. On this trip we were going to try to put lots of wildlife into our eyeholes which is much less strenuous and wouldn’t result in the instant doubling of my grey hair quota.
My sister, Nat, and her friend, Laura, arrived in Borneo a couple of nights after we did and after one night in KK we headed straight to Taman Kinabalu to do some nice, gentle strolling around the many tracks available. Hahahaha. Yeah nah. Both Nat and Laura are machines. I don’t think their lower bodies are organic. I harbour suspicions that they’ve had their legs replaced with bionic replicas and that’s why they walk so fucking fast and nothing to do with their diet and exercise regimes coupled with the fact that me and Tarrant favour the sedentary joys of life such as Netflix and cake.
We checked into Mountain Resthouse, maybe a five minute walk from the entrance to the park which is fabulous because we’d already be doing enough walking today thankyouverymuch, mauled the kittens that were running around because it’s against the rules to not try to cuddle a kitten regardless of how much it protests, and abandoned the majority of our shit in the room, just packing the bare essentials necessary for a spot of hiking. There’s an incredibly conveniently placed restaurant called Panataran opposite the national park which will take care of all your scoffing needs, right down to a packed lunch if you were spending the whole day in the park. They’ll even charge your phone for RM3 per hour.
This mountain though, we had no idea where it was, it was cloudy the whole drive up here and it remained the kind of cloudy fitting of a country that consists primarily of rainforest the entire day. After fuelling up with lunch we headed in to systematically abuse our calf muscles for a few hours. It’ll set you back RM15 if you’re a little bit foreign, and you can pick up a map of the trails from the ticket desk to give you a vague idea as to which way you should be pointed. It also has little descriptions of the trails on the back.
It’s super easy to get around though, even for someone like me who could get lost on the way home with full directions and GPS. The trails that start from the main road are well marked with a named, wooden gateway and every junction you comes to is signposted, plus we had our trusty map which Tarrant drooled over with relish because she does love a map. We started on the Bundu Tuhan Trail with the intention of making our way to the Liwagu Trail, the longest trail in the park aside from the one that leads you to the summit. A guide is compulsory for the summit trail and not a single cell in my body would have been any manner of keen to be above the nice, breathable altitude we were currently at. Liwagu would do just fine.
It’s actually a really pleasant walk aside from the warp speeds Nat and Laura were achieving, we stopped even trying to keep up, my chubby stumps simply don’t move that fast, not even if I think there’s an all you can eat pizza buffet at the end. You try carting this much weight around with you, my tits alone have their own gravitational pull. We finally arrived at the start of the Liwagu Trail which, as it turned out, was very closed. I’ve no idea why and no one was volunteering to find out in case it was landslide or sinkhole or rabid goat, so we decided to head up Mempeming Trail instead towards Power Station Road which is a sealed road running from park HQ to the start of the summit trail. And a power station. Quelle surprise.
Honestly, even without glimpses of Mt Kinabalu it’s just a sound way to kill a few hours of your life. We emerged onto the road and turned right with the intention of eventually swinging a left onto Bukit Ular Trail then having a look at the location of Mountain View Trail which, according to the literature, affords stunning views all around after a lung searing uphill slog. We intended to come back in the morning and check it out when there was a better chance of a view that went beyond the end of your nose.
Turned out both these trails were also closed, I’m am very fucking glad we found this out today and not tomorrow morning when I’d no doubt have seized up and walking up the hill without a significant eyehole reward at the end would have made me the kind of sad that only a bottle of vodka and a dark corner can appease. We headed back to HQ via Kiau View Trail which detoured from the proper trail right at the very end forcing us down a treacherous slide consisting of the kind of mud that could lubricate tectonic plates and cure earthquakes. Shit me, it was intense. I was trailed out. I wanted to spend a large portion of my immediate future sitting down.
There is another view point on Power Station Road called Kiau Gap, not as far up as either of the closed trails we now wouldn’t be walking tomorrow, a viable pre-breakfast distance from park HQ without resulting in collapse or crying. We’d spent about four and a half hours in the park, mostly walking, minimal sitting and a cheeky bit of ice cream consumption right at the end, and my legs were unhappy with me. I doubt they’d have gone for a anything further any time in the next few days. We sat down at Restoran Panataran, I tried to get up about twenty minutes later and I was already walking like I’d shat myself. The cloud had cleared up a bit by the time we left the restoran too and oh, hello fuck off great big mountain. You snuck up on us like Jimmy Saville in a playground. It’s very very there, you can’t imagine it when it’s covered in cloud, we thought it was miles away.
A very helpful lady in an office told us that is was usually clearer around 7am and there was a viewpoint right there in the carpark so we dragged ourselves out of bed, checked out and stashed our bags in a common area, then shuffled back down to the restaurant. I was quite surprised my legs still worked. And there it was, Mount Kinabalu, all gorgeous and rugged, its outline recognisable from the state flag of Sabah. We intended to order takeaway breakfast and eat it at Kiau Gap after a few obligatory tourist jump shots in front of the mountain at the car park viewpoint, y’know, just in case the clouds rolled in as they’re wont to do at velocities similar to Nat and Laura’s walking speed.
It turns out that walking straight up Power Station Road along the tarmac before food and liquid stimulants have been applied liberally to one’s facehole is about as much fun as having your lungs ripped out and stamped on by an angry rhino in spiked shoes, which is actually exactly what it felt like. Walking up hill along a trail, whilst hard for someone of my laughable fitness level, is still quite enjoyable on account of the fact you have to think about where you’re going and where you’re putting your feet and all whilst trying to avoid faceplanting a mud bath because you tripped over a root. It requires concentration which makes the incline more bearable. Just walking up the road was fucking awful, I damn near gave up but it’s worth that extra effort despite the miserable bastards passing you in vehicles not offering you a lift.
I still can’t get over how bloody close it is. Yesterday I’d checked Maps.ME, located where it said the peak was and sort of pointed off into the fog saying, “I think it’s somewhere over yonder.” Yeah, it’s not anyone’s definition of yonder, it’s right fucking there. We ate breakfast, took tourist photos, accidentally adopted a big-headed dog who we called Barry From Eastenders (Barry for short) and head back down via the Silau-Silau Trail, which was actually my favourite so far, possibly on account of the river that followed it most of the way, more likely on account of the fact it was relatively flat. Barry stayed with us the entire way, even waiting for us when we got to a junction.
We couldn’t get rid of him even if we tried, he followed us all around the Botanical Gardens (which are only worth the RM5 entrance fee if you really want to see a pitcher plant which is quite cool) and all the way back to Mountain Resthouse where Laura had to wait outside with him so the kittens didn’t end up as tasty snacks. Turns out he’s known at the park too and his name is actually Rice Wine. We reckon that Barry suits him better.
Kinabalu National Park, Sabah, Malaysia
Stayed at: Mountain Resthouse
Useful shit to know: Getting from the airport into central KK is a piece of piss. As you walk out of arrivals you can either choose a pre-paid taxi for RM30 which will take you right to your hostel with zero fuss or attempted rip offs, or you can head to the airport bus stand by KFC and pay them RM5 each for a ticket. You can choose one of three stops, the last stop being Pedang Merdeka which is pretty much central for everything. Getting back is just as easy, you can buy a ticket at the bus stand at Pedang Merdeka if you’re leaving KK at a reasonable hour, or book an Uber or a Grab for around RM13 if you’ve booked yourself a flight at a time that’ll have you weeping into your terrifyingly expensive airport coffee.
From KK to Kinabalu National Park you can take a minivan from Pedang Merdeka for RM25 including your worldly belongings. The first one leaves at 8.30am, earlier if full, so I’d get down a bit earlier if I were you. This is the option we went for and it took about two hours.
Another option is to head to Inanam Bus Terminal about 9kms out of the city where you can catch a big bus for RM15. I know one leaves at 7am but I’m not sure of the schedule apart from that. To get to the bus station it’s about RM10 in a Grab or RM2 by local bus which you catch outside of the Shangri La Hotel. I’m not sure if they’d be happy about you trying to stuff all of your bags on though.