On recommendation by our lovely hosts at H2 Backpackers 2 in Kota Kinabalu, we booked two nights of hiking at Kinabalu Park for my birthday!
But, we had decided early on that we wouldn’t climb the summit of Mount Kinabalu…
I’m sure we could have done it if we’d put our minds to it, but we just didn’t have the right equipment for that kind of hike.
While you don’t really need a lot of specialist equipment to hike the Kinabalu summit, the Kinabalu Park entrance is already at a height of 1563 metres above sea level and it gets chilly.
At the summit, you’re 4095 metres above sea level and it will be cold. Especially if you do the recommended overnight trip and get to the summit for sunrise. (Check out the official Mount Kinabalu page here for more information).
Since our travel plans only include South East Asia, we don’t have much in the way of clothes for cold weather with us.
All the same, we decided to head to Kinabalu Park. Hiking around the foothills of Mt Kinabalu, Malaysia’s tallest mountain, still held a strong appeal despite not planning to hike to the summit.
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So, what is there to do in Kinabalu Park if you’re not hiking to the summit?
You’ll easily have two full days’ worth of hiking at Kinabalu Park.
There are 9 trails around the park, which are somewhat interconnected. This means that you can basically make your hike(s) as long or as short as you’d like.
We essentially had a full day on the day we arrived because we set off from Kota Kinablu early and arrived at Kinabalu Park around 11am.
This is definitely ideal and I would recommend you set off early on your first day too to make the most of your time hiking at Kinabalu Park.
We got a 10km hike in on Day 1, which was great!
Kiau View Trail
We opted for the Kiau View Trail on Day 1. This trail is 2.5km long, starting from the Park’s entrance.
Make sure you pop into the information centre to get a map of all the trails before you set off. And, as always, I’d recommend having Maps.me downloaded on your phone, as it can offer clarity on where you are along the trail as you go.
Despite the name, the Kiau View Trail does not really offer any views! But, it does take you more or less up to the Kiau Gap View viewing platform for a sideways view of Mount Kinabalu, and down across the valley below.
I will say that I wasn’t a huge fan of the Kiau View trail overall…
It starts of very steep, and the beginning is definitely not as well maintained as some of the other trails we walked. Perhaps this is because it’s likely a less popular route than some of the other trails.
The official trail description states that there are multiple viewpoints along the route but this is not the case.
There is one rest point right towards the end of the trail with an obscured view. The rest of the time you don’t see anything other than the bush around you. Which is totally fine as long as you don’t expect the views 😉
Liwagu River Trail
On Day 2 we did the longest trail around Kinabalu Park. The Liwagu River Trail is 5.6km long and follows the river most of the way.
It’s very pretty and moderately challenging.
We took our time, stopping a few times for photos and breaks and it took us about 3 hours to get to the top.
From there you can walk up the road a little further to get to Timpohon Gate, which is the start of the summit trail.
You can’t enter the summit trail without a permit so this is as far as you’ll go. But, there is a viewing platform with a fantastic view of the surrounding valley and Mount Kinabalu.
We looped back along Mempening Trail and cut into the Bukit Burung Trail to Silau-Silau stream before heading back to the Park entrance.
From Timpohon Gate, you’ll walk on the road for a short while, back past the other viewing platform from Day 1, before cutting back into the forest on your left on Mempening Trail.
You have various options from here, whether hiking the full Mempening trail, or diverting onto a different trail like we did to get back to the park entrance more quickly.
Note – The Bukit Ular trail near Timpohon Gate is closed! You should not attempt to hike that trail from the viewing point.
Instead, walk along the road until you see Liwagu trail on your left.
The top of Bukit Ular trail does not clearly show that it is closed but the official description states that it is not safe to pass.
Be Aware Of Leeches!
As with elsewhere in Borneo, there are some leeches along the trails… They are small and worm-like.
While they’re not dangerous, I’d personally prefer to avoid the tiny blood suckers!
We opted for long pants and socks with closed shoes. There’s really no need for leech socks like you might read elsewhere. Having said that, it’s probably worth doing a quick check at the end of the day to make sure you haven’t inadvertently picked any up along the way!
I did have a leech experience in the Rainforest Discovery Centre in Sepilok, where one somehow got onto my finger… It didn’t have a chance to attach itself properly before I flicked it off though!
It’s an odd sensation, but it doesn’t hurt. You are able to either flick them off or, if they’ve attached more, roll over them with your hand in a circular motion which should get it off. Worst case scenario, they’ll drop off after they’ve had their fill…
Apparently it is quite itchy though not sore or dangerous.
Other than leeches, we saw very little wildlife. This surprised me a bit!
There are birds although we heard them more than saw them. We did spot a few squirrels but that’s about it.
So, don’t come to Kinabalu Park thinking you’ll see lots of animals! It’s really more about the flora rather than the fauna here, in our experience anyway.
Oh, there are flies though! My bandana definitely helped me feel a bit more relaxed as they kept buzzing around our heads at times!
Other Things To Do At Kinabalu Park
This costs an extra RM5 per person. After a long day of hiking we decided not to bother with the gardens so I can’t speak from personal experience.
However, if you’re interested in seeing the world’s largest flower, the Rafflesia, you may get the opportunity here.
Top Tip: It may be worth checking before you pay whether the Rafflesia is in bloom or not!
Poring Hot Springs
If you do have your own car, there is the option to head about 40km around, past Ranau, to Poring Hot Springs. The locals say the natural hot springs have healing properties! Either way, I’m sure it’s lovely to have a relaxing soak here after a long day of hiking around Kinabalu Park.
There are additional hiking trails on this side as well as butterfly garden, a canopy walk and an orchid conservation centre.
As it was, we did not head there as we were kept busy with the hiking trails in Kinabalu Park and were happy enough with that.
Kinabalu Park Costs
Getting to Kinabalu Park from Kota Kinabalu will set you back RM25 per person including luggage (RM20 if you don’t have any big bags).
Entry into Kinabalu Park is RM15 per person per day.
Top Tip: If you’re heading to Kinabalu Park from Kota Kinabalu, and plan on heading back there afterwards, there may be an opportunity to store your bigger bag at your accommodation in Kota Kinabalu to save you taking it with you to Kinabalu Park!
Food In And Around Kinabalu Park
There aren’t too many places to get food around Kinabalu Park.
I’d recommend going shopping in Kota Kinabalu for at least some snacks and fruit before setting off for Kinabalu Park!
There is one restaurant directly across the road from the park entrance (Panataran Restaurant), and one a bit further down the road, just past J Residence on your left (Bayu Restaurant).
There are also two restaurants within the park itself, but they are much pricier.
The restaurant that is most easily accessible from the park entrance (Balsam Cafe) only does (expensive…!) buffets and does not sell any lose items or drinks.
The second restaurant (Liwagu Restaurant) is part of the Sutera Sancturay Resort. They have an a la carte menu and could be an option for lunch if you happen to be in that area around mid-day. We had burgers there on Day 1, which were quite good, but they did set us back RM 72.
If you’re trying to stick to a budget, you have a couple of options for lunch.
Panataran Restaurant across the road from the park entrance offers a packed lunch for RM16. This includes a cheese sandwich, a hard boiled egg, fried chicken, fruit and a small bottle of water. Since we didn’t try this ourselves, I can’t say if it’s any good but it seems like a reasonable option.
On Day 2 when we did the longer hike, we brought cup noodles with us and hot water in our insulated water bottle. This allowed us to stop halfway through our hike for lunch with a view of Mount Kinabalu!
We had dinner at Panataran Restaurant both nights. While not gourmet, it was perfectly adequate.
Their fresh orange juice was very good and prices extremely reasonable.
Accommodation Options At Kinabalu Park
If you don’t have your own car, your accommodation options are going to be limited.
As there really aren’t any public transport options around the park, you’ll definitely want to be within easy walking distance of Kinabalu Park entrance.
We stayed at J Residence which is only a couple of minutes’ walk down the road from Kinabalu Park entrance.
Our room was big and bright, with a double and single bed, a private bathroom and a balcony.
They provide one big bottle of water, a kettle and some coffee and sugar (no creamer and no tea, so bring your own!)
Note: The rooms are down a long and very steep drive way! There is no fan or air conditioning but you won’t really need it up in the mountain anyway since there is really no humidity to speak of, and it was actually quite cold overnight!
Within Kinabalu Park itself, Sutera Sanctuary Lodges offers a range of beautiful chalets.
While it is a bit pricier, these are certainly worth considering if you’re travelling with a group of four or more.
There’s nothing quite like a bit of pure luxury after working those muscles on your hikes through Kinabalu Park!
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