So you’re planning on heading to Kinabalu Park and maybe doing a bit of hiking? Great! But getting to (and from) Kinabalu Park from Kota Kinabalu can seem a bit overwhelming at first…
As we found out, there are no “regular” public buses with set timetables. But, many of you, like us, won’t have a rental car either.
So how the heck do you get there??
Well, I’m here to share some good news!
From Kota Kinabalu, there are a couple of different options for getting to and from Kinabalu Park.
And, it isn’t quite as scary or difficult as it might seem at first.
If you have your own car, that probably is the easiest… But, this is also the most expensive option. So, if you’re on a budget like us, public transport is likely a better choice.
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Cost Of Getting To And From Kinabalu Park
In general, you will be able to get to and from Kinabalu Park from Kota Kinabalu for RM25 per person.
This price includes luggage.
Without luggage, you’ll only be charged RM20.
The price is the same regardless of whether you go by minibus or shared taxi. (See below for more details on getting to and from Kinabalu Park by minibus or shared taxi.)
Alternatively, you could also get on the express bus headed for Sandakan. But, I wouldn’t recommend it.
For this option you need to get to the north bus station in Kota Kinabalu (Inanam), which is a little way out of town.
The north bus terminal is not walking distance from Kota Kinabalu city center, which means you’d have to get a Grab or taxi there first. This is going to set you back around RM15.
Based on what I’ve read (since I don’t have personal experience with this option), you may be charged the full price for a ticket from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan, or just a portion of it.
At worst, the express bus option will cost you RM43, meaning you’re potentially looking at around RM58 in total, per person, one way.
The other challenge with getting the express bus from Kota Kinabalu headed for Sandakan is that there is very little information online and you don’t seem to be able to book a ticket online either.
So you’d have to head to the bus station and get a ticket there and then.
Having said that, there do seem to be multiple buses a day, so most likely you will be fine.
Getting to Kinabalu Park from Kota Kinabalu
In my opinion though, the minibus or shared taxi (taxi unser) option is definitely the easiest. Especially if you’re looking to head out to Kinabalu Park from central Kota Kinabalu.
Minivans and shared taxis both leave from the same place – Padang Merdeka Bus Terminal.
You’ll find a large parking area just in front of Dreamtel, between the Shell station and Padang Merdeka on Jalan Dewan.
You’ll be able to identify the taxis by their yellow roof, while the minivans are white with a green strip around the bottom.
There is somewhat of a system for the minivans…
You’ll see blue signs with the final destination listed, and minivans parked in that area.
For Kinabalu Park, you’ll want to take the transport headed for Ranau.
Don’t worry, plenty of people will check to see where you want to go and point you in the right direction.
You’ll most likely also be approached by the shared taxi drivers as you arrive at the area.
They basically try and poach from the minibuses…
Either way works fine. Price wise, they’re the same.
The benefit of using the shared taxi is that you’re only looking for 4 people to fill the car, and you’ll be on your way. The minivans will likely need around 10 people before they go.
Schedule & Duration
We were told that the minivans go every one and a half hours between 7am and 4pm. However, when we showed up at 8.15am thinking we could get the 8.30am, they said it had already gone and the next one was at 10am.
The schedule is definitely not set in stone and they basically just go when the van is full.
So, we actually opted for the shared taxi option.
We were the first two, but it only took about 15 minutes or so for them to get two more passengers for our car and we were on our way before 9am.
The drive from Kota Kinabalu to Kinabalu Park takes about 2 hours. This obviously depends on traffic and how fast your driver drives…
We made it in just under 2 hours both ways.
Both minivans and shared taxis will drop you at the Kinabalu Park entrance.
Getting to Kota Kinabalu from Kinabalu Park
For the return, things are less organised. You’ll just have to trust the system, even though there is no apparent system! 😬
In general, we didn’t see many minivans or shared taxis waiting around at Kinabalu Park like they do in Kota Kinabalu.
We had read ahead of time that you should head back to the Kinabalu Park entrance, on the opposite side of the road, and flag down a bus from Sandakan and hope they have room…
While this is definitely an option, it is risky. If the bus is full, it won’t stop. Equally, as I mentioned above, we heard that the driver may at times charge the full fee for Sandakan – Kota Kinabalu even though you’re only going a short portion of the way. From what I can tell, this currently costs RM43 per person.
On this point, if you’re spending any time in Sandakan, you could of course choose to get the bus from Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu, and hop off at Kinabalu Park.
This is arguably a more logical route and will save money in the long run as it saves you one trip from Kota Kinabalu to Kinabalu Park.
In the end we had luck on our side.
Just as we came out of our accommodation (we stayed at J Residence which is very handy as it is walking distance to Kinabalu Park entrance), and were headed back up the road to the main park entrance. But, before we could get very far, a minivan came headed around the corner towards us. I stuck my hand up to flag it down and he pulled over for us.
He was indeed headed back to Kota Kinabalu and took us with him for RM25 each.
This price does seem to be the generally agreed price across the board.
Our driver had dropped a group of hikers off at the Timpohon Gate that morning, (the group was hiking up to the summit) and was on his way back to KK. This worked both in our and his favour as he would otherwise have driven back with an empty van.
Essentially, you just have to hope for the best and flag down a bus, minivan or shared taxi.
Our driver, Sam, was extra nice and stopped off on the way back at the lookout point so I could finally get a picture of Mount Kinabalu without the seemingly ever present clouds covering the peak!
And, he dropped us right to our accommodation in Kota Kinabalu (H2 Backpackers 2 – highly recommended if you’re looking for a cheap place to stay. It’s run by a super friendly, young, local couple!) rather than back at the minivan/taxi area on Jalan Dewan.
Honestly, the whole system of getting to and from Kinabalu Park from Kota Kinabalu by shared transport is well outside my comfort zone! Especially the return journey from the park where we had no idea how or if we would be able to get back…
But, it’s all part of the adventure, right?!
And, it worked out perfectly.
It’s probably not as hard or scary as it seems. It’s just that we’re used to (and spoilt with!) scheduled transport options back home.
Either way, I hope this post helps you plan your trip to and from Kinabalu Park from Kota Kinabalu. Enjoy your time there!
And, if you’re looking for any information on hiking in Kinabalu Park without conquering Mount Kinabalu’s summit, make sure you check out my other post on this!
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