Kota Kinabalu and Kundasang: 5 Interesting Places to Go
Kota Kinabalu and Kundasang are located in Sabah, Malaysia, also known as “Negeri di bawah bayu”(the land below the wind), so named because the state lies below the typhoon belt of East Asia and therefore is never really battered by typhoons, save a few tropical storms. You can read more about it here.
The state of Sabah is pretty big, located at the northern part of Borneo and is most recognised for Mount Kinabalu, the country’s highest peak standing at 4,095m above sea level. As a Malaysian, this would be the peak you would want to scale, at least once in your lifetime (I have done it twice!). Here’s what you can do along the Kota Kinabalu and Kundasang route.
If you would like to admire the majesty of Mount Kinabalu from afar, then Kundasang, a town in the district of Ranau, is the place where you want to be. The best (and nearest) way to get there is to drive from Kota Kinabalu. We opted to rent a car from MK Team Tour & Travel and took the drive starting from Kota Kinabalu airport, right to Kundasang town.
Kota Kinabalu : Our Start Point
State Capital of Sabah! Probably the busiest city in comparison to the others within the state and also the most developed. This port city is also where everyone would fly into to get to Mount Kinabalu. Other than being a transit point to the Mountain, there is much to see and do in the city, particularly in terms of food – another post on this later!
Kundasang : Our Destination and Mount Kinabalu’s Base Town
Kundasang is already at a height of 2,000m above sea level, so the weather is pretty cool during the day. Based on previous experience, the nights can get really cold, but we were lucky we had great weather throughout our stay there. The town isn’t big and everything you need (groceries, car repair shops, restaurants, a bank, etc) is situated in the town centre.
This isn’t the first time I am here. However, since I came here last, there had been several changes to the area. Here are some of the five things in Kundasang and its vicinity that I have done or explored throughout my several visits here:
1. Desa Dairy Farm
A short 15 minutes drive from the town centre, you will find the Asian equivalent of a New Zealand dairy farm. The Desa Dairy Farm, also along our Kota Kinabalu and Kundasang route, while not quite New Zealand (not as scenic as well) but is still quite breathtaking. Especially seeing a farm among the backdrop of the misty Mount Kinabalu is simply serene. Also, this is an ideal family visit because you will be able to see some farm animals and buy its produce too, like milk, yogurt, cheese and gelato.
2. Kinabalu National Park
The Kinabalu Park is Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site and an important ecological plot with vast numbers of important species of flora and fauna that is endemic to the area. For anyone looking to scale Mount Kinabalu, your starting point will be from the Timpohon gate, inside Kinabalu National Park.
However, you don’t have to be a climber to visit the Park. This is because there are plenty of short trails dotted inside where anyone can take. All you need is to just drive into the park, pay a fee and start exploring.
3. Stay in Kundasang’s Kinabalu National Park
Better still, you could also stay inside the park. There are a few chalets managed by Sutera Santuary Lodges inside and they are available for booking online. While the experience of staying here can be quite fun, don’t expect too much from the room because they are quite simple and basic.
Generally we had a comfortable stay despite the little discomfort because we are also sharing the space with the occasional insect around the room. However, this is unavoidable, as we respect that the park management is preserving the nature within the park. So technically, we’re guests of the insects’ natural domain.
4. Scalling Mount Kinabalu
Personally, I feel that no visit to Kota Kinabalu is complete without seeing the Mountain or better yet, scale it. Hence, I made my first climb to the summit in 2013 and my second climb would be in May of 2015, just about one month before the tragic big quake in 5 June 2015. You can read about this tragic incident here: https://edition.cnn.com/2015/06/07/world/malaysia-kinabalu-quake/index.html
A dedication to the heroes
I also want to give a shout out to the heroes of the 2015 quake, a lot of whom were the mountain guides who were instrumental in getting their groups to safety (often at the risk of their own lives). Not only do they work as guides for the many looking to summit the peak, they also carry supplies on their backs that keeps climbers comfortable throughout their stay up top.
The Climb in 2015
At the time of our climb, hikers were given the option to go up and down via Timpohon trail or go up via Mersilau and come down via Timpohon. Comparatively, the Mersilau trail is longer by 2km but is better because it is more scenic with the ascend more gradual, compared to Timpohon. The climb itinerary of a typical hike would be:
9am – Begin ascend from Mersilau gate
2pm – Arrive and check-in at Laban Rata
2pm onwards – Rest up for the summit the next day
2am – Begin ascend to the summit
5am – Arrive at Low’s peak and witness the sun rise at about 5:30am. After all the pain and suffering of the climb, the beautiful sun rise makes it all worth it.
6am – Begin descend to Laban Rata
9am – Arrive Laban Rata Guesthouse for check-out
10am – Continue descend via Timpohon trail
2pm – Arrive at Timpohon gate
All in all, the total distance undertaken would be about 12kms. To complete the climb, you will need to be reasonably fit. A fit physique will useful when you’re at the peak. At 4,000m above sea level, the air is thin and someone with low lung capacity will definitely feel like trudging up the summit with a ton of lead on your back.
If you still have youth and health on your side, do it soon! The climb is challenging but it isn’t Mount Everest, so Mount Kinabalu is the one you should go for, at least once in your life. Since the quake, the Mersilau trail has been permanently closed and significant changes were made to the trail leading up the peak. If you would like to know more, you can read all about it here: https://www.mountkinabalu.com/mount-kinabalu/trail-routes
5. Natural Fish Spa
Nearly an hour’s drive away from Kundasang, is a very peculiar place. Another hidden gem between Kota Kinabalu and Kundasang, a fish spa of sorts, a natural one – yes, you read that right. The Tagal Sungai Moroli Fish Spa is all-natural. This is because, you do the fish spa in the river itself, instead of inside a tank. The river is teeming with medium sized “Kelah” fish and are so tame, they practically rush to your feet as soon as you step in. Lots of sucking, ticklish action – this you gotta experience if you are ever here!
Kundasang in Sabah Tourism
I see a lot of potential for tourism. Sabah is a very large state, second only to Sarawak but still isn’t as developed as our country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, what makes up for it is the interesting mix of culture from the major races of the country and its indigenous people; the biodiversity of its rain forests and the majesty of Mount Kinabalu.
More than just Mount Kinabalu
Apart from the mount, most visitors come to see the nature, its beaches and its islands, namely Sipadan and Mabul islands. The main transit point to these islands would be Semporna. Before that, you will have to fly into Tawau first and take a one hour drive to
get to the jetty in Semporna for the ferries.
I say that anyone considering coming to Malaysia, Sabah should definitely be one of your considerations for a holiday.
P.S: This is a little walk down memory lane for me, as you can see from the series of pics in here, my look have transitioned quite a bit between 2013 up till now. Please ignore that and focus on the other parts. LOL.