Climb the highest peak or hike around the base – Mount Kinabalu Park, Borneo

On my first visit to Borneo, I visited the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center in Sepilok and the rain forest in Danum Valley, skipping Mount Kinabalu – and I felt bad about it! It’s the highest peak between the Himalayas and New Guinea at 4,095m, Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site (since 2000) and even gave the name to Sabah’s state capital, Kota Kinabalu (KK). With all that to its credit, I made sure to make it my first activity on my return trip!

Kinabalu Park covers an area of over 750 sq km and is located about 2-2 1/2h from Kota Kinabalu. You can climb all the way from the park headquarters (at an elevation of 1,563m) to the peak at 4,095m – it will take you 2-3 days, depending on your fitness level. There are multiple shelters along the trail and overnight accommodations (even including electricity, showers and toilets). The final climb to the top includes ladders, ropes and railings to help you make it up the steep slopes – and you will be rewarded by the views… so I heard…

02NBO Canope WalkWith only two days total in KK, I decided to just visit the park on a day trip – which is what more than 80% of the visitors do – and limit myself to hiking around the base of the mountain, see the natural flora in several gardens maintained as part of the park. As part of the tour that is widely available from organizers in KK, you get some nice views from afar, a guided walk through the mountain garden at the park HQ, with interesting background information on the different plants and trees, as well as a stop in Poring. This is the more touristy part of the trip: It includes a canopy walk – at 40m above the ground on a rickety rope-plank contraption, I was more focused on getting across than on the nature around me. You have the option to hike to a nearby waterfall (and swim, if you feel like it) or visit the hot springs – might be a nice option to relax after the hiking, but it was a school holiday and very busy, so I passed.

RafflesiaThe highlight of the second stop was the visit to another garden, with a chance to see a blooming Rafflesia – it’s the largest flower on Earth (granted, the local species is the second largest after the similar one in Indonesia) with a diameter of 1m. It takes 15 months from buds to bloom and only blooms for 7 days. Given how few of these are left, I felt fortunate to be able to see them in bloom!

If you have the time, I’m sure a climb to the top of Mount Kinabalu will be a stunning and rewarding experience. The day trip to the park will at least give you some appreciation of the local flora and fauna, a chance to do some easy hiking around the base and, if you are very lucky, to see the largest flower on Earth!

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