Kinabalu National Park

When we were originally planning our Borneo itinerary, Kinabalu National Park was given prime position at the top of the list. We had grand plans of tackling its famous mountain, Mount Kinabalu. Unfortunately for us, the region had suffered a devastating earthquake prior to our arrival and the mountain had been closed.

Although I do have to admit that when we arrived in the National Park to find that giant mountain towering over us I was secretly a little relieved. My recent brush with Mount Fansipan in Vietnam had put me off climbing mountains possibly forever. That was, of course, until I started writing this blog post and read all the incredible reviews of the climb.

If you’re reading this and are wondering whether its still worth making a visit to the park if you are not intending to climb the mountain then I would say yes. Absolutely.

The National Park itself has more than enough to keep you entertained for a few days. We spent our time trekking through beautiful rainforest, exploring treetop canopy walks and drinking obscene amounts of tea in a nearby tea plantation.

The Drive From Kota Kinabalu To Kinabalu National Park

Kinabalu National Park is situated approximately 90km from Kota Kinabalu, taking around 2.5 hours to drive. That first day of driving actually turned out to be one of the few uneventful journeys on the whole trip, luring us into a complete false sense of security which would be shattered only two days later. Our future journeys would be fraught with petrol scares, potholes and getting hopelessly lost (but all that is yet to come).

For the large part, this particular drive is not the most inspiring – a long highway lined with miles and miles of palm plantations. But when you start to approach the National Park the altitude becomes higher, the roads become more winding and the surroundings change from palm plantations to mountains. You suddenly remember why you decided to tackle this by car as opposed to simply being taken from place to place by bus – so you had the time to enjoy scenery like this.

Arriving at the entrance to the park you are met with panoramic views of the surrounding valley and the imposing Mount Kinabalu rising above you, its summit seemingly permanently hidden in the clouds.

The Ultimate 10 Day Borneo Road Trip: Kinabalu National Park

Highlights of Kinabalu National Park

Climbing Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu is undoubtedly the main draw to the National Park. At over 4000 metres high, it is the largest mountain between the Himalayas and Guinea.

Most climbs generally take 2 days, with an overnight stay at the basecamp inbetween, aiming to reach the summit for sunrise on the second day. I have it on good authority that the climb is amazing (and at the time of writing this post the mountain had officially reopened for business).

For a great write up and tips for preparing, booking and surviving the climb, check out The Travel Hack’s post here.

The Ultimate 10 Day Borneo Road Trip: Kinabalu National Park

Photo credit: Chris Wary via Foter.com / CC BY

Hiking Trails

Don’t worry if you’re unable to do the big climb. We still had a great time exploring the National Park itself.

There are various trails that interconnect around the park. These can either be tackled as shorter individual walks or merged together into one longer walk. The routes are well signposted and there are maps located all throughout the park.

We chose a fairly easy 90 minute route around the Bukit Tupai and Bukit Burung trails, which included a good mix of gentle uphill climbs and nice scenery.

The Ultimate 10 Day Borneo Road Trip: Kinabalu National Park

If you’re lucky you might also stumble across a Rafflesia flower – the World’s largest flower which also happens to emit a smell of rotting flesh – although you usually have to book onto a guided tour for a chance of seeing one of these rare flowers as they only live for a few days once flowered.

The Ultimate 10 Day Borneo Road Trip: Kinabalu National Park

Unfortuntely the only Rafflesia flower we stumbled upon was this huge fake one

Poring Hot Springs and Nature Reserve

The Poring Nature Reserve is situated in Ranau, about 40km from the National Park Headquarters.

The main attraction here is – you guessed it – hot springs. We didn’t personally try them out as I generally struggle with the concept of bathing in hot springs whilst in a tropical climate but they did look inviting.

The Ultimate 10 Day Borneo Road Trip: Kinabalu National Park

We instead opted to do the treetop canopy walk. The walkway consists of numerous swing bridges strung together high in the trees. At 40 metres high it is definitely not for the faint of heart, especially when the bridges are swinging violently with every step. Okay perhaps violently is a bit of an exaggeration – but as someone with a fear of heights I got pretty nervous on a few occasions. The views are incredible from up there and I would highly recommend it.

The Ultimate 10 Day Borneo Road Trip: Kinabalu National Park

Note: I would also highly recommend paying the camera fee to use the walk, otherwise you run the risk of being followed the entire way around by a short, suspicious looking Malaysian man who will pounce if you even so much as glance in the vicinity of your phone or camera.

Aside from the treetop canopy walk and hot springs, the reserve also has a waterfall, a butterfly farm, a bat cave (not worth the extra walk) and an orchid conservation centre.

Sabah Tea Garden

The Sabah Tea Garden is a large, peaceful tea plantation also located in Ranau, close to Poring Hot Springs. For three very British, self-confessed tea addicts, this was almost higher on our list than anywhere else. I had just spent seven months in Southeast Asia, starved of any decent tea, so I literally thought I might have died and gone to heaven.

But even if you’re not a tea lover like me I’d still recommend a stop here for the views and the great food. It even has cottages and camping grounds for those who fancy an overnight stay.

The Ultimate 10 Day Borneo Road Trip: Kinabalu National Park

Quick Travel Tips For Kinabalu National Park

Where to Stay

I would recommend staying in Kundasang, a town located about 6km from the park entrance and, in my opinion, the best location for visiting the National Park and surrounding areas. There are plenty of resorts and lodges in the area, most of which have beautiful locations overlooking the valley.

Clothing: Take Plenty of Layers

You may be in Borneo. The heat may be tropical in the daytime. But the nights in Kinabalu National Park can get pretty chilly. Be sure to take plenty of layers to keep you warm. This is especially true if you’re planning to climb Mount Kinabalu. Other than that, you don’t need anything in particular – all hikes around the park can be done in trainers and shorts (although you may obviously need hiking gear for the mountain climb).

Take Supplies

Kinabalu National Park has some shops and a few small villages located nearby but they are pretty limited in what they sell. If you want anything in particular or (more importantly) beer, be sure to take some with you. We had to go on a 45 minute detour in the opposite direction from our accommodation one night just to find somewhere that sold beer.

Short on time?

Don’t worry. So were we. You can do what we did and shave a day off this itinerary by setting off from Kota Kinabalu early in the morning (by the latest 9am). That gave us enough time to drive to the park, check in to our room, eat lunch, hike around the National Park and go on a 45 minute quest for beer before it even started to turn dark. Then visit the Poring Nature Reserve and Sabah Tea Garden the next morning on your way to Kota Kinabatangan.

Thanks for Reading!

If you liked this post then stay tuned for my next instalment on Kota Kinabatangan, my favourite place on the whole trip, where we saw wild orangutans, pygmy elephants, crocodiles and much more.

Other Posts in this series

Borneo Road Trip The Route
Days 1 – 3 Kinabalu National Park
Days 4 – 5 Kota Kinabatangan
Days 6 – 7 Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
Days 8 – 10: Kudat

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The Ultimate 10 Day Borneo Road Trip: Kinabalu National Park