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Updated on February 12, 2014

Kota Kinabalu (also called as Mt. Kinabalu, Gunung Kinabalu, KK) is gateway to Borneo. It has everything for everyone and at 4,000 ft high, is South East Asia's highest mountain. Your Kota Kinabalu guide is here...

Gateway to Borneo

Borneo, the third largest island in the world, has become the talk of adventure travellers. It hosts rich diversity of natural habitats, magnificent rainforests, diving spots and long winding rivers. Land of headhunters is now one of the great places on earth for ecotourism. Economics has seen a change in Borneo with booming oil towns, but the usual life still revolves around the longhouse and the river

Borneo land is owned by Malaysia, Indonesia & Brunei. Sabah & Sarawak, are two main lands of Malaysia on Borneo. Sabah, with capital town Kota Kinabalu (KK) and Sarawak, with capital town Kuching. Kalimantan, place where it gets real adventurous on Borneo, is all Indonesia. Brunei occupies the smallest land mass among the three, and is basically like nations in middle east, living and growing at the expense of oil reserves.

Kota Kinabalu (KK), has connections (by air) to towns around the world and all major towns in Borneo. It is a great place to start your travel in Borneo, and if you do not have time to go further in Borneo, KK still has lots to entertain you

Magnificent Kota Kinabalu

It is magical
It is magical

Must see places in Kota Kinabalu

Apart from climbing the KK mountain, there are nearby beaches, national parks, rivers for water rafting, museums, places to see Rafflesia (world's biggest flower), wild life sanctuaries

Some of the must visiting places in Kota Kinabalu are

Tanjung Aru beach : Good for beach sports

Gaya street market : Not much of a shopping, but more of good food

Paper & Padas rivers : If you go just after rainy season (Jun-Sep), it will be good water rafting spot

Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park : Good for day trips, island hopping tours

Pulao Tiga National Park : Good for day trips, island hopping tours

Gunung Kinabalu National Park : Good for trekking and nature lovers

Poring Hot Springs : Place you should not miss after your KK climb. Good relaxing place for a day trip

Map of Kota Kinabalu

  1. Kota Kinabalu night-life map
  2. Kota Kinabalu Town map
  3. Map of Kota Kinabalu places of interest

Climbing the Kota Kinabalu

Journey starts Kota Kinabalu Park HQ
Journey starts Kota Kinabalu Park HQ
3.0 km Kota Kinabalu Park
3.0 km Kota Kinabalu Park
4.0 km Kota Kinabalu Park
4.0 km Kota Kinabalu Park
5.0 km Kota Kinabalu Park
5.0 km Kota Kinabalu Park
5.5 km Kota Kinabalu Park
5.5 km Kota Kinabalu Park

Climbing Mt Kinabalu

If there is one thing you want to do in Kota Kinabalu, it has to be climbing the mountain. Best time to climb is in months of March to April. You need to have a guide for your group, you climb upto a spot called Laban Rata Guest house (at 3,200 m), sleep overnight, start your climb to the top at about 2.30 am, reach to the top at about sunrise and then descend.

You can always go upto Laban Rata irrespective of the rainy conditions, you guide will decide early in morning if the conditions are suitable for climb to the summit. Here are some tips

1. Ensure you contact Sutera Sanctuary Lodges about 4-6 months in advance. You can also go through other travel agents, it is always good to check with couple of different agents.

2. If you do not manage above, you can also look for packages for "Via Ferrata", which allows you some more accommodation options at Laban Rata

3. You need to register at Park HQ, it is better you reach earlier, as otherwise, you may not get a guide even though you have booked in advance. Park HQ is quite helpful, we started climbing without the guide along with another group, and then our guide joined us at Laban Rata. These guides do one trip a day in busy season, so it is difficult to find enough of them. It is a must to register at Park HQ and then you get your climber number

4. It takes about 4-6 hours to reach the Laban Rata from Park HQ. Journey there is simply amazing, landscape changes so much as you climb, ensure you stop enough times and take good photos

5. Once you reach Laban Rata, it is quite cold, rain makes it worse. So ensure you are carrying clothing which is good for cold, but light at the same time. You need to carry everything on your back including water, so better be ultra-light on everything. First thing you do at Laban Rata is have early dinner, and then sleep around 7 pm or so. You need to wake up around 1.30 am. Laban Rata is a hostel guesthouse, ensure you have packed something for breakfast from park HQ, as waiting there might ruin your climb early in the morning.

6. Climb to the summit is quite challenging, ensure you take head lamps for each person in your group. At times you might feel a little dizzy due to the height, but it is quite normal, just rest a few minutes and you will be fine. Remember there is no need for you to reach earlier than your friends or fellow climbers, you just need to be there and thats the beauty of it. It is actually quite safe

7. It is a dream sun rise, if things go well and skies are clear. Even though it is not so, you will be presented with magnificent views from the top ! Remember to carry right camera equipment to the top

8. Returning is fun too, you just jump thousands of steps 4,000 m down, there is new confidence after all

9. Remember to tip your guide generously, they do this day in day out to help others along with a living

Laban Rata Guest House - Kota Kinabalu

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Laban Rata - Magical !View from Laban RataLaban Rata - above the cloudsTo the summit - Kota KinabaluSummit - Kota Kinabalu
Laban Rata - Magical !
Laban Rata - Magical !
View from Laban Rata
View from Laban Rata
Laban Rata - above the clouds
Laban Rata - above the clouds
To the summit - Kota Kinabalu
To the summit - Kota Kinabalu
Summit - Kota Kinabalu
Summit - Kota Kinabalu

Water Rafting in Kota Kinabalu

Padas river - Kota Kinabalu
Padas river - Kota Kinabalu
Water rafting - Kota Kinabalu
Water rafting - Kota Kinabalu

Water rafting in Kota Kinabalu

Water rafting is another fun activity in Kota Kinabalu. Given that level of difficulty is easy, it is a good way to spend a day either at Papar or Padas rivers. It is about an hour's drive to the river and then you raft through the river for simple lunch

Rafflesia : the largest flower in the world

Obviously, as many things in South East Asia, this flower is named after Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore. It weighs about 4-6 kg and spans for about 1-1.5 m in diameter. You can see it around August to December if you are lucky, every flower flowers around 2 weeks or so. If it is happening when you are there, you need not ask anyone, you will find number of tour operators after you to take there

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Ferry Terminal - Kota KinabaluIsland tour - Kota KinabaluNice views - Kota KinabaluSnorkeling off the beach
Ferry Terminal - Kota Kinabalu
Ferry Terminal - Kota Kinabalu
Island tour - Kota Kinabalu
Island tour - Kota Kinabalu
Nice views - Kota Kinabalu
Nice views - Kota Kinabalu
Snorkeling off the beach
Snorkeling off the beach

Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park

This is a group of 5 islands, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Gaya, Pulao Manukan, Pulao Mamutik, Pulao Sulug. 

Useful tips :

1. It is better to just go to the main ferry terminal and then book a tour, than doing it from other operators, ferry terminal is located in main town itself

2. You usually get a choice of 3 out of 5 islands on arranged tours with operators. Gaya is the biggest, so you can find a big crowd there, Sulug is the furthest, so you can be on all your own, Sapi is probably the best mix, and also has good walking trails.

3. Basically you spend your day island hopping, snorkeling, eating, walking, trekking on these islands, so plan your itinerary accordingly so that you do what you enjoy doing

Something to remember

Simple things..
Simple things..

Pulau Tiga National Park

It was Survivor (popular TV show), who made it big for Pualu Tiga. It is 48km south of KK and is made up of 3 islands Pulau Tiga, Pulau Kalampunian Damit, Pulau Kalampunian Besar. This park is not promoted and tourist facilities are limited, so it is something if you are staying for more than a week around Kota Kinabalu

Poring Hot Springs

These are hot sulphur baths, installed during Second World War, for the Japanese troops. It is a good way to relax after your climb. It is a nice place for visitors who are not climbing too 

Kota Kinabalu International Climbathon

Climbathon is held every year on Mt. Kinabalu. I just salute the people who take part in this, and more who finish in less than 3 hours climbing up & down

Do you have any experience in Borneo to share ?

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    • sumeetparab profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Singapore

      Wow, look forward to nice snaps with his digital SLR

    • jollytan profile image


      8 years ago from Singapore

      Going up Mt Kinabalu sounds interesting. By the way, Shi is planning to summit it next year.


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