Road Trip to Kinabalu National Park

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As we were preparing to leave Tampat Do Aman for Kinabalu National Park, I asked Howard where to stay.  He said there were many good options in Ranau but he recommends Kinabalu Mountain Lodge.  To get there, we should drive south to Kota Belud, hang a left and follow the river and the signs towards Ranau. It will take around 3.5 hours.  That’s easy enough.

We were also told that the drive would be beautiful. That is an understatement.  You drive along side the river up and down hills with only a small amount of traffic on the road.  Giving the feeling that the entire road and wilderness is ours to explore.

As we drove up hill about 3 hours into our journey, we see a big, nicely painted white sign that reads: Toilet 300m and underneath is a small busted up and faded sign where the only word I can make out is “cafe”.  As I try to wrap my head around how nice this toilet must be and how shitty the cafe is, we come to the top and see the little cafe.  We’re hungry by now so we pull in.  There’s 10-12 tables in a covered but open air cafe overlooking the jungle in the middle of nowhere.  As we walk up, there are 2 tables of locals who all stop what they are doing to stare at us with a look on their face like “what the f*** are white people doing here? And why are they driving?”  I give a nod as I walk past their table and they all smile and return the nod. 

We sit down at a little table and order a couple soft drinks and some mee goreng (fried noodles).  Then we took a moment and just soaked in the view.  We could have never planned to find a gem like this.  I couldn’t even get two words out of Kristi she was so mesmerized by where we were and how we ended up there.  So I took a picture.

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Once we snapped back to reality, I found two of the best looking kittens we have seen here.  Most of the cats you’ll see are pretty sad looking but you can tell these guys were fed well and treated as pets. It was quite a nice change to see a cat that wants attention even before any food came out.  He was super friendly and we ended up being best friends.

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Shortly after our food came out.  It was extremely average.  I think it was just “Beef Flavor” Mr Noodles with some green onion and chicken bits added in to it.  But it was cheap and food and who really cares when you’re focused on playing with kitties and admiring the view?  As we finished eating, the rain started.  Then the rain picked up. Fog was starting to roll in and after 25 minutes of waiting, we realized it’s not going to get better.  We paid our tab and were on our way. 

Heading up the mountain, driving 30km/hr because you can’t see more than 3 meters in front of you on a windy road is very nerve racking and exciting.  Did I mention cars still won’t turn their headlights on?  Every now and then it would completely clear up and you would get to see more postcard like scenery briefly before ending up back in the fog. 

We came across a sign for Kinabalu Mountain Lodge, 1km down a road.  This road is one lane with very few places to fit a 2nd vehicle on a windy and hilly rollercoaster of a road.  It was the longest kilometer of my life.  Driving up one steep hill and as you reach the peak, the road is so steep it disappears as you go back down.  This was an adventure all on its own but we made it. 

We walk into this beautiful cabin like lodge and are happy to hear they have a room.  It’s 110RM/night which is more than we want to pay but know everywhere will be expensive here.  Our room is very basic but it’s a nice comfortable bed and very clean.  Shared bathrooms with set hot shower hours in the morning and in the early evening (4pm-8pm)  For shared bathrooms, these were the cleanest I’ve ever used.  I wouldn’t call this place “luxury” but everything was new and worked very well.  Our breakfast was included in the room rate and we opted to have dinner here too for 8RM each.  Everything they serve is vegetarian but they work well with spices and I really enjoyed my meal despite the lack of protein. 

We joined another couple that night for dinner and ended up trading stories way later than either of us had planned.  They were fantastic company and had already visited the park so they gave us a bit of a rundown on what to expect and do. 

The next morning was another early one.  6:30am the alarm goes off… second day in a row… I hate this shit.  We had a shower and got dressed.  As we came downstairs, the girls that work here were just putting our breakfast up.  Fried egg, toast, salad and potatoes.  They also had a station up for us to get our own coffee or tea.  The previous night we didn’t get much of a view with how foggy it was but this morning it was clear and absolutely amazing.  This view alone was worth the 126RM that we paid here.  Clean accommodation, good food, hot showers, amazing views.  We aren’t even at the national park yet. 

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On top of this, all of the moths flock to the porch light throughout the night.  In the morning, they all land and hang out on the porch on the glass door and all over the wall.

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  All shapes and sizes, it was hard to find two that looked the same.  We packed our bags and said goodbye to our new friends.  They’re doing everything just ahead of us as they were heading south to see more of Borneo where we plan to go in the next week or so.  We wished them safe travels and were on our way to the park.

We drive right past the park and 45 minutes into and past Ranau to the Poring Hot Springs.  Inside the hot springs is a butterfly garden which we skipped because you have to pay for it and we saw a million moths this morning (and I’m not sure but I think butterfly and moth are interchangeable here) and a canopy walk.  Three long canopies with great views overlooking the jungle and mountains surrounding us.  Luckily for us, we hauled ass up to the canopy walk first just beating out a tour bus that had about 40 people in the group.  With a max of 6 people allowed on the canopy at a time and all the stopping and picture taking, it would have been a long wait if we were behind them. 

Afterwards, we walked down a path about 500m to a waterfall.  We could have continued going 1km to bat caves and 4km to another waterfall.  We wore flipflops here and were not up for long hikes.  We walked back down to the hot spring bath tubs and relaxed.

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Since we had a lot to do today, we decided to get on to our next destination.  Kristi really wanted to see a rafflesia flower and a few people have big signs up on the road to go see.  We stopped at the first sign that said “Blooming Rafflesia!”  This is a very unique flower as it is the largest in Southeast Asia.  The rafflesia is also known as the corpse flower because it is supposed to smell like rotting flesh which attracts flies and insects that transfer pollen from female to male plants.  The one we saw didn’t have a strong smell but there were flies on it.  It is also the state flower of Sabah.  Some species of the flower can grow to over 100cm and weigh 10kg.
We had to pay 30RM each to see, then a guy leads us around the corner where there is a blocked off fence/gate.  A lady comes out and opens the gate and we walk down a small enclosed path to see the rafflesia behind a fence.  It was really anti-climatic.  The flower wasn’t as big as we thought it would be since we’ve heard they can get really big and it barely looks real to me.  I need to figure out how to grow these things because I just spent $20 for 2 minutes and 4 pictures. 

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It is a really cool looking flower though and because they bloom for such a short period of time, they are very hard to find in the wild.  At the end of the day, we are happy to see one, check it off the list, we don’t have to pay ever again to see one. 

We ate a quick lunch outside of Kinabalu National Park and headed inside.  This is the gateway to hiking Mount Kinabalu, Sabah’s pride and joy.  We decided not to hike it for a couple reasons. 

1) It is very expensive. Most prices we found were around 600RM ($200USD) each to do a day hike, but if you don’t hike fast enough then they turn you around and you miss out on the peak.  There’s accommodation up there but for the 1n2d hike it was at least 750RM and that didn’t include paying for accommodation.  We found hikes for 900RM with the accommodation included.  However, we recently were given a website where a guy does short notice hikes for budget backpackers.  It’s still expensive but a much cheaper option.  I can’t comment on how good they are but feel free to check them out for yourselves: 

2) Kristi is still recovering.  Obviously, you don’t just recover from dengue and become 100% overnight.  It takes time to get your stamina back up and she needs to be eased into it.  She will be back in shape soon but she’s certainly not ready for something like this. 

Unfortunately #1 was pretty much enough for us to decide to pass on the hike.  There is no way a day hike should cost so much, ever.  To top it off, a thick fog usually rolls in during the afternoon.  Imagine paying all that money and reaching the summit and not being able to see anything.  Out of principal, we decided this isn’t worth it.  I’m sure that it’s beautiful and great but we live in Vancouver where we have some of the most beautiful hikes in the world for free.  I don’t mind paying conservation fees but this is just an opportunity to take money from tourists.  We spoke with numerous people who passed on the hike for the same reason that we did. 

Anyways, there are lots of smaller hikes around the national park.  Again, we weren’t really in the mood for any tough hikes and it was starting to rain so we decided to go through the botanical garden.  Because of the rain, the garden basically was emptying out as we went for the walk.  The entire garden to ourselves.  It was quite relaxing and somewhat informative.

As we started to leave it was a 10-15 minute walk to the front gate… the storm was right on top of us now.  For the first time since we started traveling, I am getting proper use out of my rain jacket (review: It works well).  The only issue is that the jacket wasn’t long enough to cover my legs too.  My shorts were soaked to the point that I could fill a pint if I were to wring them out. 

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It’s a shame our trip to the park was cut short due to rain but we just see it as a sign that it wasn’t meant to be.  We left soaking wet from the waist down but happy with everything we had seen. 

On the way back to Kota Kinabalu, we stopped in Temparuli to go for a walk on their suspension bridge.  It was still raining a bit but at this point, a little bit of water isn’t going to bother us. 

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The rest of the ride back to Kota Kinabalu was quite easy and uneventful.  Happy to be back in the comfort of our very reasonably priced service apartment, tomorrow we plan to go to the Mari Mari Cultural Village and the Monsopiad Head Hunter village.  🙂

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