If you’ve planned on heading to Malaysia, you must have heard of Mount Kinabalu. And thought of hiking it. And then heard the costs.
As a Malaysian myself, I have to admit that the price tag associated with this hike is quite ridiculous. Especially for the cold shabby beds at Laban Rata (no hot shower, in fact no shower at all recently), not even the buffet can compensate for that.
Here’s the current quote I have, with food and accommodation (recently, a minimum 2-nights-stay rule have been imposed) :
Via Timpohon : RM675/night/pp
Via Mesilau : RM600/night/pp
Which was unbelievably ridiculous! You know I would find a way around this, and that’s exactly what I did, a one day hike to the summit of Mount Kinabalu.
Now the one day hike is a very hush hush thing. Google it and you’ll hardly get any results. Call them (the park managers), and you’ll get no information about one day hikes. But there was this one post from an old blog, and I went with the slightest bit of hope. There was a way indeed, and it was quite a simple one.
My flight from Kl was to Tawau, where I did my PADI diving licence with Scuba Junkie in Semporna. After finishing that, I took a night bus from Semporna to Kota Kinabalu for RM75 (that’s the normal rate but the woman at Scuba Junkie managed to get us the bus tickets at a way cheaper price RM60 per person).
The bus dropped us in Kota Kinabalu at 4am (yes I know!) and I rented a car for a day at RM80/day). This is the best option I can recommend you, especially if you’re travelling in a group of more than 2. I then drove uphill all the way to the Kinabalu National Park, the journey lasting for about 2 hours. The roads are safe and wide, if not a little too steep for my 1.0 engines, but all in all, an easy ride.
Here’s where the fun begins. You head to the main administration office, and ask to speak to the person in charge of the one-day hikers. Go into his office and appear healthy. Yes, healthy. And fit, responsible and safe. Because you’re going to need his approval to let you climb up a mountain in a day when others take 2-3 days!
I was thankfully at a better shape in my life at that point. Add that to the taekwondo membership card I have and he was convinced. My sister and I were to start the hike the next day. Settle the fees for your permit and fill up the forms. Next was getting a guide.
We spent the rest of the day at the Poring Hot Springs (hated every bit of it, from the crowd to the fact that the place just had small pools filled with god-knows-what water) and the market in Kundasang, Ranau. This market was great because you can get loads of fresh local delicacies and surprisingly, a lot of fresh seafood.
On the way back, you will pass a Kedai 1Malaysia. It’s best to get all your necessities here and avoid the overpriced supplies elsewhere.
The next day, you can start hiking at 7am but you need to wait for a guide to arrive first and this might take some, mine arrived at 7.30am, late. Then, we drove to the Timpohon Gate where you register and get your trekking pole. I strongly recommend renting the trekking pole at RM10 for the sake of your knees when you descend.
We started the trek at 8am, with 5 other pairs for the day hike. The gates at Laban Rata, our first check point closes at 10am, which left us with 2 hours to hike a decent 6 kilometers uphill. The very same 6 kilometers that other climbers take 6-8 hours to climb.
We reached the Laban Rata gate at 10.30am, 30 minutes late and was denied entry to the summit. That’s it. Only one group made it to the summit out of the 5, and that was the group with the Amazonian legs.
If we did reach on time, there will be another 2 km hike, and at the end of the 2 km there will be the Summit Gate which closes at 1pm. Any later than that and you’ll again be denied entry. Two of the other hikers I started with were stopped here.
I didn’t believed them when they said descending is harder than ascending , but let me tell you, going down takes longer than going up, even when your energy level is up simply because the path is very steep and rocky. Your knees will shake and every bit of your toes will hurt. And you will wonder why are you paying so much to do this to yourself.
So we tried the one day hike and it didn’t work out because we were 30 minutes late. It was completely avoidable.
If you were to do it, make sure to TIP your guide into coming early so that you don’t waste precious time. Be at the gate at 7am and start hiking immediately. If you have heavy bags, don’t lug them up! Just pay your guide to carry them and pay him BEFORE the hike. The price doubles when you’re at mid hike.Then, all it takes is persistence, endurance and some Snicker bars. You’ll get yourself up there.
The trail up is almost all stairs and very steep, and it will hurt mostly at your thighs and knees. The guides have a very very bad habit of discouraging climbers. Mine could not shut up about how we were not going to make it to the gate 5 minutes after we started! Just don’t listen to them. If it gets bad, just walk ahead of the guide. The trail doesn’t even need figuring out anyways.
All in all, I’d say the experience wasn’t really up to what I had in mind. Compared to the Tiger Leaping Gorge trail I did in China, this was nothing. The trail was boring, everything was in packages and overpriced. Drones of buses were carrying hundreds of hikers in everyday.
Not my thing.
However, I never made it to the summit, and we know the top makes the burn worth it, so who knows?
If you would like to share the experience, comment below or drop me an email!