Climbing Mount Kinabalu and Exploring Kota Kinabalu – Everything You Need To Know In One Blogpost

Having conquered my fear of water by going on a sponsored discovery scuba dive trip previously, this month I set out to conquer my fear of heights on this media trip with Amazing Borneo Tours to scale Mount Kinabalu, which stands at a spectacular 4095.2m!

Here we are at the summit:

Another blogger, Yong Wei, had earlier blogged about his Mount Kinabalu experience and I thought that if he (“with a BMI index of 46.1”) managed to climb up Mount Kinabalu, I have hope. Now, having scaled the mountain myself, I am full of respect for this guy.

I love his tee and sense of humor too! 😀

I’ve put together a short video clip about the 5 *special* things I brought with me for the climb to help reduce pain, prevent vomiting, and keep me warm and toasty… Click the picture below to be directed to the video and find out what they are:

This certificate is given to those who manage to reach the summit! 🙂 And Amazing Borneo will even provide a folder for it – they are so thoughtful!

About the Flight: The boyfriend and I booked our AirAsia flight about a month before the trip and the fare (with taxes) came up to S$213 per person. It was a rather last-minute trip for us so do book early as fares increase substantially the closer it is to your travel date. Flight time is approximately 2.5hours from Singapore to Kota Kinabalu International Airport. Pre-book your meal for the flight and enjoy massive savings. 😉

Hotels in Kota Kinabalu we stayed in: Hyatt 5*star and The Palace Hotel 3* (or some say 4*) star

We stayed in Hyatt Regency Kinabalu courtesy of Amazing Borneo Tours.

For a difference of about RM100, you can choose a room with sea view versus one with a city view. Want to see what you’re paying the extra RM100 for?

Here’s the city view (RM450*) which can be summed up in one word: Depressing. (And this is from the 11th floor)

Here’s the sea view (RM550*) from the 9th floor (much prettier in the daytime) 🙂

*Room rates are subject to fluctuations.

Because we’d extended our stay, we moved over to The Palace Hotel, situated near the Karamunsing shopping complex. Standard Room rates start at about RM121, which meant there’s MORE MONEY FOR SHOPPING! 😀 The hotel also provides free shuttle services to all major shopping complexes so we felt it was a great deal!

Touchdown in Kota Kinabalu on 4 Sept, 2012 at about 8pm: We were welcomed by the friendly Evan from Amazing Borneo Tours, who’d also accompany us for the rest of the trip – you’ll see a picture of him soon. 😉

I like how the vehicle’s always clean! And it looks so welcoming! 🙂

The journey to the Kinabalu Park HQ took a good 2 hours. A quick shot of the bunk beds and I was ready to turn in for the night…

The other blogger, Christine, and her dad had chosen to sleep in the other room which had twin beds. I’ve never really liked bunk beds ‘cos I have this irrational fear of rolling off the bed (if I’m sleeping on top) and being squashed to death by the top bunk collapsing if I’m sleeping below. Ridiculous but unfortunately, true! XD Thankfully, the place is usually quiet as long as your other lodge-mates aren’t noisy.

Still, I’m thankful Amazing Borneo arranged for us to stay in these rooms at Peak Lodge. I was told it’s a little more cramped in the dormitories and not as comfortable. So if you’re planning to climb Mount Kinabalu, speak to Amazing Borneo – they’ll take good care of you!

More pictures in the morning when it was bright and beautiful:

(Below) Hard to tell which country this photo was taken in, right?

An unglam morning stretch!

Chatted with Evan (there he is) while waiting for Christine and her dad to get ready:

This guy has some serious muscles!

We set off for breakfast first at Balsam Buffet Restaurant, collected our packed lunch and dropped off excess luggage at Kinabalu Park HQ at RM10 per piece (one small bag attached to one big luggage is still considered one piece) 😉

(Clockwise from top: Sign outside Balsam Buffet Restaurant, my carb-filled breakfast, packed lunch with an apple, 2 bananas, 2 hard-boiled eggs, sandwiches and bottled water, pretty plants outside)

After breakfast, it was time to begin the climb starting from Timpohon Gate (Take the Timpohon route if you’re a mountain-climbing newbie. The other Mesilau route is 2km longer). We had to ensure we had our ID tags on at all times. Climbing Mount Kinabalu requires a permit and apparently, only about 114 of them are issued per day to protect the environment and ensure the whole place isn’t overrun by tourists. 😉 Besides your permit, it is absolutely essential to ensure you have a bed/room reserved for you at the Kinabalu Park HQ and at the Laban Rata Resthouse (about two-thirds of the way up to the summit) – don’t climb up all the way only to find that there’s no room for you!

Off we go now…

Evan and Freendy (Amazing Borneo’s in-house mountain guide) lead the way…

I’d initially wondered why they brought such big umbrellas with them. Wouldn’t a poncho or foldable umbrella be less bulky?

As it turned out, the umbrellas double up as walking sticks and are very useful for keeping them sheltered from the rain and sun!

Rent Walking Sticks! – I also didn’t rent the walking sticks (at RM10 each) as I’d thought they were only for old folks. I later realized those walking sticks are SO helpful when negotiating difficult stretches of rock, especially on the way down. They really take the pressure off your knees and minimize pain! Definitely get two before you climb!

Only borrowed a walking stick from our mountain guide, Freendy, on the way down ‘cos my legs were turning to jelly. He was too kind, really! Awesome guide!

Not pleased that I have to rely on walking sticks for the first time in my life! LOL!

Deceptively easy steps (leading DOWN) at the start. Don’t be fooled. The path will only get tougher and tougher all the way to the summit – you’ll start the ascent very soon.

To mislead you further, a signboard proudly states that international runners have made it up AND DOWN the mountain in 2 hours, 37 minutes. For mere mortals like me, 2 hours won’t even get us one-third of the way UP the mountain.

Starting off from Timpohon Gate (with an altitude of 1,866m), we make our way up towards Laban Rata Resthouse (at 3,272m). There are 7 sheltered rest-stops along the way, every 1km or so.

(Clockwise from top: Layang Layang sheltered hut at 2,702m, distance markers along the way – every 0.5km, untreated water provided at every rest-stop, 2 toilet cubicles and a washbasin at every rest-stop)

Bring toilet tissue! The toilets are generally clean though the floor can get wet from muddy shoes when it rains. The cubicle at the back of the rest-stop is usually cleaner than the one out in front. 😉 Tissues are not provided. And you may drink the water from the taps at your own risk – bring water purification tablets or carry bottles of water with you.

Along the way, porters will never cease to amaze you with the speed they climb the mountain while carrying heavy loads on their backs – do step aside to let them go past you unless you are climbing faster than they are. 😉

Also look out for:

(1) Mr Treehugger 😀

(2) SQUIRRELS! At every rest-stop, you’ll see some of them. Let’s play Spot-the-Squirrel:

Spotted it? 😉

There are all sorts of flora and fauna along the way so keep your eyes open. I was content to stare and not photograph so if you’d like, you can Google for some pictures from the web. You can keep your eyes peeled for pitcher plants like this one – photo from

How fit are you? I’d thought I was pretty fit (I go to the gym two to three times a week, run 2.4km often and am only just turning 26 this year). I set off confidently but by the time we had gone past the 1km mark, I was beginning to tire very quickly. Eventually, the boyfriend had to carry my backpack for me another 500m or so. He looked pretty ridiculous with one backpack on his back and another strapped in front, but he’s my hero – without him, I may have lost the will to climb the mountain. Once I’d learnt to pace myself, then all was fine.

Pacing – It was disconcerting to see Christine’s dad climb as if it took no effort at all. He was constantly at the head of the group (sometimes he went so fast, we lost sight of him). But this climb is not about competing with others, only with yourself. You’ll have to listen to your body, stop or slow down when you have trouble breathing or, in my case, my heart was pounding real fast. When altitude sickness hits, it can hit hard. When we got to Laban Rata, Christine’s dad was feeling really unwell, took some medication and knocked out like a light. My boyfriend also came down with a slight fever but thankfully, we had brought enough medication and he recovered before the climb to the summit. Do bring some medication, just in case.

Keep yawning! Evan taught us that we should induce yawning during the climb. Yawning allows your lungs to take in more air and thus you can get the oxygen you need. The air gets thinner and thinner the higher you climb, so KEEP ON YAWNING! 🙂

After climbing for HOURS, you’ll start to think the Laban Rata Resthouse HAS GOT TO BE just around the corner. And you take that corner and…

See more stairs!

I was so horrified, my hair turned a different color. LOL!!

With the benefit of hindsight, I’d say the climb up the mountain was tough because we had to acclimatize. The climb down posed no such problem, but there were other difficulties, which I’ll share with you in a bit. Keep reading…

And when we FINALLY got to Laban Rata Resthouse, I just wanted to forget I’m a blogger, give up snapping pictures forever, gulp down a mug of hot chocolate and die content.

What actually happened: I bought a can of Coca-cola (which cost something like RM10) and tried to take a shower -> Bad move. The water was FREEZING COLD. There is NO electricity for shower heaters so use a damp towel to clean yourself up (like I did), stand under the cold shower or give up any ideas of bathing altogether.

We smell “great” here…

We had a super-early buffet dinner around 4.30pm and went off to bed immediately after, to TRY and get some sleep before the 2am climb to the summit.

This time, all 4 of us slept in the same room, with bunk beds.

Bring earplugs! It is near impossible to sleep while people are still walking around along the corridor (the creaking of wooden planks will keep you awake, on top of the chatter). Only after 12midnight was it relatively quieter but that will give you little rest before your 2am climb, right? Earplugs are one essential travel item I neglected to bring this time.

Have a late supper/early breakfast before the climb – but don’t eat too much or I guarantee you’ll feel even more sleepy! Here I am, with the best smile I can muster before a 2am climb… Boohoo:

Headtorch is a must! At 2am, you can hardly see anything and there definitely is no well-lit pathway for you to take. Get a headtorch – ours cost S$5 from the Army Market at Beach Road. I also got my beanie hat and gloves there. For gloves, choose those with a good grip (there will be rope-climbing and you don’t want rope burns!) and which are waterproof (‘cos it could very well rain) and will keep your hands warm.

From Christine’s camera: A photo before we set off…

When climbing up to the summit, it’s pretty straightforward, just follow the person in front of you. It was so dark that my fear of heights never did kick in – I did not know it when I was trying to cross a teeny-weeny ledge with room for only one foot at a time, that said ledge was the only thing stopping me from a heart-stopping plunge to the foot of the mountain.

At one point, I did a ‘Cinderella’ and lost one shoe! It got stuck between some gap in the stones and came off my foot. Thankfully, the guy behind me helped me retrieve it. XD

Following my shoe’s bad example, the boyfriend’s 1.5 litre bottle of water then fell out of the backpack’s side pocket and rolled to a point precariously near the edge of the ‘cliff’. Luckily, our mountain guide, Freendy, came to our rescue or we would have had to abandon a precious bottle of water!!!

After a long 4.5 hours, we did make it to the summit. We caught the sunrise on the way up, in a leisurely fashion. We didn’t want to scramble in a mad rush to the top to catch the sunrise only to be out of breath for the climb back down. Still, we made it! 😀

More pictures!!!

After climbing this mountain numerous times, you can be fearless too like these mountain guides!

Having reached the summit, we headed back to Laban Rata for a late breakfast (which was lunch for me and the boyfriend. Christine and her dad had gone off down the mountain before us).

If you think climbing up a mountain is tough, climbing down is worse! Some rocks were SO HUGE that I couldn’t walk down the way I go down a staircase. I actually sat down on the rock closest to me, dangled my legs over it to reach the rock below then slid off the top one. It looks real silly but it’s a very safe way of negotiating the more difficult stretches of rock.

If your legs have abandoned you, you can hire a porter to carry you down the mountain. It costs something like RM300 per km. Of course, you can have them carry your bags for you too, at a lower cost.

The way down really tested our mettle and determination. You just have to grit your teeth and get through it. The rain was unrelenting at times (thank God for my waterproof jacket!), the pathways muddy and slippery, and the guide’s gentle reminder that it’d be best to reach Timpohon Gate before the sky got dark (Daylight lasts only till around 5pm or so. Then it starts to get dark VERY QUICKLY!).

At times, I wanted to just sit on the ground and weep my eyes out for my clothes were wet, it was cold, I was feeling tired, and my legs wanted to buckle under me. But the sight of my boyfriend trudging on ahead of me was all the motivation I needed. I willed myself to follow him and answer with a cheery “Yes, I’m ok!” each time he turned around to see if I was experiencing any difficulty. The thought of this still brings tears to my eyes. (>_<) It was very encouraging when I’m trying to get down a steep rock-face and negotiate yet more rocks, and he’ll shout out “EASY!” from ahead of me to tell me that the pathway ahead (however short it may be) was easier to navigate.

When we were about 2km away from Timpohon, the boyfriend suddenly became very exhausted and had a “stony” look which worried me. So I took the lead and I told him to just follow behind me as if on autopilot mode. Eventually, he managed to take the lead again and we reached Timpohon Gate (we were the 2nd last group to reach but I didn’t care). I was happy enough to want to kiss the ground and lie there forever. The last part had been especially tough as the sun had set and we needed the light from our mountain guide’s headtorch to illuminate the way.

When Christine saw us, she commented that we must have seen “both the sunrise and the sunset”. 😛 I wish we had such good luck. How was one to witness a sunset in a rainforest? You can feel the raindrops and see the many trees but you’re not gonna view a splendid sunset, ok? 😛 The good news: unless there’s bad weather, you’ll definitely see the sunrise! 🙂

Both the boyfriend and I had decided quite quickly that we didn’t want to rush through the climb – it was ‘safety first’ for us. Christine and her dad reached Timpohon Gate way ahead of us but she injured a toe along the way (I think the toenail threatened to eject itself) and her dad had to carry her backpack for 4km or so and told us he nearly fell down – what a tragedy it would have been if he fell carrying two backpacks! A week before, a boy had fallen while coming down the mountain, broke his head, had to be airlifted out and received multiple stitches. So, safety first, guys! Unless you want to be carried down the mountain in a stretcher. If you are willing to take it slow, pace yourself and not do crazy things (like the Gangnam Style dance) while coming down the mountain, I can guarantee you’ll be fine. 🙂 Enjoy the climb and the company. There is nothing quite like him holding my hand in his, and our eyes on the summit, putting one foot in front of the other to get up there.

For an easier descent – Ensure you have trimmed your toenails! Tie your shoelaces real tight so your feet won’t slip all the way to the front of your shoes!

After the descent, we were whisked off to Hyatt Regency Hotel – it was like reaching Nirvana.

Definitely book a nice hotel for a rest immediately after your climb – it’ll be worth every penny. A big hug for the understanding peeps at Amazing Borneo! 🙂

What to do in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah:

1) White Water Rafting

We attempted White Water Rafting down the Kiulu River (9km) – it was a lot of fun though our legs were still very sore from the climb.

(Below) A group photo taken using Christine’s camera. There were two ladies who joined our group for the rafting. The mother and daughter pair spoke with Christine and told her they are from Rome. Christine immediately thought they are Romanians, and made them laugh as they told her that no, they are Romans and that Romania is another country altogether. This babe is hilarious.

(Christine raising her arm out in the front of the raft with her dad, Derek and me in the middle, and the Romans behind. Our river guide was a humorous chap, whose name I cannot recall, maybe ‘cos his jokes kept us in stitches throughout)

The river was generally calm, with rapids in some parts that gave us a bit of an adrenaline rush but we fared well and our raft did not capsize (can’t say the same for one other group we passed along the way though).

Halfway through, we got off the raft and fed the fish – they were toothless and made cute sucking motions to get the pellets we held out in the water with clenched fists.

After the rafting, we had our shower and lunch before setting off to Mari Mari Cultural Village.

2) Mari Mari Cultural Village

We got to see the different homes of the various ethnic groups in Sabah and experience each tribe’s rich culture. The highlights are the blowpipe activity, fire-starting-using-bamboo demonstration, and the jumping for a prize on a built-in Lansaran (a traditional, trampoline-like floor). We also got high on the Montoku (rice wine). Hehe!

Use the blowpipe to fire a dart at the coconut! I didn’t want to taste anyone else’s saliva so I had the boyfriend represent me. Muahaha!

We pretend to be tribal folk and my boyfriend ends up looking like a handsome peasant! 😀

Tried Bamboo Cooking too. Actually, we chose the ingredients and someone cooked it for us over a flame. 😀 (It was raining again, so I was wearing my poncho)

In a dimly-lit hut, half-naked men demonstrate how to start a fire using bamboo. Doesn’t it feel hot in here already? XD

*applause please*

And here’s the most handsome guy we met:

The triangular-shaped Kuih Jala is a tasty snack!

Our “marriage ceremony”. This picture shows how tanned we got from the climb as well as the rafting! 😀

The Murut (a ferocious, headhunting tribe) scared the bejesus out of us when they jumped out from behind the bushes, howling. Here, you see the “welcoming” ceremony, which actually looks more like a confrontation:

Apparently, in the face of ‘danger’, you have to stay calm and SMILE or the tribesmen of the past would take you to be the enemy if you display any fear. And your head may no longer be above your shoulders.

Then there was a cultural dance performance which we enjoyed. And we got ourselves ‘inked’ thereafter with a henna tattoo:

3) Snorkeling and Seawalking (Pulau Sapi) We were told Sapi Island literally means cow island but there are no cows to be seen on this island! 😀 Suits us fine as all we wanted was the sun, sand and sea!

LOTS of fish – can you spot them?

Snorkeling was good. And Seawalking was better! Here I am seawalking, with some hand signals you’ll need to know…

Seawalking ranks as one of the most enjoyable water activities because irregardless of age or ability to swim, you can come up close to LOTS of fish and walk on the seabed at a depth of 4m! We even got to TOUCH sea anemone and NEMO!!! It’s quite unbelievable. One of the instructors brought some sea anemone to us, together with two clownfish – and we reached out and TOUCHED the anemone and the fish!!! 😀 It’s TOO COOL!

I’d love to show you the video of me seawalking but I’m having trouble uploading it, so here’s one from Youtube:

4) Gaya Sunday Market 

From t-shirts, pets to souvenirs, Gaya Market has them all.

5) KTV @ Suria Sabah!!! For just RM51, you can sing your lungs out from 1pm to 8pm. We were exhausted by 6pm and left for dinner. LOL!


I’m always happy when we’re going out to hit the malls! 😀

Near Hyatt Hotel, there’s Wisma Merdeka and Suria Sabah, with Centre Point a little further away. I liked Suria Sabah best, followed by Centre Point, then Wisma Merdeka.

7) Food – In the malls

Secret Recipe‘s award-winning tomyam seafood noodles are the BEST! The broth is so flavorful that I had to order this dish two days in a row – and slurp up every last drop!

The cakes are also to-die-for!

We also visited Fullhouse Cafe in Suria Sabah!

The Chicken Rice Shop is another good place for food. Their lunch promotions are good value for money.

8) Sin Kee Bah Kut Teh (Bah Kut Teh RM11, Veggies RM6, Rice RM1.50) Recommended by Evan.

Good enough for me to want to bring some back to SG!

9) Massage – Feel Good Reflexology Centre on level 2 of Karamunsing – RM30 for a 60-minute foot massage!

The massage really helped us to recover from the stress of the climb. If you don’t go for a massage, you’ll be hobbling around for days after descending from the mountain!

10) Movie at Centre Point – total Rm12 for 2!

The boyfriend said ‘Chernobyl Diaries’ is good but I found the movie frightful – don’t expect a happy ending to the movie. (>_<) Still, the tickets are so inexpensive! Just one single movie ticket in SG costs more than TWO movie tickets in KK!

11) Seafood Dinner near Rafflesia Hotel [Sedco Complex] – a sheltered compound with about 4 restaurants serving similar fare. Pick whichever you think is more popular? 😉

Choose from the ‘live’ seafood on display:

We ordered crab, stir-fried vegetables, stingray and fried oyster omelette.

The food was pretty decent and came up to RM92 (S$36.80).

12) Outdoor Seafood place near Hyatt Hotel and facing the sea – there were so many stalls that we just picked one at random. No live seafood but the taste is still great!

We ordered crab, cockles, fish and veg. Sambal and spicy anything is good here. 😀 I think we paid about RM40 for the meal.

(*) If, like us, you choose to stay at The Palace Hotel, their lunch menu is worth a try too.

I had yummy sambal seabass I couldn’t get enough of:

Kota Kinabalu really is a beautiful place. I enjoyed the 8 days spent climbing Mount Kinabalu and exploring Kota Kinabalu. You should visit Sabah too! Contact the reliable Amazing Borneo Tours for an unforgettable experience. 🙂

A final picture of a splendid sunset:

Additional Resources:

1) Mount Kinabalu Trail Map 

2) Taxi Fares in Sabah

3) Packing List (For the mountain climb):

Waterproof backpack with the stuff inside in ziplock bags

• Trekking or running shoes with good grip
• Warm clothing/Long sleeved shirt/Hiking pants
• Jacket/Wind breaker
• Extra clothing and socks
• Small towel
• Gloves and winter hat
• Disposable raincoats
• Head torch (remember to bring the batteries!)
• Personal toiletries
• Refillable water bottle (0.5 – 1 Litre)
• High energy food such as chocolates, nuts, biscuits, sweets, energy bars

Other Essentials:

Medication such as Panadol or altitude sickness tablets(this requires a doctor’s prescription. You won’t be able to get altitude sickness tablets in pharmacies like Guardian or in Watsons)
• Tissue paper / Toilet roll & Wet Tissues
• Sun block lotion, lip gloss, plasters
• Insect repellent / Mosquito Oil (There aren’t many insects which bothered us. No leeches, thank God!)
• Camera with water proof bag
• Sandals / Slippers
• Plastic bags

From the video I recorded, you’ll also realize I recommend bringing knee guards, ankle supports, white papaya strips (or anything sour you like), a packet of milo and heat packs. 🙂

I would recommend that your backpack doesn’t exceed 10% of your body weight. So, if your weight is 50kg, your bag should not be heavier than 5kg. Travel light, pack smart (e.g. 2 people can share 1 tube of toothpaste, etc) and you’ll thank yourself for it! Happy climbing! 🙂

Read Also: 6 Golden Rules For Hiking Safety

18 thoughts on “Climbing Mount Kinabalu and Exploring Kota Kinabalu – Everything You Need To Know In One Blogpost

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    • Hi Kerrian, wow, 12kg huh! At Kinabalu Park HQ, for RM10 per piece of luggage. It’s also where you’ll get your ID tag/permit, without which you cannot climb Mount K. Enjoy your climb! 🙂

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  5. Hi grace..

    A regular sized backpack is enough?? I am going for 5 days 4 night s 🙂

    • Hi Emily,

      Yes! Don’t get a super big one or you’ll be tempted to bring too many things. Especially since it’s 5D4N for you, pack light. Just make sure you have enough fuel (food) for the climb and a good waterproof windbreaker ‘cos it can be cold/windy/raining – I have a friend climbing Mt KK right now. 🙂 Most importantly, have fun! It’s gonna be an ENDLESS flight of stairs… but keep going. And hopefully you are bringing good company too! 😀

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  7. hey! thanks for the insightful sharing! 😀 my friends and i are thinking of going for a 3d2n trip just solely for mt kinabalu climb, may i ask what time did u all reach finish the trip on your last day 6sept? do u think we can catch an evening flight back to sg in time right after the climb?

    • Hi Kadey,

      On the way down the mountain, it was raining so we took our own sweet time to get back down. The sun was already setting by the time we got to the gate at the end.

      If you would like to catch an evening flight back to SG immediately after the climb, I would recommend you rent walking sticks (it really helps with the climb) and don’t spend too much time on breakfast or lunch at the resthouse. You should be able to make it in good time for your flight.

      Just head back down the mountain after catching the sunrise. Snack along the way and keep well-hydrated. Have fun and stay safe! 🙂

    • thanks alot for the advice Grace! we will probably extend one more day just in case! love your blog! 🙂

    • Hi Christine,

      The gloves were from the Army Market at Beach Road. The pair I bought were too thin. Probably around S$10. Do buy thicker gloves that will keep your hands warm – ensure they are waterproof too, just in case the ropes are wet from the rain/dew/whatever. 🙂

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