Mount Kinabalu is the prominent mountain on the island of Borneo located in the East Malaysian State of Sabah. In fact, the mountain is the 20th most prominent mountain in the world, with its summit known as ‘Low’s Peak’ at 4095 metres high (13,435 ft). It’s a ‘non technical climb’ meaning there’s no need for any mountaineering equipment at any stage of the climb. This means even (fit) beginners can make it to the top.
The mountain and surrounding Kinabalu Park is a World Heritage Site and certainly has a spiritual or mystical aura about it, or perhaps that’s just the light-headedness one may experience at the dizzying height of 4095 metres. Whatever the case, if you’re lucky to have a clear morning upon reaching the summit, the view is certainly worth the climb. It is truly breathtaking.
Amazing views from above the clouds, interesting flora, monkeys, eye catching birds and diverse plant-life. The terrain is also interesting and varies from tropical with waterfalls, to rocky moonscape towards the summit.
How accessible is it from Singapore?
The door to door journey to reach your hotel at Mount Kinabalu National Park (before the start of your trek) will take you 6 hours and 5 minutes.
You need 3 nights and 2 days at a minimum, you need to allow two days for the climb itself. Tour companies suggest you don’t fly out on the same day as you descend and this is good advice. There are too many variables (weather, muscle soreness) that make it almost impossible to descend within a predetermined timeframe. Plus it’s a 2-hour drive to Kota Kinabalu airport.
How much is this going to cost us?
The total transport cost (return) for 2 people from Singapore to Kota Kinabalu National Park will be from SGD 620 (including flights and transfer from airport to the Park). You will need to add the package price (guide, fee, extras such as the via ferrata). 2D1N packages (including guide, permit and the night at Night Laban Rata Assorted Huts during the trek) start from SGD 300 per person. You will need to add 2 nights (first and last).
How to arrange your trip?
The easiest way to arrange this trip is to book a tour with a guide with a local agency. The guys at Amazing Borneo do a good job. Kota Kinabalu is very popular with Asian and Western tourists and there is a quota of tourists allowed in the park per day so you will need to book early (as early as 12 to 6 months in advance) to arrange your trip. Note that during large event such as the Climbathon, you will not be able to get a pass so check the date before you book your flight tickets.
When should we go?
How remote and risky is it?
Medical infrastructure is limited and it’s a demanding trek. Stiff and sore all over on the following days but on a high from our achievements! It took us about 5 days to fully recover.
What about the kids?
Leave your baby(ies) and child(ren) below 10 at home. The climb and via ferrata are not suitable for them.
Did you know?
We have included Mount Kinabalu in the “volcano” destination. However, it is not a volcano. It’s “just” a very high mountain. Don’t expect lava or smoke up there. But we thought we would include it in this category as it will definitely be a nice experience for mountains lovers.
Connections from Mount Kinabalu
If you want to relax after the trek, you can always spend a couple of days in a nice resort by the sea. Another option is to explore other parts of Borneo.
Getting from Singapore to Kota Kinabalu
AirAsia operates direct flights from Singapore (SIN) to Kota Kinabalu (BKI)
Getting there: AirAsia SIN –BKI – 5:35 PM – 8.05 PM (2h30 flight)
Coming back: AirAsia BKI – SIN 2:45 PM – 5.10 PM (2h25 flight)
Return ticket from SGD 220.
Get your ticket NOW to enjoy the best fares.
There’s nothing to do, at the Kota Kinabalu airport. No need to get there any earlier than you need to. If you do, sit, wait and stretch those weary legs before hobbling onto the plane.
Getting from Kota Kinabalu airport to Kota Kinabalu National Park
You can arrange for a driver to pick you up at the airport to transfer to your hotel. The drive takes approximately 2 hours from the airport to the park.
Alternatively, you can hire a taxi from the airport. The price will depend on your negotiation skills. RM 150 seems to be a reasonable price.
Where to stay in Kota Kinabalu?
Depending on the package you choose (some include all nights, some only the night of the trek), you should be able to pick your own accommodation for the first and last night. You will spend the second night in the Laban Rata Resthouse and Mountain Huts or the Gunting Lagadan Huts (these form part of the trek package).
Where to stay the first night (Friday)
Kinabalu Pine Resort– Very accurately described as a multi-award winning resort for the budget-conscious traveler. Kinabalu Pine Resort is 15 minutes drive to Kinabalu National Park so it’s convenient for the early morning start from the National Park Headquarters (especially if your flight to Kota Kinabalu airport is in the evening). On the morning of the climb your tour company will pick you up at 7:30 AM from the resort.
Where to stay the second night (Saturday)
Laban Rata Resthouse and Mountain Huts– All dormitory style accommodation with common bathrooms. Some shared rooms for four are available in one of the smaller huts ‘Gunting Lagadan Hut’ which is a few hundred metres closer to the summit, a small bonus on the morning of the summit climb – trust us. The dormitory is not heated though you will likely sleep in your thermals. The meals are included in tour package (dinner, morning supper, breakfast).
Where to stay the last night (Sunday)
Shangrila, Tanjun Aru Resort – The one that’s closer to the airport. Good for a hot shower, bath, swim and to rest the weary body. You will find a variety of hotels in the center, less than 15 minutes from the airport.
Or book your hotel with
The climbing adventure
Most tours will follow the same path on the way to the top. However, you will usually be given 3 options for the way back. From the easiest to the most challenging:
- Classic: Go back down the same way you went up
- Walk the Torq Via Ferrata: an easy via ferrata for beginners.
- Low’s Peak Circuit Via Ferrata: for adventurous and fit climbers. Technically complex. This is the highest via Ferrata in the world.
Both Via Ferrata routes need to be booked in advance (together with your package). More on this after the Classic route.
Begins at the Mount Kinabalu National Park Headquarters at around 8AM for registration and then a transfer to the starting point, Timpohon Gate (5km from the park office). The day’s climbing distance is nearly 6km and the end point is Laban Rata rest house where you overnight at 3200 metres. Don’t be fooled by the distance, the only way is up, up, up and it takes around 6 hours at a medium – steady pace so you arrive at Laban Rata in the afternoon.
Begins early morning, around 02:00 with a climb to the summit to catch the sunrise at approximately 05:30. The distance is close to 2 km and takes 2 – 4 hours, in the dark and over some steep terrain. Then it’s back down to Laban Rata for breakfast and the descent to the National Park Headquarters, approximately 4 – 6 hours. If you are a climbing enthusiast, there is an option to stay more than one night at Laban Rata and do other climbs from there.
What to expect – The Climb, Fitness levels, Gear, Terrain, Weather
Our party of four climbed with the help of our fabulous guide Sylvester (Amazing Borneo Tours). We were all at an excellent fitness level through attendance at boot camps and regular running. Whilst we didn’t train specifically for the climb, we would highly recommend reaching a good fitness level before climbing. Or at least training up and down stairs/steps. Having said that, we did see an 83 year old striding his way up the mountain and putting us all to shame!
Timpohon Gate – Laban Rata
The trail to Laban Rata is technically easy, but the terrain changes and it’s hard to get into a rhythm, it is steep and does get tiring, all in a good way. There’s thousands of steps, that’s not necessarily stairs but over rocks, and at times with hands on rocks for balance. It is a quick ascent, so best to go at a steady comfortable pace to avoid altitude sickness. There are rest huts every 1 kilometer and these serve as good milestones and welcome breaks.
Whilst cold weather gear is required at the summit, take only what you absolutely need for the one night at Laban Rata, a heavy backpack only adds a degree of difficulty. Food, linen and towels are provided at the Laban Rata huts. Only the brave will shower and make full use of those towels; there’s no hot water at the huts!
Laban Rata – Summit
This section of the climb is the most challenging, the altitude is high, the air is of course thin and because it is dark it’s hard to judge the upcoming terrain (even with headlamps). Our group’s consensus was that had we seen the terrain in the daylight, before we climbed, we may have found it easier. There’s something about the dark and the unknown that gets the imagination working overtime to create a little apprehension. Anyone scared of heights you’ll do well to keep that in mind.
The terrain varies a lot over this 2km stretch. The first half of the climb towards Sayat Sayat checkpoint is an uphill walk via stairs, over rocks and boulders, it is still relatively straightforward but steeper than the previous days climbing.
Before the checkpoint there is a section of 200 metres that requires a rope (ropes are already there), here you pull yourself up over the slope. A little hair-raising in the dark but doable even for those us with an aversion to heights! Beyond the checkpoint there is another steeper section of 300 metres that also requires the use of a rope (ropes are already there). After this the terrain flattens out into a bigger wider slope with a steadier and longer incline (looks like a moonscape) before a final push up a steeper section of rock gets you to the summit. We made it to the summit for sunrise, which was spectacular.
The way down from the summit is easier and it’s daylight. In the steeper sections the trick is to work your way down backwards using the ropes.
Laban Rata – Timpohon Gate
The descent presents its own challenges, steep steps again and with a different muscle group, using the handrails and rocks for balance was often needed. A certificate is provided at the National Park Office.
The day we climbed to Laban Rata and on the next morning to the summit the weather was perfect, we were lucky. The morning of the summit climb was mild and it does get warm climbing so layers were removed and put back on again closer to the summit. At the summit it was cold (2 – 3 degrees) but clear and warmed once the sun rose. It did rain as we were half way through the descent from Laban Rata to the park office. This slowed us down a little, it was slippery and careful footing was required.
Walk the Torq and Low’s Peak Via Ferrata
You think it’s too easy? Looking for more adrenaline! Want to spice up your climb? Not a problem. You can register for the Walk the Torq or the Low Peak’s Via Ferrata (“iron road” in Italian) to descend partially the summit and go back to Pendant hut.
The Via Ferrata on Kota Kinabalu mountain is the world’s highest and Asia’s first via ferrata.
You will have the choice of two routes and you may book them with your package or once you arrive to the huts on Day 1. Walk the Torq should take you approximately 2 hours to complete, the Low Peak’s will last approximately 4 hours. There will first be a safety briefing on Day 1 in Pendant hut at around 3PM.
After climbing the summit on Day 2, go to the meeting point for one of your activities
- Walk the Torq meeting point is at Sayat Sayat Hut at 7.15 AM).
- Low Peak’s meeting point is at 7.5Km mark at 6.30 AM. You will be provided with your via ferrata gear and briefed by your guide.
There are a number of bridges, tyrolean traverses, balancing beams on both circuits. The via ferrata has also as highlights some of the world’s highest Nepalese bridge and suspension bridge!
You understood it: this is not for the faint hearted and you must be in good condition to survive either route. Don’t forget that you will still have to go all the way down the mountain after the activity! You can get more information and a feel of the challenge here
Remember…getting to the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory. You’ve been warned.
More info to prepare your trip
- Internet access is available in most restaurants, guesthouses and hotels around Kota Kinabalu but is not available in the park.
- Training: You need a good to medium level of fitness. Stair work, or work on uneven steps would be beneficial.
What to pack for Kota Kinabalu
In addition to your trekking pack
- Newspaper – To stuff into your shoes, in case they get wet on the way up. There’s no heating in the dorms and this will help to dry them out.
- Snacks – Fruit, Bananas, Trail Mix, Energy bars. We had a lunch supplied as part of our tour, but the food wasn’t as ‘nutritious’ as one might expect, or need when climbing a mountain.
If you are going to trek, chances are you will have to carry all your stuff all the way. So you want to be pick all you need but just what you need. Every gram in your bag is a extra weight on your back.
- Short sleeves tops: your main outfit. Everybody will see them on all your pictures. You really want to take that old Mickey Mouse T-shirt?
- Long sleeves tops: to protect yourself from the sun or to enter religious buildings or to protect yourself from mosquitoes in the evening.
- Pullover. Temperatures can be freezing when you climb up volcanoes or mountains. Above 2000 meters, even in the hottest countries, it is usually cold.
- Short/skirt (you should be able to chose the appropriate one by yourself).
- Trousers for the same reasons you need to take long sleeves tops. Jeans are usually not a good option. They are heavy and keep you too warm. They are also not comfortable to walk. Trekking pants are best.
- Underwear: Cotton is good.
- Shoes: take a pair of flip flap on top of your of (good) trekking shoes. Remember that you are going to spend most of the time on your feet. If your shoes are new, make sure you use them before you go for your trek.
- Swimsuit: even if you don’t plan to go to the beach, you never know. A nice river, a swimming pool, a heavy rain? Always have one with you.
- Rain / wind jacket
- Jacket inner fleece or dawn
- Cover for your bag. Even if you are visiting the country during the “best season”, you never know what the sky will be like.
- Torch / lamp: head or pocket lamp with you. It comes handy when walking by night or in a tent.
- Toilet bag: Shampoo, soap, toothbrush & toothpath, deodorant, sun screen, tiger balm, wet tissues, . Ideally, all these in miniature formats.
- Sleeping bag liner
- Warm sleeping pants, jumper and socks if you plan to camp in altitude.
- Your IT stuff: iPad, eBook, laptop, memory card, batteries, etc. Check if you will have power on the way to size the battery you need.
- Camera and its protection.
- Dryer sheets: they will help keep a fresh smell in your bag.
- Your passport, cash, credit cards and other life saving items like your insurance card with emergency contact details.
- Your driver licence if you plan to rent a car or a motorbike (some countries are quite particular about this so take it with you in case you are not sure, even for a motorbike rental).
- Your emergency medical kit: painkillers, mosquitoes repellent, dressing/plaster, disinfectant, anti diarrhea, eyewash, blister tape
- Tissues and toilet paper (you will thank me later). Remember that in a lot of countries, you will not be provided napkins when having a meal.
- Water – plastic bottles are a good option as they are lighter than a gourd/flask.
- Biscuits (always buy some before you go when you are not sure what you will find. Always have “emergency” biscuit and water in case you cannot find food around and need to recharge batteries)
- Sunglasses: you’ll need them. Take them even if it’s raining. Weather can change very fast in the region.
- Scarf (krama, or any kind of fabric that you can use to put around your neck, put on your head to protect it from the sun, cover your shoulders in temples, dry your sweat, etc). Can come very handy in some situation. It will not stay clean for long so it’s wise to pick a dark color…
- Hat protect your head and face from the sun and heat or cold
- Gloves (only if you plan to stay in high altitude or cold weather)
- Trekking poles if you are going for a serious trek. If you don’t have some, ask the guide or porter if they can make some for you out of wood or bamboo.
It’s a good idea to put your key documents and IT equipment in freezer bags (zip-lock bag) to protect them from the rain in case you get drenched. Pack a few plastic bags. They come handy to pack your dirty laundry
You will probably adjust the content of you bag after a few trips. Remove the stuff that you have not used and add the one that you missed. Post a comment to share your tips! Happy packing (it’s the worse part of the trip but it’s worth it…) and travelling!
- Language: Bahasa Malaysia
- Time zone: Kuala Lumpur GMT +8 hours, no time difference between Malaysia and Singapore
- Currency: Malaysian Ringgit (MYR)
- Phone: + 60
- Electricity: 220V 50 Hz
Immigration and airport taxes on arrival
A lot of nationalities are exempt of visa to enter Malaysia. You can check on the Malaysia Immigration website. If you are arriving by:
- By air: On busy weekends, expect to wait for quite a while at the immigration counter
- By land: If you are driving from Singapore remember to have your fuel tank full to 3/4 when crossing the border. Buy a Touch & Go card (to pay for taxes, tolls and fees) and remember to take it with you when going to Malaysia. More details on the card on the Touch and Go website.
National Public Holidays in Malaysia
|Wednesday||January 01||New Years Day||All regions except Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis, Terengganu|
|Tuesday||January 14||Mawlid||Birthday of Prophet Muhammad|
|Tuesday||January 14||Birthday of The Sultan of Negeri Sembilan||Negeri Sembilan only. Always celebrated on 14 January|
|Friday||January 17||Thaipusam||Hindu festival. Kedah, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Johor, Negeri Sembilan, Perak, Penang, Selangor only|
|Sunday||January 19||Sultan of Kedahs Birthday||Kedah only. Always celebrated on 19 January|
|Friday||January 31||Chinese New Year||1st day of 1st lunar month|
|Saturday||February 01||Chinese New Year||2nd day of 1st lunar month|
|Monday||February 03||Federal Territory Day (observed)||Kuala Lumpur, Labuan, Putrajaya only. Anniversary of the formation of the Kuala Lumpur Federal Territory in 1974|
|Tuesday||March 04||Anniversary of Installation of the Sultan of Terengganu||Terengganu only. Always celebrated on 4 March|
|Tuesday||April 15||Declaration of Malacca as a Historical City||Malacca only. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 7 July 2008|
|Friday||April 18||Good Friday||Friday before Easter Sunday. Sabah, Sarawak only|
|Saturday||April 26||Birthday of the Sultan of Terengganu||Terengganu only. Always celebrated on 26 April|
|Thursday||May 01||Labour Day||International Workers Day|
|Wednesday||May 07||The Sultan of Pahang Hol||Pahang only. Marks the death of a state Sultan|
|Sunday||May 11||Mothers Day||2nd Sunday in May. Not a public holiday.|
|Tuesday||May 13||Wesak Day||Birth of Buddha. Observed on the day of the full moon in May|
|Saturday||May 17||Birthday of the Raja of Perlis||Perlis only. Always celebrated on 17 May|
|Tuesday||May 27||Isra and Miraj||Kedah, Perlis and Negeri Sembilan only|
|Thursday||May 29||Public Holiday||Perak only. Mark the passing of the Sultan of Perak|
|Friday||May 30||Harvest Festival||Sabah and Labuan only|
|Saturday||May 31||Harvest Festival||Sabah and Labuan only|
|Sunday||June 01||Harvest Festival||Sarawak only|
|Monday||June 02||Harvest Festival||Sarawak only|
|Saturday||June 07||Birthday of SPB Yang di Pertuan Agong||Kings Birthday. 1st Saturday in June|
|Sunday||June 29||Beginning of Ramadan||Johor, Kedah and Johor, Kedah, Malacca only|
|Monday||July 07||Georgetown Heritage Day||Penang only. Georgetown was given Unesco World Heritage Site status in 2009|
|Saturday||July 12||Birthday of the Governor of Penang||Penang only. 2nd Saturday in July|
|Tuesday||July 15||Nuzul Quran||All regions except Johor, Kedah, Malacca, Sabah, Sarawak|
|Monday||July 28||Hari Raya Aidilfitri||Eid Al-Fitr|
|Tuesday||July 29||Hari Raya Puasa Holiday||Second day of holiday for Eid Al-Fitr|
|Sunday||August 31||National Day||Independence Day|
|Saturday||September 13||Birthday of the Governor of Sarawak||Sarawak only|
|Tuesday||September 16||Malaysia Day||Became a Federal Holiday in 2010|
|Thursday||September 25||State Holiday||Kelantan only. Allow voting in by-election|
|Saturday||October 04||Birthday of the Governor of Sabah||Sabah only. 1st Saturday in October|
|Sunday||October 05||Hari Raya Haji||Festival of Sacrifice|
|Monday||October 06||Hari Raya Haji Holiday||Holiday in lieu. Second day of Festival of Sacrifice|
|Friday||October 10||Malacca Governors Birthday||Malacca only.|
|Wednesday||October 22||Diwali||The festival of lights. Except Labuan, Sarawak|
|Friday||October 24||Birthday of The Sultan of Pahang||Pahang only. Always celebrated on 24 October|
|Saturday||October 25||Awal Muharram||Islamic New Year|
|Sunday||October 26||Awal Muharram (in lieu)||Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu only.|
|Monday||November 03||Public Holiday||Pahang only. Marks football team winning the Malaysia Cup final|
|Tuesday||November 11||Birthday of the Sultan of Kelantan||Kelantan only. Always celebrated on 11 November|
|Wednesday||November 12||Birthday of the Sultan of Kelantan||Kelantan only. Always celebrated on 11 November|
|Saturday||November 22||Birthday of the Sultan of Johor||Johor only. Always celebrated on 22 November|
|Thursday||November 27||Birthday of the Sultan of Perak||Perak only. Always celebrated on 27 November|
|Saturday||November 29||The Sultan of Johor Hol||Johor only. Marks the death of a state Sultan|
|Thursday||December 11||Birthday of The Sultan of Selangor||Selangor only. Always celebrated on 11 December|
|Thursday||December 25||Christmas Holiday||Internationally observed Christian holiday|
* check the exact date as it varies from one year to another. When a public holidays falls on a Sunday, the following day will be Public Holiday. There might be some special public holidays in some states. Please refer to this website.