Kinabalu Park is a perfect place for nature lovers. Concluding what to do in Kinabalu Park, I have to admit, it’s not just for the hiking enthusiasts. Even if you are only looking for a place with a stunning view to relax and be close to nature, you will have a great time in Kinabalu National Park. Apart from the hiking trails, there are waterfalls and hot spring as well as tea plantation with a beautiful view over Mount Kinabalu and the valley. Those who don’t plan hiking the Mount Kinabalu but like trekking, will find a range of trails to choose.
The climate around Mount Kinabalu is much cooler then anywhere else on Malaysian Borneo, so people come here from Kota Kinabalu or other big cities, to escape from the heat. In the morning, usually the clouds rise up, and you can see the majestic Mount Kinabalu. I had a great time discovering the sites around, sipping local tea in the chilly evenings and waking up for the sunrise view.
What to do in Kinabalu Park?
Mount Kinabalu standing majestically at 4,095m (13,435 feet above sea level), as the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea. Lots of hikers from all around the world come to conquer it. However, its height is not the only factor which makes Mount Kinabalu not accessible for everyone. There is a limit of 135 people per day who can access the path as well as the high price around 200 € for the hike to the top. Myself, like many other travelers decided to skip hiking Mount Kinabalu. I am gonna advice you, what to do in Kinabalu Park instead, and how you can enjoy the place.
It may seem, that Kinabalu National Park is only for those who love to hike, but that’s surely not true. Apart from the hiking trails there are waterfalls and hot spring as well as tea plantation with a stunning view over Mount Kinabalu and the valley. As the attitude is higher, exotic rainforest replaces different fauna and flora. I hope this guide on what to do in Kinabalu Park will help you find the right activities for yourself.
Hiking in Kinabalu Park
First of all, there are numerous hiking trails which you can take in Kinabalu Park without hiking the Mount Kinabalu. Depending of the time you want to spend hiking and how challenging is the hike, there are few different paths in Kinabalu Park.
Silau Silau Trail
One of the most popular trails in Kinabalu Park. Spanning over 3 kilometers and takes around one hour. The difficulty level is “easy” as the terrain is flat and you have plenty of entry and exit points to go back or switch to another trail. The path is along the stream, so you can adore the sound of the water as well as greenery of mosses and orchids. From Silau Silau Trail, you can join Kiau View Trail (1.5 km mark on Power Station Road) to complete a small lap.
Kiau View Trail
This trail will take you up to several view points. Kiau View Trail is almost 2,5 km long and it’s medium level. It can take from 60 to 90 minutes depending on how fit you are or how many selfies you make. Long time ago, trekking to the peak of Mount Kinabalu used this trail, as it was beginning in Kiau village.
Very short trail because only 600 metres but the path is quite steep, so you will get a chance to get tired. It takes around 45 minutes to accomplish. On the junction, it joins the Kiau View Trail.
Bundu Tuhan View Trail
Very short trail with less than 500 m. to see the spectacular view of Bundu Tuhan Village. This trekking trail takes around 30 minutes and is close to the Kinabalu National Park reception office, making it one of the most popular trekking trails. From there, you have two options: joining the Ligawu Trail or returning to the Kinabalu National Park reception office.
Liwagu Trail is the longest trekking trail around Kinabalu National Park. It’s over 5 km long and will take 2-2,5 hours to accomplish. The trail goes along the small river crossing several streams and narrow ridges.
Bukit Ular Trail
Not many tourists choose Bukit Ular trail. It’s around 1 km long and takes 60 minutes. However, those who like bird watching may encounter some rare species on the path, such as Everett’s Thrush and Blue banded Pitta, both are endemic to Borneo Island. From Bukit Ular Trail, you can join the Mempening Trail to reach the park headquarters.
Mempening means “oak” in Malay as you can see plenty of oaks on this trail. It’s over 3 km long and takes around 2 hours. The path is relatively easy, and there is just a little climbing unless you choose to take detour to visit Bukit Tupai or Bukit Burung. Alternatively, you can join the Silau Silau Trail or Liwagu Trail / Bundu Tuhan View Trail.
Bukit Tupai and Bukit Burung Trails
Quite short trails to climb up the hill as “bukit” means “hill” in Malay. Both will take around 90 minutes to accomplish and combined are approximately 1,5 km long. Birds sounds breaking the silence as hills are great opportunity for birds watching. Hikers have the option of joining the Mempening Trail or Silau Silau trail.
Mountain View Trail
A short 15 minutes trail to reach the view point. Good weather condition will guarantee a spectacular view of the Mount Kinabalu and the surrounding Borneo rainforest as well as the Kandamaian Borneo Waterfall.
Pooring Spring & Waterfalls
Wondering what to do in Kinabalu Park, if you don’t hike? Relax at the pool or hot water tube! The hot spring is on the other side of Ranau city, where you will have to drive around one hour from Mount Kinabalu Park reception. In the Pooring Spring recreation park there is a hot spring but the water is extremely hot so to enjoy it, you need to mix it with cold water. There are several sink holes with hot and cold taps, where people pour fresh water and have a private bath. Morever, there is one bath tube for many people with a hot water and one swimming pool with cold water. Pooring Spring Park is popular for locals, so especially on weekends, you will see plenty of them having a bath and picnic there. There are showers and toilets as well and few picnic spots.
Continue walking passing the pooring spring and you will reach another attraction of the park such as Canopy Walk and botanical Garden. The trail continues to the Kipungit Waterfall with a chill water to dip in and natural massage under the fall. It takes around 20 minutes to reach waterfall from the hot spring.
If you are up for walking more, you will see a Bat Cave walking 20 min walk farther. Under unique rock formation there is a cave with hundreds of bats sleeping. You can gaze down to see them, but try to be quiet and don’t disturb the bats. The path continuous to the Langanan Waterfall, which is 2 more hours hike in the forest. The waterfall is as high as 120 m. Be aware, however that you can start trekking max until 1 pm, as you will need few hours to be back before the sunset.
Sabah Tea Plantation
As you probably know I am a huge fan of tea and visit tea fields whenever I have a chance. I already tasted the tea from Cameroon Highlands in Western Malaysia and was amazed about the lush greenery of the place. Malaysian tea is in every single restaurant, and locals enjoy it with milk, the drink is called teh tarik. First time I tried Sabah tea in several tea houses in Penang I visited in Western Malaysia. Adding to this experience, I couldn’t skip the Sabah tea plantation near Ranau. Apparently, it’s the only organic tea in Malaysia and one of the few still organic in the world. Sabah Tea proudly announces their harvests is 100% pesticide free as insects prefer staying in the rainforest surrounding the plantation.
The view from the plantation is charming, and it’s possible to walk around the fields free of charge. Coming early in the morning, you may be lucky to see the Mount Kinabalu at its full glance. There is restaurant where you can sip a tea with the view or have a meal. I saw that there are some guided tours to enter the factory and see the tea production, but I just had a glimpse through the windows and walked around the green fields.
Ranau is the biggest town near Kinabalu National Park, but in fact it’s very tiny. Wondering if there is something interesting to see, the answer is: no. However, you can stop for shopping or eating as the choice will be much various then in the area. There is a little afternoon market in the center, with fruits and veggies but also some local snacks and delicacies to try.
Rafflesia watching – not recommending
Checking what to do in Kinabalu Park, you will probably come across Rafflesia flower watching. I am sure you have heard about the biggest fower in the world. Rafflesia can get up to 100 cm and blooms only for one day, which makes it very difficult to see. Locals near Kinabalu Park found a perfect idea for a business. They planted a farm of Rafflesia flowers, so whenever you come, there is a big chance that some of them are in bloom. For me, it’s cheating. As I am trying to improve as responsible traveler, prefer to see wild animals then captured in the zoo and wild flowers, so I avoid this kind of places.
Fish SPA is in Ranau area, a bit farther then Sabah Tea plantation. Always when I tried fish SPA, in Thailand or Philippines, there were just those tiny little fish pinching my feet to eat the dead skin. The fish SPA in Ranau, though, is a bit different as the fish are huge! The experience it’s both fun and massage.
How to get to Kinabalu Park?
It’s easy to get to Kinabalu Park because there is one main road going from Kota Kinabalu towards the east. It’s pretty close, but because of the mountain area, it may take 3 hours from Kota Kinabalu to get there. I was hitch-hiking and it was very easy, but also public buses heading from Kota Kinabalu towards Sandakan or Semporna, can drop you there.
Certain attractions, like Sabah Tea Plantation or Ranau, are just next to the main road. However, for the others you will have to go a bit remote, where not many vehicles go, therefore hitch-hiking may be tough. Moving from place to another hitch-hiking will be easy during the weekend. Kinabalu Park gets full on weekend due to the local tourists. If you are not a big fan of hitch – hiking, you may want to rent a car to travel from place to another easily.
Staying in a Hobbit House in Kundasang
Not to mention the accommodation I was staying, as it was one of the cutest ever! Humble Hobbit House stands on the steep hill with a perfect view on the Mount Kinabalu. Just 9 km from Ranau city, you will see colorful houses of B- Inspired Abode. There are few accommodations to choose: few colorful huts with a simple mattress and shared bathroom, king room with huge bed and bathroom inside and a Hobbit House. All have one common outside kitchen with the view equipped with all necessities to cook and serve food. At night the temperature outside can drop below 20 degrees Celcious, so be sure to bring some jacket with you as it feels really cold.Hobbit House was the absolute hit and it stole my heart from the moment I entered through the round wooden door. It’s just so adorable! Even though it may look tiny from the outside, Hobbit House is quite spacious. Inside, has one double bed, and two single beds so 4 people can fit in. There is a bathroom with a hot shower, cattle and rice cooker.
The best undoubtedly is the stunning view which you can adore just laying down on your bed! I just didn’t want to get out of this cute hut! The window allows watching the Mount Kinabalu at its full grace but also stars at night. It was beautiful! Mount Kinabalu is usually under the clouds during the afternoon. Therefore, I have woken up for sunrise to see the light coming on the mountain which was spectacular every day.
Planning to visit Kota Kinabalu? Check the balmy islands which I visited – Pulau Tiga with the volcanic mud bathing and Pulau Mengalum with the paradise beach views and perfect snorkeling opportunities. After visiting Kinabalu Park I am heading towards the east of Sabah to see the wildlife left on Borneo Island. Stay tunned!