Mount Kinabalu, Sabah

Mount Kinabalu is 4,095 metre tall mountain in Sabah State on the island of Borneo in East Malaysia. This peak, the highest in Malaysia, is located within a national park, which contains an extraordinary range of plants, trees, insects and animals, and is a popular destination for hikers.

About Mount Kinabalu

Hiking up Mount Kinabalu is a relatively expensive activity. The walk up and down is generally done other two days, although when the local authorities permit it again, fitter visitors can complete the trek in one long day. Either way the whole experience will set non-Malaysian visitors back the equivalent of  $400 to $900 USD (1,600 to 3,800 MYR depending on the exchange rate). The reason it’s so expensive is threefold:

  • The use of a certified guide is compulsory, and its limited to 1 guide for 5 people.
  • You need a permit, and currently only 120 of these a day are issued by the Sabah Park Authority, although pre-covid the number reached a high point of 185 people per day.
  • If you stay overnight you have to stay in a mountain lodge and these are expensive, particularly if you want a private room as opposed to staying in a dormitory. The food and drink is also relatively expensive. As in many lodges in Nepal, the food and drink needs to be brought to lodge by porter, although the premium you pay on account of that is much higher than at lodges in Nepal where the walk the porters do is often much longer.

The cheapest way to trek up up Mount Kinabalu is to book the component parts (permit, guide, transport and lodgings) of the trip independently. For more guidance on this we suggest that you refer to the account on the Stingy Nomads website. The issue, however, with trying to book everything yourself, more than the time involved and the lack of responsiveness from the organisations you need to contact, is the rationing of permits. The larger trekking companies are better at securing permits, which often sell out months in advance. During the dry season, March to May, don’t expect simply to be able to turn up and trek because most there is a good chance all the permits will be gone.

Mount Kinabalu in Sabah
Mount Kinabalu in Sabah

Here is brief guide to the practicalities trekking up Mount Kinabalu:

  • Transport: The first step in trekking up Mount Kinabalu is to get to the nearby major city of Kota Kinabalu. Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia fly from Kuala Lumpur direct to Kota Kinabalu. The flight time is 2 hours 30 minutes. From Kota Kinabalu you can travel by bus or taxi to Timpohon Gate, which is the starting point for the trek. If you book an organised trek they will pick you up from a hotel in Kota Kinabalu and take you there, as well as providing you with a pack lunch.
  • Day 1: You walk 3 to 5 hours, ascending 1,400 metres, to Laban Rata. The walk involves climbing around 400 flights of stairs, which is hard work and you need to being doing some fitness training every week for a few months before you go to stop this part of the walk being a battle of endurance. There is a guest house at Laban Rata, with a restaurant and basic facilities for around 80 people, where you stay at night. Most visitors opt for an early night as you get up very early the next morning.
  • Day 2: You will start walk at 02:00 to 03:00 before first light. The walk up to the peak (called Low’s Peak) takes 3 to 4 hours. The use of a head torch is advisable for the first part of the walk. Once you have made it to the top of the mountain, its then a 5 to 6 hours walk back to Timpohon Gate where the road begins. The walk down is tiring, and this the part of the trek that most people find the most physically demanding part of the adventure.

Location of Mount Kinabalu

  • Timpohon Gate, which is the entrance to Mount Kinabalu is located 97.2 km by road from Kota Kinabalu City.

Google Map of Mount Kinabalu

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