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written by tom / 26.05.2016 14:25

Amazing Borneo, a.k.a. our two weeks in Malaysia

Our two weeks in Malaysia passed with lighting speed. Our main goal – climbing Mt. Kinabalu was, unfortunately, not achieved. Borneo overall surprised us positively with its green and lush nature, really tropical weather and cool car scene. But keep in mind, Borneo area is more targeted to wealthy travellers willing to splash a buck here and there – For backpackers most of the tours and cool accommodations in rain forests are priced out of this world.

Malaysia detour was pretty unprepared for us, as we didn’t plan anything beside climbing one of the great mountains in South-Est Asia. Due to the Sanctuary monopoly and recent 5.9 magnitude earthquake the prices have climbed astronomical, for 1.5 day hike. It just seems a lot more sensible to hike almost a month in Nepal for about the same amount of cash.

Our headquarters were located in Kota Kinabalu city outskirts, away from the main area, in quiet and peaceful suburbs. Extremely cool place, with large kitchen and 5 bedrooms – although a little dirty when we arrived.

Biggest problem in Kota Kinabalu is transportation or lack of it. Public transportation (for example buses) is almost non existent. Bikes (habal-habal) and trycycles doesn’t exist there. Only option to move around is with Taxi, which is really expensive – Around 30RM or 7euros for 10km ride. Luckily Uber just launched in KK when we left, making driving around the city about 2-3 times cheaper :)

Our first 4-5 days we spent doing research and hunting down a reasonably priced transportation – Oh and of course, finding food – As there aren’t any small corner shops and only huge malls, pretty far away.

Renting car in KK would be the most sensible option (as it rains a lot and they have very well maintained higway infrastructure), but the prices start from 80-90RM or 18-20€ per day and the cheapest cars were all rented out at the time.

Next best option is renting a motorcycle for about half the price of 40RM a day. Getting used to the right hand drive traffic takes little bit time and driving you motorcycle (scooter) at highway speed is between fast passing cars is also pretty taunting experience.

Food – check, transportation – check, research – check, off we go :) There aren’t any super cool looking white sand beaches in Kota Kinabalu, but there is one decent beach behind the airport, with absolutely nobody using it (as locals are afraid of sun – or how else could you describe their complete avoidance of sun).

Tajung aru beach is a really long strip of sandy beach with 5 start resort at one end and airport at the other end. If you look to spend a day in the 5 start resort, zipping margaritas, swimming in the pool and hanging at the private beach, it would set you off a whopping 150RM (33€) + margaritas.

Around the town there is a lot to do and look. Ofcourse you can spend your days in the huge malls, because there is aircon and a lot of food courts, but don’t waste your whole time and money there! You should visit Masjid Bandaraya mosque, also known as the floating mosque.

Also go and look over the town from Signal Hill Observatory Tower, if you are lucky enough, you could see a nice sunset from there – for us, all the sunsets were hidden behind clouds. Walk around the bay are and visit local handicraft aka Filipino market.

If you have transportation and time to go further, there are few day trips you should do. One of them is to visit Kokol Hill, which is about 25km from the city center. Getting there you go by scenic mountain routes, climbing higher and higher by every meter. Kokol Hill is roughly 800m from sea leavel and being close to the Kota Kinabalu town, you will have epic view all over the valley.

Be aware, temperatures at the top are a lot more chilling than in city and there is a high change of rain, as the clouds might appear quickly from nowhere. Temperature there is around 24C at day time, so a lot more cooling then 36C in town. The best view to see is from Kokol Heaven resort, but you have to have at least 15RM worth of drinks per person to hang around their fancy deck.

Last but not least, take a whole day to visit Mt. Kinabalu park. Mt. Kinabalu is about 90km (2-3hours ride) from city center and you should start moving as early as possible – When the sun rises or possibly even before – just because if you want to see the whole mountain, it is possibly only in the morning.

Also go and look over the town from Signal Hill Observatory Tower, if you are lucky enough, you could see a nice sunset from there – for us, all the sunsets were hidden behind clouds. Walk around the bay are and visit local handicraft aka Filipino market.

Usually around 10-11 pm clouds start to build up quickly and the whole mountain will disappear into fog. Even if you can’t climb the mountain, there are several kilometers of tracks to hike around the park, with cool temperature, high humidity, possible rain and beautiful nature. Take your time and hike as much as you can – we did about 4-5km forest tracks, with a lot of steps.

We got a little bit lazy and saw dark clouds coming up, so we decided to hike back down, take motorcycle and drive up to the Timpohon gate – the starting point of Mt. Kinabalu climb. We made a mistake, not going there first, as the mountain and even Timpohon gate was in thick mist, making visibility near to zero.

I was really sad, that I couldn’t climb the mountain and seeing people in the morning starting their hike and few of them exiting Timphoon gate after the descent , didn’t made it easier – But there are a lot cheaper options around at our next destinations.

Malaysia is not the most desired destination for backpackers, but I would definitely go back there. It is close to Philippines, but really different in culture, people, nature and wildlife. And if you look around, you will find cheap options to see the beauty of Borneo, without breaking your bank account.