National Parks

Kinabalu National Park

Kinabalu National Park lies a 2h bus ride from Kota Kinabalu and many people visit the park to climb 4095m Mount Kinabalu, which is possible without any special equipment. The trip requires warm clothes, a guide and bookings for the expensive accommodation near the summit (RM450 pp) though.

Mount Kinabalu, view from park HQ

We didn‘t intend to climb the mountain when we started from KK and thus had neither warm clothes nor bookings. When we arrived there and saw the impressive mountain I considered climbing it and we asked for cancellations but there were none and everything was fully booked so we just followed our original plan and checked out some of the trails around park HQ. It is located at a height of about 1800m and it’s already pretty cold up there (~18°C the day we were there), I even had to wear a pullover in the beginning! For the summit you definitely need a jacket and some people suggested bringing gloves — not my cup of tea anyway. ;)

Tree lizard

We walked through the maze of very short trails around HQ and then took the Liwago Trail (5.5km) to Timpohon Gate where the summit trail starts. On our way back we took the power station road. The trail follows a small river through the rainforest and it has many steep sections where you have to watch your step and concentrate on the path instead of the surrounding forest. Most likely this is why we found very little wildlife. The vegetation was interesting though, it differs from the other National Parks we have been to. There are many ferns and mosses and other plants we hadn‘t seen before.

The spires of Mount Kinabalu

Accommodation at park HQ is managed by a private company and extremely expensive (RM160 for a bed in a dorm, wth!). There is a cheaper option outside the park, on the other side of the road, but we decided to head back to KK in the evening.

Some snake we found on the Liwago Trail

Viewpoint next to the road, close to Timpohon Gate

Me near the end of Liwago Trail

Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park

The 5 small islands that make up Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park can be reached from the jetty in downtown Kota Kinabalu by a 30 minute boat ride, just pick one of the 8(!) somewhat chaotic boat companies and wait for their next boat.

Me at the western tip of Manukan

The 4 smaller islands have good beaches and are are very popular with day trippers from the city, especially on weekends. Most people come to relax on the beach or for some snorkeling. There are showers, changing rooms and basic restaurants on all of them and at least 2 have a small scuba diving base. You can also rent snorkels, masks and fins. While the sand on the beaches is great, the water is very shallow and the ground is a bit rocky which can be annoying, especially at low tide. Sea urchins hide between the corals so watch out. The water is pretty clear and the coral and snorkeling are ok, but many corals are damaged and if you watch people you‘ll know why.

We visited 3 of the islands: Manukan, Manutik and Sapi. Sapi and Manutik are very small and the trails on them are only a few hundred meters long, but still we encountered three water monitor lizards on the trail at Manutik, two of which were about 2m long and really impressive.

juvenile water monitor at the beach, Sapi

Bees and South China Sea, Manukan

We liked Manukan best. This island is larger with good snorkeling at one spot (south of the eastern tip) and deeper water without rocks near the jetty that allows for swimming without worrying about crashing into corals. It also has a good 1.5km jungle trail to a view point at the western tip. Park staff said the trail was closed and we had to take the paved jogging trail to the viewpoint. Accidentally we still took the trail on our way there and I have no idea why it should be closed. It was a good and interesting but very hot trail through spiky palm trees (Sago palms I guess) and we encountered another monitor lizard on it. Watch out for the large bee hive on an overhanging tree about 1km into the trail, it’s in the first spot that allows an open view of the South China Sea, towards the north. On the way back we took the paved jogging trail which was less interesting.

Water monitor in the jungle, Manukan

Gunung Mulu NP, Part 2: The Rainforest

The caves are what makes Gunung Mulu stand out from other National Parks in Borneo, but the rainforest is also pretty good. There are and 3 longer trails which require a guide and will take from 2 to 4 days: the Pinnacles Route to the Gunung Api area, The Headhunter’s Trail towards Limbang and the Summit Trail to 2300m Gunung Mulu. Access to these trails is limited by availability of guides and accommodation, especially at Camp 5 for the Pinnacles and Headhunter’s. We had 5 days at the park and tried to book one of them immediately when we arrived but all were fully booked, so we explored the area around park HQ in detail and did some adventure caving.

Apart from that there are some ok trails around park HQ, most of which branch off the 3km plankwalk that leads to Deer Cave. The first path on the left after leaving park HQ is a small and winding plankwalk through an interesting forest section (there is a sign that reads ‚Nighttrail‘). It meets with the Moonmilk Trail after about 1km and if you walk left at the junction you‘ll come back to park HQ after another 400m, making this a circular path. We took this trail several times, both at day and night with a very bright torch. We found various lizards, geckos, cicadas, stick insects, leaf insects, several tree frogs species, spiders, giant crickets and many other strange insects.


Some insect

molting cicada

My favorite find was Wagler’s Pit Viper though:

A juvenile specimen of Wagler’s Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri)

The Paku Waterfall Trail leads to a small waterfall (surprise!) and it is the only path that is neither a plankwalk nor paved near park HQ. The waterfall is not that exciting so the path is the goal. We took the path twice and the second time it started raining like hell when we were at the waterfall, about 2.5km from HQ. Puddles formed and merged until the path resembled a swamp but we had forgotten to bring the umbrella and where completely soaked anyway so in the end we gave up on trying to avoid the mud and water and just walked straight through. It was fun, the forest was interesting and we met very few people on this trail (not only when it rained) so this ‚Rain trail‘ is highly recommended. ;)

Tree frog

The last trail is the one that passes through Moonmilk cave and onwards to Cave of the Wind and Clearwater cave. It follows the river you cross when entering the park in a straight line of about 2km. We saw tons of lizards, a small brown ground-dwelling snake and many large and very colorful butterflies. Bring a torch for Moonmilk Cave.

Butterflies on the trail to Moonmilk Cave

There also is a bird watching tower close to park HQ (get the key for a deposit at HQ) and you can sign up for a canopy skywalk, which is great and shouldn‘t be missed. We went at 7 in the morning and were alone with our guide. We saw squirrels, small birds and an impressive pit viper, enjoyed the forest in silence and had a great time.

Canopy Skywalk

adult specimen of Wagler’s Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri) resting in the canopy