Category Archives: Travel 101

Travel 101 – Going to Kinabalu

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Going to Sabah, one can’t help wondering at the possibility of climbing the top of Malaysia. I learned during my travel that it was not the top of South-East Asia, as we all seem to believe it here… Some wrong teaching in Malaysian highschools? :) However, Kinabalu remains a pretty mighty monster to conquer.

If the price (and the difficulties ahead) hasn’t deterred you yet, you are faced with a choice: going as an independent, or going with an agency / travel group. It all depends on your own preferences, but I do tend to avoid big groups and mass tourism, so being solo is my thing. And off I was, googling my way in search of information. How do I get to the bottom of that mountain?

Curiously enough, there was close to no information. Talk about frustration! There you are, knowing you need to start climbing on a Monday morning around 9am, at some place 2 hours away from Kota Kinabalu, and you have no idea of how or when to go there.

You will find a lot of information on the climb itself on those two websites and I’ll let them do their part on this:

* Mount Kinabalu Borneo

* Climbing Mt Kinabalu

But when you check the “Getting Here” tabs, all you discover are the ways to go to Kota Kinabalu by plane.

Oh really?

I had to go to KK first? I hadn’t noticed this point at all… But after that, the last 90km?

Let me tell you about this :)


Where do you need to bring yourself:

At the HQ of Kinabalu Park, situated a short flight of stairs from the main road between Ranau and KK. This is pretty convenient, as you don’t need to take some secondary road: you are straight at the entrance of the park. From there, you’ll get your meal vouchers, guide, etc. and only then take a shuttle (frequent one) to the beginning of the trail.

There is a parking lot & a restaurant on the side of the road, opposite the stairs to the HQ, so you can get breakfast over there before heading to the mountain :)

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When do you need to bring yourself there:

3 options of which, obviously, I have tested only one :)

* Sleep in KK and take an early morning bus for the 2 hours journey

* Sleep in Ranau and get a bit-less-early bus for the 30min journey (my friend actually drove me – I have awesome friends)

* Sleep in one the lodges on the side of the road within a few kilometers of the HQ. Either they are walking distance, or they have a shuttle to drop you. Check with them by phone before booking. A list can be found on the 2nd of the link above, but there are other choices.

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How to get there:

From KK : Buses leave from KK to Ranau at 7am apparently, but I couldn’t get confirmation. Anyone who got confirmation of this, please leave a comment so that I can edit this post :) If that’s true, you would thus arrive at 9am – 9.30am, in time to start the hike. Going to the Inanam station before 7am could be tricky though, and you’ll probably need to get a taxi.

From Ranau : the day before the hike, get a bus from KK in the afternoon. They leave around 2pm and then 6pm, 7pm, 7.30pm and 8pm if I’m not mistaken (night buses going all the way to Semporna probably). It takes 2 hours and a half to get to Ranau. If you want to stop at a lodge on the way, you need to ask the driver, and probably to keep an eye on the road as well. In the morning, go to the Ranau bus stop a bit before 7am to hitch-hike one of the local buses. I couldn’t get any timetable, so you need to plan some extra time to make sure you arrive early enough at the HQ.

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How to get back to Kota Kinabalu:

Tricky part. You can’t book a bus from a bus station so you have only two choices.

* Talk to a tour driver in one of the mini-vans and see if they have a spare seat that you can buy. I don’t have any idea of the price of those, and how flexible they are.

* Go to the side of the road near the restaurant and flag any big buses coming your way. Chances are, they have dropped one or two passengers along the way and will have a seat available. It can take a bit of time, which is tough when you have already been awake for so long. As an indication, I waited 30 min, and the 3rd bus to pass took me, at 1pm. It costs 15rm.

A third option, but not one you want to consider, is to take one of the mini-van taxis, which costs 150rm.


A few more tricks:

* You can buy a walking stick for 3rm at the headquarters. Get one. For 3rm, it will save your knees during the descent!

* You can rent a sleeping bag (20rm) at Laban Rata but they are in limited supply. You also have a blanket in the room, but it can get REALLY cold!

* A towel is provided, don’t bring yours, it is a waste of place & weight.

* You can rent a jacket, for 20rm also, and I highly, highly advise it. It went down to -10┬░ with the wind factor, and the extra layer was a blessing.

* If you don’t have gloves, bring another pair of socks. I’m not jocking :) Better be ridiculous than being cold to the point of being oblivious to anything around you.


On the way to the top, first day. Still easy, but you know what’s in store for you! :)

Don’t trip, take your pace and pick your steps

Views on the ricks from Laban Rata. They are just so powerful…

Waiting for the sunrise, 6am, at Low’s Peak

On the way down the mountain, 6.30am

Don’t lose the lifeline

Sea of clouds :)

Travel 101 – Semporna

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How I got there:

By plane. Air Asia & MAS have flights directly to Tawau on the south coast of Sabah. Internet will tell you there are 2 options from there. One is to take a taxi to Semporna (95rm) or to take a van to Tawau and then a bus to Semporna (10 + 10rm?). The most cost-effective is actually to just walk out the airport gate. Drivers from resort shuttles usually try to make pocket money by taking unofficial passengers in the then-empty resort shuttle. Tawau Airport – Semporna: 30rm, about one hour, private van for myself alone.

Leaving to KK on a 75rm – 8 hours bus ride. Lots of turns and curves, and lots of palm trees to be seen… The bus station is easy to find and is located just behind the Maybank building (look first for the mosque if you can’t find Maybank). A few minutes from the market.


Where I stayed in Semporna:

Scuba Junkie is ideally located halfway between the market / bus station / restaurants and the jetty I used. Dorm costs 40rm for non-divers, 20rm for divers. The place is typical of any backpackers place, with free wifi & breakfast. Showers could be improved, as everywhere. Dorm was pretty quiet, a nice bonus :)

I have heard good reviews for the diving equipment & divemasters, so I’ll probably choose them when I come back. To note: they have permits for Sipadan (now strictly controlled).


What to do in Semporna:

Any reviews I read before arriving talked of the same basics: poor, dirty, filthy and boring. Wow, what a prospect!

My own review: a typical small town on the fringe of Sabah. This does include poor people, who I believe are Bajau Laut. A few kids running barefoot and sometimes asking for money but who drop the matter and start happily chatting with you if you say no. “Trying never harms”… As for the dirty side, well, it could be better but, then, you are not here to judge sternly on people’s way of life. Are you?

The market area is really lively and most people smile at you as soon as you look at them. Semporna actually now ranks one of the top position in my list of friendliest cities. You can virtually strike up a conversation with anyone. And if you don’t speak BM, you will still get your weekly dose of smiles.

Behind the mosque and farther away, you’ll find a village built on stilts. I believe they are Bajau Laut people, please correct me if you know otherwise. A simple “Uncle, boleh jalan-jalan ke?” will be greeted with a smile and a sign to keep on. You’ll find markets standing above the water, kids eager to talk to you, adults waving at you. Not many tourists dare going on the planks. Be one of them!

Entrance to a neighborhood

The Bajau Laut used to live on house-boats but they resettled on the “land” pretty recently, with houses on stilts & whole villages standing above the water. ┬áTheir lives still revolve around the sea, be it fishing, shells collecting, etc.

A marketplace above the waters

Kids will always gather, smile and play. Don’t be a voyeur, but don’t shy away from interactions. Anytime, anywhere.


Which resort:

I stayed at Singamata House Reef Resort. They offer the PADI + 2-night accommodation for 900rm, one of the cheapest around the area. What’s more, the instructor (Ryan) was very knowledgeable, made us repeat skills multiple times to check we were comfortable with them (at different depths), took every thing at heart. He was a good example of “doing things seriously without taking himself seriously”. I would recommend him any time. His French girlfriend, Alexia, was also a good instructor.

The diving equipement was good. I had a tiny leak on the inflator, but nothing major (I used only 110 bar when my buddy would use 160 anyway), and everything else worked perfectly. All safety procedures were respected as far as I’m aware.

Rooms were basic but clean. Showers could have been improved easily, that’s the only downside of an otherwise lovely resort. The food was really good, and included in the price. Plenty of tables, seats and deckchairs in all corners; colorful fish swimming all around and an enclosed seawater aquarium where you can go snorkeling for an up-close look.

Here is the website for more information: Singamata Adventures and Reef Resort

View of the resort (restaurant & reception of the left)

View on the resort from the restaurant, 8pm. Sun sets really early on this part of Malaysia


Resorts offering permits for Sipadan:

While getting 3-dive days in Mabul is easy, Sipadan is now restricted to visitors and you need to get hold of one of the 120 daily permits awarded. You can either stay at one of the resorts offering some, or choose to dive with them but stay elsewhere. Options are yours, it all depends on your budget.

The list of resorts offering Sipadan permits can be found on this page. You’ll just have to do a bit of research on the price of the dive package and on the reviews (be cautious as some are known to have equipment in poor state)

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