Saturday, June 30, 2007

Mount Kinabalu

The next few days after Hedge’s departure I spend hanging out in KL with Lily, contemplating the dual-life in Malaysia. I’m in a 5* hotel, eating in restaurants with prices comparable to the UK, whilst every day wandering past the KL Sentral station food court, where one can eat roti canai for one ringgit (15p). It’s almost embarrassing. In the Golden Triangle you can drink beer at expensive bars like The Beach Club, with mamak stalls just round the corner, where all the security guards from the aforementioned places eat meals for a ringgit or two, as do police and all over people from across the social strata in Malaysia. Frank Zappa’s definition of a country is that you need a national airline and a beer. Malaysia has an airline.

Once again I visit the Islamic Arts Museum, this time spending longer on the permanent collection.

At the Islamic Arts Museum

We visit the Butterfly (Rama Rama) Park, a hot and very humid garden filled with butterflies and tasty sticky morsels for them to tuck into. Too hot for me!

Big things

There’s a museum afterwards with collections of insects and bugs, some of whom are rather nasty.

Former beauties


Pretty blues

Pretty much the only place one ends up in KL is the KLCC shopping centre, with a mixture of expensive shops like Gucci and Anya Hindmarsh – with their “Not a Plastic Bag” bag that Lily takes a fancy to.


Icy drinks

Finally it’s time to head to Kota Kinabalu, in Sabah, a state in East Malaysia, and the nearest city to Kinabalu Airport. I hadn’t realised how long the airport bus takes, and I’ve cut it fairly fine. Then it leaves late. Gulp. I dash in to check in, get to the counter, and they say it’s closed. It’s 45 minutes before the flight. They say it’s 44. It is by the time we’ve argued. They say no check-in, but they can offer me a ticket on the next flight, for an additional 350r. I had a wasted flight yesterday which they would not let me change because of the 2 days / 48 hours distinction.

Balls to AirAsia, I head over to KLIA and fly MAS (Malaysian Air) for an extra 50%. I don’t care, I’m damned if I’m giving them an extra penny. At least now I’m in a decent airport flying a decent airline with a sensible luggage limit. My flight is uneventful, but I do seem to have a very uncomfortable seat for the two hours. I am now arriving very late, and it would seem that the airport pickup I arranged with my hostel, Summer Lodge, didn’t get my message about missing the flight. Ooops. This is a shame, especially as they’re such a friendly bunch.

The waterfront

So, I’ve come here without anything booked, with ominous warnings about needing to book accommodation well in advance. In fact the only reason I’ve shown up is because of an English couple I met in Redang, who apparently just turned up and managed to organise it. So I head to the Sutera Sanctuary Lodge office in the morning. They have an apparently monopoly on mountain lodges, and you’re not allowed to climb without a place booked. They also have a broken website and an email address that bounces emails. It’s not like New Zealand, that’s for sure. Anyway, they say they have availability in 3 days, on the 24th. Okay! I’m booked in for an unheated hut stay, and a return bus ticket, with the rest (guide etc) done at Park HQ. Hurrah, we’re going!

Sorting out the mountain huts

KK is such a boring place to hang out. I had wanted to go to Sepadang Island on the other side of Borneo, but the general consensus is that it’s a four day trip, and I don’t have that long. One can dive in the area, but it’s not so good, and anyway I’ll hopefully have ample opportunity in Thailand. So I spend my days pottering, or staying in my room getting blog up to date on Summer’s free wifi. For food I wander round the corner to the Malay Maimouna Restoran:

Spicy squid and other stuff

Or the Indian restaurant, as Mamaks are called in Sabah, for my beloved roti canai and other goodies.


Mee Goreng

Roti canai

One day I stoop to the Pizza Hut below Summer Lodge, and as usual it’s something I regret, as I get a “personal pizza” which is like a loaf of bread with a chaotic selection of ingredients on top. Why did I go there, I hate Pizza Hut! In the evening there are a few nightclub spots, which I’m generally too lazy to try, despite my sleeping patterns getting erratic. One evening I visit the club formerly known (last time I was here) as Beach Club, now called Bed. It’s quite a happening place, but despite all the beauties about I somehow get trapped drinking beers with a rather tedious local chap. Good CraftBeerRadio comment on one of their Belgium Beer episodes, specifically on why monks make beer. Of course they’re celibate so they better have some other good things in life! True!

Tomorrow.. Kinabalu Mountain!

Kinabalu Trek Report

The day starts early, with breakfast in the hostel, then a bus from outside office of Sutera Sanctuary Lodge offices, who have a monopoly on accommodation on the mountain. At least the bus has air-con and is clean.

Waiting for the bus, I meet two English girls, Sarah and Sophie. I worry they're not prepared, in flip flops and skimpy clothes, but they assure me they have more clothes in their small bags.


As the bus makes the two hour drive to the park, the heavens open, rather ominous but the downpour is over by the time we arrive at Park HQ.

Kinabalu Park HQ

We register in an office full of very pretty girls – who is the recruitment manager here?! I pay the various fees, then meet my guide, Dominic, a small chap who speaks reasonable English. The girls are delayed because they don’t have their passports to hand.

The plan

Park Fees
So how much does it cost to do this climb?

Shuttle Bus: 40r each way. My suggestion is that you don't buy a return ticket, as you may find alternatives, like sharing a taxi back.

Climbing permit: 100r

The pass

Insurance: 7r

Bus for short drive to Timpohon Gate: 30r!! What a rip off! Try hitching.

Guide: 70r

World Heritage Conservation Fee: 15r

Gunting Lagadan Hut Dorm Bed: 46r

Other costs:
Food in evening 25r
Breakfast buffet 28r

Tip for guide: 20r

So total cost: 421r, or about 65 pounds.

The start
We head off in a bus to Timpohon Gate, at 1866m. A board lists the current holders of the marathon record. Yes, people run up this mountain. For fun.


Here we register, walk through an iron gate and start.

On your marks, get set..

Just before this, a guy asks me if I'm actually climbing. Yes. Can he take my photo? Stardom beckons!

Immediately the path dips, which is disheartening given that in a few hours we're supposed to ascend to the summit at 4095.2m, another 2229m or so!

The trail

The trail drops to pass Carsons Fall before rising almost without break until the summit!

Dominic, my guide

The trail is a mess. Slipping is a risk but not desirable.


Irritatingly whenever one asks any of the guides about distances, all they can quote is the horizontal distance. How far to the peak? 3km. That's of no consequence whatsoever, how far are we ascending? To the top. Thanks for that!

Up and up..

Every km or so there is a small shelter with planks raised up for seats.

Periodic shelters

At Ubah shelter I talk to some South Africans who are coming down. They warn that the going gets hard past Laban Rata, where I will stay, with ropes employed so one can scale bare rock face. Apparently though, it's the coming down (in the light) which is scary, when you can see what you’re doing!

We pass some telecom towers on the way up, and indeed I have mobile reception all the way to the top. Dominic also points out venus fly trap plants sitting at the edge of the trail.


By now the girls have caught us up, dammit ! So we walk together. It starts to rain. On and off at first, then when we are at our final hut before Laban Rata where we will spend the night, the heavens open, it pours, really pours down.

Glum faces in the rain

Torrential rain, and though we wait, it doesn't let up. We start walking. Like an idiot I don't put my gators on. Rivers start to flow down paths and my boots slowly fill up with water.

Laban Rata at last
We arrive wet and cold at Laban Rata, at 3273m. Into the restaurant, the only one on the mountain, where everyone is congregating. They have buffet and a la carte food, some postcards and other bits and bobs. It also serves as the “front desk” for all the accommodation, so we get our keys here. I have a beer for 20r!

Discussing past horrors

We debate what we'll do if it's chucking it down the next morning. Debate not concluded. We also discuss whether the view probably as good from where we're staying :)

Beer – 20r

Other happy lodge stayers

After our meal, it’s getting on for 6 - bedtime! We’re sleeping at Gunting Lagadan (Or Gunther Ramadan as I nickname it) at 3324m. So a 50m climb after dinner, including pulling ourselves up ropes!

The path to bed

Made it at last

It’s bloomin’ cold, the girls go for showers (hot but no towel for afterwards), I head straight into bed with my sleeping bag line and the two blankets that are there. It’s four to a room, I'm top bunk. Two Malaysian chaps below, and we are expecting a Korean chap who never appears.

I wonder if room service have 8 types of pillow available

Despite the breeze from the window I end up toasty warm :)

Nocturnal visitors on the window

With the high altitude and low oxygen, it’s strange dreams all round. Sarah dreams that she had HK Chinese people in her bed. Can’t remember mine, but I only experienced them because I had my trusty earplugs with me.

If only this were obeyed

The Malaysians were up for whatever reason at 00:45am. Lights on, chatting and generally making noise. They didn’t leave until 2am. Was it really necessary to get up that early? And to think that they were complaining about Koreans making noise!

I get up for our agreed 3am departure time. The girls aren’t anywhere to be seen. I wonder if they’ve gone already, but when their guide Umi bangs on their door, it turns out that they’re still sleeping! They were at the end of the corridor, away from the noise.

Head for the summit
So we leave at about 3:20am. The trail starts right next our lodge, and we have a head-start over those sleeping lower down. The trail is a mix of wooden and stone staircases, ropes up rocks, and muddy and rocky trails. Everything’s extremely wet.

Follow the backside in front

I soon step in water, and my boots soak it up and wet my dry pair of walking socks. Great.

Only Dominic and I actually have torches! I try to illuminate the way a bit with my head-torch, still on its original batteries (I've been carrying around spare for the past couple of years!)

It still seems like the lights of other people’s torches are so high up above us!

Lights crawl up the mountain

Further up, we have to register at Sayat-Sayat hut before going any higher. To make sure we get off mountain safely presumably. An English girl died several years ago, when she wandered off the peak the wrong way in fog, then suffered from exposure.

Follow he who knows..

It’s really steep at times, but the girls as usual set a phenomenal pace, and we overtake lots of people.

The mountain takes the form of almost a plateau at the top of the mountain, with various peaks around the edge. There is the South Peak on the left at 3922m silhouetted, Donkey's Ear Peak on the right, with Ugly Sisters Peak, King Edward's Peak and Tunku Abdul Rahman (Malaysia's 1st Prime Minister) Peak.

Beautiful blues

Dawn over Kota Kinabalu below

Finally the main peak comes into view. It’s lighting up by now, so off with the head-torch. We scrabble up the final rocks as the clouds turn a beautiful yellow with the sun coming up.

Low Peak – The Summit of Kinabalu
The actual point peak is bit of a scrum. This is Low Peak (slightly ironic name for the highest part of the mountain). It’s pretty nippy up here! It's also fairly high for effectively a day ascent - in Nepal we'd spend a few days coming up to this sort of height. Lots of people are suffering from headaches, and a fair few give up before the summit.

The peak

Girls decide it’s time to don gloves

Gorgeous sunrise

Looking East

We start heading down, at pace. The girls zoom off below us and we only catch them at breakfast.

Heading down

The sun


South Peak

Looking back to the gaggle still up there

The donkey’s ears

Long way down


Rocks upon rocks

Then steps


Breakfast is marvellous – a buffet of toast, eggs, beans, sausages, coffee, tea, the lot. Afterwards we check out (i.e. hand back keys) and take some photos before heading down.

With a view

Looking back

Me with the little guy

The girls

The guides – Dominic and Umi

Descent turns out to be torture! My knees, oh my knees! Steps and steep jumps all the way down. Horribly wet from the heavy rain yesterday. Soon we’re down into the clouds.

Clouds below

Another glance before..

Steps, damn steps

There seem to be lots of people heading up, mostly Malaysians, who are always friendly as you pass them. There are lots of Brits on the trail too :)

Down at Park HQ
At HQ I say goodbye to Dominic and the girls, who are heading to the hot springs, which it turns out I could have gone to if the stupid shuttle bus did not leave early! The girls taxied, and I wait for the town bus and my flight to Kuala Lumpur. I was hoping to get an earlier one.

Looking at the time, if I’m to get the earlier flight, I’ll have to abandon my bus, so end up with an English chap who has a minibus for his tour (driver makes a few extra ringgit by picking up extra passengers). Unfortunately as I grab my main pack from Summer Lodge, they drive off with my other bag! Turns out to be a misunderstanding with the driver who didn’t speak English, but had me worried for a bit!

At the airport, Airasia say that despite having seats available on the 6:20pm flight, they can’t check me in for it, I have to wait for the 9:15pm flight. Apparently it’s a policy change. There is also no beer in the airport! At all!

They hold passengers for Xpress boarding customers who haven’t shown up! What a cheek!

KL Again
This time staying at the Traders Hotel, a smart decent hotel near KLCC, and recommended above my Meridien on Tripadvisor. The pool’s not as good, but otherwise it’s nice. Also end up in a Trader’s Club room for a few ringgit extra, on 31st floor with private check in, breakfast etc in the Club Lounge.


Afternoon tea

KLCC and the Towers

It’s just a short walk across to KLCC, either directly across the park in the roasting sun, or via a covered walkway.


Petronas Towers

We head in to the Aquaria aquarium, which is fun.

Miserable-looking Nemos

Lily picks on someone her own size

Leo’s favourites


Dark and spooky


The longest underwater walkway in the region

Funny faces

Not so friendly faces

I need one of these at

Yucky things


Then in the evening, we go down to Bangsar, to go to a Korean restaurant. They’ve got pork belly on the menu though, i.e. not halal, so I suggest we don’t go there, and we end up at a mamak type place, having “Indian-style”, i.e. all the ingredients are spooned on a large banana leaf.



Next day, we both head to the airport. Lily’s flying back to Kuantan, the first time she’s ever flown before, and I’m flying my favourite AirAsia to Bangkok. And guess what, it’s the usual shambles, as they’ve retimed (delayed) the flight TWICE by sms today, the day of the flight, such that it’s now about 4 hours later than planned. No apologies, no compensation. That’s just the way it is. AirAsia, now everyone can fly.

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