Mount Kinabalu is a popular tourist attraction. It looms way above the island appears to keep a watchful eye on the city. In fact our friend Tham explained that Kota means city. So Kota Kinabalu is quite literally Mount Kinabalu’s city. While you may not be able to see Mount Kinabalu from the heart of Kota Kinabalu, the mountain is easily visible from the ferries that cross to the islands provided it is a clear an bright day.

At 4095 meters, Mount Kinabalu poses a challenge for trekkers from all parts of the world. Getting up the mountain however can get really expensive. So we decided to visit the Kinabalu National park instead. We weren’t disappointed!


Kinabalu national park

Finding our way around.

Kinabalu National Park is about a 2 hour drive from Kota Kinabalu. Tham collected us at 7 am from our hotel and we started out on our drive. We were a bit apprehensive. While the weather forecast in the city was sun, the National park was due to experience thunderstorms somewhere mid day. It was good that we did not let the weather discourage us because the rain did not affect us too badly and we had an amazing day.

The drive towards the National park took us through some very beautiful landscape. It wasn’t long before we left flat land behind us and saw nothing but winding roads up ahead. We caught some awesome views on the way. From time to time Mount Kinabalu poked its head out from behin the clouds to greet us.


Kinabalu national park

Kinabalu National Park is a World Heritage site.

The entry fee into Kinabalu National Park is RM 15 for non Malaysians. Keep the tickets with you because you may be required to produce it if you don’t find parking inside and want to park outside the park. We hopped between different parking spots before we found a trail that we wanted trek through.

Let me rewind a bit. Tham parked his car and we hopped out. Looking around we started up the first trail that we found. It was quite steep and we weren’t sure how difficult the trail was so we googled the trail. That’s when we realized that it was a rather strenuous one and there were better alternatives. Thank God for Google right?

The trail that we finally decided to trek on was called the Kiau View trail. The description of the trail said that it had a number of view points along the way. It also said that the trail was relatively easy. That encouraged us quite a bit and we started off excited.

The Kiau trail was easy enough but the rains from the previous days had made the trail a bit slushy. Some parts of it were more slippery than the rest so it slowed us down a bit. Walking slowly through the Kiau trail however gave us time to look around and appreciate the rainforest.

I don’t really remember how far we walked or how long we were on the trail. What I do remember is the noises of the forest. When people say that the forest is alive they aren’t kidding. If you stand still you can quite literally hear the forest talk to you.


Kinabalu national park

Even fallen trees are gorgeous.

I’m an eternal klutz. That being said I have learned my lesson. Let me give you an example. My 15 year old self would have walked on a narrow edge to avoid walking through slush just like everyone else. Unlike everyone else I probably would have landed up with my butt in the slush because well… I’m a klutz.

You learn to accept that some parts of you just can’t be changed. So now I just walk through the slush because it’s just a bit of dirt that can be washed away! Right? I don’t know how many of you’ll will agree with me there. Anyway back to my story.

We were walking along the path and I started walking through the slush. It’s funny how even though you are in the tropics the water always feels ice cold! Another problem that I usually tackle is my fear of heights. I’m fine as long as I don’t see the drop down but I will spend the entire journey up agonizing that I would have to walk down. It’s a phobia. One that I tackle on almost every trek!

Kinabalu national park

Acting a bit crazy before terror struck.

Somewhere along the Kiau trail we stopped. We had yet to discover one of those many viewpoints that Google claimed that the Kiau trail had to offer. The debate was now on. Do we continue or do we stop? While Tham and Shawn were discussing, my mind was doing a rally off its own. If I discussed any longer I would definitely turn back so I sucked in a breath and started climbing upwards rapidly. By the time the other two realized that I had started walking I was already a couple of meters out. I think our ascent from that point was really fast. I’m still really proud of myself for that.

We walked and walked and yet there were no views ahead. Finally Shawn decided to run up ahead and see if there was anything up ahead. Nothing! Finally and rather reluctantly we decided to turn back hope. A thunderstorm had been predicted for the afternoon and we did not want to be on the trail when we hit.

Kinabalu national park sign

One of the trail signs.

Our walk down was leisurely and slow. We hoped across a fallen tree, looked at the different fungi and flowers. I even stopped to look at a queer worm with a red streak on it before Shawn told me to hurry up because I was lagging behind. A minute or two later I felt something in my shoe. Odd… It felt ticklish. Our interaction went somewhat like this.

“There is something in my crocs.”

“Don’t remove your crocs here.”

“But it’s moving!”

I’m stubborn. So I removed my croc and saw a black worm on it.

“LEECH!” shouted Shawn.

The shouted was followed by some hilarious antics as I struggled to get it off. Luckily it hadn’t bitten on to me. I can’t remember who noticed all the leeches around us. It was either Tham or Shawn. I know for a fact it wasn’t me. Everything was a blurry of activity. Sometimes the fear of one thing can overpower the fear of another. It’s ironic because I quite literally ran down the entire trail. Every time I stopped, Shawn would tell me to head on because leeches sense warmth. It was only later that I realized that I was the one walking through the slush and gathering them in my crocs. No wonder they loved me!


Kinabalu national park is a world heritage site

The view from the start of the Kinabalu National Park.

All the trails in the Kota Kinabalu National park lead to a road. We quite literally sighed in relief as soon as we set foot on tarred land. That was a first for me. Clear cold water was flowing at the side of road and I decided to wash the grime off my feet. That’s when I found one (albeit tiny) leech nestled between my toes. I had never even felt the guy bite into me. That was definitely a new learning.

The next time I head into a tropical forest. I am definitely going to wear rubber boots. That being said I don’t know why leeches freaked me out so much. I think it’s just a combination of their looks and their blood sucking nature. The ones in Indonesia were definitely smaller than the ones that we’ve seen in our science labs in India. If it wasn’t for Shawn I wouldn’t have even know that it was a leech.

QUICK TIP: I freaked out so I didn’t follow it but you aren’t supposed to yank a leech off your skin. Use salt. The wound tends to bleed more than usual so don’t panic. Keep it clean and dry. Just make sure it doesn’t get infected. That’s what I did.

Borneo gives you the chance to live and work in the city while simultaneously escaping from the city life. That’s what I loved about the island. I don’t know whether this is just restricted to Kota Kinabalu though since I haven’t traveled to other parts of the island. Despite the leeches, I had a great time in Kota Kinabalu National park. It was an adventure and I can see why people love it.

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