Reefs, rivers and rainforest
In the previous post, I dubbed KK “a gateway to the exotic”. Now, it’s time to take a closer look at some of the exotic locations which can be found within a few hours from Kota Kinabalu. KK really IS an excellent base camp if you want to sample from Sabahs wide range of wild nature, exotic scenery and exciting activities. You can explore the places mentioned in this post on your own, as most of them can be reached by one of the ever present (and crowded) bas mini, or you can book a trip with one of the many tour operators with offices in KK. Diethelm Travels, located in the EON CMG Life Building, No. 1, Jalan Sagunting is rather cheap, has friendly guides and will give you a discount if you book more than one trip from them.
After checking into your hotel and the mandatory trip to the aforementioned tourist office, it’s time to soak in the tropical athmosphere of the city. A great place to do this is Signal Hill, and the time to be there is sunset. Situated just outside town, just off Jalan Gaya, this viewpoint offers a great view of the city as well as beautiful sunsets. The 15 min. walk through the semi-jungle from the Backpacker Lodge even gives you a little taste of the beauty of the real rainforest as a bonus!
If you want to see a bit more of the rainforest and take a peek at the towering Mount Kinabalu, a trip to Kinabalu Park is just what you’re after. Many companies offer day trips which allow you to take a walk in and above the rainforest and relax in hot springs at Poring, and check out the more mountainous area of Kinabalu Park, all in one day.
The Canopy Walk Way consists of a series of connected hanging bridges and platforms which gives you the rare chance to see the rainforest from above, and the walk there from Poring Hot Springs takes you through really impressive, though not exactly undisturbed jungle. Afterwards you can have a good meal and a swim at Poring, before enjoying the mountain air and the awe inspiring view at Kinabalu Park. The walking paths of the mountain park are good practice for climbing Mount Kinabalu!
The Tunku Abdul Raman National Park is a group of beautiful tropical Islands just outside KK. Manukan and Sapi, the most accessible (and touristified) offer great snorkeling on coral reefs, among hundreds of colorful species of fish. The boat from the ferry terminal takes less than one hour, and the price is quite OK, even though you will also have to pay a harbor fee before leaving, plus entrance to the National Park at the first island you reach. At the terminal, FIRST get a ticket from the boat company, THEN pay the harbor fee.You can normally rent snorkeling gear on the boat for 10-15RM. The transport is somewhat unpredictable. First of all, you never know exactly which Islands the different boat companies will go to on a specific day. Second, the boat doesn’t leave before it’s full. My tip is to get to the terminal early (before 10 am), but prepare for at least a 30 min. wait.
White, wet and wild
The Padas river, south of KK is Borneo’s best spot for white water rafting. Padas river is inaccessible by car, so most companies will take you by bas mini to Beaufort, where you will board the rustiest, shakiest least comfortable train you can ever imagine. The train ride lasts for about one and a half our, and the train stops at every little shack in the jungle. The schedule is rather loose though, and the train doesn’t leave a station until every lingering passenger has boarded. For many pampered westerners, the train can probably be at least as scary as anything the river can come up with, but if you avoid the two first cars (where the diesel fumes are thick and toxic), it is possible to see it as a unique opportunity to experience the jungle and the people who live there.
The rafting itself is certainly well worth the journey. The guides at Diethelm told us the rapids of Padas were graded 3 to 4, but the 3s were by far the roughest I’ve ever encountered anywhere in the world! A particularly nasty one named “The Washing Machine” flipped our raft, and I had to bodyraft the two following rapids after first pulling myself out from underneath the raft. Slightly scary, very exciting and certainly more than enough to get my adrenaline pumping!