Cloudwalking at Kinabalu Park

Kinabalu Park in Sabah was in 1964 designated as one of the first national parks of Malaysia. These days it is one of the most popular tourist spots in the country as well as being one of the most important biological sites in the world, with more than 4,500 species of flora and fauna. Located on the west coast of Sabah, it covers an area of 754sqkm surrounding Mount Kinabalu, which is the highest mountain on Borneo.

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Having seen deserts to mountains to glaciers to jungle to steppe to beaches to cities to woodland, it seems that a cloud forest was one of the only types of terrain that I hadn’t yet experiences. I was always familiar with Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica, and from pictures online and from YouTube videos I can see that that place looks incredible. However, I always knew that there was a great cloud forest in Sabah, so when I had the chance to visit here during my stay in Kota Kinabalu, I jumped at the chance!

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I was part of a group who paid for a shared taxi from Jalan Padang in KK, and this got us to the Park HQ, where my taxi waited for us (we all wanted a day trip only, so it was very convenient to share the taxi). We were all independent travellers and went our own way in the park. 5 hours later, we reconvened at the Park HQ to come back to the hostel. The charge was 50 RMB for the whole round journey (£10), which I think is good value, seeing as we only pay one fifth of it each. Most people do admittedly stay overnight in the various forms of accommodation available here, but I was not going to climb Mount Kinabalu on this occasion, I was just going to look around the park itself, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Incidentally, you cannot climb Mount Kinabalu without a guide – and currently all activity seems to be suspended following the recent eruption that killed many people. Entry to Kinabalu Park costs just 15 RMB per person (much cheaper if you are Malay).

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The first thing that hit me was the beautiful scenery (well, apart from the choking humidity). It ALWAYS rains here in Kinabalu Park and apart from getting us wet, it gives great life to the flora around here; the trees and shrubbery are all so green, and it makes for a very scenic hike. The closest thing to Kinabalu Park that I have seen with my own eyes would probably have to be YangMingShan National Park just outside of Taipei. The design of the trails, the hot springs, the atmosphere, the views from afar…for some reason, the two parks just look similar (although no poisonous snakes here, thankfully – well not that I know of, anyway!).

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Regarding critters and insects, this place is home to a multitude of endemic animal species, including the Kinabalu Giant Red Leech and Kinabalu Giant Earthworm. While these may sound pretty scary (or annoying), they are pretty harmless in the sense that they won’t kill you! The park also plays host to a variety of birds, insects, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. No tigers on Borneo, thankfully, although I was told that sun bears are native to these parts, and as any American will testify, it’s always good to avoid bears when you see them (even if these ones are smaller than their Grizzly cousins).

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Arguably the main highlight of Kinabalu Park though is the actual namesake itself, Mount Kinabalu, which is one of the youngest non-volcanic mountains in the world. It was formed within the last 10 to 35 million years and still grows at a rate of 5mm a year!

When visiting Kinabalu Park, it is best to wear warm clothing and pack some gloves. Also, don’t forget to bring a highly water resistant rucksack in case it rains (it will rain!). Consider bringing some high-energy snacks with you, too, such as chocolate bars and sugary treats. As an additional safety recommendation, bring along a torch light in case the worst happens and you get lost at night.

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