Alternatives to Climbing Mt. Kinabalu in Kota Kinabalu

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Doing the full Mt. Kinabalu hike in Malaysia takes two days, and a reservation several months in advance. Even then, it’s weather-dependent. So if you don’t want to spend the time, energy or money climbing Southeast Asia’s highest peak, or you simply forgot to reserve a spot, there’s nothing to worry about! There are plenty of outdoors activities around Kota Kinabalu to make it worthy of a week-long holiday, solo or in a group.

Kota Kinabalu has a few adventure options, including white water rafting. There are several companies that will take you from your hotel. I went with Wavehunters, which has a much more dangerous name than the actual waves we encountered, but as it was my first time, I was totally okay with this. The river is about 1.5 hours from KK, depending on traffic, and the guides are extremely nice and relaxed. The level 1 rafting takes about an hour, and our guide, Ichi, was cool with our group taking our time body rafting, jumping from rocks and exploring the nearby villages. We did not share our tour with anyone else, and time was not a factor, making it a really nice outing.

Kinabalu Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a great alternative to actually climbing the mountain. Several tours will pack in several sites in one day, including visiting a local market, the botanical garden, hot springs and canopy walk, meaning that you only get around 30-45 minutes in each place. As it takes almost 2 hours to get there from KK, a better option is to have your hotel sort something out with a taxi driver, find a tour that only goes to the park, or stay in the park itself. Going to Kinabalu Park is a must – it’s incredibly gorgeous and a fair deal cooler than in the city. There are enough trails for a full day of walking, and there is lots of signage as well. I’d recommend the canopy walk – if you’re not afraid of heights, as it gets up to 30 meters high – but not the hot springs, which are a let-down if you’ve been to swankier ones like the Beitou Hot Springs in Taipei.

One final option is to add another stamp to your passport with a day trip to Brunei. The flight is just 40 minutes. Granted, there’s not much to do in Brunei, but a full day is more than enough time to see the Kampong Ayer Water Village, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, Brunei Museum and drink a wildly expensive coffee out of a beer stein (!). Make sure to save your taxi driver’s phone number so you’ll have a way back to the airport.

What do you like to do in and around Kota Kinabalu?

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About Author

Maureen always knew she wanted to travel. In college, she studied and traveled through the Caribbean and Central America, and the first time she fell in love was with Mexico City. After graduating, she spent several years teaching EFL in Europe, the Americas and Southeast Asia and traveling in every spare moment. She's currently living in Hong Kong, and getting lost while traveling is her main hobby.

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