Mount Kinabalu, Padas River and SCUBA Diving!
I can't begin to thank mount-kinabalu-borneo.com for all the information H and I got while we're still planning our spring vacation. Every query, (although I'm sure some of it were quite silly) was answered and cleared out. Ruhaizad and Aiden had extended invaluable assistance in the planning and preparation ( activities, lodging and even cost estimates) for this trip. They helped us put together our itinerary and budget plan, which then eased the initial jitters for our journey. With barely a month left to go, Aiden went out of his way to help us get reservations in Laban Rata (believe me, it was so difficult to get one! ).
Let me share you some details on how we were able to make our 9-day trip very enjoyable.
March 7- H and I arrived at Kota Kinabalu at around 6pm. We chartered a taxi to bring us to Centerpoint and from there, find a hotel for the night. We checked in at Hotel Mandarin (which is okay but a bit pricey for its type ). We had dinner at the night food center, which has many restaurants and offers free live band music.
March 8- we went to Sutera Sanctuary Lodges (SSL) office to catch the 7:15am shuttle trip to Kinabalu Park HQ ( 1,564m above sea level). The 2-hour trip had a stop-over in Kundasang Market, which has a view deck showing a very enticing view of Mount Kinabalu. The personnel in Kinabalu Park HQ were really courteous and nice. We expressed our desire to go up to Mount Kinabalu via Mesilau Trail and go down through Timpohon Trail. The staff said that it was a tough route to do since it's longer and more erratic but they also said that the views in Mesilau are more diverse and worth seeing. Thinking that we would go slowly anyway, we were firm to keep on as planned.
After the initial registration, we proceeded to Kinabalu Pine Resort to check our things in. We reserved for the deluxe cottage packaged with dinner and breakfast for two. Believe me, it was worth every penny as not only that the cottage is clean, big and has a nice view of the mountain but the food were delicious and servings were big. After lunch, we went to Poring. We enjoyed trailing the Canopy Walkway, Kipungit Waterfall and the Bat Cave. After which, we relaxed in the individualized, outdoor hot spring tubs ( its temperature ranges from 40 to 70 degrees Celsius, depending on the season, according to the signage, so watch out!).
March 9- we went to Kinabalu Park HQ to settle all the climbing fees and fetch our mountain guide (Francis Suita) and then proceeded to Mesilau Trail. We realized that they were not joking! It was a tough route indeed… it is 2 km. longer than Timpohon and has uphill and downhill trails, but the views are magnificent and the flora and fauna are more diverse. We saw local species of squirrels just looking around for food which were not bothered at all by climbers. We took our time to take lots of pictures, refill our water bottles from the piped spring water (they are potable and cold), rest in the shelters and enjoy the long climb to Laban Rata (3,273m).
We were awed by the whole park and were grateful to see that the park officials have made the trail manageable by putting wooden slabs as hand and foot rails as much as possible. Hundreds of species of orchids, rhododendrons, pitcher plants, birds, insects, animals and others, the names of which I don't know, were all around us. Indeed, it was a tough but magnificent climb to LR! We reached LR a few minutes before the sunset. We checked in at Gunting Lagadan (3,323m) after our early dinner and retired early to prepare for our climb to the summit.
March 10- we woke up at 2am. It was chaotic at GL. Everyone was preparing for the climb. At 2:30am, we started our climb together with several others who, like us, were too eager to catch the sunrise at 4,095.2m above sea level!
There were more than a couple of hundreds of climbers that day who have finished the trek with relative ease. It is only I and some few souls who had encountered problems while reaching the top. Having been with 70-something year old Japanese couple finishing the summit climb with us that day, inspired me and countless others, to try harder to reach Low's Peak ( 4,095.2m).
The stubborn in me, knowing there were finishers who were more than twice my age, couldn't just give up. We are grateful to the Kinabalu Park officials for giving Francis to us as our mountain guide. He was very encouraging and not even once he has shown impatience and mockery even during those times when I have been most difficult. We made acquaintances with the other climbers there also and all of them said words of encouragement to me.
H was able to reach the summit just in time for the sunrise! (well, without me at first, then he went down and meet me at 4,085m where I was, and climbed the top again with me ). I reached Low's Peak at around 8am, 2 hours later than everyone else. But mind you, though it was the most difficult, climbing to Low's Peak was the most fruitful climb I have ever done so far.
You know what is best about reaching the Low's Peak late? We had the summit all for ourselves! H, Francis and I stayed there to be awed by the grandiose of the surroundings. Even with my weak body, we were able to take lots of nice pictures, did some meditations, and joked around about how many hours it would take us descending this time. It is sad that most climbers, after taking a couple of pictures of the sunrise and without enjoying being in the summit much, would immediately start their descent. For us, we have seen how the peaks look and feels like that whole morning. We have experienced what is it like having been with nature, in a place where everything else is larger than life!
I particularly loved the rock climbing part. Since it is a rocky mountain top (granite, in particular ), a stretch of the trail are almost vertical climbs. However, it is not that complicated since there are ropes and poles installed that guide the climbers. It's a good thing we had an extra night of reservation at GL. We were not in a hurry to go down and had the luxury of time to hang around a bit and replenish our energies.
March 11- after our breakfast, we started our descent at 9am. This time, we would be traversing Timpohon trail. It was a steep descent but is relatively easy. Timpohon trail is the more popular route for climbers since it is shorter and less complicated than Mesilau Trail. We reached the Timpohon gate at around noon time. There at the gate were billboards showing the Trail route and the list of the fastest finishers of last year's climbathon ( an annual climbing event held in August of every year). I wonder how these people were able to do their complete ascents and descents in less than 3 hours! We chartered a taxi to Kinabalu Park HQ.
And oh boy, I couldn't begin to describe how I felt when I saw my name in Certificate of Recognition (or was it completion?) handed to us by the park officials! My name in the record book of this UNESCO World Heritage Site? Cool. (It felt the same as when I received my law school diploma ). We rode the shuttle to KK and checked in at Hotel Capital. It was a bit pricey for backpackers like us but after a difficult 2 days, we decided that we deserve to treat ourselves magnanimously.
March 12- we spent the whole day strolling around the city, checking out the malls and going around travel agencies to find which activities we're going to do next. We met Ian Edwards at Borneo Action Dive shop and booked our Padas whitewater rafting and fun dive packages with them.
March 13- we were picked up at our hotel before 8am to head to the train station at Beaufort. From there, the train would be heading to Tenom where Padas Whitewater Starting Point is. The train was old and populated and the ride was bumpy but it was a nice experience for us. The locals, albeit noisy, were very friendly.
When we reached our destination, we were instructed to change to our swimming attire and leave our things since it would surely get wet during the rafting ( we left our camera so we don't have pictures here). There was a short briefing that made the activity seemed difficult but exciting. Our boatmen were nice and funny.
Padas River at this time was in Level III and IV, but becomes Level IV and V during the rainy season. Level III and IV means that rafters should have some skills in paddling and swimming as the rapids are a bit strong. Padas River has 5 major rapids (Headhunter, Scooby Doo, Cobra, Lambada, and Curve Rapids).
It was a fun and exhilarating ride! It was a great adrenaline rush for us. I am not a good swimmer ( although we were provided with standard life vests) but everyone else in the raft was experienced so my objective was not to consistently paddle but to try so hard not to fall out. Everyone in the boat except me body rafted, was too chicken to do it seeing how strong the rapids were. I couldn't do anything else but to brace myself for the next strong current, or the next wave. After that, we were complimented with a sumptuous barbecue buffet before we headed back to KK.
March 14- we went to meet our dive master, Ian Edwards, to dive with in Sapi Island. Ian is a great diver and is easy to be with. His funny character helped our dives enjoyable. There were lots of species of fish and marine life we've seen there. But, as usual, "Nemo" is the star of our dive. Seeing the clown fish excited us. We had 2 dives that day.
March 15- we booked our Manukan Island trip with Tanjung Aru Tours. A shuttle van drove us to the Shangri-La Marina where we took the ferry (speedboat) to the island. We had a relaxed time swimming and sunbathing. The sea was calm and the white sand beach was picture-perfect that day. Tourists, esp. kids, were having fun because schools of fish abound even near the jetty. We left the island at 3pm.
The nice thing about this island is that it is just 15 minutes away from KK. Residents are lucky because going to Tunku Abdul Rahman Park to escape the hustle and bustle of the city is not so difficult and expensive.
March 16- did our last minute souvenir shopping. Our flight was delayed so we stayed at the airport longer than necessary.
Looking back, our Sabah trip was one of the nicest H and I had. In a short time, we were able to do so many challenging things and relax at the same time. We purposely didn't crowd our itinerary with activities that would require us to travel much. We wanted to enjoy the eastern side of Sabah first without stressing ourselves. We wanted this holiday to be a real holiday. We knew the whole island offers so much more than we were willing to do. We knew that we have yet to discover so many beautiful things about the island and its culture. But we leave it at that for now, for our next trip to Sabah.
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