Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Mt Kinabalu South Peak Morning Rays

Early April we found out we had the opportunity to take a somewhat impromptu trip for about ten days. There is a lot to do and see in South East Asia, but the prospect of climbing Mt. Kinabalu sold us on a trip to the region of Sabah. So we planned on using our free “company” flight from Tokyo to Singapore, and then using purchased tickets to from there on to Brunei for an overnight layover and then to our final destination, Kota Kinabalu. We also booked two nights at a nice resort in KK at the Magellan Sutera.

When we showed up to the counter the morning of our flight we were informed the flight was canceled indefinitely. This was the second trip that our “free” flights suddenly were not free anymore. This meant we had to by tickets from Tokyo to KK for the following morning. Luckily for a grand a person, we both had round trip tickets on Malaysia Air for the following day. Royal Brunei of course would not refund us our tickets, but they were nice enough to refund the airport taxes.

The next day was an entire day of riding trains and then flying. Besides our stop over in Kuala Lumpur, the flight was easily the best flight I have experienced as it is the only flight were you had your own TV monitor and choice of entertainment. We finally arrived at KK around 12am. Of course no visit to a foreign country is complete without the obligatory F1 racing taxi driver. Despite the resort only being a few miles away, this ride did not disappoint!

Sutera Magellan Entrance

The Magellan Sutera Resort entrance itself was jaw dropping. My picture does not capture the sheer size of the lobby. We were both surprised at not only the amazing view of the South China Sea from our balcony, but the room itself was easily the nicest room we have ever stayed in!

Sutera Magellan Resort Day

When we woke up in the morning we were also treated to on the the best breakfast buffets I have ever had. And the picture below was taken from the table we ate at!


The Magellan property is also connected to another resort called the Pacific Sutera. We decided to enjoy the pools for the day over on that side as we practically had it to ourselves. Below is a night picture of the harbor between the resorts.

Sutera Resort Harbour at Night.

Despite the warnings I read online about the power of the sun in this latitude and being pasty white during that time of the year, I spent way too much time in the sun that day and burnt myself to a crisp. Luckily my fair skin is so use to it that I recover quickly. But it was enough to warrant spending an additional night at the Magellan for a total of 3 nights. This provided plenty of time to take more photographs of the resort.

Sutera Magellan HDR Night Photo

My only gripe about the place was that the food in their restaurants was super expensive. We ordered take out one night and despite the high cost, I was not happy with the meal. Luckily the resort offers frequent shuttled into the center of town so you can easily manage eating in KK which has tons of excellent options for SUPER cheap.

Since the Magellan was a bit beyond our budget we eventually reserved a room at the Best Western Kinabalu Daya Hotel in KK. It was a fairly good price, included an edible breakfast, and was close to bus station.

We ended up paying for a little tour near Mt. Kinabalu to see some botanical gardens, some crowded hot springs, and a tree top canopy walk. The world largest blooming flower, the Rafflesia Arnoldi also starting to bloom which Amber was able to get a picture of.

The Rafflesia Arnoldii

We also stopped by a local market that had a huge variety of fruits and vegetables I never knew existed. We purchased a couple of fruits, but none of them had much taste unfortunately.


It was a decent excursion, but we were really excited to climb Mt. Kinabalu. To climb this mountain you need to reserve one of the three huts high up on the mountain. Since this climb is very popular, we were very lucky to get a room in the non heated hut called the Gunting Lagadan. The Laban Rata Hut is the most popular one because it is heated, which is nice because it was damn cold up there!

Picture 075

We really did not do much planning beyond reserving the hut which came with one of the park admission fees. Early in the morning we checked out of the Daya Hotel and headed over to the bus stop. We were hounded by the taxi driver scam artists (not all were scam artists, but you could easily tell who was going to Shanghai you). We were set on riding the short bus up so we purchased a ticket. Unfortunately the bus was having problems, so they put us in a taxi anyways.

Once we reached the park, they turned us upside down and shook all the money out of our pockets to pay for the climbing fees (luckily the exchange rate was in our favor.) We were told we needed a guide as well, but luckily there was still one available, as it was about the last hour of the day when hikers start heading up the mountain. We later found out you do not need a guide and even though ours was nice, it is impossible to get lost on this trail. We also rented out a storage shelf for all of our items we didn’t need. This lightened the load considerably.


I have climbed some steep trails in my time, but this one is pretty much straight up. Even the steps built into the mountain seem to be designed for people with 6ft long legs. But the worst part is the mental destruction that is inflicted when a local guide/porter goes walking past you with two backpacks and bare feet or massive propane canisters on their back with burlap straps!

Of course just like my climb up Mt. Fuji, I got altitude sickness while Amber was running up the trail. At the end of the day when we got to the hut at 9,000ft my head was ready to explode! I could barely eat anything at all that night and I thought Amber was going to have to complete the climb without me. Luckily when I woke up I was feeling a bit better.

At 3am it was on with the climb!

It wasn’t too long before we were above the tree line and the scenery became absolutely stunning.

Mt. Kinabalu Tree Chillin

13,435 ft is the height of the mountain. As we got higher and higher my head again started to pulse and pound with every step. I was taking baby steps and Amber was having no problems at all, hurting my pride in the process! I am pretty sure she poisoned me though..

Finally the sun rising from the top-

I was losing brain cells at a phenomenal rate so we decided to turn around after about 20 minutes of taking pictures and enjoying the view. The rest of the day going back downhill was about as fun as having my knees hit with an aluminum baseball bat one hundred times. Both of us knew we would be walking funny from our sore muscles for at least two to three days.

We split a cab fare with another couple and headed back to the Daya Hotel in KK. We spent the rest of the day limping to nearby restaurants and watching TV at the hotel, and boy was it wonderful! The remaining two days we decided to visit Islands at the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. The ferry boats departed a short distance from our hotel. The first day we went to Sapi Island.

Sapi Island Dock

It was somewhat crowded due to its’ small size, but the water was crystal clear and the island was full of Monitor lizards.

Sapi Island Dock

The last day we headed to Manukan Island which was not much further away than Sapi, although this island was much larger so their was more room to spread out.


Overall we both loved the trip and we are still a little bummed as we will probably never get a chance to go back despite feeling like we missed a lot of other opportunities that are so close by. Diving at Sipidan Island and seeing the Orangutans would really have been nice. Our next trip to SE Asia we will set aside an entire month so we hopefully don’t feel like we missed as much.