Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mount Kinabalu - Long Days, Scary Suspension Bridges & Blooming Parasites

Mount Kinabalu Park - Malaysia has 4 entries in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, not three. After all, you don't just always mention Melaka and Georgetown (Penang) together in one sentence, do you? They are nestled along the Strait of Malacca, but other than that, they are unrelated. One can't just peep through Malacca and then hop away north to Penang. The two other entries: Gunung (Mount) Mulu National Park in Miri, Sarawak (the second highest mountain in Sarawak, famous for its limestone karst) and Kinabalu National Park located 2 hours southeast of Kota Kinabalu (capital of Sabah).

To be honest about it, I wasn't too thrilled with the idea of spending 195 ringgit just to see a mountain park. I have seen a good deal of mountains in my life and I didn't have to pay almost $80 to see it, but hey, it's put up or shut up. Might as well check it off my heritage list.

Had an early start of the morning and took a walk to see the seaside in the daytime. Everything always looks better in the morning. I decided to check out some of the Malay Chinese restaurants near my strip - Restoran Nuryana, just a jump away from the more popular Fong Ip. A fried rice, fried egg and fried noodle only cost me 2 ringgit. Friggin' cheap, I could live here. Haha


My pick up came at 8:15 AM, right in front of Borneo Backpackers. Bas Persiaran no. 7061L carries an amorous Sabah girl named Dayang who, at 26, has never left her birth place although her folks hailed from nearby Brunei. I would be tourist no. 5, and we were to pick up a couple from the U.K. at the swanky Shangrila Rasa Ria Resort some 30 minutes off KK. It was a chance to see how this Shangrila looks like. (There's a dilapidated Hotel Shangrila in KK.) The rest of the pack consisted of 2 Hungarian girls and a Hong Kong couple.

I expected a half day itinerary, but it was becoming clear I would be home by 6:30 PM. My 195 ringgit started to make sense, considering it would cover most entrance fees and a sit-down lunch as well. Two hours later, we were in Nabalu Market. Aside from a longhouse-designed market place selling souvenirs, there was a 47-step Observation Tower (capacity 15 persons) and a View Deck that boasts of an unhampered sprawl of Mount Kinabalu, all covered with low-hanging clouds, painted much like a surreal dream. It was beautiful. After an intimate visit at the loo (30 sens), we headed to our first official Kinabalu Park - yeah, World Heritage Site, that accounted for the 100 ringgit of our 195 as conservation fee - this was the Botanical Garden where we spent an hour. Dayang was just making small talk, blabbering away with almost incomprehensible scientific names, intermittently stopping by to point to a variety of orchids (Laughing Orchid, Spider Orchid); the extreme sizes of the Pitcher Plants, cinnamon trees, raspberries in bloom; and the Malay version of the non-edible senorita bananas (they're mostly made up of seeds - and inspires constipation). The temperature from that altitude went down to a chilly 18 degrees, but got more comfortable later.

Lunch would be at Round Inn Restaurant which served 7 courses. We had a little debate about a particular dish that turned out to be a mayonaised breaded shrimp, so that broke the ice. After late lunch, we just walked across, and found ourselves at the Poring Hot Spring ("poring" means "bamboo"). There would be several activities here:

1. Canopy Walk - 5 ringgit entrance if you're not in a tour group; plus 5 ringgit camera fee for everyone. This would encompass 4 suspension bridges, blood-curdling, I almost said "forget it". No, I actually said "forget it" then gathered enough balls to save face. Haha

2. Butterfly Park (Taman Kupu Kupu) - optional at 4 ringgit, and unimpressive. The one in Cameron Highlands still tops my list.

3. Poring Hot Springs - Sulphur-soaked spring water tapped and cloistered in several cabanas, and on a first-come, first served.

4. Kipungit Waterfall - Once again, unimpressive at 665 meters. I didn't even attempt the Langanan Waterfall which has a height of 3,715 meters, and goes further than we were given the alloted 1 1/2 hours. Signs suggest at after 2 PM, tourists are advised not to attempt Langanan Falls anymore. "Too dangerous," they would mention. Might as well, because there's not enough time.

5. Rafflesia in Bloom at the Tropical Garden, just off Bamboo Garden Park - Another optional visit. This would be a measly 10 ringgit, way cheaper than the more popular private Rafflesia Resort outside which requires a hefty 30 ringgit. "It's because this is government property, thus cheaper," remarked the caretaker, who had to padlock the blooming Rafflesia, everytime a tourist leaves. There was just me during my visit.

My thoughts: The 20-minute hike up the Canopy Walk isn't exactly a "walk in the park" as they say, but it was navigable unless you're physically handicap. I almost didn't go through with it when I realized the altitude, and the 8-inch wide wooden plank I would have to step on, navigating through 4 suspension bridges that initially challenged my sanity. But hey, everyone else did it, and I told myself its a mind trick, so off I went and conquered one of my very few phobias. The ticket checker advised, "Just walk straight ahead, and don't look down." I've heard that line so many times before, but it helped my passage. Kipungit Waterfall was another arduous hike - a muddy, soggy, pebbly uneven trail. I went mostly on my own and didn't see the Hungarian girls (they were a bit too heavy to do much arduous task) nor the elderly U.K. couple. The Hong Kong couple were always 10 minutes behind me.

Butterfly Park was, as mentioned, as unimpressive, I must have spotted just two varieties. But the air conditioned "butterfly museum" was a respite from the sweltering sun. I made my way back to the "bas parking" and found no one there so I decided to made a dash into the trail-less Bamboo Garden, almost fell through slippery mud a couple of times. I found the Tropical Garden at the end of the trail. I paid my 10 ringgit, and was lead into the secured garden. There it was bigger than 3 heads, and blooming beautifully in its stink! Flies were gathering around it. This one took 15 to 20 months to grow to its full size. I ran back to my tour bus (well, it's a van). Fortunately, I wasn't the last one. The HK couple weren't able to see the flower (a parasite, FYI). They tried to leave but they weren't allowed. We were already running late. We waited for the UK couple who went to see the Rafflesia themselves.

By 4 PM, we were on our way back to KK. I had a nice, but brief chat with the UK couple who asked a few pointers on Batu Cave, Genting Highlands and Penang. I didn't feel like becoming an unofficial guide. I learned that KLIA Transit wasn't working a few days ago. It never conked out on me during my several KL visits - and there's been a lot!

Most of our ride, I slept as the afternoon rains poured its sombering wrath. It would take us 2 1/2 hours to get back to KK, which doesn't seem to expalin the 88 kilometers distance of Mount Kinabalu from KK (and I have to mention that our driver was speeding away like a demon in heat). There was also heavy traffic upon plying through 1Borneo, their latest and most luxurious entertainment and shopping complex.


Before leaving my van, I asked Dayang why, the long road to Kinabalu were peppered with numerous "gereja katolik" (Catholic Churches) - some saints I'm not even familiar with. St. Helen? St. Horace? St. Anna? I have never seen so much churches anywhere outside the Philippines, the only Catholic country in Asia. Her explanation was that, despite KK being mostly a muslim populace, a great number of the people from north and east of KK are devout Roman Catholics. Kinabalu Park sits southeast of KK.

Back at my room in BB, I took a nap to recharge. By 8PM, I lazily made a dash for dinner at Fong Ip Restaurant where i paid 8.80 ringgit for a Kon Lau Mee BBQ (just fried noodles mixed with pechay, and slices of chicken barbecue), nasi putih (at 1.20) and a coke. I walked along the dark, drizzly promenade checking out the malls and stores and the long line of bazaars and markets facing the South China Sea. I saw Le Meridien, Warisan Square and the Marina Courts.

I couldn't decide if I wanted to call it a night or watch a Malay movie. I headed inside Centrepoint Mall and its adjacent Palm Square Mall. At the top floor, I found the oddly named Growball Cinemas.


It was a choice between a Malay drama called "Ratu - The Movie" (a drama about 10 beauty queen hopefuls) and a historical epic called "Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa". Picked the latter which, to my surprise, was a good one. Reminds me of the grandeur of Chito Rono's "Emir" sans the music. For a change, a Malaysian movie did not scrape bottom. It starred Stephen Rahman-Hughes, Dato Rahim Razali and Gavin Stenhouse (an American actor who looks like a younger Paul Walker). It chronicles the story of Langkasuka's first king that commenced with the Roman empire sending a prince Marcus (Stenhouse) to marry a stubborn princess of the Han Dynasty. Once attacked by the Gerudans - a bunch of mystical pirates, the Romans and the Chinese were left with very few fleet. They asked for the help of the Goans while Rome was gathering another army, but that would take time. They hired a free soul named Merong Mahawangsa to protect the Prince. Merong would become the first king of the kingless land, and ancestor of Malaysia's iconic, albeit mythical kings. Great sparkling cinematography; an ensemble of actors from the US, Malaysia, China and India; an epic scope that had lots of action and even CG's (the gerudans can summon a storm and a lightning which should make veracity of this epic tale a bit dodgy).


The good news: it was a promo night, so instead of the usual 13 ringgit, I only paid 5 ringgit for the ticket. Neat huh? What I didn't like was the practice of the ushers to actually lock us inside the hall while the movie was running, then open it once the movie's done. What if fire breaks out? Would they be fast enough to open the hall doors? Fire hazard waiting to happen. Scary thought, actually.


I walked back to my hotel, through dimly lit avenues and soggy sidewalks. There were a few transvestites making their post-midnight round. Prostitution is a reality even in Sabah. It was close to 2AM by the time I finished my readings. Long day, but not bad at all.

This is the Eye in the Sky!


nathalie said...

Rm195 for the tour? I got it at Rm170. only but paid Rm30 to see the Rafflesia..:(

I enjoyed the canopy walks. :)

eye in the sky said...


Yes, I was aware of that. I read your travelogue. Rafflesia was a nice experience, with flies flying around its magnificent bloom. :->

I couldn't regret the Canopy Walk because it was conquering a bit of myself. LOL