I winced a little every time a local asked me if we were going to climb Mount Kinabalu. The short answer was no, but their disappointed looks always made me feel the need to explain that on this visit we neither had the time nor adequate preparation for conquering such a momentous experience. Next time, I promised. Sabah has a reputation for its natural beauty, and Mount Kinabalu is definitely the jewel in its crown. The tallest peak in Malaysia and UNESCO World Heritage site has been captivating and challenging visitors for years. The two day hike to the summit is so popular that spaces are limited and often booked out months in advance. Something I will keep in mind for when that next time eventually comes. But for now, we settled for the next best thing – spending a night in Kinabalu Park and taking in all its natural beauty on steadier ground, at a much more leisurely pace…
Smoking Hot Sinalau Bakas
The journey from Kota Kinabalu to Kinabalu Park was punctuated by a snack-stop which our guide had been tempting us with for days. His description of sinalau bakas, a smoked wild boar which is extremely popular in the hill area, won us over instantly and we could not wait to try it for ourselves. When we pulled up to a row of barbeque pits just off the main road, we were greeted with the mouthwatering sight of the pork happily smoking away. You choose a piece depending on what you like – equal levels of meat and fat, or perhaps a bit more of one over the other – then it gets sliced and cooked more closely over some hot coals. The result is incredibly moreish; a certain someone and I didn’t hold back, with the accompanying toothpicks, we speared the small slices of deeply smoked pork and dipped them into the soy and chilli dipping sauce with such hunger, people might have thought we hadn’t eaten for days!
Cool Walks through Kinabalu Park & Botanic Gardens
There are two things you will notice when you first arrive at Kinabalu Park: the mountain air has an invigorating freshness to it, and there’s a distinct but pleasant drop in temperature. Seeing the locals rugged up in jackets and jumpers made me chuckle, because for us, this reprieve from the searing Sabah heat was bliss. The Botanic Gardens were worth a short wander to familiarise ourselves with some of the local flora and fauna, however we much preferred traipsing through the tracks around the park and just enjoying the untamed natural greenery. The tracks range in length and difficulty so you can pick and choose one that suits your energy levels that day!
Unsteady Steps at the Poring Canopy Walk
Less than an hour away from Kinabalu Park is the Poring Canopy Walk, a series of suspension bridges which total 175m in length and are just over 40m off the ground. From that height we were treated to stunning views across the treetops; an experience which would have been soothing and serene had it not been for the wobble of the bridges. I found the walk absolutely exhilarating but there were brief moments when the bounce of the others on the bridge had me mildly terrified! Once back on solid ground, a dip in the warm pools at Poring Hot Springs would be a great way to relax – unfortunately for us, many others had the same idea and all the pools were full when we visited!
Checking into Sutera Sanctuary Lodges at Kinabalu Park
We swiftly gave up on the hot pools and decided to go relax in our super cosy home for the night, a cabin at Sutera Sanctuary Lodges in Kinabalu Park. They’ve got a range of accommodation to suit all budgets and travel styles… big hiking groups normally fill up the dorms, families take the bigger lodges, and we were more than happy in our beautiful, rustic cabin. It came complete with a comfortable and inviting master bedroom, a living room with its own fireplace, a kitchenette and dining room, a second bedroom, and my favourite part – a porch with stunning views towards the mountains! The first thing we did was make ourselves at home with some cups of tea, then we spent the rest of the afternoon just basking in our peaceful surroundings until dinner…
Sutera Sanctuary Lodges have two restaurants onsite; those with big appetites might prefer the hearty buffet selection at Balsam Restaurant, but we decided to opt for a more intimate dinner at Liwagu Restaurant. I might have been momentarily tempted by the prospect of a burger, but was glad we stuck with a more traditional offering. The fog and rain had rolled in and the temperatures dropped again so the cucumber and chicken soup was a comforting way to start. Then our table was flooded with a delicious assortment of local favourites such as beef and chicken with wild ginger, bitter gourds, and lightly stir fried local greens. It was tough picking a top dish but our favourite of the night was the baked fish ladened with a bambangan (wild mango) sauce… a bit like sweet and sour but more subtle. Our traditional feast was so fresh and full of flavour – just the kind of comfort food we needed after a long day!
Have you been to Kinabalu Park or climbed Mount Kinabalu?
We travelled as guests of Sabah Tourism Board, Amazing Borneo, and Sutera Sanctuary Lodges, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!
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