Visit to Mt. Kinabalu, Intro

Perry Malouf (
Wed, 14 Dec 1994 22:10:45 -0500 (EST)

Perry's Visit to Kinabalu Park, Introduction

I flew from Bangkok, Thailand to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia on
Sunday November 27 via Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia's capital). Kota
Kinabalu is the state capital of Sabah, which is located on the
northeastern side of the island of Borneo. During our final approach
into the airport, I had an excellent view of the coast and surrounding
mountains. Now, I'm not a world traveler but I've seen lots of
pictures of wonderful scenery from all over the globe, and this place
must rank among the most beautiful in the world. The mountains are
set back a ways from the coast, and they are covered with deep, dark,
lush green vegetation. There are islands off the coast which are not
flat, but small mountains surrounded by clear bluish water. They are
also covered with thick vegetation.

I include below many details for the benefit of others who
might want to plan a trip to Kota Kinabalu.

The taxi ride from the airport to the Hyatt Hotel in Kota
Kinabalu cost around MR30 (MR = Malaysian Ringgit, and US$1 = 2.5
MR). Had I been more familiar with the area, I probably could have
found less expensive accommodations. The Hyatt was very
comfortable (as it should have been) and a welcome haven at the end
of my week in the Park (which will be noted in a later installment). I
wanted to depart for Kinabalu Park first thing the next morning, but I
had to wait for the banks to open at 9 a.m. I had to exchange
currency, and the hotel had a daily limit which I easily wanted to
exceed. (I found out later that the banks also have a daily limit per
person, but it was much higher than the hotel's). Around the Hyatt
hotel are shopping malls, and sidewalk restaurants where I ate with
no ill effects (everything I ordered was well cooked and still hot when
brought to me). I drank bottled water always, even in the hotel. The
hotel staff spoke English fairly well, and the people in the sidewalk
restaurants spoke enough broken English for me to get by easily.
There was also a pharmacy nearby, where I bought some
decongestant. As near as I can tell, you don't need a prescription for
most medications that require one in the U. S. I brought my anti-
malaria medication with me from the U. S.

Because I had to delay my trip to Kinabalu Park until after 9
a.m. Monday, I could not take advantage of tour bus transportation to
the Park which would have cost me MR40. Instead I hired a taxi, and
I was charged MR100 (yes, quite a difference!). Still, from my
experience it was not so expensive for a one-way, 2 hour drive. It is a
drive filled with magnificent mountain scenery, not unlike that which
I've seen in summer photos of Switzerland. The altitude eludes you
until you notice that you are looking DOWN at the cumulus clouds. In
fact, the last part of the drive was socked in with clouds--visibility
was cut down to a half kilometer or so, and there was some drizzle.

I arrived at the Park gate just after 1 p.m., and I made contact
with the head botanist who showed me to my quarters. We then
discussed plans for the rest of the week. A new administration
building has just been completed, and the employees are in the
process of moving in. Near the head botanist's office was an
herbarium, and I saw some dried Nepenthes pitchers there. There
were specimens of N. villosa, N. rajah, N lowii, and most striking was a
dried pitcher of N. edwardsiana--35 cm tall! I am not joking! I would
have given much to see the plant from which this pitcher was taken,
but I never had the chance. After that exhibit, I was introduced to my
guide and he promptly took me to the mountain garden which is
located behind the old administration building. The remainder of the
afternoon was spent in the mountain garden, and I will describe some
of the plants I saw there. But first, I want to dedicate a (long!)
paragraph to the Park layout and facilities.

Near the Park gate is a reception office and souvenir shop, and
further up the driveway is the new administration center. The staff
quarters are located nearby, as well as the staff canteen, laundry, and
power generators. There is also a fitness center, which I never
entered, that supposedly contains racquet ball courts and weight
lifting equipment. (After hiking the trails all day, I found I did not
need another workout!) On the road leading to the summit trail are
various hostels, chalets, lodges, and cabins. My accommodations were
a single room in the basement of the old administration building. This
building contains conference rooms, an exhibit center, a basement
theater (featuring a 20 minute slide show about the Park), and a
restaurant which provided my sustenance all week. A decent
breakfast cost me around MR8, and a hearty dinner cost around MR15
(with beer). My room was spacious, with two beds and a full set of
built-in closets, a telephone, and a full bathroom with its own (small)
hot water heater. There was no climate control available, and the
temperature in the room ran between 18 C to 22 C. The humidity was
quite high and it smelled like a mildewy basement. Insects were
unavoidable but thankfully few. When I touched the bed blanket, it
felt damp. My body heat dried the bed at night, and I found that I
could make myself fairly comfortable. This room cost me MR35/night.
The hostels (dormitory style) cost MR10/night and have a communal
kitchen. Twin bed cabins (no kitchen) go for anywhere between
MR40/night to MR80/night depending on whether it's a
holiday/weekend or a weekday, and depending on whether you're a
senior citizen etc. etc. The duplex cabins (4 units x 2 bedrooms = 6
persons each unit) go for anywhere between MR100 to MR 250. There
are nature trails all around this area, which is at around 1600 meters
altitude. Many people come to this Park for the sole purpose of
climbing Mt. Kinabalu (4102 m). The climb is more like a rigorous
hike, i.e. no mountain climbing equipment or techniques are
necessary. There are rest shelters along the summit trail, and a guest
hut with restaurant at 3353 m. Tourists often hike to the guest hut on
the first day, hit the sack, wake at 3 a.m. and hike to the summit to
watch the sunrise. Shortly after sunrise the mountain gets socked in
with clouds so there's not much else to do but hike back down.
Everyone who reaches the summit gets a neat-looking certificate. I
decided to spend my time looking for Nepenthes instead of striving for
a breathtaking sunrise and a certificate. Maybe next time.

The mountain garden is tended by the staff, and consists of
various plants found in the Park and transplanted to the garden.
There are loads of orchids, most of which were not in bloom during
my visit, rhododendrons and-----NEPENTHES. In the garden I saw:
three N. rajah, one N. edwardsiana, several N. tentaculata, two N. fusca,
one N. lowii, and one species listed as unidentified in Kurata's book.
The tentaculata and fusca were the only two that were not
transplanted from elsewhere; they grew wild in the forest and were
visible along some of the nature trails. The plants were long vines
with leaves set at a large internodal spacing, and they climbed
through and over the other nearby vegetation. Leaf tendrils looped
two or three times around a twig before forming a pitcher. The N.
rajah plants were not fully grown--they measured approximately 50
cm high and almost 1 meter in diameter, with pitchers about the size
of a large grapefruit (not including the lid). These plants are fairly
"bushy" or "stocky", that is, they are not long and thin and do not
climb over other vegetation. I was to see much larger plants later in
the week. The single N. edwardsiana was a small plant, with one
pitcher approximately 15 cm high. It was green and appeared
exactly as most photographs show it, with a deeply ribbed and
prominent peristome. The N. lowii was a medium sized vine about 3
meters long, with two classic "gravy dish" pitchers. These were green
on the outside and a deep red on inside, and the lids did not cover the
orifice of the pitchers. Again, I was to see much larger plants the next
day. Of course I snapped a lot of photographs. Interestingly, I had to
use a flash outdoors even with ASA400 film. This is due partially to
the fact that I was taking close-up shots with my zoom lens, but it also
says something about the ambient light in the forest setting. Much of
the time (and this held true for the whole week) the mountain was
shrouded in clouds, so even in the middle of the day the light was
very diffused even before filtering through the forest canopy to the
ground. It is somewhat artificial to see these different Nepenthes
growing together at 1600 meters elevation, but for most tourists it
doesn't matter. Frankly, I liked being able to see several different
Nepenthes with little effort. During the rest of the week, I worked my
tail off looking for plants! I was glad I brought "safari" clothing and a

In the next installment I'll describe my hike up a portion of the summit