Planning on climbing Mount Kinabalu, one of Southeast Asia's tallest mountains?
Most climbing packages include transportation from Kota Kinabalu, but if you are wanting to save some ringgit by doing it yourself, then this is the post for you. If you're still shopping around for Mt Kinabalu tour providers, we've done a massive update on out ‘Climbing Mt Kinabalu on a Budget' posts that lists some tours operators for you to look into and their 2017 pricing.
Here's how to get from Kota Kinabalu (KK), Malaysian Borneo's capital, to Kinabalu National Park, the location of Mt. Kinabalu.
How to get from KK Airport to the City Centre
Transportation to the Park leaves from the city centre. If you are flying in to KK Airport, the cheapest way to reach the city centre is by the airport shuttle bus. Tickets cost RM5 for adults and RM3 for children. The bus departs from both Terminals 1 & 2. A recent visitor has informed us that the ticket counter at Terminal 1 is located next to Tourism Malaysia's office right outside the arrivals hall. Shuttle buses stop at Centre Point, Horizon Hotel, and Padang Merdeka. For onward transportation to Kinabalu National Park, you'll be wanting to get off at Padang Merdeka.
Here is the timetable as of February 2014
Terminal 1 → Terminal 2 → Kota Kinabalu
08:00, 08:45, 10:00, 10:50, 12:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00, 17:00, 18:00, 19:00
Terminal 2 → Kota Kinabalu
08:30, 09:20, 10:20, 11:20, 12:20, 13:20, 14:20, 15:20, 16:20, 17:20, 18:20, 19:20
Terminal 2 → Terminal 1
08:00, 09:30, 10:30, 11:30, 12:30, 13:30, 14:30, 15:30, 16:30, 17:30, 18:30, 19:30
Alternatively, pre-paid taxis operate for RM30 to any address in the city centre.
How to get from KK City Centre to Kinabalu National Park
You can catch a mini-bus to Kinabalu National Park from Padang Merdeka.
Just look out for the vehicles bound for Ranau. There is no timetable for such services and they operate on a “when they fill up” basis, which means you may need to wait a while for it to depart. While the drivers obviously want to leave with a full bus, they too have limits and ours said that he would be leaving at 2pm regardless. Despite there still being a couple of seats left, we did depart at 2pm (an hour and a half wait), as promised. We paid RM25 each for the two hour journey. Don't leave your journey until too late in the day as public bus services tend to wind down late afternoon. As a general rule of thumb, departures are usually more frequent until noon so heading there in the morning should decrease waiting time.
Keep in mind that Ranau is further afield than Kinabalu National Park so you'll need to be getting off before the final destination. The driver will likely know that, as a visitor, you are probably wanting to go to the Park. In fact, they probably called you over to their bus by saying they are stopping there. But chances are you will not be climbing the same day you arrive, given that you need to be at the Park early to start the climb.
Despite being a destination highly frequented by visitors, there aren't many options in the way of accommodation, restaurants or transportation around town. There are lodges inside the Park itself, but they can be on the pricey side. We stayed outside the Park at the popular Kinabalu Mountain Lodge, just 5 mins drive from Park HQ. It's basic with dorms and privates, all with shared bathrooms, but it's cheap, convenient and the staff are helpful.
The hot water for the showers is switched on at 5pm and, if you want to get some warm water, I'd suggest being one of the first in there. If you are going there after the climb, the staff are very accommodating about turning on the water heater a little ahead of time so you can get cleaned up and get some rest. They also provide breakfast as part of the room rate and a buffet lunch/dinner can be provided for a small fee which is particularly helpful as there isn't much around and it's quite a hike to the shops. Be sure to tell them in advance if you'll be wanting meals so they can prepare enough for everyone. It gets chilly around the mountain, especially at night, so make sure you have appropriate clothing (which you should definitely have with you anyway if you are planning to climb). Please note, there is no Wi-Fi.
There are other budget options also in the vicinity of the Park, but if you do decide to stay here, tell the driver to drop you off at “Haleluja” – they will all know what you are talking about. The lodge is a hilly 1km walk from the main road but is beautifully located. If you are interested in seeing moths as big as your hand, Borneo has their fair share of interesting insects, many of which you can see on the lodge balcony at night.
On the day of the climb (or whenever you want to head to Park HQ), the staff at Kinabalu Mountain Lodge can arrange a taxi to pick you up from the Lodge and take you to the Park entrance (2kms away) for RM15 (max. 4 people).
Returning from Kinabalu National Park
After the climb, you shouldn't have a problem getting a taxi to take you back to Kinabalu Mountain Lodge or wherever you may be staying. There are a bunch of taxi drivers that hang out across the road from Park HQ near the shop. Remember to confirm the price before getting in.
If you want to return to KK, you can also take a bus from across the road (i.e. opposite the Park). Buses passing by the Park may be minivans or regular-sized buses. There is no dedicated bus stop and while there supposedly is a timetable (not listed by the road but we did see one at the Mountain Lodge), they don't really seem to stick to it. It's basically a matter of waiting by the side of the road and hailing a bus bound for KK as it goes by. Remember to indicate to the driver that you want them to stop, otherwise they may very well just keep on driving. Note that services on this route do operate in the evening.
Instead of returning to KK, we continued on to Sandakan the day after the climb by hailing a bus from the Park (same side of the road as the Park). You'll have to pay attention as the buses will be coming around a blind corner so you only have a few seconds after seeing it to flag it down. Remember that destinations may be abbreviated on the front of the bus. Sandakan, for example, was written as Sdkan. Expect to pay RM25 for the four hour journey. You can purchase a ticket on the bus. They will probably get you to sit down first so the bus can get moving since it is just around the blind corner. Someone will come down to collect your money once you are away.
Returning from KK City Centre to the Airport
To return to KK Airport from the city centre, simply wait at any of the airport shuttle bus locations – Centre Point, Horizon Hotel or Padang Merdeka. Tickets can be purchased at counters at Centre Point and Padang Merdeka. As for the Horizon Hotel, tickets can be purchased directly from the driver as there is no counter available at that location. Ticket prices are the same as from the airport – RM5 for adults and RM3 for children.
This is the timetable, correct as of February 2014
Kota Kinabalu → Terminal 2 & 1
07:30, 09:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00, 17:00, 18:00, 19:00
As there are three stops in the city centre, you should take these times as approximate.
We wish to thank all readers who have contributed on-the-ground information for the compilation of this post.
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Have you taken this journey? Do you have any further advice to add? If you visit and find that any of these details have changed, we'd love for you to add a comment for the benefit of future travellers.
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