Malaysia Trip Report Part 4 – Kota Kinabalu & Tunku Abdul Rahman Park

Part 3 can be found here.

Our next stop was Kota Kinabalu (KK).  This place is famous for at least 2 things.  First is the Kinabalu Mountain.  Many people coming to KK do one of the trekkings up the mountain.  The ascend could theoretically be done in one day but most people make it a two day trip.  We did not go up the mountain.  If you wish to do so you will find plenty of travel agencies that offer organised tours.  (you cannot do this on your own as a guide is obligatory)

Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, really a combination of 5 islands, is the second reason many tourists visit KK.  The islands are well known for snorkeling and you can book organised trips to them that visit 1-3 islands on one day.  All trips leave from the ferry pier known as Jesselton Point.  Several travel agencies have selling booths at the pier.  They all offer more or less the same trips for the same price.  You can just walk to the pier and buy your tickets at the moment you want to go to the islands.  There are plenty of boats, no reason to buy tickets upfront.  Not all boats leave at the same time so it’s worth comparing several agents to see if there’s no boat that leaves faster.


Recent boat fares can be found at the website of  Jesselton Point.  You will have to pay the boat fare + the ferry fee when purchasing your tickets. (per person)  If you need to rent snorkeling gear you can arrange this as well when you buy your tickets.  Arriving at the island you will need to pay the entrance fee for the national park.  You need to pay this entrance fee only once if you would opt to visit several islands.

We visited Sapi and Mamutik islands.  Boat fare was RM33 to visit 2 islands.  (not mentioned on the site)  If you want to visit several islands in one trip it’s again best to check with different agents to see when they transfer passengers in between islands to see how much time you can spend on either island.

Once you have your tickets and snorkeling gear you can continue to the boat dock.  At the boat dock you will experience the organised chaos you may have encountered in other places in Asia.  Best is to wave your ticket to people that seem to organize the chaos and they will be able to tell you if you have to wait or which boat is yours.

Sadly enough, what we hoped to be a nice snorkeling experience, turned out to be a disappointment.  On your way to the island you’re already confronted with floating garbage and you find this garbage as well on the islands itself.  The beach is clean but on both sides of the beach you will find all kinds of garbage from plastic bottles to life jackets.  The beach can get crowded and the visibility in the water is limited.  The only place where we got to see the fish quite OK is at the pier where people were feeding them.  (despite signs that this is not allowed)



Fish being fed

Fish being fed

Both islands offered us a same experience when it came to snorkeling.  (meaning we saw no fish)  It seems to be a hit or miss situation if you read the tripadvisor reviews.  You can find good and bad reviews about all the islands. Later on in this trip report I will cover the Perhentians where we did some excellent snorkeling.  I would advise everybody to skip Tunku Abdul Rahman and go to the Perhentians instead.

Sapi island has one more thing to offer: Monitor Lizards!  This was the best part of our trip.  You can see the Monitor Lizards from the beach area but if you want to see them in a more natural environment (not crawling in between BBQ’s) you can do a small hike on Sapi Island.  This hike will only take about 30 minutes and you will see several Monitor Lizards along the path.  The hike will take you up the mountain and is quite steep both going up and down but we managed to do it on flip-flops.

Monitor Lizard

1hr to 1 1/2 hour drive from KK is the Tambunan Rafflesia Reserve.  Yo can inform yourself at the tourist information center to see if the flower is blooming.  You can go to the place by minibus or you can hire a cab.  The minibus is not running very often so chances are big you will have to take a cab.  At time of writing the official taxi fare is RM300 but with some negotiating you should be able to get a cab for half of this price that drops you off at the Reserve and waits for you to take you back.  Be prepared for a rip-off at the park as they charge RM100 for a guide. (for a maximum of 5 persons)  As the reserve is not that well known it’s not sure that you will find other people to share the guide.  The park closes at 2PM, I would advise to go early and negotiate a price with your cab that allows you to wait for some time hoping you will be able to share a guide.  The trip with your guide will probable take 30mins to 1hr depending on the place the flower is blooming.  The flowers are not necessarily near the paths.  We saw 3 and would have probably never found them if we didn’t have a guide with us.
Except for the guide you also have to pay an entrance fee (5RM pp) and another 5RM if you want to take pictures.

You can see the Rafflesia flower at different locations across Malaysia.  The flower is impressive and I would certainly encourage everybody to visit one of the parks, just not this one.  Alternatives are Gunung Gading National Park or Mount Kinabalu.

Continue reading for some nice wildlife @ Kinabatangan!

Have a look at the Picture Libraries for more pictures:

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