Chilling out in a tropical destination

Tan Hee Hui, Contributor, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

A market at Kundasang village. — Photo by Tan Hee Hui

Kinabalu National Park in Sabah (Malaysia Borneo) – a UNESCO “world heritage site” with over 4,500 types of flora and fauna, 326 birds and 100 mammalian species – also boasts Mount Kota Kinabalu, which at 4,095 meters above sea level, is Borneo Island’s highest mountain.

Both attractions are located a four-hour drive from Sabah’s capital city Kota Kinabalu and it’s where we truly enjoyed some much needed respite from the city hustle and bustle.

The main highlight, however, was visiting Masilau Nature Park, situated at 2,000 meters above sea level at the southwest corner of Kinabalu National Park. At the nature park, we’d experienced thick foggy weather condition and temperature that dropped to below 10 degrees Celsius.

Indeed, Masilau Nature Park – which is often exposed to erratic weather conditions – is known as the coldest part in the national park.

Before heading to the nature park, we had the opportunity to check out Kundasang Village, located six kilometres from Kinabalu Park.

The village’s close proximity to Mount Kinabalu also proffers panoramic views of the majestic peaks, valleys and quaint village settlements situated on mountain slopes. The picturesque village is ideal for taking lots of snapshots!

Also an “agricultural” hub, Kundasang has a thriving vegetable market which is open daily. With most of the vegetable stalls managed by locals, comprising mainly native Dusun and the minority Chinese community, look out for local specialities such as fresh cabbage, mushrooms (such as shitake and black mushroom varieties) and baby kai lan.

One of our tour guides had said that some of the varieties of greens are sold at the lowest prices available in Sabah!

For those who’d prefer to buy local handicrafts such as batik, among others, check out the many souvenir stores in the village.

Old-world kopitiams (coffee shops) also dot the village – and where you can enjoy an aromatic cuppa while immersing in the surrounding’s languid pace, before taking a 30-minute drive to the Masilau Nature Park where high-adrenaline activities, among others, are available.

Mount Kinabalu — Photo by Tan Hee Hui

At the foot of Mount Kinabalu, the Masilau Nature Park is where “mountainous” vegetation thrives, such as verdant ferns and other sorts of medium-height flora and fauna.

Before embarking on your trekking experience at the nature park, you must register and pay a fee at the park’s headquarters nearby the upscale Masilau Nature Resort, where chalet-type accommodations are available.

The “Masilau” moniker is derived from the small waterfall which locals claim was originally yellow in color (‘silou’ is yellow).

Having gone where most amateur trekkers have surely threaded in the past, the rather easy-to-trek Masilau Trail is equipped with proper plank walks and specially built wooden staircases along some sharp bends and steep slopes – all passing rocky terrain and other parts with lush greenery.

Workers pick tea leaves at the Sabah tea plantation. — Photo by Tan Hee Hui

At some parts, the slopes are so challenging (at over a 45 degree angle) you require a reasonable amount of fitness and endurance.

One-quarter way through the 10 kilometer trail you’ll arrive at the suspended bridge hung over the gushing Kipuyut River. Take a short rest here and enjoy the surrounding breathtaking views, among which, you will see wild orchids – all against the backdrop of majestic Masilau pinnacles in the distance.

Moving on, you’ll come across exotic flora and fauna, such as pitcher plants, the Nephenthes Rajah, slipper orchids and wild mushrooms (including the colorful ‘sunburst’ variety). As well as two types of Rafflesia; a flower known for emanating a distinctively foul odor.

Measuring 30 to 40 centimeters in diameter, the Keitheii Rafflesia has a unique red color; and the Preceii Rafflesia (at 15 centimeters diameter) is identified by its red shade and white dots. These are indigenous in the nature park, where they thrive throughout the year.

Their mortality rate is unique. It takes nine months for both of the species to progress from the “bud-to-bloom” stages and will then survive for six days only before wilting.

Nepenthes Rajah — Photo by Tan Hee Hui

Wildlife also thrives at the nature park, such as red leave monkeys, snakes and over 300 types of birds. However, our guides have said that it’s difficult to spot most of the wildlife on most days.

Every month, many bird-watching enthusiasts from around the world are also known to congregate at the natural sanctuary here, hoping to spot some elusive or rare species, among others.

In fact, some hardcore bird-watchers have been known to make preparations well in advance, such as making reservations for accommodation at the Masilau Nature Resort.

At the resort, some groups of regular bird-watching fans are known to stay for as long as 10 days or more, during which they pay an average of US$300 per day, which includes a professional guide.

As for our enjoyable trekking experience, the cool weather conditions had prevented us from sweating too profusely. Hey, this was ideal for us city dwellers who are not exactly known for our passion for jungle trekking.

About Masilau Nature Resort

Established in 1988, the Masilau Nature Resort offers a cluster of chalets and a restaurant where specially prepared meals can be had.

For each chalet, there are three rooms. Each room has its own bathroom (complete with hot shower and toiletries).

The resort is also an ideal place to begin your guided nature walk. Recommended is to bring comfortable walking or tracking shoes, sun-block lotion, insect repellent and raincoat.

All visitors must pay a fee (up to RM15) to enter the nature park, which is open daily, 9am to 4pm.

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