Trip to Borneo, Mt. Kinabulu - advice...


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Hi All,

We are shortly leaving sunny ol' London for a 9-12 month round the world trip. One of the destinations we are very much looking forward to visiting is Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo, and especially Mount Kinabulu. Can anyone recommend particularly good or 'not to miss' parts to visit in which to maximise our chances of seeing Neps in the wild? (also rafflesia...)

Many thanks


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NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO I wish I could be so lucky as to go round the world and to amazing places like Mt Kinabalu :cry: :cry:

I dont have any advice,sorry

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When you get their, don't rush straight up the mountain with your guide. A good tip is to scan the overgrown road verges near the reserve buildings to see N. fusca. I didn't actually see this species on the track up the mountain!

Also make sure you visit the 'mountain garden' near the car park. This has several Nepenthes species that you won't otherwise see on the mountain trail.

I only went as far as Lowe's hut (we hadn't even planed to walk the mountain).

The first species you'll see will be N. tentaculata (very common at the side of the path), if your guide's good he'll be able to show you N. lowii near the cable car line (off the main trail). Unfortunately the plant I was shown was dead and dry - but still one of the most impressive things I've seen! Also saw an N. gracilis.

I regret not going all the way to the N. villosa altitude now! So plan to do it!


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just make sure you are fit!

Climbing the mountain isn't technically difficult but it is hard physically and with temperatures in the 80s+ and with 80%+ humidity it can be demanding (especially if, like me, you are somewhat unfit).

Make sure you leave enough time to get through the bureaucracy of getting your permit to climb the mountain particularly if you are going all the way to the top on the overnight trip.

The plant nursery is also worth a visit.

Good luck


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With regard to your trip to Kinabalu, I climbed the mountain a couple of years ago and hope I might be able to help you with the following;

Take much more time than everyone suggests... arrive at the reserve HQ to organize your permits, guides etc...

Then the next day set out on the trek for the camp below the summit (sorry I forget the name - Lamba something)

Normally everyone heads out at 4.00 am to the summit the next day, arrive there, then race down the mountain. I recommend you leave later, about 9.00 am (and miss all the other people), so you will get to the summit at around midday, then you can go back and stay the night at the same camp

Then the next day continue down the mountain, BUT instead of going back the way you came, go down the little path (just below the Nep Vilosas) to the Mesilau reserve. (The guides will know this route for sure). It is not quite as long as the HQ but you go through much more excellent nepenthes habitat, with loads of villosas and tentaculatas (I saw some black ones).... and you arrive at the Mesilau resort (which is much more beautiful and lest touristy that the HQ). There are hotels and hostels at Mesilau. But what you absolutely must do (even more important than the mountain summit climb itself) is the N. Rajah walkway. This is at the Mesilau resort and easily overlooked. You actually have to go and speak to a guide or the personel at the Mesilau centers and they will organize it. Within a 10 minute walk, you go and see beautiful rajahs and various other Nep species. (It is the only N. rajah site that the public can see on the mountain).

Your time at the Kinabalu park will cost very little, (the walk around the Nepenthes trail, if I remember is just a few pounds), but I really recommend tipping big time. The guides who showed me around the Nepenthes trail had maintained it for years and planted burbidgea there which is relatively rare in Kinabalu park. They were ever so nice and helpful, and so it is cool to give them a big tip for their help.

When I went, they cleared a massive area just above the trail to Mesilau (off the main trail). It was a huge area in the Villosa territory. I must be still obvious as I saw it just a couple of years ago. Could you please look and write back when you get back how the plants were doing? I think they cleared the area for a helicopter landing site. (for safety). They clear cut a big patch of the cloud forest with alot of mature Villosa. At the time I saw lots of big (alive) cut villosa stems on the ground which was a shame. Anyway since going, I wondered if this might actually in the end proove to be a good thing from the perspective of nepenthes - maybe in the brighter conditions, the villosa will thrive in the lack of competition.

You can't miss the villosas, but to see the best ones, you actually have to look under the bushes. There is a sign that says 'N. villosa' at the start of their territory, and so just look from beyond that sign.

If I can help in any way, please email me at [email protected]

I did a 2 month conservation project with a British charity in the Maliau basin. If you have time I recommend that, also Gunung Api which is a great trek too.

Personally I loved seeing the plants in the wild. The Kinabalu moto was 'take only photos and leave only footprints' which I strongly believe in and suggest for the sake of conserving these beautiful plants all visitors respect and abide by. - you will see what I mean when you get there - the ecosytems are so fragile and even the slightest damage takes so long to heal. It is so important to protect it and the Kinabalu rangers really do a good job. When you look at the mountain as a whole, the vast majority is pristine and despite alot of reports about widespread destruction, I was very optimistic about the survival of the Neps.

But have a great time and enjoy the trek (take it slow and steady at the top).... check out the durians (not at kinabalu - but in most markets), the snake store, and the ramb-utans (red hairy fruit - v wierd looking but very cool!)... also check out the book store in Kota Kinabalu - lots of rare CP books.

all the best,



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Oh one last thing.... I forgot to mention.

Don't underestimate Kinabalu... lots of people say it is a totally easy mountain. Ok sure it is not technical, in no parts do you need climbing experiences etc. But nevertheless it is half the height of Everest. the last 500 meters are very cold, (you can buy ponchos) but bring warm clothes.

To be fair I climbed the mountain 2 days after coming out of hospital with Malaria, so probably was a bit week, but still I personally felt the effects of high altitude... after the camp beneath the summit it is a bit tiring.....

you can, by the way, buy food and drink at the campe beneath the summit. It is such a nice place... and so surreal - just a house in the cloud forest in the middle of nowhere.... they sell nice meals and food.... after your trek you'll be hungry so bring more cash than you think!

Anyway hope this has been a bit of help...


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besides all the neps, see if you can find any alocasia robusta sarawak. They have the largest leaves of any land plant and are really sought after. I would love to see some pics if you happen to see one

check here:

i don't know how easy they will be to find or even if they are present in the kinabalu area but i've heard they're quite common.

have a brilliant trip, aswell as all the other locations you will visit.


make that among the largest undivided leaves of any land plant

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OH. MY. GOD! Now I am totally over-excited and am going to get NO work done today at all (daydreaming instead...).

Can I just say a huge thank you to everyone for the advice - it is a little overwhelming at the mo as I haven't had time to read up too much on the area yet so the place names are not familiar. I have, however, printed out all your replies and when I start to read up more on Sabah and Sarawak it should all begin to fall more into context - we are spending 3 months in Thailand and Vietnam first so have an awful lot of reading to do!

Richard - thanks for the heads up on the mountain garden and especially the N.lowii (I am so hoping to see a lowii!!!). Don't think there's any danger of me 'rushing up' the mountain somehow :wink: (am a Londoner and inherently unfit).

Stewart - thanks so much for such an informative reply - we will definitely try and get to the Mesilau resort and the N.rajah walkway. Thank you also for the tips on timings, tipping etc etc. Again, I have printed everything off and am planning on taking all the advice with me, but it is good to know it all in advance as well - we had been told that the mountain was cold, but I probably hadn't appreciated it quite so much - gloves hadn't crossed my mind, and I will certainly be buying that baselayer before we go!

We will of course try and post photos and info on how the site looks, how the plants are doing etc, although we will still have another 6-9 months left travelling, so it may well depend on where we are and when we get the chance (probably when we hit Oz I expect).

Again, a huge thank you to all of you for the advice and encouragement - it still feels like such a long way away (we should hit Borneo in mid-October I think) but I really need to start reading up, and your replies have certainly got me motivated to do so!

I just cannot WAIT to see both the Neps and other flora, but I am also hoping to see as much wildlife as possible.

Many thanks and kind regards to you all


PS - Starman - you never know where you may end up in the future!


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I agree with the tip about leaving the laban rata overnight resthouse for the summit a bit later.

We set off at 4am and walked in torrential and freezing rain. About half way between the laban rata and the summit we were all shepherded in the dark into storm shelters. There were about 80 people and we couldn't fit in the shelters so agreed with our guide to keep walking.

We understand that because of the weather only 15 people made it to the summit that morning (the rest got cold waiting in the storm shelters and turned back).

However we reached the top in thick cloud and heavy rain - so much for dawn on the roof of Borneo! We took quick photos and set off back down. By about 8am the sun was shining and it was a lovely day. If we had waited we would have had some views from the top.

Still it was well worth the trip. We went in 1996 so things may have changed a bit but we did the detour for the lowii by the pylon as mentioned by Richard. At that time it was looking good and healthy! We also saw lots of tentaculata and some very impressive N. x kinabaluensis (N. rajah x villosa) on another detour.

Other great places to visit in Sabah include the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, the bat caves and the proboscis monkeys which we went to see. Lots of Orangs at the sanctuary at feeding time and also (for Hen) a good place to see alocasia robusta. There is also a Rafflesia centre at Tenom and also it is possible to see Rafflesia at Poring I believe.

Sepilok is near Sandakan which is on the east coast of Sabah so another benefit of this trip is that you can get a great flight over the summit of Mt Kinabalu!

There was a post on this subject a few weeks ago

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Ahhhh reading these posts brings back the memories.

In 1985 or was it 84 time does fly. Myself, Rob Cantley when he was based in Brunei, and another couple (forgotten their names) went nepenthes hunting in Brunei and Sabah. We spent time in the lowland areas and on Mt Kinabalu. We hired a Toyota long wheel base cruiser and drove through the middle of Sabah in and out of potholes which swallowed the truck. Walking up creeks up to our necks in water for kilometres looking for the allusive veitchii only to find someone had cut the trees down with a chain saw and there were dead veitchii's still on the trees :cry: . Then we went to Laha Datu (I think that is how it is spelt) and back. By the time we took the cruiser back it was a bit worse for wear. Weeellllll a lot worse for wear :wink: .

Climbing 20 meters up trees collecting ampullaria seed, being bitten alive by green ants foraging for bicals and getting covered in leeches in the highlands was all part of the fun.

Mmmmmm I think it is time for another holiday. I cannot imagine what it is like now with all the changes.

Have a great trip I am sure it will be worth it for the memories.


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Hi there,

I'm afraid I can't comment on Borneo, but if you're in that part of the world, with no particular itinerary, I can highly recommend a visit to Lake Toba and North Sumatra. Last time I went was before I knew what a nep was so I can't really comment on their availability, but it is prime highland territory, with a couple of endemic species to boot, so they may not be too hard to find.

Advantages over Malaysia are: Cheapness (15000 rp to the £!), tourist facilities (15 years ago Toba was the centre of the tourist industry in the region. Since Suharto went and the currency crashed the visitor numbers have plummeted. The hotels are still there though, and you can get a 4 star room for $4 a night!) and particularly for nep hunting, the proximity of the jungle. You don't need permits, guides etc, you can easily just hack off the road and up the crater walls, or hire a bike/car and head really high on the roads.

You won't of course find the spectacular rajah's etc, and I think serious Nep hunters might be disappointed, but if you're just sort of wandering it's well worth the trip.

Also on N Sumatra you can see Raffelsia in Bukit Tinggi and Orang Utans in Bukit Lawang (if they've finished rebuilding it). Plus you might find a tiger, if you're really (un)lucky.

Easiest way there is to fly to Medan from KL, and I guess you'd have to go through KL to get to Sarawak anyway, so not too arduous or out of the way.

Anyway, digression over. Have fun!

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We saw wild Orang at Poring as well as at Danum Valley - expensive lodge but fantastic lowland forest crammed with birds, mammals and interesting plants. Just watch for King Cobras - a tourist died here a few years back following a bite. Both Poring and Danum have good canopy walkways which are fascinating to spend dawn on, watching the forest come to life. Danum organise night drives - a great way to see flying squirrels, civets, Bearded Pig and so on. Some people have connected with Clouded Leopard and Elephants on these drives.

October is the start of the wet season, so pack accordingly!

Borneo is an amazing place - enjoy yourself!

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More excellent advice - thanks to you all. I think we will definitely consider a later start up the mountain, I guess we'll see how the weather's looking when we arrive.

The more I hear from you guys the more there seems to do! I am really looking forward to seeing the orangs as well as doing a night drive/walk and certainly hope to see as much of the indigenous wildlife as possible.

Geoff - sounds like fun. Sadly I don't think we'll manage to be quite that adventurous! (Maybe next time...)

Sadly we won't have time for N.Sumatra, as appealing as it sounds - I guess we have to limit ourselves at some point.

Anyway, lots more to print off (great link to the photos as well) so thanks again...


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The general advice regarding Kinabalu is good, and having been up the mountain two or three times while living in Malaysia, I have to reiterate that the Mesilau option is a must if you do want to see Nepenthes rajah in any appreciable numbers. As for your guide, you can try to book one as far in advance as you can, stressing the fact that you want to see Nepenthes, or you can shop for one in the parking lot on the day of your climb - there's a good stand of Nepenthes x harryana relatively low down on the mountain, just yards off the main trail, and a similarly located stand of spectacular N. x kinabaluensis.

For Rafflesia, the best bet is to travel to the Tambunan Rafflesia centre; they have scouts who keep tabs on all flowering Rafflesia in the immediate area (well, about a five hour walk radius of the centre), and some are often found nearby. Scary toilets here.

Gunung Kinabalu is great, and can't be beaten in terms of [relative] ease (it is hard on your knees on the way down), but if you have time to spend on the island, then G. Trus Madi is only a little tougher, and offers stunning views of Kinabalu.

Gunung Api has some spectacular geologic formations, and showcases N. faizaliana, and Gunung Mulu is just a dream come true. Gunung Mulu and Api are part of the Mulu National Park - to get here, you can catch an internal flight to Miri from Kota Kinabalu or Kuching for about £25 if you book yourself well in advance.

From Miri, you take a Twin Otter (mine had open windows - it was a total thrill!) over the lowland forest to the Mulu airstrip which is surrounded by a lowland swamp in which you can find Nepenthes bicalcarata, rafflesiana, ampullaria and gracilis, which is a veritable weed on disturbed dry ground. Most people give up the search for N. bicalcarata because the swamp is just that - water up to your chest in places, coupled with the heat and the insects, you don't feel all that safe, but the rewards are tremendous! I cycled to the airstrip one evening after it closed and squeezed through a hole in the fence onto the runway, where I found Nepenthes gracilis (black form) growing in prostrate mats. These plants are periodically razed, from what I understand.

Most people staying at Mulu opt for the Mulu Resort, which is called 3 or 4 star, I think, but is easily 5 star by Western standards, and very cheap with a hugely scrummy buffet restaurant. You can also stay at a couple of smaller places, which make up for lack of luxury in terms of friendliness and displays of human generosity and hospitality.

Gunung Mulu is my favourite trek; you have to pass through lowland rainforest to make the base of the mountain, and you can see wild pig, sometimes wild cats (rare), and all manner of butterfly, including the Brooke's Birdwing, which is one of the most beautiful I know of. One part involves wading through a river up to your waist, packs held high, and I tell you that there is nothing more refreshing after being in the thick of the forest (with the high humidity and lack of wind, the temperature in real terms approaches 50 ºC, whilst registering only 30-35 on the thermometer - my experience of the Sahara (54 ºC) was far more comfortable because it was dry). As the mountain rises, you'll encounter the leeches - they're all over Borneo, but seem happiest on Mulu - and the Nepenthes come in thick and fast, with Nepenthes muluensis making its appearance soon after N. tentaculata, the difference between the two becoming increasingly obvious after a very short while (colouration, peristome shape, the form of the lid). Of course, on the summit, you're in a garden of white-topped upper pitchers of N. muluensis. You wonder why you put yourself through the pain until you sit down and admire all this whilst munching on the curry that you or your guide carried up - after seven hours of hard slog and only water, the food tastes amazing, the air is fresh, and you feel on top of the Universe.

Bako national park near Kuching is great for Nepenthes rafflesiana, and Nn. ampullaria and gracilis can also be seen there with relative ease.

If you are get to Kuala Lumpur after Borneo and feel like a day or two of luxury, the Mandarin Oriental at KLCC (Petronas Towers) is a good place - as a student, I shunned my father's home and split the £60/night rate with a friend for a premium twin room; the hotel is given 6 stars or something ridiculous, and superb. It's perhaps a little more than anyone needs, but when you come off three or four mountain peaks in a row and smell like roadkill, you sometimes just need it. The chocolate buffet at tea time was a winner, and the breakfast spread is legendary.

From here, you're within a few hours of the nearby hill stations of Cameron Highlands (N. macfarlanei, white upper pitcher form), Fraser's hill (mainly N. sanguinea) and Genting Highlands (N. ramispina, N. macfarlanei typical, N. sanguinea). The lowland species can be found on many road verges if you take the time to look and know what vegetation to associate with them, though stopping can be hard in many places.

Local food that has to be tried to understand why Malaysians are the biggest foodies on the planet:

In the peninsular and Borneo:

Roti canai - a flat bread similar to paratha but with more layers, served with a soupy curry that it just sucks up (usually chicken, fish or vegetable)

Char kway teow - flat rice noodles stir fried with kecap pekat (Malay answer to ultra thick soya sauce), baby clams, fish cake or pork, and spring greens

Kangkong belachan - this is water spinach fried with prawn sambal (basically a prawn and red chilli paste) that burns the hell out of you, but brings people back again and again because it's just so tasty (I'm biased; it is my favourite dish)

Kueh - Chinese Malay rice ad bean flour desserts made with coconut and pandan (screw pine) essence; refreshing

Steamed bawal putih - I think this fish is called pomfret in the UK, silver with a diamond shaped body and very expensive in Europe - £1.00 is the most you'll pay and it's gorgeous with just ginger and garlic


Tarap - this fruit is only found on Borneo, is related to the famous Durian, but doesn't smell, has the consistency of custard, and is just lovely to eat whilst driving (provided you don't have to keep your hands on the wheel).

Hmm, I think I've gone overboard here - I'm clearly a little homesick; time to get back to the thesis.

Good luck for your preparations,


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Thanks Alastair, that all sounds awesome - you have done nothing to curb my mounting enthusiasm and inability to concentrate in my last 3 weeks at work :(


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