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Earlier in the year, one of my colleagues sent out an email to the whole department mooting the idea of a group hike to Gunung Kinabalu, the highest peak in Borneo and South East Asia, I immediately msg Haze to check on her interest, and a few months later in late July 2016, we found ourselves at the foothill of the sleeping giant.

Kinabalu Park entrance & Pondok Timpohon, our starting point
Kinabalu Park entrance & Timpohon Gate, our starting point 9:40 am

First, let’s talk about the mountain and what one should prepare if you have the intention to scale all of 4096 meter. Here’s the check list of equipment that will be extremely helpful:

  • hiking stick(s), preferably a pair. This will aid in providing traction as well as relieve to the impact to your knees, especially on descent
  • water bottles or water bladder. It’s going to be a very long hike, you’ll need hydration, at least 2-3 litre
  • cloths for cold weather. Temperature at summit can be as low as a few Celsius, factoring in wind chill and you’re in for a treat. We find the down jacket from UNIQLO quite good for this application as it is very compact. You are also advised to bring at least a pair of long pants and maybe long john
  • snacks, packed lunch is provided with the package, but some condensed calorie such as chocolate or energy bar is helpful
  • hiking lamp or torch light. Head lamp is helpful as you may need to have your hands free for hiking stick or ropes on 2nd day ascent that starts at 2:30 am
  • hat & sunscreen. You’d want to protect yourself from getting sun burnt
  • gloves. Preferably 2 pairs just in case they get wet, doesn’t need to be very thick, you need them to protect your hands while grabbing the ropes, and also not have your fingers get too cold near summit
  • poncho/umbrella. Just in case it rains on you
  • extra change of cloths. It is a two day hike and it also may rain
  • ibuprofen. Taking 600 mg ibuprofen every 8 hours is shown to reduce incident of altitude sickness
  • a small first aid supply. Plasters, some bandages can be helpful

While these supplies are important, you are also advised to get it as light as possible. They get heavier and heavier every step you climb up, you can also hire porter to carry everything for you at a rate of RM 10 or so per KG (both up & down)

first stop was Pondok Kandis
first stop was Pondok Kandis 10:04 am

Secondly, you’re going to be needing some training. If you’re not already an avid hiker, you’re gonna need to get some practise hike before the Mount Kinabalu ordeal.

Many hikers used to go to Batu Caves to walk those stairs before Kinabalu hike, but whoever is now in charged of that public property seems to not be letting anyone do that anymore. Next best thing is going to places like Kiara Hills or Bukit Tabur if you’re near KL, or even better, Penang Hill. We did those places once each with quite a few gym sessions to get ready, and at the end wished that we had done more practise hikes.

Pondok Ubah 10:30 am
Pondok Ubah, 10:30 am

You can’t climb Kinabalu Mountain like you do with other hills. Permit and hiking guide are required for every climber. For that we signed up Amazing Borneo Tours. The package we got was as follow:

  • RM 1250 for Malaysian, RM 1630 for non-Malaysian inclusive of GST
  • includes 1 breakfast, 2 lunches, 1 dinner & 1 supper
  • 1 night accommodation at Laban Rata
  • return transfer from KK to Kinabalu Park, and Kinabalu Park to Timpohon Gate
  • mountain guide, climbing insurance, permit, & certificate

Haze and myself actually ended up renting a car and drove to Kinabalu Park ourselves since we had planned to stay at Kundasang after the climb while others in our group made used of the KK hotel transfer. I wonder if we could have gotten a slightly cheaper rate if we had stated that earlier.

Pondok Lowii 11:13 am, Pondok Mempening 12:21 am
Pondok Lowii 11:13 am, Pondok Mempening, 12:21 am

The journey from Kota Kinabalu starts at around 6am from the hotel. It takes some 2 hours or so to get to the main entrance of Kinabalu Park. We then got paperwork for climbing permit sorted out and collected our pre-packed lunch in paper bag.

Our group was then ferried to the Timpohon Gate (elevation 1866 m)to start our climb at around 9:33am.

Pondok Layang-Layang, 1:11 pm
Pondok Layang-Layang, 1:11 pm

The aim for first day is to get to Laban Rata (elevation 3272 m), which is about a 6 km hike of 1400 meter in elevation. Along the way there are quite a number of shelters, or Pondok. The shelters aren’t really equal in distance or elevation between one another, but provides a good place to catch your breath.

Pondok Villosa, 2:36 pm
Pondok Villosa, 2:36 pm

The shelters from Timpohon to Laban Rata (with our time of arrival):

  • Pondok Kandis, 1981 meter, 10:04 am
  • Pondok Ubah, 2081 meter, 10:30 am
  • Pondok Lowii, 1167 meter,  11:13 am
  • Pondok Mempening, 2515 meter, 12: 21 pm
  • Pondok Layang-Layang, 2702 meter, 1:03 pm (this is also where we had our lunch)
  • Pondok Villosa, 2960 meter, 2: 36 pm
  • Pondok Paka, 3080 meter, 3:21 pm

.. and finally – Laban Rata, 3272 meter, 4:18 pm

Pondok Paka, 3:21 pm
Pondok Paka, 3:21 pm

We actually split into two groups about half way with another group being a little faster. Our time posted is quite of quite a leisure pace with a lot of rest at the shelters, and some stops in between as well. Dinner at Laban Rata is served at 4:30 pm so we actually got there just in time.

we reached Raban Rata at 4:18 pm
we reached Laban Rata at 4:18 pm; food, sleeping place!

Dinner is buffet style and there’s plenty of food to go around. There’s also a small shop at the restaurant that offers bottled water, snacks, and even beer, at a price that’s quite a bit more expensive than in the city. A 1.5 litre of water was some RM 15 (or maybe a bit more), but I bet most of us won’t want to carry anyone’s 1.5 kg worth of anything up there for RM 15.

After dinner it’s a good idea to get some sleep before the 2nd day’s hike. Hostel style bunk bed is all you get, and we’re lucky to have a room with 6 beds for our group to enjoy our very own snoring symphony.

getting ready for summit try, 2:30 am
getting ready for summit try, 2:30 am

We woke up at 1:30 am for 2nd day’s hike. Buffet style supper is provided and we ate as much as we could in our sleepy state to get ready for the summit try.

Temperature at Laban Rata is already pretty cold at maybe 12-15 Celsius, so we put on our cold weather cloths and lights. I left a climbing stick in the room and to carry only one since I wanted to have a free hand for grabbing the climbing rope along the route.

by 4:53 am we reached KM 8.0, the last stop
by 4:53 am we reached KM 8.0, the last stop

The climb to summit is pretty different from the first day’s trail. It is a lot steeper and generally more hazardous, there are parts where you’ll need to grab hold of the climbing rope to help yourself up. It is also potentially more slippery when wet as some areas are just rock face without any steps or wide path like the first day.

To give you an idea of the difference in gradient, first day we hiked 6 km for 1400 meter in elevation, the second day it was 2.5 km for 822 meter. It is that much steeper.

reached the summit at about 5:45 am for sunrise
reached the summit at about 5:45 am for sunrise

We started the climb at 2:30 am and reached the summit just over 3 hours later. It was a gruelling hike as I was already quite tired from previous day’s climb. There are a couple stations for resting, and we also took a few stops closer to summit whenever we felt tired. It got really cold and windy, we had to took cover behind some boulders while resting.

Haze unfortunately decided to turn back some 10 minutes into the climb as she was showing signs of altitude sickness with very elevated heart rate. Ian had decided to stay back (as per planned) as he had made the summit a year ago. Thank you Ian!

Poul near the summit
Poul near the summit

Low’s Peak is quite a small are and gets rather crowded. We waited for our turn to take the all important I AM HERE ON TOP OF Mt. KINABALU pictures, stayed another half hour or so admiring the view before slowly making our way down.

there are areas where ropes are required
there are areas where ropes are required

The view going back down to Laban Rata was breath taking. You could see the whole of Kundasang and plenty of cloud around.

the view on the way down was breathtaking
the view on the way down was breathtaking 

The evidence from 2015’s earthquake was also very apparent. There were boulders the size of cars littered by the slope along the newly created path after the previous one was destroyed. Lives were lost during that day.

result of the earthquake, look at the size of this fallen boulder
result of the earthquake, look at the size of this fallen boulder

It was about 9:30 am when we reached Laban Rata, just good timing for another round of breakfast. All these walking really does work up your appetite, and it is a good idea to eat as much as possible to replenish all those spent calories. We then took a bit of rest before heading back down by around 10:15 am.

at this check point you also find the highest toilet in all of South East Asia
at this check point you also find the highest toilet in all of South East Asia

The journey down, was not nearly as demanding in a cardiovascular sense, was very punishing to our joints. My right knee (which suffered MCL injury before) started acting up about 70% down. Thankfully those hiking sticks provided some relieves.

Most coincidentally, we also met with an intern, Vinod who worked at our department a year ago. Hello!

we met with an ex-intern on the way down, also look at the porter!
we met with an ex-intern on the way down, also look at the porter!

Climbing Kinabalu Mountain was quite an experience, and one that I hope that we can do it again next year!

By the way, our pre-discussed contingency plan before climbing was that if anyone couldn’t make it, Ian was going to stay with the person, and if Ian was that person, I was going to stay with him. The reason being he had done it before, and I was the person who has more opportunity to try it again. You may not need to use this plan like we did, but it’s a good idea to have one.

A few weeks ago we went back to Penang and instead of staying at home at mom’s place, it was a short staycation at Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa, a place with fond memories from my teenage years as I used to work there as a casual workers (as mentioned on the entry on their Spice Market buffet). It was a like a 20 years fantasy come true of sort.

Rasa Sayang at Batu Feringghi, Penang
Rasa Sayang at Batu Feringghi, Penang

Rasa Sayang has always been one of the best hotels from the Shangri-La group. Situated at the East side of Batu Ferringhi beach, it is some 20 minutes drive from Geogetown, the capital city of Penang.

In addition to the access to sandy beach and all the fun beach activities such as parasailing, banana boats and such, the hotel also spot a huge garden with some of the oldest and biggest trees you can find. The landscape is simply amazing, and from someone who’s just started to work on a bit of a green patch at home, I can only begin to imagine amount of effort required to upkeep this huge garden.

our Rasa Premier Wing, as big as some apartments
our Rasa Premier Wing, as big as some apartments, with mom!

Rasa Sayang is separated into two different wings – Garden Wing & Rasa Wing.

Rasa Wing is catered more towards couples and adults while Garden Wing welcomes family oriented holiday goers. Each wing has its own swimming pool, with Rasa Wing pool allowing only 16 year olds and older and the Garden Wing main pool accessible to all.

there's a huge outdoor bathtub at the balcony
there’s a huge outdoor soaking tub at the balcony

Rasa Wing guests also enjoy several additional privileges, such as a balcony with private soaking tub, complimentary high tea, semi buffet breakfast at Feringgi Grill, and in-room express check-in and check out.

The service is definitely more exclusive and personal for Rasa Wing guests.

the gym at Rasa Sayang is rather well equipped
the gym at Rasa Sayang is rather well equipped

Other recreational facilities at Rasa Sayang includes a par-3 pitch & putt golf course, a tennis court, an adventure zone, and a rather well equipped gym which we made full use of on our 2-night stay.

Rasa Wing guests get to have breakfast at Feringgi Grill
Rasa Wing guests get to have breakfast at Feringgi Grill

Ferringi Grill has won awards an often regarded as one of the best restaurants on the island, so when we had the opportunity to sample the breakfast buffet as a staying guest on Rasa Wing, it was a no brainer.

The breakfast is served as a semi-buffet style, with a rather decent selection of pastry, cheese, and other breakfast dishes in addition to several main dishes you can order. Haze had fresh waffles with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, berry compote and pistachio powder, while I opted for roasted sea bass with spinach and mushrooms. They were quite delightful, a class above ordinary buffet for sure.

there's complimentary afternoon tea at Rasa Lounge
there’s complimentary afternoon tea at Rasa Lounge

We also took advantage of the complimentary afternoon tea at Rasa Lounge, again available for free to Rasa Wing guests. I had a cup of coffee while Haze opted for tea to go with scones, sandwich, and other carefully crafted pastries. I particularly enjoyed the little sandwich with grilled capsicum & onion, simple and exquisite.

Was our stay at Rasa Sayang as good as I thought it’ll be 20 years ago when I was serving the guests? Well, let’s just say I wouldn’t say no to retiring at this place.

map to rasa sayang

Do check out some of the offers from Rasa Sayang if you’re planning a trip to Penang by clicking the links below.

Address:
Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa by Shangril-La 
Batu Ferringhi Main Road,
Kampung Tanjung Huma,
11100 Batu Feringgi, Pulau Pinang
GPS5.478865, 100.254181
Tel+604-888 8888

I made it to the top of Low’s Peak on Mount Kinabalu after a grueling two day hike from about 1800+ meter to 4095 meter above sea level.

We’re still at Kundasang nursing sore legs right now. Will pen down the experience and share some of the other exciting stuff around this area on the blog soon!

The last time I went diving was October 2013 in Maldives, a full 2.5 years passed since I breathed underwater, until last week, when we revisited Tenggol Island. The very island I got my diving certificate more than ten years ago, and also the island I dived the most. How time flies.

Tenggol Coral Beach Resort
Tenggol Coral Beach Resort

The east coast highway is now completed, heading to Dungun took us only 4 hours (excluding the detour to Bentong for breakfast), we left KL at 6 in the morning and got there in time for the 11 am boat transfer to the island. It was also an easier drive than previously when you had to navigate through the old coastal road that can sometimes be congested with big & slow lorries.

As a consequence then, the island is now being visited more than ever, and perhaps lost a bit of its mystic of almost being a deserted island that we used to love.

KY, Haze, Rich, San San at Pulau Tenggol
KY, Haze, Rich, San San at Pulau Tenggol

Anyway, we paid about RM 1.5k each for a twin sharing room with all meals included, boat transfer from Dungun, and 7 boat dives. Slightly more expensive than earlier deals, but it was fair considering the upgrades of the facilities & meals. Will get to that later.

Anyway, I want to document my dive log here as per my usual practice.

Day 1
Dive 1
Site: Coral Garden
20/5/16 3:18 pm, 55 mins, 21.7 meter, 30 Celsius, 124 bar of air
Bumphead, 2 types of nudi, black shrimp on cushion starfish, coral fish

Dive 2
Site: Tanjung Gemuk, evening dive
20/5/16 5:58 pm, 57 mins, 19.4 meter, 31 Celsius, 117 bar of air
Nemo, huge morel eel, trumpet fish, rock hopper wrasse, huge nudi, lovely coral garden
Fish eagle with fish or sea snake captured. Nice slow drifting current

Day 2
Dive 1 – Tokong Laut
21/5/16 9:27 am, 48 mins, 26.6 meter, 29 Celsius, 118 bar of air
Lots of boulders, some swim through which is always one of my favorites.

Dive 2 – Tokong Timur
21/5/16 11:43 am, 60 mins, 20.8 meter, 29 Celsius, 134 bar of air
The other group saw whale shark at other dive site. We didn’t but was a reasonably nice dive too. Warm water of 29-30c too. Rainbow runner, school of fish.

Dive 3 – Turtle Point
21/5/16 3:38 pm, 61 mins, 16.3 meter, 31 Celsius, 113 bar of air
Trying to hunt for whale shark, didn’t find any
Lots of goby with shrimp pairing. Some pvc artificial habitat for the fishes.
Always love the black damsel among corals.

Day 3
Dive 1 – Thai Wreck
22/5/16 9:18 am, 49 mins, 30.2 meter, 28 Celsius, 130 bar of air
Lovely atmospheric dive, took a few pics around the wreck. Deepest dive so far.
Again plenty of goby with shrimp at Sandy bottom.

Dive 2 – Amazing Grace
22/5/16 11:37 am, 61 mins, 18.6 meter, 30 Celsius, 120 bar of air
Last dive of the trip. Also one of the loveliest.
Saw 2 turtles, maybe could have been the same one. Trigger fish. Also saw 3 blue spotted rays.
Big giant garupa. Played with Nemo, catch and release style. Saw jewel garupa too.

Thai Wreck, one of my favorite dives
Thai Wreck, one of my favorite dives

A thing to note for myself is that I have to start checking my equipment at least a couple weeks prior to the trip. I only did so a night prior to this trip and discovered 2 optical cables & my macro lens were missing. The lens lent to a friend but the cables .. well, I may need new cables.

Additionally, we discovered that Haze’s dive computer ran out of battery, with mine being quite low in power as well. We also should have tested the BCD in the swimming pool, cos that would have avoided me discovering that a plastic part had failed right before I was about to go into water for my first dive.

Lessons learned.

food at the resort in Tenggol has since tremendous improvement
food at the resort in Tenggol has since tremendous improvement

One of the best things that happened to having more visitors to Tenggol, at least at Tenggol Coral Beach resort that we went, is that now they serve proper food!

In previous years, you basically “eat to dive” and there were very little enjoyment to be had from those barely edible meals. Now they actually offer fairly decent buffet spread that wouldn’t be out of place in a 2-star hotel in the city.

there was even steamboat dinner on our last night
there was even steamboat dinner on our last night

In fact, on the last night they even prepared steamboat dinner with a hot pot on every table, complete with names of the group all assigned properly.

There’s also now a mini market of sort that you can purchase additional drinks (aka alcohol, soda etc) or snacks to be charged to the room. All in all it is now a much hospitable set up than before, and with 24 hour stable electricity supply & hot water as well. We were pleasantly surprised by this.

our dive guide - Jess
our dive guide – Jess

I have a feeling I would see Tenggol again in future trips, the diving was pretty decent, getting there is now easier than ever, makes for a perfect long weekend getaway.

 

After 2.5 years of not breathing underwater, and over a decade since I first got my license at Tenggol island, this is the 4th time back to one of my favorite islands.

image

Tenggol here we come! Can’t wait.