Asia

Sabah, Malaysia: A Trip to the Mountain Town of Kundasang

The weather is hot and humid here in Malaysia; sometimes, a wee bit too warm. Tropical climate, lush green rainforests, sunny coastlines. So when I first saw pictures of a place in Malaysia where the Friesian cows roam in the meadows surrounded by rolling hills — I was intrigued. A place at home that doesn’t seem like home! Sounds quite charming, doesn’t it?

Kundasang

Kundasang

The Borneon states of Sabah and Sarawak is a part of Malaysia — but to me, sometimes it feels like they are worlds away and cultures apart. I live in the Malaysian peninsula on the west, and when I flew over to Sabah for the first time (this trip), I felt as if I was taking a flight away from the country. Both Sabah and Sarawak seem so big and unexplored — and I was pretty excited to finally make my way to yet another Malaysian state.

After two days exploring the capital city of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu (you can read about it here: Two Days (of Food and Sights) in Kota Kinabalu); I made my way to the meadow-like town I saw in the pictures — Kundasang. Tucked in the highlands of Sabah in the district of Ranau, Kundasang sits just below the majestic Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia’s tallest mountain.

As expected of the highest town in the country (at 1,900m above sea level); the Kundasang weather is cooling, the air is misty, and the people plant fresh vegetables — which is what the town is known for. A far cry from the unbearable heat I left behind in Kuala Lumpur. Oh, how I love sweather weathers.

Kundasang FunKundasang

 

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Getting There
From Kota Kinabalu, I decided to drive to Kundasang. The town is not well connected in terms of public transport — and the few groups I saw during my visit to the town (and the other towns nearby) were following a group tour. I rented a car during my trip to Sabah; and it was pretty easy to get one at the airport.

I had a lovely drive up the mountains. Waze (and Google Maps) gave excellent directions, so all I did was just follow the instructions. It lead me to everywhere I wanted to go — the attractions along the trail, the restaurants in my list; and to my accommodation in Mesilau, which was a secluded chalet on a hillside overlooking Mount Kinabalu. Due to the distance from one site to another, having a car made getting around so much more convenient.

MesilauMesilau

 

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Our Accommodation
There are tons of accommodation selections in Kundasang, and the nearby town of Ranau. After all, climbing Mount Kinabalu is quite a popular activity (I plan to do it one day, but probably not anytime soon). From budget hotels and homestays, to private chalets and huge resorts — some offer views of the valley down below, and some, the gorgeous Mount Kinabalu range.

I wanted to be within the mountains (or at least feel that way), so I chose a place further up the hills. I found the T Paradise Chalet — a standalone house perched on the side of the mountainside; between the towns of Kundasang and Mesilau. I also wanted an unobstructed view of Mount Kinabalu, and what a view the chalet had. I loved watching the mist and clouds cover the magnificent mountain in the evening, and the golden sun lighting up its jaggedy, rocky texture in the morning. It made up for the complete remoteness of the chalet — which can be a little scary at night, to be honest.

Kundasang Cattle FarmKundasang Cattle Farm

 

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Places to See
Other than just admiring Mount Kinabalu at all times — though I wouldn’t have minded spending my days just looking at the mountain over cups and cups of coffee; and do nothing but read and write. But there are other places to see, and I had to get my view (and a shot — got it in that picture above) of those Friesian cows roaming the meadows surrounded by rolling hills!

Desa Cattle Farm
Everyone who comes to Kundasang visits the Desa Cattle Farm — as evident from the throngs of visitors at the farm. I was there early in the morning, and the place (and car park) was already packed to the brim. The farm itself isn’t very impressive — aside from the daily milking sessions and the opportunity to feed the calves, there isn’t much to see. The place was really smelly (I know it’s a farm, but still) and the animals looked tired and worn.

So just come for the views. The “Friesian cows roaming the meadows surrounded by rolling hills” view. The “majestic Mount Kinabalu in all its glory” view. It really is truly stunning, and makes the most gorgeous photos. Every angle and every turn took my breath away — especially when the morning mist gradually clears away, revealing the mountain in its entireness.

Oh, and you can come for the milk, and yogurt, and gelato too. It’s makes quite a yummy breakfast. Entrance to the farm costs RM5 per person.

KundasangKundasang

 

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Kundasang Town and War Memorial
Maybe a little history while you’re in town? Even as a Malaysian (and studying Malaysian history all through my school years), I did not know anything about the history of Kundasang — especially during the war. It was at the Kundasang War Memorial (located in the center of town) that I learned about the fate of the Australian and British POWs that marched all the way from the Sandakan POW camp (260km away) to the camp in Ranau. More than 2,000 soldiers died during that period of Japanese rule in World World II. It is known as the Death March.

The memorial also features lovely gardens filled with plants and flowers that can only be found at such a high elevation. Entrance to the memorial is RM2 for locals, and RM10 for tourists. And while I was in town, I also dropped by the 7-days-a-week market that sells local produce (lots of fresh vegetables) and Malaysian sweets and delicacies.

Poring Hot SpringsPoring Hot Springs

 

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Poring Hot Springs
About a 45-minute drive from Kundasang is the Poring Hot Springs. The place seems to be a pretty popular spot for tourists and tour groups — people come just to bathe in the hot springs (which has been done up and divided into little concrete pools). I however, was satisfied with just a short feet dip (in and out immediately), as I find hot springs too hot for my liking.

If you’re like me — there are other interesting things to see and experience in Poring. There’s a Butterfly Farm, and I especially loved going on the Hanging Bridge after a 10-minute climb up a small hill. There are also several waterfalls, but I was too lazy to make the 4km hike though the jungle to get to it. Best part of the trip though, was that I got to see a fully bloomed Rafflesia — the biggest flower (it’s a parasite, really) in the world! Entrance is RM3 for locals, and RM15 for foreigners (with extra charges for a few other attractions in the park). Poring can be quite interesting if you love nature, though I don’t think that driving all the way to the hot springs was really worth it.

KundasangKundasang

 

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Other Interesting Places
Kundasang and the nearby town of Ranau offers other smaller attractions that might be great to make up for time in the highlands (if you need to be constantly on the go or have children with you). There are several vegetable farms you could stop by; as well as the Kundasang Mount Valley and Recreation that has a Flying Fox ride; the Arnab Village to play with rabbits; and the Tagal Luanti Fish Massage Village for a natural ‘fish nibble’ feet spa.

The town of Ranau is famous for its tea — there’s a Sabah Tea Resort in the area where you could stop by for a cup or two. I missed most of these attractions as I was only in Kundasang for 2 days and 1 night — and other than the main attractions, I spent my time just chilling, enjoying the cool air, and admiring Mount Kinabalu!

Kundasang FoodKundasang Food

 

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Food and Restaurants
There are not much restaurant choices in Kundasang. There is a KFC in town if you prefer fast food; but during my visit, I had lunch at the SS Chinese Restaurant that serves locally grown produce. I especially enjoyed their steamed kampong chicken and the deep fried local mushroom. While in Ranau, I dropped by the Ranau Hakka Food Court for a meal. The food court is divided into two sections — one serving Chinese food, and the other, Malay. I randomly picked one from the Chinese section, and ordered a meal of butter prawns, fried eggplants, sweet and sour pork, steamed eggs and vegetables. It was pretty good.

For dinner (in our chalet perched on the hill and in complete seclusion), we drove a little way down to the nearby H.Benjamin Resort to dine at their restaurant. Food was a mix of local and western, but nothing to shout about. I think my most memorable meal in Kundasang though, was probably the random BBQ wild boar shop I chanced upon along the road down the mountains. The layout itself was eye-catching — a long, long row of wild boar meat upon meat upon meat, being grilled on the concrete stove. I got some meat to go for the journey back to Kota Kinabalu — it was yummy, albeit a little tough (because well, it’s wild boar)!

KundasangKundasang Fun

 

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Fun in Kundasang

So did I get to see what I wanted to see in Kundasang? A little yes, and a little no. I did get my view of the Friesian cows roaming in the meadows surrounded by rolling hills — but it really didn’t feel as if I was in another country. The pictures may tell a different story; but the air, the smell (bad as I was at the cow farm), the atmosphere and the surroundings were all Malaysia. My Malaysia — but with Friesian cows.

I did have a good time in Kundasang — the views of Mount Kinabalu and the surrounding hills and valleys are absolutely breathtaking, and the cooling weather was simply lovely. The highlands is a great place to just sit back, relax and be with nature; and forget all the stresses and worries back home. I’m glad I decided to make the journey here to check the place out for myself. The next time I’m back — it’ll definitely be to climb Mount Kinabalu. But not just yet.

Kundasang

Within the jungles in the mountain ranges of Mount Kinabalu.

Kundasang

Admiring Malaysia’s tallest mountain, Mount Kinabalu, from afar.

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