Ecotourism in Malaysia is perhaps epitomised in the act of climbing Mt. Kinabalu. Southeast Asia's highest peak, Mt. Kinabalu, located in Kinabalu National Park, just outside the city of Kota Kinabalu, is what many ecotourists choose to conquer in Malaysian Borneo. The climb is, to some, magical, to others, sheer pain, but nonetheless it is an experience of Malaysia's finest ecotourism offerings, whether it's the hardest physical thing you've ever done, or just a walk in the park.
It's an 8.9 kilometre hike to the summit, which is 8.9 kilometres of exceptionally challenging terrain. The first 6 kilometres lead you to the Laban Rata Guesthouse, where all climbers must remain for the evening. Part of the Park's ecotourism carrying capacity initiatives, there are only enough beds for climbers, so if there isn't space, you aren't welcome to climb. Book well enough in advance, as many would-be climbers find that booking a few weeks before travel, especially in peak season, won't get them up the mountain.
Getting to Laban Rata will push you through lush rainforest and some constructed stairs, but you will mostly be clambering up rocks masquerading as steps. The next morning, when you summit in the darkness of 2.30am, you'll face a seemingly endless succession of steep stairs before the impossible-looking granite beckons. In the pitch-black night, you'll be grateful you can only see what your headlamp illuminates before you. The landscape has completely changed from the green, leafy canopy of the first day of the climb, and now, you're just powering up rock. The contrast couldn't be much greater.
The goal is to reach the summit of Mt. Kinabalu (4095m approximately) by sunrise, which most climbers are able to succeed at. At the top, you'll finally realise why you put yourself through that very difficult ordeal. The sunrise, if you're up there on a good, clear day, is unbelievably colourful and dramatic, unlike anything I'd ever seen before. You'll have that in your mind as you descend - also the knowledge that the worst is behind you, and you're on your way down.
What To Bring
While hot and humid for the first day, the second day will see a cold and windy ascent to the summit, so be prepared with warm layers and a raincoat. For the morning ascent in darkness, you'll need a headlamp, and toque will come in handy, as will strong wool mitts (for the part where you haul yourself up a sheer granite rock face with ropes).
Hiking boots are highly advisable, but if you wear running shoes, be careful of the slippery rocks on the way down. If you're not an avid hiker or climber, don't worry about purchasing a walking stick before the climb - just rent one for 10 RM (approx ?2). It is very highly recommended that you have a walking stick for the climb - your knees will thank you.
If you know you have problems with altitude sickness, get some pill before you leave home, as these will be invaluable on the mountain.
More Ecotourism in Malaysia
Fancy yourself a bit more ecotourism fun in Malaysia? Consider scuba diving in some of the world's top destinations, like Sipadan. If you prefer to stay on land, the orangutans being cared for at the Orangutan Sanctuary at Sepilok would love to see you during their feeding times. The opportunities for ecotourism in Malaysia and Borneo are endless, so have a look, strap on your adventure boots (or oxygen tank) and check it out!