TRAVEL TO MALAYSIA AND BORNEO

kinabalu-morning

Mt.Kinabalu

 Alex Boyko

Published 19.09.2007  

If you have time, free money and like to bargain literally for everything, Malaysia is the place to go. A small country, located on a Malay Peninsula, extended to Borneo Island and numerous small islands near the equator, offers everything you can ask for. From amazing world-famous scuba-diving and snorkeling sites, paradise islands with stretchy miles-long white-sand beaches, to the highest peaks in South-East Asia, and the world’s largest caves; from the unique experience of rainforests and mangroves of Malaysian Borneo, to the large world’s only natural habitats of orangutans; from the aboriginal culture to the latest advances in a modern technology: all of it is here. Amazing! The society absorbed newest trends in almost every aspect of everyday life, but managed to retain its own uniqueness, cultural identity, and preserve the tropical holiday feel of the region. Hot (35-37C°) and preposterously humid climate, warm monsoons that within minutes flood the roads and push rivers of water into sewers, dangerously delicious local cuisine and an enormous selection of fresh fruit and seafood, will make your time here a very unique lifetime experience.

Author on the top of Mt. Kinabalu

Author on the top of Mt. Kinabalu

The close positioning in respect to Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, makes Malaysia even more valuable destination. Only few hours on a plane can take you anywhere nearby. The locals are usually friendly, and happy to have you as a valuable source of income to their country and, to their own budgets. Virtually everywhere you go, you will bargain for almost everything. A few minutes of positive negotiations can save you tremendous amount of money; but if you are new to the country and aren’t familiar with the local prices, the folks will rip you off gladly whenever the opportunity will present itself. Striking is the glitz and glam of Kuala Lumpur City center, with dazzling shopping malls and extravagant cars driving out of the famous Petronas Twin Towers, and the grim and poverty you can stem into just few blocks away. The city is packed with gold-plated hotels and restaurants chasing after a high-end clientele; and next to them are the villages of fishermen, where every house, with no windows or doors, is set on half-rotten wooden lags above stinky water of small gulfs, almost sewers. Regardless of where their origin comes from, the people are proud of their culture and of what Malaysia has got to showcase to us tourists. And we love it – its natural heritage, its food and its people. It is all here for you. Overall, there many places to go there, and each and every one will feed you the extraordinary flavors of South East Asia.

Mountain rainforest on Borneo

Mountain rainforest on Borneo

Our story will go to one of the most popular places in this country – in Malaysian part of Borneo Island, less than 20 km from the line of the equator and over 4000 m high – to Mt. Kinabalu, the roof of Malaysia and all South-East Asia. The peak of this mountain is one of the staples of Malaysian natural legacy and Malaysians proudly advertise it to the travelers. It is also one of the symbols of the country and is represented on the banknote of a local currency, the Ringgit. The mountain itself lies in the heart of Borneo’s rainforest; and the trip and climb to the peak is truly worth the time and money spent on it.
The climb starts from the base camp, in Mt. Kinabalu National Park accessible in two and half hours of bus ride from Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of Sabah region. Already from the road that swings through the tropical forest and farmlands, you can see the rocky peaks of this giant. Covered in heavy clouds that dominate over the valley, they are full of tropical vegetation that falls over onto the narrow road from the spirited forest. Once you arrive to the park, a special guide will be assigned to you, and will spend next two days making sure you don’t get lost in the jungles.
On the first day you hike up through the rainforest to the summit camp located above 3000 m, to get acclimatized to the elevation change, and of course prepare for the final battle for the summit that starts at night. The endless way up! It’s still quite hot, but as you gain the elevation it becomes chilly. The ocean in less than 100km away, so water starts to condense quickly here, forming a foggy mist that creates a spooky filling while going though the forest. Giant trees, covered with these massive epiphytes, vines and mosses, are full of life you cannot see but can clearly hear. The jungles here are vibrant, dynamic and filled with life.

Rocky peaks of Kinabalu

Rocky peaks of Kinabalu

You are still scrambling up the steep slopes of the mountain, all covered in orange mud and overwhelmed with a variety of life forms surrounding you. The alternating types of forest get you though the long scramble until you finally reach the rocky volcanic slopes, where the last camp is located. Here, above the 3000m, you get an excellent view of the shoreline and small islands dispersed in South-China Sea. The play of sunlight in between the gracefully traveling clouds is just incredible; you can literally see how weather is formed far far in the ocean. If you are lucky, you get to observe how the ocean storm forms and moves through, lightening-up the horizon.

The birth of ocean storm

The birth of ocean storm

Here you can get a dissent lunch and few hours of sleep before the final ascend begins.At about 2:00am, wearing headlamps in a deep darkness of the night, climbers start their final battle for the summit. Needless to say, everyone wants to get to the summit first. However, this is not easy. More than 1000 m of elevation to gain on the steep volcanic rock will slow many of them down; some will turn back without ever reaching the summit. Here is where the real adventure starts.  No words will describe the filling you get when you climb over 4000 m, submerged into a deep tropical night. If you gaze closely you can see a thin line of lights running along the coast; it lightens up only at few cities on the horizon. The sky is right above you. You can almost extend you hand and touch it or, perhaps, reach the stars. Here on the equator you will see a number of the stars, only visible in either southern or northern hemisphere. The sky you have never seen before in you life. It is crowned with the Big Dipper to the north and the Southern Cross to the south. It all feels like walking on a different planet.
The summit is getting closer. More and more people are left behind and less remain between me and the summit; but not for too long. I am proud to say, amongst more than 100 climbers attempted the summit on that day, I was the first to climb it. For long 20 minutes the top of the highest peak in Borneo belonged to none else but me.

Sunerise on Kinabalu

Sunerise on Kinabalu

The top of the summit is where climbers meet to observe the sunrise. Again, it is hard to describe what you can see here. Sun is burning through the horizon, the first clouds are running into and breaking over the rocky ridges, and a huge shadow of Mt. Kinabalu that rises and falls into the valley extending far into the ocean. This is something one has to see to appreciate and compare.
More and more climbers are getting to the top. Many missed the sunrise, but the view is still spectacular – you could see as far as the Philippines. But the clouds are getting lower, it is time to leave the summit and start the decent. “The day was ours!”  

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