Contributed by The Urban Minstrels
As I sped my way up the winding roads of Malaysian Borneo with bustles of wind playing hide and seek through my shirt, I couldn’t really help but admire the awesomeness I was being waded into with each passing moment. I was going to Kundasang. We have been planning this trip for quite some time but couldn’t make it due to our professional commitments and personal reasons. But FINALLY, we were there.
Sometimes when you enter into a state of trance, you contemplate on various unfulfilled territories of your life, various things about your life which you perhaps would like to alter. Frankly speaking, we can hardly alter our modern lives no matter how much we try to. We are so much engrossed with the modernity and luxuries in our lives that the very essence of simplicity seems like a distant dream. And do you know what we do to temporarily put an end to this cacophony of robust voices from within? Simply seek refuge in the lap of nature where all worldly woes cease to be. And, this time, Kundasang brought about that simplistic exuberance back in our lives.
Located in the Ranau district of Malaysian Borneo, Kundasang is a quaint little town hidden in the lap of the majestic Mount Kinabalu. The slow pace of life in the valley steeped in natural beauty will force you to look at life through rose-tinted glasses. Although Malaysian Borneo is a travellers’ delight, not many people know about Kundasang and its pristine beauty. So, we have decided to present a comprehensive guide to our trip to Kundasang so that you can make no more excuse and plan your trip right away!
Planning a four-day trip to Kundasang
If you have read our previous article on Kundasang, you would know that Kundasang offers a rejuvenating gateway to anyone looking for some recluse and fun. So, the length of your stay at Kundasang varies according to your personal desire. As for us, we planned our trip to the Malaysian town over a long weekend and spent around four days there. To be honest, we are way more than happy with that duration.
Being a little town in the state of Sabah, Kundasang does not offer much connectivity with the other parts of the country. If you wish to go to Kundasang, you will have to choose Kota Kinabalu as your base. From Singapore, Changi Airport offers direct connectivity with Kota Kinabalu, and a round trip will cost about S$200 (if you book at least 2-3 months in advance). However, if you wish to save some extra bucks, you can board your flight from Johor Bahru in Malaysia which would set you back by approximately S$120. If you are coming from elsewhere, simply fly into Kota Kinabalu.
A road trip from Kota Kinabalu
Being a small, peaceful town, Kundasang does not offer brilliant connectivity in terms of public transportation. So, the best way to experience the valley and explore its untouched beauty is on a road trip. For this, you need to hire a car from Kota Kinabalu, which is readily available at any local transport agency. You can book your car/cab online as well but making your booking in Kota Kinabalu would be much cheaper.
In our case, we had booked our car from the airport itself. Our car was a comfortable Proton Saga FLX and it cost us around RM140-150 (equivalent to S$45) per day. They have various types of car on offer, so you can choose a car according to your budget.
Where to stay at Kundasang?
Although Kundasang is a small and quiet town, it houses some brilliant homestays and hotels catering to all types of travellers. However, we would suggest you choosing a hotel that offers a mesmerising view of the mountain range.
We had booked the Dream World Resort, a very pretty and cosy hotel perched up on a hillock that offered a sensational view of the grassland and hills. We would highly recommend this hotel. A night’s stay at this hotel had cost us S$130-150 (since there were five people on this trip and we had booked two different types of rooms). However, prices may vary slightly since we had taken this trip a year ago.
Ten things to do in Kundasang
1. Explore the golf course
Golf courses reside in a special corner of my heart. Not that I love to play golf – in fact, I cannot play golf – but I have some vivid memories of spending much of my time in golf courses adjoining to my home back in Kolkata. And I wonder who would say no to spending some quality time in pristine golf courses nestled in the backyard of a gorgeous mountain range in Borneo! Now, to enter this golf course, you do need special permission. But don’t lose your heart if you don’t manage to. The buffer zone of this golf course is equally great so lay down anywhere and gaze at the changing colours of the sky.
2. Satisfy that dreamy stargazer in you
If you love to stargaze like us, once again we would recommend you the buffer area of the golf course. Did we mention that Kundasang is one of the most hidden places that offer a mystical view of the Milky Way galaxy? We were able to spot the Milky Way prominently with our naked eyes! So, share this ultimate experience with your friends and loved ones, and book your ticket to Kundasang now! However, one word of caution: if you intend to spend some quality time stargazing, be prepared with a torch (since there won’t be any light) and light woollens as the weather tends to get quite chilly and windy at night.
However, one word of caution: if you intend to spend some quality time stargazing, be prepared with a torch (since there won’t be any light) and light woollens as the weather tends to get quite chilly and windy at night.
PS. We made a terrible mistake of not taking our tripod with us. If you love photography, make sure you take them along!
3. Soak in natural hot springs
If you miss this, your trip to Kundasang will be left incomplete. Situated inside the Kinabalu Park – a nature reserve – Poring Hot Spring is the perfect place to distress and rejuvenate your body, mind and spirit. According to the locals, the hot sulphuric minerals in the spring have therapeutic and healing properties. So, take a dip in the spring and revitalise your tired spirit. This park is open from 7am to 6pm, and we would advise bringing a spare set of clothes, towels and rubber slippers with you. Oh yes, did I mention to pack in your bikinis and swimsuits as well?
In case dipping into natural hot spring don’t wow you much, you can enjoy the butterfly part, canopy walk and many more things that are on offer at the Kinabalu Park.
4. Experience adrenaline rush by indulging in tandem paragliding
I often envy birds for their sheer ability to fly across different lands, different plains and different cultures without having to issue any visa or a passport. I just wished I could fly and experience liberty in its purest form. Visiting Kundasang fulfilled this dream of mine as I glided over the valleys and flew over the mountains like a wild bird – courtesy tandem paragliding. So, when you’re in Kundasang, do NOT miss out on this adventure, especially if it’s your first time paragliding.
5. Get that lovely natural fish massage at a local village
Visiting nearby villages always makes it to our itinerary especially whenever we are travelling to an offbeat place. This helps us to get acquainted with the culture of the place and mingle with the locals in the best possible way. So, one day, we took our car and visited a nearby village. Little did we know that we would return after taking the best foot spa EVER! While hiking through the uncharted territory, we stumbled across this lovely pond full of fishes. The next moment we were sitting at the bank with our feet dipped in the pool! To say it was heavenly isn’t enough to describe this magical natural delight.
6. Visit the Desa Dairy Farm
This is my favourite place on this list! With acres of meadow as far as eyes can see, the beautiful Mount Kinabalu in the backdrop and meek cattle grazing over the grasslands, how can you not fall in love with such a pristine place that resembles an Alpine postcard? After all, it’s not for nothing that Kundasang is referred to as the Scotland of the east or New Zealand of Borneo!
We would suggest you have your breakfast right in the farm to cherish the intrinsic beauty of the place.
7. Learn about Kundasang’s history at the Kundasang War Memorial
This memorial commemorates the brave British and Australian prisoners who were martyred on their infamous ‘death’ marches to Ranau during the World War II. What’s more interesting is the way the entire park has been divided into four beautiful gardens representing different nationalities – the Borneo Garden, the English Garden, the Australian Garden, and Contemplation Garden and Pool.
8. Try local wine or local Sabah tea
Both Kali and I love our wines and being Bengalis – regarded as connoisseurs of tea – we simply adore our tea. So, when we ask you to try the local Sabah tea, know that it’s special! And as for the local wine, surely it was a bit coarse but nevertheless worth a try. Do try it once if you love wine!
9. Try handmade pizza and local food in Ranau town
Now, being the gluttons that we are, how could we possibly have shied from savouring the delectable local food? And the delicious pizza topped with local cheese to finish it off was the perfect endgame to it all!
10. Explore the local markets and buy some fresh fruits and vegetables
Markets, we feel, offer a microscopic insight into the cultural and traditional practices of a place. So, needless to say, visiting the local markets definitely made to our ‘to-do’ list in Kundasang. However, if you intend to purchase anything – which we are sure you will after seeing such colourful tropical fruits and vegetables – beware about its quality or check twice before purchasing. And if you’re just there to soak in the culture, venture out a little bit and visit the local villages or stop by a tiny brook to admire its untouched beauty.
If you are into hiking and trekking, you can try trekking Mount Kinabalu – the highest peak in Southeast Asia – which is a tedious two-day trek from Kundasang. It is a moderate climb but for tourists who do not have any major experiences in trekking, it might seem difficult.
So! That’s all about Kundasang as of now till the next time we’re there to explore the other uncharted territories of the area. We love reading your views, so don’t mind sharing them with us!