As the sun rose on the horizon and the first glow of a new day pierced the morning sky, we gazed out over Sabah, as the island of Borneo, rose from its slumber.
This fascinating island had got under our skin and we needed to see more of it, to taste, smell and sense it in all its glory.
We travel mainly as a couple, and enjoy experiencing the range of what a destination has to offer. Be it a lavish day at the spa, relaxing on a beach or a full day exploring the hinterland or wilderness. It’s good to see it all.
So as the day before we had lazy beach time, now it was time to be a little more active. As much as the soft, warm South China seashore was idyllic, we managed to convince ourselves that the wildlife, mountains, forests and heritage of Sabah needed to be seen.
At 8.30am, and a little bleary-eyed, we left our hotel, the Shangri-La Rasa Ria, and boarded our coach to begin a full day guided tour of Kinabalu National Park.
The drive took us across the mountainous Crocker Range with wonderful panoramic views of the countryside and soaring hills which slid in and out of puffy clouds.
A snow free Mount Kinabalu
We were excited to visit, as the park is home to Mount Kinabalu. It’s the highest mountain on the island of Borneo and stands over 4,000m high, yet I was surprised to hear, it never sees any snow.
Mount Kinabalu is located to the west of Sabah, and dominates the skyline in the 754 square kilometres Kinabalu National Park.
The park is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and has a remarkable diversity of exotic plants, birds and insects – new species are being found each year.
Our first stop was at the Botanical Gardens. Here our guide lead us through the relatively small gardens and explained about the rare flowers and plant life. We saw wild ginger growing, white orchids, and the Mendinlia, a pink flower endemic to the park. There were wild bananas growing which we were advised not to eat as they’re not as good for us as they are for Sabah’s wildlife.
We had a leisurely lunch at the verdant Sabah Tea Gardens. It’s located up in the mountains, in a wonderful setting and overlooking the rolling tea plantation. The food was nice but the views really made the occasion.
The tea grown at the Sabah plantation is organic and it can be bought from the souvenir shop on site and I’m having a lovely cup of it as I write.
Maybe the 40m high tree top canopy walk was not the best idea straight after lunch, but the experience was certainly worth it.
Before reaching the canopy walkway there is a 15 minute walk up hill, not too strenuous, but worth noting. I was carrying a thigh injury, but was still able to complete the walk with comparative ease.
Arriving at the walkway we were met by a sea of green foliage with a backdrop of brilliant blue sky, mixed with darting flashes as a variety of bird life swooped to and fro. Below us a river meandered by and giant spiders webs clung to bushes and branches.
For those afraid of heights it may be worth giving it a miss as the walkway, while safe, feels fairly wobbly. Each walkway is the width of a plank of wood and is restricted to six people at a time. All the people in our party enjoyed our time among the tree tops. And it was interesting as well as unusual to see the crowns of the trees, and the wider forest at eye-level.
On the way to the canopy walk we passed the Poring Hot Springs. It’s possible to take a dip in the sulphurous waters which reputedly have great healing and therapeutic properties.
We passed on the chance to take a plunge, which I was pleased about as the deep sulphurous smell stung at my nostrils. However, there were plenty of other takers.
Rafflesia, a flower without equal
Instead we were anxious to visit the site of the world’s largest flower, the rafflesia. We drove a short distance and parked at the side of the road, from there we walked across open countryside for about 15 minutes before we came upon our goal.
Our guide told us that the biggest rafflesia they had found was 80cm wide and that the flower lives for only 10 days. Its other reputation is that it smells of rotting flesh, I’m pleased to say on the day we saw it, there was no awful odour from it.
It seemed strange to me that this large, rather nondescript flower, sitting alone and so isolated, should hold such significance in the world.
After viewing the world’s biggest flower it seemed a fitting way to end our trip. Heading off we arrived back at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria, a little tired, but a whole lot more knowledgeable about this slice of Borneo.
See video of our time in Sabah.
Go explore yourself
Book now with this exclusive special offer from Premier Holidays: 12 nights at the Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria from £1,199 per person, incl. flights with Royal Brunei Airlines. Available for booking until March 31, 2015.
We explored Kinabalu National Park as part of a project with iambassador, in partnership with Royal Brunei Airlines and Sabah Tourism. As always all opinions are our own.
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