If you find yourself in Kota Kinabalu needing a break from the islands and beaches, Kundasang in Ranau district is the perfect destination. In fact, you can just skip the islands and head straight here if you fancy cooler climes and mountain vista.
Most hotels in KK offer day trips to Kundasang which just about 3 hours from the city. However, one may consider Kundasang a great destination by itself, so I headed straight and spent a couple of days there instead. Here are snippets of my Kundasang experience:
Kinabalu Park's botanical garden
Situated about 7km from the town center, you'll pass by the park before you reach Kundasang. Most people who head here have one goal: climb Mt. Kinabalu. The park (Timpohon trail) is one of the two jump off points, the other is in Mesilau (Mesilau trail). The Timpohon trail more popular [and shorter by 2km], but some would argue that Mesilau trail is more scenic. And I wouldn't know. I found out the halfway camp at Laban Rata could easily be fully booked months in advance.
So what's the next best thing when in Kinabalu park? Hiking trails and the botanical garden.
Kundasang's flower farms
If you are the horticulture type, you'll love the flower farms in Kundasang. Some are just a few minutes walk from the town center and there is a few more further down the road heading to Mesilau.
One farm I was able to visit had this amazing cacti collection.
Desa Dairy Farm
Desa is a state-owned dairy farm and can be reached via the road heading to Mesilau. Its practically at the foot of Mt. Kinabalu [well technically the whole of Kundasang is!]
The best time to see the milking process is at 3PM. They have a viewing area right next to the pumps. They also have a petting zoo if you want and up close encounter with the milk cows, or calves to be exact, and a few goats.
Not advisable if you are lactose-intolerant, but you can knock yourself out with their fresh milk products, cheese, and ice cream. [Check out their FB page]
Kundasang War Memorial
The memorial was constructed to honor the fallen Allied POWs during the death march in WWII. There are four gardens inside the memorial: the Australian Garden, the English Garden, the Borneo Garden and the Contemplation Garden and Pool.
The Contemplation Garden offers a great overlooking view of Kundasang, as well as Mt. Kinabalu's jagged peaks.
It is quite accessible as its just on a small hill at the back of the public market.
Rafflesia: world's biggest flower
On the day we were supposed to head back to Kota Kinabalu, my wife and I decided to make a short side trip. We rented a public van to take us back to KK, but told the driver we will stop by Ranau first, some 30 km away, in the opposite direction :). [Ranau is both the name of the district and the town]
I wasn't sure if we'd see one [a fellow tourist said he spotted near Poring Hot Springs but its in a late stage of blooming] but decided to try our luck. The plant, a complete parasite of a specific type of vine, takes 6-9 months for its single flower bloom and will decompose in less than a week. [Rafflesia is the state flower of Sabah]
Luckily we saw a sign by the road side announcing a "first day bloom". I later found out its common practice to put up these signs and indicate how many days the flower has been blooming, as well as how many flowers are there.
A short hike from the road and we saw this single bloom: a Rafflesia arnoldii. Its supposed to be foul smelling (smell of rotten flesh) but maybe because its just the first day, it does not smell of anything at all. A Singaporean kid unbashfully declared: "Mom, I think the books were lying. It does not smell bad at all!"
Wild durianAnd while on the topic of foul smelling things in Ranau, keep an eye out for these small wild durians being sold at the road sides. These wild durians, "harvested" in the surrounding jungles, are small (just about twice the size of a man's fist) but potent in smell and taste. For durian lovers, foul = heavenly.
Sabah Tea Plantation
Picture this: green undulating hills surrounded by rainforest and a view of Mt. Kinabalu as well. A trip to this plantation is not just for the tea lover.
Sabah Tea boasts of being organic - the only one in Borneo and one of the few in the world. You can observe how they process the leaves [although photography is not allowed] and well as taste their finest graded tea. Check out their website if you are planning more than a day trip.
There is one obvious attraction that I missed - Poring Hot Springs, because we ran out of time. A Sabah tourism website declares: "a trip to Kinabalu park will never be perfect without swinging by Poring Hot Springs, some 40 kilometers away". So I guess my Kundasang trip fell one attraction short of being perfect :).