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Mount Kinabalu travel tips for your ease of climbing

THE CLIMATES AND THE WEATHER

Borneo has a tropical climate with an average daily temperature around 32°C (90°F) and a relative humidity between 85 and 95%. In the mountains it can still be quite hot during the day, but is considerably cooler at night when the temperature at the Kinabalu Park HQ and Mesilau can drop to 15°C (60°F).

In Sabah the main rainy seasons are from November to January when the rains come with the north east monsoon, and from May to July, with the south west monsoon. Mornings are usually clear at any season. Sabah lies below the typhoon (hurricane) belt, though the tail-ends can cause strong winds and rain during the typhoon season. On Mount Kinabalu, the driest time of the year is usually between February and April, but seasonal variations can occur in any year.

Average temperature range from 15°C-24°C (60°F-78°F) at Kinabalu Park HQ at 1,563m (5128 feet), where it can be quite hot during the day but much cooler at night. At Laban Rata at 3,270m (10,728 feet) on the summit trail, average temperatures vary from 6°C-14°C (41°F-58°F), but can sometimes reach almost freezing at night.

Rainfall is high and often torrential, with an average of about 2,700 millimeters (110 inches) a year recorded at the Kinabalu Park HQ and around 3,300 millimeters (130 inches) at Laban Rata.

The best time to come to Mount Kinabalu is during the dry season from February to April, when walking and climbing is much more enjoyable. Dryer periods of several days also often occur in the inter-monsoon season, between August and September.

IMMIGRATION, VISAS AND CUSTOMS

All visitor to Malaysia require a valid passport and must complete Disembarkation Card. Most visitors are granted a two month visa-free stay upon arrival; however this is best confirmed by the nearest Malaysian Embassy prior to travel to Malaysia. Visas are not required if you are a citizen of Commonwealth countries (except India and Sri Lanka), most European countries, United States, Japan, South Korea, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, North Yemen, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar United Arab Emirates and Turkey - provided that your stay does not exceed three months.

If you are a citizen of the Republic of China, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cuba, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, North Korea, Nepal, Myanmar, Taiwan and Vietnam, you must obtain a visa before entering Malaysia.

You only need one visa to travel in Malaysia. Once in the country, visa extensions may be sought from the nearest Immigration Office, especially in Kota Kinabalu.

Drugs are taken very seriously by the Malaysian authorities, and those convicted of drug trafficking can face the death penalty.

CURRENCY, CREDIT CARDS & MONEY CHANGER

The Malaysian currency is known as Ringgit Malaysia (RM). One Ringgit is worth 100 sen.

Bank notes come in several denominations: RM1 (blue), RM2 (purple), RM5 (green), RM10 (red), RM50 (bluish green) and RM100(purple). Coins come in denominations of: 50 sen, 20 sen, 10 sen, 5 sen and 1 sen.

Major credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, Diners and Amex) are accepted at most larger establishments in Kota Kinabalu, but visitor should bring enough cash for food and sundry items purchased at the Kinabalu Park outlets. Travelers' cheques are best changed in Kota Kinabalu.

It is best to change money in Kota Kinabalu, prior to departure for Kinabalu Park, at any major bank or money changer. Recent currency controls restrict the flow currency into and out the country. Foreigners and non-residents are allowed to carry not more than RM1000 and unlimited amount of foreign currency when entering or leaving the country. However, the amount declared upon departure cannot exceed that declared when entering the country.

Tipping is not essential, though in big establishments a 10% service charges maybe incorporated into the final bill. However, small change is normally left and those who offer exceptional services are usually rewarded.

LOCAL TIME

All parts of Malaysia are in the same time zone. This is 8 hours ahead of GMT all year around.

WATER & ELECTRICITY

Water supply in Kota Kinabalu is generally safe to drink and it is advisable to boil it before you drink it. However, during the climbing, there will be an untreated mountain water supply in each pondok (shelter). Generally, it is quite safe to drink, but for those who have a very sensitive stomach, you could bring along some iodine salts to be mixed with it before you drink it. It is better if you could bring with you bottled mineral water, but it would cause you bringing extra weight during the climb. In Laban Rata Resthouse, the restaurant will provide boiled water.

Electricity is available in all but the most isolated villages in Sabah. The system is 240-volt 50-hertz. For those with equipment that operates on a different system, adapters are often available, though if in doubt it is best to bring your own. Electricity is provided around the clock in Kinabalu Park HQ up to Sayat-Sayat Hut, 3810 meters (12,500 feet) above sea level.

LANGUAGE

The official language in Malaysia is Bahasa Melayu, although many Malaysians speak several languages and will use them all in general conversation. The language is similar to that spoken by some people in southern Thailand and those in Indonesia, Brunei and parts of the island of Mindanao in the Philipines. Several Chinese dialects are also spoken widely in Sabah.

English is compulsory subject in all schools and is widely understood, especially in the main towns and by tour operators and guides. Many words have been adapted from English, so English speaking travelers will often notice phrases they can understand.

Borneo's large number of ethnic peoples has resulted in over 20 major native dialects being spoken in Sabah. Around Mount Kinabalu most local people are from the Dusun tribes. All but the elderly will speak malay as well as Dusun, and most will also speak some English. People in Sabah are almost invariably friendly an polite. Follow their example. Shouting in public if things go wrong is viewed as very bad manners, whereas a quiet request to speak to someone more senior will often get results.

COMMUNICATIONS

Malaysia is well connected to terrestrial, satellite and cyberspace communications network. Land-line telephone service in Malaysia is good. You can find modern and well-maintained roadside public phones throughout Sabah. International calls can be made from most public telephones, easiest from the newer card phones and credit card phones. Cards are available from many outlets, including most small shops selling groceries. There are several international calling cards with good rates, though they don't work from public pay phones.

You can direct-dial long distance calls from local payphone and IDD phone. To make an IDD call from a payphone, you just dial the international access code, "00" followed by the your country code and area code and number or you may arrange reverse charge calls. Local calls cost 10 sen for 3 minutes. The card phone comes in denominations of RM10, RM20, RM50 and RM100.

Most mobile phones with international roaming work in Malaysia. But, if you're staying on for a while, you'll probably want to switch to a Malaysian sim card or buy a phone. The cell phone market is quite competitive in Malaysia, with about a dozen companies, several with decent coverage in Sabah. Maxis (with 012 and 017 prefix) and Celcom (019 and 013) provide reliable service and both offer pre-paid packs, from as low as RM8.80. Digi is another mobile telephone service provider in Malaysia. You may even be able to make a phone call from the summit!

There are also a lot of cyber cafes that provides internet services in Kota Kinabalu town. Although broadband internet services is available, there are still some operators using dial-up networking. The rates are also very reasonable. Some of the outlets in major mall in Kota Kinabalu also have broadband wireless internet access. Most major hotesl in Kota Kinabalu provides internet access facilities.

SHOPPING

In Kota Kinabalu the main shopping centers are open daily from 10.00Hrs to 20.00Hrs, sometimes later. Smaller shops often open at 8.00 or 9.00 and close earlier. Markets, especially food markets, are popular in the early morning and late evening as many Malaysians like to buy fresh ingredients for cooking. Pasar malam or night-markets are also popular.

Bargaining is generally only acceptable in the markets and at the roadside stalls. As a general rule, price for goods sold in street markets and small stores are negotiable but the prices are fixed in large department stores. Some smaller shops may give discounts if asked, particularly if a large amount is purchased. If you are unsure, make a polite request to determine the response. Prices at the Kinabalu Park are generally fixed.

SAFETY

Malaysia is relatively safe country to travel through, with few physical threats. most of the reported crime appears to be petty, with robberies and snatchings about all a visitor may encounter. Travelers therefore need not be unduly anxious, but should take the usual precautions such as keeping separate records of travel documents, traveler's cheques and credit cards. A concealed money pouch is advisable but not essential. Visitors should take care in areas where pickpockets operate, such as crowded bus stations, shopping malls and markets.

Most women should not be threatened by traveling alone or with others in Malaysia, as long as they dress appropriately. Some Malaysians may ask whether single women are married and/or whether they have a boyfriend - more out of curiosity than anything else. It is probably best to dismiss any such enquiries with a friendly smile.

TRAVEL INSURANCE

Traveling can be exciting and rewarding, but it can also be expensive when the unexpected occurs far from home such as sickness or injury, travel delay, baggage loss, or worse. In the past decade medical costs have increased dramatically worldwide and even countries with subsidized National Health plans now demand payment in full from foreign visitors for medical services rendered.

At the same time travel suppliers such as airlines, and tour operators worldwide have made cancellation policies more restrictive, so if you have to cancel a trip it's likely that a substantial portion of your pre-paid travel expenses will not be refunded, and if you have to interrupt a trip mid-way, a last minute, one-way economy fare return-flight is now likely to be more costly than ever.

Moreover, the reality of global terrorism, increased travel industry bankruptcies, global economic instability, and the overall unpredictability of life today causes many people to seek ways to minimize the unique financial risks associated with travel.

As a result, savvy travelers purchase travel insurance in order to protect against the potentially staggering financial costs resulting from crises such as the cancellation of a big trip due to death or illness of a family member or a required emergency medical evacuation.

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