back to homepage

[ADVENTURE] 2 day climb up Mount Kinabalu

[ADVENTURE] 2 day climb up Mount Kinabalu

This article contains affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase I will make a commission at no extra cost to you. This article was first published on Nov 2, 2016 and updated in February 2018.

The highest mountain on the island of Borneo, Mount Kinabalu stands at an impressive 4,096 metres and is one of the most popular ‘bucket list’ attractions in the world. What makes this trek different from any other? Mount Kinabalu and its surrounding areas are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, containing approximately 6,000 species of plants and between 100-400 species of birds and mammals. Protected as Kinabalu Park, the number of visitors each day are capped to preserve this natural beauty and by law any climb has to be with a guide or an organised tour group. Here’s how to spend 2 days in Mount Kinabalu.

Tip: Book in advance! You can’t book a place on a tour upon arrival as some trips have a waiting time of weeks or even months. Also, be sure to look at multiple tour operators before booking as the price can vary greatly. 

Day 0 in Mount Kinabalu, Borneo

Arrival in Mount Kinabalu, Borneo

Arrive in Kota Kinabalu and check into your hotel. Enjoy a night in the town of Kota Kinabalu in the state of Sabah, Malaysia, before being picked up early the following morning.


Food is extremely cheap in Southeast Asia and it’s no different in Borneo! For affordable food recommended by the locals Kodak Kopi Yuan Li is famous for its seafood where the owner has a unique way of making noodles out of fish paste! There are many seafood restaurants available to be sampled at really reasonable prices such as Kampung Nelayan Floating Seafood Restaurant at 45 MYR ($15 SGD) per person. Just make sure to book a table beforehand to avoid disappointment as these are very popular places!

For a fine dining experience, Gusto Food & Wine ($20-50 SGD) has a fantastic range of quality food to be enjoyed with views of the waterfront and head to Sunset Bar at Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa for the best sunset views and drinks to finish. You can reserve a table here!

Day 1: Mount Kinabalu, Base camp

6am | Breakfast

If your hotel comes with breakfast, no need to venture out, however, if it doesn’t, you can find plenty of breakfast options all for an affordable price. Locals recommend Kedai Kopi Yee Fung which is located near the center of town.

7:00-7:30am | Pick up From Hotel and Drive Up the mountain

You will start your Mount Kinabalu itinerary pretty early. Tours will normally pick you up between 7:00-7:30am. Some might pick you up earlier, depending on the location of your hotel. Best to make sure to coordinate these times with the tour provider. With a two hour drive from the city centre to the base of the mountain, use this time to get to know your group. You will be taking this challenge of strength and endurance together after all! You may be asking how to climb Mount Kinabalu. To answer your question, there are 2 options. You can opt to do the regular climb to the summit or you can opt to climb Mount Kinabalu via Ferrata. For those of you that are unsure, Via Ferrata is Italian for “road of iron”. It is a protected climbing route consisting of a series of rungs, rails and cables to aid climbers moving safely through the mountain. For those people that have a fear of heights, maybe opt to do the other route instead. The one on Mount Kinabalu is the highest via Ferrata in the world sitting at 3800m.

9:00am | Start the climb up Mount Kinabalu

The gorgeous Mount Kinabalu

The gorgeous Mount Kinabalu

After signing essential papers and a short induction, you will be given a basic packed lunch before ascending the mountain. Timpohon Gate will be the starting point of your journey to conquer Borneo’s highest peak. The climb was long and steep but the views along the way made it worth it. Throughout the trek, you will see various kinds of trees and vegetation making the hike through the lush area quite enjoyable. You have a guide to assist every 6 climbers but a good level of fitness is still encouraged as the hike is quite challenging. If you feel like giving up along the way, just remind yourself of the amazing views ahead.

Tip: This is a tough four to five hour climb so take advantage of restrooms along the way. There are also a few resting huts along the way where you can relax and take a break.

Finally, after a couple of hours of serious climbing, you will reach the Panalaban Base Camp which is 3272 m above sea level sometime in the late afternoon. Afterwards, you head on to the Laban Rata Guest House where you can reward yourself with a buffet dinner and amazing mountain views. You can use the guesthouses shower (some days there will be hot water, and some there won’t! I think it’s a hit and miss)

8:00pm | Go to sleep

After dinner, it’s best that you start to get ready for bed as you have a big day ahead of you. We suggest already pack your day bag ready for the summit assault. Be prepared and layer on your clothes! It can get cold as the you will start your hike in the dark.

Day 2: Mount Kinabalu, Summit

2:00am | Rise

Climbing up Mount Kinabalu via ferrata

Climbing up Mount Kinabalu via ferrata

An early start at 2am, enjoy an early morning buffet or unlimited coffee before the 2.7km assault to the summit. Although a short climb, the darkness together with the air becoming progressively thin and the path steepening till the point you need a rope to pull yourself up, this merciless section of the trek will take two-and-a-half hours. Tip: dress as warm as possible as the temperature is painfully cold. You will have to hike pretty quickly as your speed will be a huge factor if you will make it to the summit before the much awaited sunrise.

5:40am | Reach the summit

Hiking up Mount Kinabalu

Hiking up Mount Kinabalu

Having waterproof gloves can come in handy as there will be a part where you ascend the mountain climbing up ropes as you pull yourself up- if you choose to do the route via Ferrata. Climbing the Via Ferrata route was slightly terrifying, but nevertheless, you push yourself forward as your heart thumps and races. You ascend with a series of ropes which can be quite hard to see as it is still quite dark. Finally, after reaching the summit, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking sunrise that sends an orange glow over the mountains. Watch in silence as the sun continues to rise, revealing a sea of clouds surrounding islands of grey rocks. The weather plays a big factor here sometimes, it might rain it might be too cloudy which makes the ascent quite dangerous. The guides are quite good at helping you figure out when it is safe to climb the last part to the very top of the mountain.

7:00am | Descend to Base Camp

Ocean of clouds on top of Mount Kinabalu

Ocean of clouds on top of Mount Kinabalu

After a breathtaking sunrise and taking as much photos of your incredible achievement, you begin making your way down. The hike up to the summit was touch, specially because you have to do it in the dark. The cold weather doesn’t make it easier either so make sure you come prepared. However, after as you sit down in the rocks and catch the first glimpse of the sun peaking through the sea of clouds, you know that every step and the long way up was worth it. That will be a moment that you can remember forever.

As soon as you reach the Panalaban Base camp, you have a late breakfast and check out. Exhausted but completely satisfied, the rest of the day will be spent descending Mount Kinabalu with stunning views and scenery along the way. Everyone then treks back to Timpohon Gate awaiting your transfer back to the Kinabalu Park Headquarters.

1:00pm-2:00 pm | Arrival at the Park Headquarters

Upon arrival, you can collect your certificate of achievement for climbing the highest peak in Borneo. Definitely an achievement to celebrate! Afterwards, a buffet lunch will be served at the Balsam Restaurant in Kinabalu Park.

Exhausted but completely satisfied, the rest of the day will be spent descending Mount Kinabalu with stunning views and scenery along the way. Overall, the climb was tough. A good level of fitness is highly recommended as the pathways are steep and challenging. The trail is well maintained and is composed of thousands of man made stairs as well as giant boulders. The distance itself isn’t much, but combined with the thinning air and high altitude, the climb gets difficult. However, with that being said, seeing the sunrise from the top of Mount Kinabalu and standing on top of the mountains looking below the sea of clouds is an incredible achievement that made it all worthwhile.

3:00pm | Transfer back to Kota Kinabalu City

Tip: Combine your epic adventure with a trip to Manukan Island off the coast of Kinabalu Park. Click here for more information.


Places to stay in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo

Here is a list of the best places to stay in Kota Kinabalu for all budgets:

HotelType of accomRating on TripadvisorPrice per nightMore Photos & Availability
Sensi Backpackers HostelBudget4S$23

KK Suites HotelBudget3,5S$35

Hotel Eden54Mid4,5S$45

Dreamtel Kota KinabaluMid4S$60

Jesselton HotelMid4S$70

Hyatt Regency Kinabalu HotelHigh4S$170

Borneo Beach VillasHigh3,5S$130

Shangri-La's Tanjung Aru Resort & SpaHigh4,5S$277


Sensi Hostel in Kota Kinabalu

Sensi Hostel in Kota Kinabalu

Like much of Southeast Asia, hostels and hotels are plentiful and at affordable prices, especially in the area of Gaya in Kota Kinabalu. For real budget backpackers a room in a shared dormitory costs $7 SGD at hostels such as Sensi Backpackers Hostel. In the same popular district you can also find many one and two star budget hotels such as Mango Hotel where a price for a private double room costs $17-25 SGD. Book here now!


Dreamtel Kota Kinabalu

Dreamtel Kota Kinabalu

Three star hotels such as Dreamtel Kota Kinabalu and even apartments such as the Kota Kinabalu Guesthouse @ Sky Residence are available in the central business district from anywhere between $50-100 SGD. Book now if you want to enjoy a vast selection of beaches, and historic and cultural areas all in proximity.


Borneo Beach Villas

Borneo Beach Villas

Depending on what you fancy, you can secure a private Borneo Beach Villas with amazing sea views and the beach only steps away for $140 SGD per night. If you prefer to be in the bustle of the city, five star hotels such as Hyatt Regency Kinabalu Hotel in the city centre are available for $200 SGD per night. This magnificent hotel is only 10 minutes from the airport and the North Borneo train station, and overlooks a stunning marina and the South China Sea. Book here now!

Getting to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Singapore Airlines fly directly to Kota Kinabalu almost daily, always departing at 08:45am and arriving at 11:20am. Make sure to always check if there is a flight on the day that you want as on the rare occasion there may not be one. The direct return flights are also daily departing at 12:10pm and arriving at 14:15pm. Check out their flight schedules here.

For alternative budget flight options, Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines fly to Kota Kinabalu daily. Make sure to check which flight you book as some flights are direct with Air Asia while others have a stopover in Kuala Lumpur.

Other things to note in Borneo, Malaysia

Hiking tours and prices for Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu tours vary each year depending on the condition of the routes and the weather, and they also have 3 day climbs available if you want to take your time. Expect to pay a minimum of 1350 MYR ($450 SGD) per person for a 2-day-1-night climb which includes transport to and from the mountain, overnight accommodation, food, water, and your guide and park fees. It doesn’t include snacks or alcohol once you get to the guest house, and a little extra money would be nice to tip your guide and porters on the trail. For all the up to date climbing packages and prices, see here.

Alternatively, you also go to the park office and ask them directly for accommodation rather than going with the one that the hiking companies offer. Day treks are also much cheaper than the overnight ones! However, you will only get to ascend the summit and not see the sunrise! The 3 day treks consist of you hanging around the Kota Kinabalu Park where you can relax and prepare for the next few days ahead.

What to take

– Hiking boots, trousers and a jacket. A good day pack

– Warm accessories – thermal undergarments, thermal socks, hat and gloves

– Head torch

– Basic toiletries

– Snacks for extra energy

– Money for any extra food or drinks not included in the price

A water bottle – this can be re-filled at the guesthouse

share your experience by using #singaporenbeyond on social media!

Leave a Review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Select a rating