More than 8 months before our scheduled flight to Kota Kinabalu, I searched for different Mt. Kinabalu tour providers and compared the prices. I've got quotations from Amazing Borneo, Downbelow Adventures, and Green Trekkers among others. Among all those, Downbelow offered us the most competitive rate so we didn't hesitate to book with them. If you ever find a cheaper price than them, Downbelow will beat the price by 2%. I also tried computing the expenses if we will do a DIY trip to Mt. Kinabalu. It's still expensive and very hassle so we opted to just book with Downbelow. Another advantage of booking with Downbelow is that they have their own lodge located at the KK Times Square which is very near Imago Mall. The Downbelow staffs are very responsive in email and they answer every question we have regarding the trip. Aside from the Mt. Kinabalu package, we also booked our Mahua Waterfall and Gaya Island trip with them. I assure you, they have the best rates and best service in Kota Kinabalu tours.
Hiking Mt. Kinabalu is already difficult and it became even more challenging if you're hiking with a child like what we did. Having an altitude of 4095 m above sea level, there is a high chance of getting AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) or altitude sickness. To prevent that from happening to our child, we stayed in Benguet (with an altitudde of over 1500 m) for about a month to acclimatize. We also spent a night in the Kinabalu Park before officially starting the hike. It is important to be physically fit so I suggest to have a lot of training climbs several months prior to your Mt. Kinabalu trip. You can practice by climbing the stairs up and down as there are a lot of stairs in the trail of Mt. Kinabalu.
The ratio of guide to hikers is 1:5. Since we've got a complete package from Downbelow Adventures, I'm not really sure about the guide fees. As for the porter, we've paid 13 MYR per kg (2-way from Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata and back). If your things are less than 10 kg, you still have to pay the amount equivalent to 10 kg. If you still want to hire the porter from Laban Rata going to the summit, that's a different payment. Our guide can speak English well so we don't have any issues talking to each other. They are also very kind and they won't leave you behind. The porters usually go ahead first to Laban Rata, but we requested our porter to stay with us because our baby's things are inside the bag and we may need it. We just gave him generous tip.
If you want to stay for a night in Kinabalu Park before officially starting your hike, there are a lot of accommodation there like Grace Hostel, Rock Hostel, Hill Lodge, and more. These are all managed by Sutera Sanctuary. Originally, we should be staying in the dormitory type room in Grace Hostel. But we were so surprised because we've got an upgrade to a private room in Hill Lodge for FREE! And you know what, they gave us two rooms for the three of us! We weren't able to use the other room though. One room is enough for us because it has two beds and spacious. The room is very clean as well and there's a good view of Mt. Kinabalu from there. The following night, we stayed in Laban Rata. Our room there has two double decks good for four persons.
Getting a Mt. Kinabalu package includes the food on the entire duration of the hike. Since we stayed a night in Kinabalu Park before hiking, the buffet dinner and buffet breakfast in Balsam Restaurant are included. The food there is good enough so we're satisfied. For the next day, we just had a packed lunch (fried chicken wing, sandwich, apple, oatmeal cookies, boiled egg, and a bottle of water). For the dinner in Laban Rata, it is served as early as 4:30 pm. It's a buffet again but the food isn't as good as those in Balsam Restaurant. The following day, you have to wake up at 2 am to have a buffet supper before starting the hike going to the summit. And when you get back, there's also a buffet brunch until 10:30 am. And finally, after the tiring Mt. Kinabalu trip, you can have a rewarding buffet in Balsam Restaurant before going home.
If you are hiking Mt. Kinabalu and you still want to be 'connected' or to be 'in the know' of what's happening on your social media, or you just simply want to share your activities, worry not! There is a strong signal in Mt. Kinabalu - along the trail, in Laban Rata, and even in the summit! You can buy any sim cards because all of them are okay in Mt. Kinabalu. I bought the cheapest one called XPAX by celcom for 10 MYR and I've paid another 10 MYR for their one week 2 GB internet promo. The saleslady helped me register to the promo. By the way, you'll be needing your passport when you buy a sim card because they need to register it as well. If you ask about the internet speed, it's pretty fast!
Please bear in mind that there's a certain timeframe when hiking Mt. Kinabalu. The cut-off time in Timpohon Gate for those who are going up the mountain is 10:30 am. You have to reach Laban Rata at 4:00 pm. The following day for the summit assault, you have to reach the Sayat-Sayat checkpoint at 5:30 am. If you didn't reach this checkpoint by that time, you have to go back already because they are very strict and they won't let you pass there. After passing through the checkpoint, you have to reach the summit by 7:00 am. If not, you can no longer proceed and just go back. That's what happened to us. It's already 7:00 am when we reached the KM 8 mark and the guide told us that we have to go back. With our very slow pacing, we can reach the summit for 30-45 minutes from KM 8. Unfortunately, they didn't allow us. It's fine though because the view we have in KM 8 is awesome! We didn't reach the summit but at least, we were able to reach 4062.6 masl. We are just 32.6 m short to the summit. For going back to Laban Rata, you have to be there before 10:30 am. If not, you cannot eat brunch. And last, you have to reach Timpohon Gate at 4:00 pm because you have to pay extra to the guide for overtime.
That's it! I hope I've covered everything that you want to know about hiking in Mt. Kinabalu. If not, just comment your question below and I'll get back to you the soonest.