Where to see Mount Kinabalu

View from Mesilau


Despite what most guide books and travel brochures would like you to believe, Mount Kinabalu, at 4,095.2m, is not the highest mountain in South East Asia. Neither is it the second highest. Mount Hkakabo Razi in Myanmar is the highest at 5,881 m, and there are a few other mountains in Irian Jaya (in Indonesia) that are higher than Mount Kinabalu. The reason for this conflict of information could be due to historical and geographical definitions of South East Asia. And the fact that this has not been corrected is either due to ignorance, laziness (to do proper research) or greed (in the case of tour companies. It’s no fun to know that the mountain that you just conquered is only the fourth or fifth highest in South East Asia.) Do note that Malaysia’s official brochure for Mount Kinabalu only states that it is “the highest mountain between the Himalayas (which Mt Hkakabo Razi is a part of) and the Snow Mountains of Papua Barat (where Irian Jaya is located).”

Even with this downgrade in status, Mt Kinabalu still deserves all the accolades that it receives. It is arguably the most famous mountain in South East Asia and is well worth a visit whether to climb it, or just to look at it from afar. This mountain is sacred to the indigenous Dusun people who inhabit the north-eastern part of Borneo. The name of the mountain itself shows its relevance to the local people. Kinabalu is believed to be derived from Aki Nabalu, which is taken to mean the sacred resting place of the ancestral spirits. This is not surprising since ancient people all over the world once thought mountains to be sacred. It is certainly more believable than the story about a dragon and a Chinese widow.

At 4,095.2 m, Mount Kinabalu is less than half the height of Mount Everest, but what makes this mountain stand out is that it seems to jut out from nowhere. In the Himalayas, every mountain is a giant, whereas in Borneo, there are no other mountains of similar heights. (The second and third highest mountain in Sabah and Malaysia is Mount Trus Madi 2642m, and Mount Tambuyukon 2579m). So the mountain is visible even from the city that is named after it – Kota Kinabalu. (Kota = city)

But looking at the mountain from afar is nothing compared to a close-up look from the vicinity of Kinabalu National Park. A leisurely 2-hour drive from the city will take you to a height of about 1500m. As you move closer towards the national park, the mountain slowly reveals itself bit by bit, as though it is doing a strip tease show for its audience. When the mountain finally fully reveals itself, it is not uncommon for people to be mesmerized. The vegetation of Mount Kinabalu ranges from tropical rainforests to plants that grow in sub-alpine temperature, so the mountain is covered by greenery at the foot that slowly thins out to be replaced by the gray of granite rocks. When the sun’s rays shines on the mountain, some parts of the rock glimmer like ice, causing people to think that snow falls on the mountain. During the ice age, the mountain was covered with ice, and glaciers flowed down its slopes, but all this melted about 3000 years ago.

View from Nabalu

The mountain top does not form a symmetrical cone shape like Mount Fuji of Japan. Instead, various peaks of different shapes and sizes are visible. The highest point is Low’s Peak, but it is not necessary this peak that looks the highest. The second highest peak is only 5m lower than Low’s Peak and the other peaks are almost the same height, so from different angles, different peaks look higher. One peak that is easy to recognize though would be Donkey’s Ears Peak which looks like, well, donkey’s ears.


Where and when to see the mountain

Mt Kinabalu is visible from various places in Kota Kinabalu and Penampang.

In Kota Kinabalu, the best un-obstructed view of the mountain can be seen when you are on your way by boat to one of the islands in Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. Look back towards the northern part of the city and chances are you will see the mountain.

For a different angle of the mountain, go north to Kota Belud. This is one of the best places for the complete view of Mount Kinabalu from afar. Paddy fields dot the landscape and in the distance is the famous mountain.

Heading towards Shangri-la Rasa Ria Resort in Tuaran using the new highway, the bridge across Mengkabong River gets you a view of a river with mangrove forests and Mount Kinabalu in the background. Postcards of this scene are available in most souvenir shops. Photography buffs like to get the photo of the sun rising from behind Mount Kinabalu from this point.

View from Mengkabong

If you are going to the national park, the first photo stop would be at the suspension bridge just after the Shell station before the road winds up the slopes of the mountain.

Most tour buses make a stop at Nabalu village, and you can get a good photo of the mountain if you go to the viewpoint right towards the end of the rows of shop houses. Besides the mountain, the villages in the valley down below are also visible. Before reaching Nabalu, there are two other places where you can stop to take photos.

View from Nabalu

The Kinabalu Park Headquarters is too close to the mountain and you can only get the peak of the mountain from here.

View from Park Headquarters

To see the entire mountain range, you will have to go to Kundasang, located 6km away from the Park Headquarters. For visitors on a day-trip from Kota Kinabalu, unless you start really early, by the time you reach Kundasang, the entire mountain range would be covered by clouds already.

If you are staying overnight, at Kundasang, Kinabalu Pine Resort and Perkasa Hotel Kundasang both offer good views.

View from Pine Resort

The best view of Mount Kinabalu, in my opinion, is along the road to Mesilau Resort. Again, Mount Kinabalu is only visible early in the morning, preferably between 6.30am to 7.30am. (See photo at top of page)

For that unbeatable bird’s eye view, charter a helicopter. A less expensive option would be to take a window seat on the left side of the plane that flies from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan.

View from flight from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan

Usually, the best time to see Mount Kinabalu in Kota Kinabalu is between 6am and 8am in the morning before the mists rise up to slowly cover it. By around 10am, only the peakof the mountain will be visible. Then the mountain will show itself again about an hour before sunset. Although on a good day, the whole mountain is visible the whole day long.



  1. TepUsage said,

    August 3, 2008 at 11:47 PM

    Thank you

  2. vivy said,

    July 10, 2009 at 8:37 AM


  3. Reiland said,

    April 22, 2012 at 1:35 AM

    oh my God! Gunung Kinabalu is a must-climb mountain…the reward being on the top is superb and really splendid…!

    • losttraveller said,

      April 22, 2012 at 8:50 AM

      I agree Reiland. glad you made it.

  4. Lovy said,

    June 6, 2013 at 12:30 AM

    Ya… I had bben brought up in kota belud and the view of mount kinabalu is facinating especially morning when my dad sent me to school and evening when my dad fetch me from granny’s house… Jalan ranau by pass to be exact of the direction.. I can see mount kinabalu almost along the way.. Even when i open my room’s window..

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