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Climbing Mount Kinabalu
Day 1 Kota Kinabalu / Summit Trail
Depart your hotel in Kota Kinabalu and travel for two hours along the ridges of the Crocker Range to Kinabalu Park.
Register names with the Park Office for the mountain climb.
Proceed to the start of the summit trail at the Power Station.
Trek up to Laban Rata and enjoy a packed lunch along the way. Look out for amazing pitcher plants and orchids along the way.
Dinner and overnight at Laban Rata Resthouse. (Lunch/Dinner included).
Important note: The featured accommodation may have to be substituted with similar accommodation at the summit resthouse.
Day 2 Summit Trail / Kota Kinabalu
At 0300 hrs, proceed from Laban Rata to the summit of Mount Kinabalu.
You should arrive in time for sunrise.
Descend to the Resthouse for breakfast before descending to the Park.
After lunch, return to Kota Kinabalu and transfer to your hotel. (Breakfast/Lunch included)
What to bring :
Raincoat, warm clothing, windbreaker, a bottle of drinking water, insect repellent, sun block, hat, gloves, warm socks, camera, lip balm, toilet paper, good torch light, personal toiletries, towel and other items of personal use. Take some high energy food (chocolate, power bar, nuts, raisins, and glucose sweets). Walking stick (Ski pole) may be useful.
Take lightweight cotton shirts, short/long pants recommended. It may rain on the mountain so bring spare for items that are important to you in case they get wet. Travel light. Carry a light overnight backpack. Make backpack waterproof by covering contents with large plastic bags. Carry spare plastic bag for wet items in case of rain. Use good trekking shoes.
You will experience variations in atmospheric pressure and unpredictable weather. For this reason you may wish to carry some headache tablets and stomach upset pills. Some plasters for cuts or blisters might also be useful.
All mountain climbers are required to produce their passport (Non-Malaysian) and/or identity card (Malaysian) during the registration process at the Kinabalu National Park Headquarters. A climbing permit will be issued to climbers
No special skill or equipment is needed to climb Mount Kinabalu, however, climbing requires average fitness and some basic training such as brisk walking, swimming, and climbing steps.. Climbers should be healthy and with no history of suffering from the following ailments:
1) Heart disease
3) Chronic asthma
4) Peptic ulcer
5) Severe anaemia
8) Epileptic fits
10) Hepatitis (Jaundice)
11) Muscular cramps
13) Mobility challenged
14) Any other sickness that may be triggered by severe cold, exertion and high altitude
Climbing Certificate: RM10 per certificate (Only granted if climbers manage to reach the summit)
From Graham's Travel Journal
Only 90 kilometres from Kota Kinabalu, along an excellent sealed road, is the Park Headquarters of Mount Kinabalu National Park.
Mount Kinabalu is the highest peak in South East Asia, being 4,037 metres. To put this into perspective, this is slightly higher than the highest peak in New Zealand.
Despite its great height, Mount Kinabalu can easily be climbed and there is an excellent and well maintained trail all the way to the summit. The climb is described in some travel brochures as merely a "stiff walk" but that’s a description I would fervently dispute.
No visit to Sabah or the Kinabalu National Park, is really complete without the ascent of Mount Kinabalu. It is a wonderful and exhilarating experience and for the youthful and those in good health, it presents no problem at all. I say youthful because although I consider myself to be in reasonable shape, I discovered that I was not in as good a condition as I had thought.
I recently turned forty, am not overweight and although I do not take any regular formal exercise, I often climb a steep flight of 100 or more steps to my home and I do more walking than average.
I did not find climbing Mount Kinabalu exhausting, nor did I experience any difficulty with the high altitude. I did, however, reach the point where I could not stand up and for the first time in my life, was totally crippled.
Leaving the attractive waterfront Kinabalu Hyatt Hotel at 6:00 am, we travelled to National Part Headquarters. Early morning cloud filled many valleys and there were some beautiful views of Mount Kinabalu. Glacial activity has smoothed the granite summit, which when catching the early morning sun, appears to be covered in ice.
We had pre-booked overnight accommodation on the mountain and had a few formalities to complete before meeting our guide and commencing the ascent.
A short, four kilometre drive along a very rough road, brings one to the start of the mountain trail. Here, a register of climbers is signed and strangely, the first few hundred yards of the climb are "downhill".
Don't be penny-pinching and decide to walk the first four kilometres and much more importantly, don't forget to arrange for the driver to be there when you get back down the following day.
The ascent could best be described as a four and a half mile walk, straight up into the sky. It is, in fact, almost entirely steps.
The trail is superbly marked and is fenced for most of the way. Nearer the summit, nylon ropes have been securely anchored to the sheer rock face and these enable an easier ascent.
As we had left the booking of our overnight accommodation rather late, we were unable to secure bunks at Panar Laban (3,300m.), the usual overnight stay. Instead, we had to collect our sleeping bags at Panar Laban and continue the climb to Sayat Sayat, which is at 3,750m, only a short distance from the summit.
Although tiring, the climb up the mountain is no great problem. Rest shelters are placed at regular intervals and there are seats built into the fence at most places where climbers are likely to feel particularly exhausted. Water tanks are also regularly placed.
Leaving Panar Laban with our sleeping bags, we climbed some very steep slopes, perhaps one in three, and hauled ourselves up the smooth granite surfaces with the well placed ropes.
My traveling companion, several years younger than me, yelled out in spontaneous ecstasy when he spotted the tiny Sayat Sayat hut. It was still some distance away but it was at least a visible target.
The hut offered the meanest of accommodation. The tin walls and roof had gaping holes, the cooking area contained two or three rusty portable kerosene cookers and the ten bunks contained the most unattractive bed linen I have ever seen. There was no lighting or heating.
As it was already mid-afternoon and we were very tired. We were also wet from a sudden downpour. Under the circumstances, the accommodation seemed magnificent.
It rained more and became progressively colder. Cups of hot tea had never tasted so good.
For cooking purposes we had carried our own kerosene and supplies. We were soon to discover that the others sleeping the night were not so well prepared and we suddenly became the most popular people in the hut.
During the latter part of the afternoon there had been breaks in the rain and spectacular views of the glistening, jagged peaks could be seen towering above us. Silhouetted against a vivid blue sky, billowing white clouds raced between the peaks and waterfalls crashed down the slopes surrounding the hut.
By 4:00 pm the last of the hut's overnight guests had arrived and by 4:00 am the following morning, we were all the best of friends.
The rarified air at this altitude, seemed to make it almost impossible for us to sleep, despite the fact that we were all physically very tired. One of the climbers, an Englishman and a globetrotting back-packer of about the same age as myself, claimed that climbing Mount Kinabalu had been much more difficult than climbing Mount Kilamanjaro (5,895m) which he had climbed only a few weeks before.
An English woman, who was also a back-packer travelling on a shoe-string, had managed to by-pass Park officials and climb the mountain without the compulsory guide. She had also economised by avoiding the collection of a sleeping bag and had apparently thought that because we were so close to the equator, she would not be cold. She, and the Englishman, who had also achieved the same economies, were wearing only the lightest of cotton clothes.
When the sun went down, it became exceedingly cold, very quickly. Sometimes the temperature can drop to freezing point and ice will form.
The altitude and the fear of being nibbled by the resident population of Kinabalu rats, kept us from sleeping. Close relatives of the large house rat, this particular mammal is unique to Mount Kinabalu.
The long dark night was spent luring the rats to a biscuit which was placed in the middle of the floor, enabling a Belgian couple to take flashlight photographs.
It became bitterly cold and in order to save the unacquainted English travellers the embarrassment of suggesting it to each other, I suggested that they should share a bunk and wrap themselves in some plastic sheeting which I managed to find in a dark corner. They did this and when we met them back at the hut at around 9:00 am the next morning, after having made our way down from the summit, they smiled shyly and commented that they had over-slept. This meant that they had missed the highlight, the summit sunrise, which we had risen at 4:00 am to see.
I suppose they had experienced a highlight of their own.
The early morning hours on the summit were magnificent. The smooth granite surface, which is devoid of plant life, often gives the illusion in the half light of being snow covered. Glacial activity during the Ice Age has worn the surface of the summit plateau smooth. Glacial striations, including some very deep grooves, have been cut into the surface by rocks dragged beneath the glacier. These lines are often very straight and give the appearance of geometrical patterns.
Crossing the plateau is a very tiring experience. The rarefied air allows one to climb only two or three yards before stopping for breath.
The vast plateau seems endless but eventually the guide points to a magnificent pinnacle rising like an immense sun dial. This is Lows Peak, the summit, and with the sight of it, one seems to suddenly gain the necessary energy for this last and most difficult part of the climb. This is a real climb and there are ropes draped over the huge boulders.
A plaque marks the summit and everyone takes turns at sitting next to it for the irresistible photographic record.
Lows Gully, a one mile deep drop, falls away on one side, whilst on the other side, the peaks of the Crocker range can be seen rising above a sea of clouds.
Superb peaks and jagged ridges abound. The most magnificent being the majestic spire of Kinabalu's south-eastern peak, St. Johns.
The first few "downward" steps are profound. The dull aches and pains which have started to develop overnight, take on an ever increasing significance.
The descent of the steps of Mount Kinabalu is far more difficult and infinitely more painful than the climb up. The constant jarring of the knees with every step, starts to take a heavy toll.
I was in considerable pain by the time we arrived back at the Sayat Sayat hut at around 9:00 am and met the English couple. I could walk slowly, though painfully.
By the time we arrived back at Panar Laban, another hour or so later, the pain was terrible and I enquired, in all seriousness, about the utilisation of the helipad I had seen sign-posted. Fortunately no one smiled when I made the enquiry.
At forty, I was the oldest person I had seen on the mountain and I was starting to feel very embarrassed and very sorry for myself. Several passing youngsters expressed surprise at my condition because they had seen me practically run up the mountain the previous afternoon.
There was no alternative but to keep going and the pain worsened with the onset of the almost continuous banks of steps. I felt I would never make it to the bottom.
Then it happened. My knees just gave way and I could not even stand up. I had never felt so foolish and pathetic in my life and we still had at least two miles to go.
Although I had been greatly irritated by having the compulsory guide with us on the way up, especially after meeting others who had climbed without one, I was suddenly overjoyed to have him with us. He had done nothing worthwhile for twenty four hours but now he was worth his weight in gold.
I managed to lift myself to my feet with the aid of the fence and I immediately realised why a fence lined most of the trail. My legs were virtually useless and I swung them down the steps, supporting my weight with my arms and shoulders. If the steps were deeper than about five inches and there was no fence, I had to rely entirely on the guide for support.
Feeling utterly depressed and in terrible pain, the steps seemed to go on forever. There were occasions when I felt an excruciating stabbing pain in my knees and this made me realise that what I was suffering from most of the time, was merely pain, not agony. Had the stabbing pains worsened or become more frequent, I would definitely have had to have been carried.
We eventually met our driver who had walked up some distance to meet us. We were about three hours overdue.
The registration office guards gave me a sympathetic grin as I staggered "up" the last hundred yards or so and I was assisted into the waiting truck. I have never been so pleased to sit down.
At Park Headquarters, a car was waiting to take us back to Kota Kinabalu and when asked if I wanted a certificate to prove that I had completed the climb, I was too far gone to bother about waiting for it.
On arrival back at the Hyatt Hotel, I was faced with a flight of six steps up to the lobby. I pretended nothing was wrong and hobbled from the car. Although I attempted to lift my leg to the first step, it was absolutely impossible. I was carried up the steps by two bell boys and was assisted into a chair. A third bell boy offered to get me a wheelchair.
Although I had been very worried that I was going to need assistance getting into the aircraft home, I was able to manage it. I had slept for twelve solid hours and I felt fine apart from my knees.
It took a week for my knees to fully recover.
Do climb Mount Kinabalu, it is fantastic, but be warned.
A new fifty room, comfortable hostel, has already opened at Panar Laban. This enables climbers to make the ascent to the summit and return to Panar Laban for another night before descending to Park Headquarters. This should make all the difference.
- Carry some lightweight warm clothing.
- Carry powdered and instant foods, not cans, so as to minimise the weight.
- Most guides cannot speak English.
- Arrange for a porter to carry heavy items.
To view a set of photographs taken on this excursion, click on the link below.