Climbing Mount Kinabalu (On A Budget)

So you’re one of those outgoing types and want to climb the tallest mountain in the Malay Archipelago?  Well if you’re prepared to get your ass handed to you to see one of the most breathtaking and beautiful sunrises ever – continue to read this post.  If not, read it anyways, you’ll learn a bunch!

(Quick Very Important Note Dated March 7, 2015: The mountain is INSANELY booked right now.  If you’re seriously thinking about hiking Kinabalu anytime in the near future, read all of this, and RIGHT NOW.  You’ll be lucky if you can find yourself a spot.  Read on, trust me.)

Hiking Mount Kinabalu has been something I’ve been wanting to cross off my bucket list since I heard about it from a fellow backpacking nomad sometime during my first SEAsian excursion years back.  Since then it’s been in the back of my mind and finally this year I made it over to Sabah mainly for this reason and to go diving in the Semporna area.  Not being used to the way things work around here in Sabah just yet, Jess and I showed up and rented a motorbike and started off on our journey not really thinking too hardly about booking in advance and such.  Five or so days into the journey we were starting to plan a bit about the mountain and started doing some research.  I randomly went to the travel agency outside our hotel and asked about pricing for hiking the mountain.  The woman came back at me with prices ranging from Rm1350 ($369.99) all the way up to Rm2000 ($548) and beyond!! (Quick Note: Rm = Ringgit Malaysian, the currency of Malaysia.)  These package deals, which I personally can’t stand, will include everything from transport to and from Kinabalu Park, way too many meals, and probably a bunch of other bells and whistles you don’t necessarily need and/or want.  We had already rented a motorbike for weeks in advance, didn’t need all that extra food, and mainly didn’t want to spend $400!  Beyond that, she also told us that hiking the mountain was basically booked until sometime in July.  Fail.  Epic fail.

A bit flustered, we took off from KK (Kota Kinabalu) for a five to seven day journey realizing that we would need do some serious research into booking this experience as we were here now and absolutely needed to make this happen.  I hopped on Google and came across an absolutely wonderful blog titled Notes of Nomads written by fellow travel addicts like myself that had brilliantly spelled out how they got around the insane prices and climbed Kinabalu on a budget (if you’re reading this – thanks again Jessica and Hai!!).  From their advice and the comments on one of their posts about it all I started seriously digging.

On their recommendation I first ended up contacting Sutera Harbour‘s Sanctuary Lodges, which funny enough, is a side business of a 5-Star resort based around Kota Kinabalu and more importantly – the exact company that the package deal from any travel agency is going to sell you on, without telling you who it’s through.  From what I could now tell, this company is basically the only way to tackle this incredible feat.  If you contact Sutera directly (which I don’t recommend) you’re looking at the following packages and prices:

Sutera Packages

Rm835 is still $230 per person.  The catch is this: all that is without the guide and park fees.  Add another Rm175 or so and you’re going to look at a grand total of about Rm985 ($270)!!  They also only offer the 3D/2N package.  You may or may not have that amount of time, or even want to do that.  The reality of it is that you’re more than likely going to be insanely sore after the hike and you will probably want the extra night once you’re down from the mountain to get a good night’s rest and rest your legs which will be absolute jello.  You’ll see again though on the above list that they also include SEVEN meals.  You really just don’t need all of them.  You’ll barely want to eat much for any of the three hikes, as hiking on a full stomach is really just a good way to ask for an uncomfortable side ache, or worse, a decent vomiting session somewhere along the trail.  Regardless of all this, I contacted them because I really wanted to hike this mountain.  They got back to me with the same news as the package lady in KK did – they’re fully booked until July.  Fail again.

Reading further into the comments section on the Kinabalu post from Notes of Nomads I started to notice the author and commenters mentioning something about a possible option through a company called Jungle Jack Backpacker.  Having a Malaysia SIM card already with 3G on it (Rm30/800MB) already I looked up Jungle Jack at his Facebook page and noticed his phone number 010 947 7509 (or +6 010 947 7509 from out of the country) and gave him a call.  Jack himself answered the phone and gave me simple details on what was up for climbing the mountain through him.

Jack offers all the way up to 4D/3N, though you can rock the 3D/2N or 2D/1N package, without all the extra bells and whistles from Sutera and for the lowest price I’d heard yet: Rm630 ($172).  You can stay with Jack out at his property 1km away from Kinabalu Park the night before your 9.30am climb and the night after your 2.30am climb, and honestly probably the night after if you wanted – Jack is about as sweet of a man as it gets.  After Jack explained this and also let me know that the mountain is basically full non-stop these days, I asked him when was available – he said get here Sunday, you can hike Monday the 2nd (of March).  Perfect I said.  STOKE – this was going to happen!  Jess and I got back to KK in time to repack our smaller bags with the gear needed for hiking and took off to find Jack’s place.

Jungle Jack’s Backpacker Hostel is located on the left side of the road on Route 22 which runs from the Tuaran area past Kinabalu Park to Ranau and beyond.  Here’s where Jack’s place is on the map (the red marker – click to enlarge photos):

Jungle Jack Location 1

Jungle Jack Location 2

Jess and I had our own motorbike to get around (as we’re not much into being shuttled around like cattle), but if you don’t have your own transportation, I’d say the best way to get there would be to either hitchhike, or take a bus get dropped off at Kinabalu Park like everyone else, and then carefully walk the 1km back to Jack’s – WEST of Kinabalu Park.  Most of the locals around the area know who he is, so ask around if you’re not sure where you are.  (Quick Note: We stopped in at Jack’s today and asked how most people get to his spot.  He said by bus.  Just tell the bus driver you’re going to Jungle Jack and they should know where to drop you.)

If your eyes are seeing a view of this from the road – you’re at the right place:

Jack Entrance

Once you arrive at Jack’s, be prepared – the man comes off a little more forward in a crazy way than you may be used to at first from a Malaysian man, but you will hilariously get used to it and love it.  The man is a hoot!  He’s really incredible.  You’ll basically pay Jack the Rm630 right when you arrive at his place (don’t forget to ask him about the Rm55), and he goes and takes care of getting all your details for hiking the next day in order (license, insurance, guide, etc.).  He then tells you to chill out and relax a while before he’ll take you out to a fantastic local dinner.

(Quick Note: Do yourself a favor – DO NOT ask Jack too many questions until you get there.  The man is fairly busy and has somewhat of a short fuse in a humorous way, and he doesn’t want to deal with loads of empty questions for no reason.  Ask him when you can climb, when to show up, and let him to the rest of the talking.  He’ll confirm with you and then you’re set.  From there, just show up with Rm630.  He’ll take care of the rest.)

All that said if you’re attempting to climb Mount Kinabalu anytime soon – you better have a date in mind and be ready to hit up our friend Jack for a spot, as it is insanely booked through July 2015 at the moment.  Do yourself a favor and don’t book through the monopoly of Sutera (I’ll explain more about this in another post).  Book through Jack, get a real Kinabalu experience, and learn a bunch of history about it all from Jack himself.  Also, not to get your hopes up, but if you’re here in Sabah reading this right now and everything seems to be booked, there’s still a chance if you call him you could potentially have the opportunity to jump into a cancellation spot.  Even with the crazy wait list, people do still end up not showing, so if you have the patience and time to maybe wait a few extra days it’s possible you can still get up to the summit!

Again here’s Jack’s info:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/junglejackbackpacker
Phone:  010 947 7509 (Inside Malaysia) or +6 010 947 7509 (Outside Malaysia)
Remember – it’s best to call him!

I’m working on my post on the actual Mount Kinabalu climb currently.  As soon as it’s done, I will link it right here!  Happy hunting and climbing everyone!  Tell Jack Shawn and Jessica say hello when you see him!

:ps: To give you an idea of what you’re in for, this is what Jack will reply to you via Facebook:

Welcome to Jungle Jack’s! Located just 1 km from the entrance of Mount Kinabalu National Park, Jack’s place is ideal for both young travellers and families Impressum 630 Long Description Situated less than 1km from Mount Kinabalu Park, this is the ideal location for the budget backpacker endeavouring to climb Mount Kinabalu. The all-inclusive package offers comfortable accommodation in one of the 6 bed dorms, home cooked breakfast, lunch, dinner and full access to the outdoor jungle kitchen with unlimited tea, coffee and tropical fruits. There are also modest bathrooms with a hot shower.

Surrounding Jungle Jacks’ is an area of natural beauty, with wild Orchids, untouched jungle and a stunning view of Mount Kinabalu. During your stay you can rent a scooter for just 30rm (including petrol) and visit the nearby Poring Hot Springs, local markets and farms.

Jungle Jack is a welcoming host with a warm heart, willing to go the extra mile to make your stay a memorable one. As well as being a great chef, he can help you to climb Mount Kinabalu at a great rate so for further details contact Uncle Jack on: 010 947 7509

How do I get there? Jungle Jack is located on the A4 highway near Mount Kinabalu. When coming from Kota Kinabalu, it’s approximately 1 km before arriving at the Mount Kinabalu Park Entrance. To get there from Kota Kinabalu you can take the bus towards Ranau and ask the driver to drop you off Jungle Jack. The bus from Kota Kinabalu should cost about 20 MYR and take approximately 2 hours.

How much does it cost? The cost is 630 MYR. This includes 3 nights accommodation, 2 at Jungle Jack’s hostel and 1 at the base camp on the mountain, climbing permits, a guide, food at Jungle Jack’s and 1 dinner at the restaurant on the mountain. For lunch and breakfast on the mountain you can take as much food and drinks as you want from Jungle Jack and bring it up there. I.e.: sandwiches, packaged noodles, etc. There is a water boiler up there to cook the noodles.

What do I need to bring? Aside from the basics, you’ll want to bring warm clothes as the summit and higher altitudes can be quite chilly. As rain is very likely, you’ll definitely want a rain jacket and/or a poncho as well as a way to keep your backpack dry. You’ll be trekking to the summit in darkness, so you’ll want a headlamp to light the way. Gloves will come in handy for holding onto the ropes leading to the summit. Snacks high in sugar and protein are good fuel for the long hike up. Make sure you have good hiking shoes that grip well since the trail can be slippery. There may be some clothes you can borrow from Jungle Jack.

How long will it take? You should plan on at least three days, but may want to leave a extra day just in case. You should plan on arriving the afternoon before your climb. In the morning you will climb the very steep 6 km to a hut partway up the mountain and spend the night there. The following morning you’ll wake up very early (like 2 am early!) and climb to the summit in time to see the sunrise. You’ll then descend the entire way and arrive back at Jungle Jack’s mid-afternoon. You’ll likely want to spend the night after your climb at Jungle Jack’s, but you can leave that same afternoon if needed.

How difficult is the hike? The hike is not technical, but you should be in decent physical shape to be able to make it to the summit (and back). The trail is 8.7 km each way and ascends about 2200 meters (that’s a lot!).(MAKE BOOKING ONLY IF YOU ALL HAPPY WITH RM 630pp)

If your question wasn’t answered here, DON’T come or call 0109477509.

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19 comments

  1. Hi Shawn, thanks for your detailed post! I just have a quick question for you, I’m considering booking with Jungle Jack for a climb end of April/early May and I just wanted to double check with you if that RM630 fee is all inclusive of everything, including park entrance fees etc? You mentioned a RM55 fee? May i ask what that was for? As far as I can tell, the only extra cost would be to get to and from his place from the airport, is that right? will jack bring the climbers to the park on the morning of the climb? Also, when he says 2 nights accomm at his place, i’m assuming he means 1 night before and after the climb? Sorry if they are silly questions, I thought I’d risk asking you instead of plaguing Jack in case I risk his wrath :p One more before I go – did the accomm on the mountain have heating/hot water?
    Thanks again for any help you can give! Cheers

    1. Hey there! Thanks for responding!

      Yes, the 630 is all inclusive with everything! Don’t worry about it. Just get Jack to confirm with you and you should be all set.

      The Rm55 – not to be thought about until you’re sitting there with Jack in person – trust me 😉 .

      And you’re right, the only extra cost is going to be you figuring out how to get to Jack’s. I recommend a bus or hitchhiking for this one. Jack will get you to the bottom of Kinabalu Park the morning of your climb.

      These are not silly question! And better you ask me than Jack haha! You can basically stay with Jack the night before your climb to Laban Rata and up to 2 or 3 nights after you’re down from the mountain. He’s just a sweetheart like that!

      Ask away if you need any more help, and please pass my blog around to your travel friends!

      Cheers!

      ~S~

    1. Hey there Joe!

      Unfortunately it’s really between Sutera Harbor, Jungle Jack, and Amazing Borneo. No one will be as cheap as Jack though!

      Really hope you get to climb! Are you there right now??

      Skoi/Shawn

      1. Have you gotten in touch with the other companies yet?

        Basically if you’re going to be in the Sabah area at some point anyways it’s worth checking in with any of the 3 companies. Cancellations can always come up.

        If you’re going to the area simply for Mount Kinabalu, you might want to try locking in a spot on the Mountain beforehand 2 weeks ahead. When Sutera said they were full until July I’m pretty sure they meant it. Jack seems to be more open a 3-4 weeks out, at least when we were there. I also believe the short ‘climbing’ season to be March-July.

        Hope you lock it down!

        Skoi

  2. Hi Shawn,
    Just wondering if you know anythign about where to get the “Sabah Park Receipt”? Jack sent me a pretty intense message to remind me to get it, but I am not sure (even after extensive googling!) what this is/how to get one!
    Any help would be great!

    1. Honestly we never heard anything about a ‘Sabah Park Receipt’, which is odd! We stayed with him days after as well and never heard those words. If you’re in Sabah now try and call him, he’s much better over the phone!

  3. Hi Everybody,
    I contacted Jungle Jack and he quoted price of 1350RM for this year – so I guess no budget options anymore? 😦
    It’s about the same price, when using other companies.

    Also few recent really bad reviews about Jungle Jack not refunding payments to several customers on Facebook makes me think twice, before wiring money to some random account.

    What are your suggestions? Probably there isn’t any cheaper options and this is almost the only reason for us to go to Malaysia 🙂

  4. Thanks for the AMAZING information, I am so happy I came across it! I am planning on going solo the second week in July. I contacted Jack via his Facebook page. Does he have an email, or whats the best way to book? 🙂

  5. a good read!

    great information…

    the fees are already doubled this year… )” it’s RM1380… hhmmm….

  6. even the lucky 24 is still not cheaper than Jungle Jack, as far as I can see. His rate in 2016 is 1380/person. Crazy compared to the price last year, but because of the earthquake, they don’t sell as many permits a day, therefore the price.
    We just booked through Jungle Jack. hopefully climbing in the end of july 2016. will let you know how that goes.

    1. Hi Anne, please do post and let us know how it goes this month. I’m planning my trip for the end of August ’16, so would appreciate any feedback!

  7. Just got a response from Jungle Jack for their 2017 rates:
    The cost is RM 1580 per person . This includes 3 nights accommodation (2 at Jungle Jack’s hostel and 1 at the base camp on the mountain), climbing permits, a guide, and food. :/

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