We arrived at Mount Kinabalu late at night, in a bus from the Sepilok Orangutan Center. This was our last leg of the trip, and much to my disappointment, we had to discard hiking up the tallest peak in Malaysia (4,095m), because it required two days and MYR 1,800 ($400). The independent one day option that we had read about in other blogs was no longer permitted. We still wanted to do some short hikes and enjoy the landscape, and we had gotten excited reading about the possibility of seeing a rafflesia, the biggest flower in the world, native of this area. We woke up early and surprised by the low temperatures (we were under-prepared, coming from diving in Sipadan and hiking in the rainforest), and what followed was one of those days that make me love traveling.
At the Kinabalu Park visitor center we heard that 3 rafflesias had just bloomed in a nearby village, close to the Poring hot springs. Some taxi drivers offered to take us but asked for an absurd price, so instead, we walked down to the main road and jumped in a shuttle van / public bus to the town of Ranau. From there, we got a taxi to Poring, and then followed the improvised signs to one of the gardens that claimed to have a rafflesia – the flowers are rare and only bloom for 6 days, so you have to get lucky. A young lady called Vivian owned the garden, and after bargaining hard (we ended up paying MYR 20, $6), she took us to the flower. It was huge, maybe 2 feet (0.6m) in diameter, and beautiful, like taken out of a cartoon. Vivian walked us around her garden and explained a bunch of things about her other plants and fruit trees.
We walked back to the main road and, rather than taking a taxi, tried hitchhiking this time. A young local couple picked us up and drove us to Ranau. They didn’t speak much English, but Elena still managed to get them excited about trying iflix, the Netflix-like service she works for. In Ranau we found a shuttle back to Kinabalu Park, where we grabbed lunch and went for an unassuming hike through the forest. Somehow, we ended up on the main road of the park, and given that it was getting late, we hitchhiked with a couple of British tourists all the way to the top of the road (the entrance to the summit hike). The views were fantastic: the mountain is bulky and ends in rocky claws rather than a peak, and it is covered in vegetation and sprinkled with waterfalls. We hiked down easily and right on time to pick up our backpacks from the hostel across the road, and hail a bus that would take us to Kota Kinabalu, from where we would be flying back to KL, and onward back home to LA.