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THE BEST OF MALAYSIA: TOP ATTRACTIONS

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A selection of Malaysia’s top sights, from natural splendours and diverse wildlife to stunning heritage houses and mouth watering multi-ethnic cuisine.

#Mount Kinabalu. The hike to the summit of one of the highest mountains in Southeast Asia to watch the sunrise is indescribable and well worth the sore legs on the way down.

Everyone in Malaysia knows about the mysterious Mount Kinabalu, (Gunung Kinabalu) which, at 4095metres (13,345ft), is one of the highest peaks between the Himalayas and New Guinea.

The mountain is said to still be growing, at a rate of half a centimetre a year. Relatively young, its jagged crown was sculpted by the last Ice Age, about, 9000 years ago. Although Kinabalu’s peak is below the snow line, it grows col enough here in December for ice to form in the rock pool at the base of the summit. Dropping away 1,800 metres (5,900ft) straight downwards is the terrifying Low’s Gully, its name being a typical piece of British understatement.

Well-laid trails with steps and wooden rails help today’s climber ascend and descend the mountain in just two days.

Accommodation is available at the park headquarters, and high on the mountain slopes. At the former, choices range from hostels to chalets, from basic to almost grandiose. There are two restaurants (as well as a cheaper local restaurant on the main road just opposite the drive up to the park entrance), and a shop selling basic food supplies for climbers. In the administration building, on the hill to the right, just inside the park entrance, the Kinabalu Natural History Gallery (daily 9am–3pm; free) has an interesting range of exhibits. There is also a range of accommodation on the eastern side of Kinabalu National Park, at Mesilau Nature. On the mountain, huts at Panar Laban offer cooking facilities and sleeping bag hire, while Laban Rata Resthouse has a restaurant and heated rooms.

The easiest way to reach Kinabalu National Park 8 [map] (tel: 088- 889 098; daily 24 hours, activities daily 8am–4pm, Sabah Parks office Mon– Fri 8am–5pm; charge) from Kota Kinabalu is by minibus. From 7am to 8pm, the bus leaves for Ranau from the long-distance bus station near the Padang. The trip to this World Heritage Site takes a little under two hours, and the driver will turn off the main road to drop travellers at the park entrance. Apart from climbing Mount Kinabalu, there is another side attraction on its northern rock face. The Mountain Torq (tel: 088-268 126; www.mountaintorq.com) is Asia’s first via ferrata or “iron road”. Located between 3,200 metres (10,499ft) and 3,800 metres (12,476ft) above sea level, it is the world’s highest via ferrata, comprising two trails of iron rungs, cables and rails (Low’s Peak Circuit and the shorter Walk the Torq). Every September/October, the Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon attracts thousands of climbers with the objective of racing to the top while covering a distance of 21km (13 miles) or an elevation of 2,250 metres (7,382ft) within four hours.

Before leaving the city, book your accommodation with Sutera Sanctuary Lodges (tel: 088-308 914) at Wisma Sabah in Kota Kinabalu. Most of the year, particularly July and August and on public holidays, accommodation is tight and bookings need to be made well in advance. Alternatively, book a package tour with any of Kota Kinabalu’s tour operators. Stock up on food if you want to do your own cooking, as the shop at the headquarters offers mainly noodles and chocolate. Bring a hat and gloves, as it can be extremely cold on the summit, and a waterproof garment to protect you from the frequent rainfall. If possible, leave your luggage at a hotel and take a light pack only, or use the luggage storage area at the park headquarters. A torch is also useful for the final ascent, which usually starts long before dawn.

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