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Dragon, Unicorn and Lion Dance Festival of Sabah, Malaysia

Lion Dance

Yeah! Chinese New Year is only 2 days away and it’ll be the Year of Goat. Adults are probably not so excited about giving Ang Pow$ (red packet), but they will love lion dance. Some rich companies can afford to hire 20 lions to bless their business, but you can also watch lion dance by 100 lions for FREE.

lions, dragon and unicorn
Yup, you can enjoy such grand show in Dragon, Unicorn and Lion Dance Festival, which is an annual 1-day event usually held in weekend before Chinese New Year. This festival has been around since 1976, and they always have something new to show off every year.

girl taking photo with lion heads
Even non-Chinese Malaysians love lion dance show. It was used to be held in Merdeka Field (open space) but the event has moved to Likas Sport Complex (of Kota Kinabalu City), an indoor hall that is least affected by bad weather.

lions in green, red, yellow and blue colors
I went to the festival on last Saturday (7 Feb 2015). Around noon, the lion groups started to arrive one by one, and I was really busy taking photos. You can see my photos in Flickr album.

Techno Three Princes (电音三太子)
Pic: Techno Three Princes is the modern folkart of Taiwan and it’s gaining popularity in Sabah. In Chinese belief, they are the god that protects human from danger, plague and evil.

lion dance
Red and gold are common colors of lions, which represent auspicious and prosperity in Chinese tradition, but they can be in many other colors too.

white lion
Pic: I really like this white lion, it looks so smart and beautiful. If I’m not mistaken, white lion represents Ma Chao (马超), who likes to wear white & silver armor and riding on a white horse in war, and he is one of the most famous military generals in Three Kingdoms. Lion in pure white and black is used for paying tribute to the deceased in funeral.

big and small lions
Pic: big and small lions. I could see pride on the faces of children who played lion dance. It’s better than playing iPad, isn’t it? I see hope in preserving our culture.

girl beating drum for lion dance
Even girls can be part of lion team.

dragon dance
Not only lions, dragon and Qi-ling also take part in this festival.

dancing unicorn (麒麟)
Pic: hyperactive Qi-Ling that dances like Energizer bunny.

batik lions
Pic: Batik lions. Note the hibiscus flowers painted on the cloth.

taking photo with big head Buddha and God of Wealth
Pic: the big head Buddha at the left looks funky.

Sheep and Wolf cartoon costumes (喜羊羊與灰太狼)
Because goat is the zodiac of the coming new year, so they include the popular cartoon characters (Happy Sheeps and Big Grey Wolf) of China. Note the sheep head lion at the back. I wonder if they will have boar head lion in future.

baby dragon
Pic: baby dragon?

The Show

The lion dance and cultural show started around 3pm after all the VIPs were done with their speech and launching. The show ended around 8pm. If lion dance is your favorite, it’s like a buffet for your eyes and ears.

lion and dragon climb high to display scrolls with auspicious words
Pic: Lions and dragon climbed high to display scrolls with auspicious words.

dance by over 100 lions
Pic: blessing by hundred of lions. Epic!

lion dance on stilts
Pic: fly lion, fly!

24 Festive Drums (二十四节令鼓)
The first cultural show was 24 Festive Drums (二十四节令鼓), a performance listed as the cultural heritage of Malaysia. A group of drummers beat on 24 drums, which symbolize 24 meteorological events in farming calendar of Chinese. They use different formation and rhythm to show the harmony between sky, earth and people.

riding on lion
Pic: riding on a lion, what a cool way of making an entrance.

Nunchakus performance
Pic: Nunchakus performance by Teochew group. This guy is really good. I regret I didn’t take a video of his stunt. Anyone knows his name?

dragon dance
Pic: dragon chasing the big lollipop

Dragon has the highest rank among sacred animals, and also the most important because it can summon rain for the farmers.

pick green by lion on bench
Pic: pick green on the benches. It’s no easier than lion dance on stilts, as the lion has to balance itself on not so stable platform. You don’t need a big courtyard to invite lion to do pick green at your house.

Qi-Ling lion dance
Qi-Ling looks aggressive, but in Chinese mythology, Qi-Ling is the most gentle sacred animal and an icon of benevolence, because it never hurt human, not even plant.

My favorite show is the electrifying Lion lit-up by changing colorful LED light, as if its body is flowing with magical power. It danced and leaped on the stilts in the dark, very captivating show. Below is the video:

The following are two videos of Lion Dance on Stilts that day:

Chinese Cultural Village

The Cultural Village exhibition is something new in lion dance festival this year, too bad it’s only for one day. There were over 10 Chinese associations in Sabah participated, among them are Hakka (客家), Hokkien (福建), Teochew (潮州), Hainan (海南), Fuzhou (福州), Kwong Siew (广肇), Tai Poo (大埔), Eng Choon (永春), Sze Yip (四邑), Hin Ann (兴安), Northern Chinese (华北), San Chiang (三江), Nam Ann (南安), Lung Yen (龙岩), Anxi (安溪), etc. Each group has a population of several hundreds to many thousands in Sabah.

Eng Choon (永春)
Pic: History is boring, but suddenly I was interested in history that day.

During 19th and 20th century, a lot of Chinese migrated to Sabah (then North Borneo) due to natural disasters or civil wars in China, or attracted by the incentive offered by British government. My late grandfather was one of them. When he arrived Borneo, he was shocked to find that Borneo was so backward. Many Chinese were farmers and labors who developed our forest and swamp into farm and towns. However, our blood, tears and sweats are documented no more than the Chinese gangland and communism in textbook of Malaysia history.

Chinese Cultural Village
I visited the booth of each Chinese group, and their friendly exhibitors were happy to share the untold stories of their ancestors in Sabah, like their roots, why they came to Sabah and what they did here. I have to confess that there are so many things that I don’t know. In fact, many local Chinese don’t even know the hometown of their forefather. If overseas Chinese visits China and Taiwan, the people there will ask this question. They will laugh at you if you say you don’t know. When they realize that you are not joking, they will think, “OMG, this Chinese really forgets his root.”

Sabah Hakka booth
Pic: The Hakka booth. My late grandmother also wore that summer hat (called 凉帽 in Chinese) in old day. Hakka is the biggest Chinese group in Sabah, and they are frugal, pragmatic and traditional good farmers. Most Sabah Chinese have their roots in Guangdong and Fujian Provinces of China.

antiques
Each Chinese group has its distinct culture, dialect and history. Many booths displayed the antiques and items used by their past generations.

Hokkien booth
Pic: Hokkien booth

It’s kind of fun to learn that not all Chinese are the same, each group has its own unique food, cultural practices and belief. However, these identities are fading over time.

old day carpenter tools
Pic: carpenter tools, some are still being used today in less developed countries because they need no electricity to operate.

Besides labor support and lion dance, Chinese also brought in new skills and tools in agriculture, medicines, architect, etc., and the most important of all, Education. To Chinese, the Biggest Secret to Success is Education. Fortunately, Sabah government is more open and supportive in Chinese education and many non-Chinese Sabahans also send their children to Chinese schools. Let’s hope Sabah will be no longer the poorest state of Malaysia.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

More Photos

You can view bigger and better photos of Lion Dance Festival in my photo album. Enjoy!
more photos of Lion, Dragon and Unicorn Dance Festival

Photos taken in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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Loop Trail of Mt. Kinabalu, the Best Hiking Route of Sabah

Loop trail of Mt. Kinabalu

The space to climb Mt. Kinabalu is always full, so many tourists don’t have the chance to climb the highest mountain of Malaysia. Don’t be disappointed if you are one of them, because you still can try Loop Trail, which allows you to hike up to 2,745 Meters asl (asl = Above Sea Level), about half the height of Mt. Kinabalu (4,095M). The height of Mt. Kinabalu is not the reason why it’s listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The real treasure of Kinabalu Park is its high density of endemic flora & fauna, which you can see along the Loop Trail. I would say it’s one of the Best Hiking Trails in Malaysia.

The Loop Trail

Loop Trail is a day-trip easy to arrange and you won’t be under pressure to conquer the mountain. You only need to hire a Mountain Guide and pay a small fee. More on this later. Please note the Loop Trail (in orange color) in the 2D trail map below:
Loop trail map of Mount Kinabalu
You can pick one of the starting points for Loop Trail, namely, Timpohon Gate and Mesilau Gate, and both trails join at Layang-Layang after 4 KM (2.5 Miles) and 6.2 KM (3.9 Miles) respectively. At Layang-Layang, Loop Trail visitors have two options, (1) turn back to where they begin, or (2) proceed to another Gate. Loop Trail visitors are forbidden to take the Summit Trail after Layang-Layang, and no, you can’t camp in the shelter.

Timpohon Vs. Mesilau Trails

Timpohon Trail is shorter and easier, Mesilau Trail is longer but the view along this trail is more beautiful (EVERYONE says that). Timpohon Trail is mostly uphill trail so descending is fast and easy. In contrast, Mesilau Trail is a series of ascending and descending trails, so turning back is almost as challenging as going up. Anyway, it’s not mandatory to finish the loop trail. You are free to stop at any time and head home.

Below is a table that shows you 3 types of route you can do in Loop Trail:

Route Distance Remark
Timpohon Gate → Layang-Layang → Timpohon Gate 8KM (5 Miles) The Easiest route, take 3 to 5 hours.
Mesilau Gate → Layang-Layang → Timpohon Gate 10.2KM (6.34 Miles) Recommended route to get the most of Loop Trail. Take 5 to 7 hours. Tip: start the climb from Mesilau in the morning, for clear view of Mt. Kinabalu (would be covered by fog after 9am)
Mesilau Gate → Layang-Layang → Mesilau Gate 12.4KM (7.7 Miles) Hardest route. May need over 7 hours. You have to be very fit. Some trail runners do this loop as a training.

*The number of hours taken is highly dependent on your physical fitness.

Though Loop Trail ends at the altitude of 2,745 M (9,006 feet), you already reach a height taller than the second and third highest mountains of Malaysia, i.e. Mt. Trus Madi (2,642M) and Mt. Tambuyukon (2,579M)! Overall, along the trail there are shelters with toilet, water tank to refill water (it’s untreated water from mountain stream, use water purification tablet if you have sensitive stomach) and support such as stairway, hand rail and wooden plank. The trail is well-marked and there is no leech (a blood sucking critter), bear and Bigfoot.

view of forest

Things to Do

Besides hiking, the following are some fun activities to keep yourselves entertained during the walk:

  • Birdwatching: 17 endemic montane birds of Borneo live in Kinabalu Park, e.g. Chestnut-hooded Laughing Thrush, Friendly Bush Warbler
  • Flora & Fauna Watching: you will find exotic orchids and pitcher plant next to the trail. Some plant may look ordinary but they can’t be found in other parts of the world. Don’t pluck or collect anything. It’s an offense in national park.
  • Photography: The majestic landscape, lush forest, pretty flowers, etc. are good subjects for photo taking.
  • Or just sit and watch, enjoy the nature. A few squirrels will come near to you.

Temperature drops every 1°C for every ascending of 100M, so it’s cooler the more you move up. The temperature ranges from 16 to 25°C (61-77°F), but it can be quite warm in daytime, especially in a vigorous walk. Be warned though, the trail would turn into creek during heavy rain and the experience could be quite awful.

Registration and Fees

The climbing fee for Loop Trail is RM5 for Malaysian and RM10 (≈US$3) for foreigner. You MUST hire a Mountain Guide (from Sabah Parks) to go with you. The service of a Mountain Guide costs RM203 (≈US$57, rate of year 2015) per day and he can bring up to 6 climbers, which means you can share the guide fee with other hikers. For example, there is a group of 6 foreigners, each of them needs to pay RM10 climbing fee and share the cost (about RM34) of hiring one Mountain Guide, so each person only spends RM44 (≈US$12.22). If you go solo, you still have to pay the full amount.

visitor pass for loop trail trip
Pic: This is the tag (permit) for Loop Trail visitor. The tag for Summit Climber has photo of Mt. Kinabalu imprinted.

Kinabalu Park HQ
Pic: Kinabalu Park HQ. The registration and payment counter is behind this building, and you can hire transport to Timpohon Gate in the small office at the left.

If you start your Loop Trail from Timpohon Gate, you can register and hire your Mountain Guide at Kinabalu Park HQ. Passport or MyKad is required for the registration. Please note Timpohon Gate is 3.4 KM (2.1 Mile) away from Kinabalu Park HQ (by asphalt road) so you may want to hire a (one-way or return) transport to send you there. The phone number of Kinabalu Park HQ is +60 88-889888 in case you have more questions.

Mesilau - Kinabalu Park
Pic: Mesilau Gate and Sabah Parks are in Mesilau Nature Resort

If you plan to depart from Mesilau Gate, you better inform the Sabah Parks office there by phone (+60 88-871550) so your Mountain Guide will wait for you at Mesilau (as most of them stations in park HQ).

For those who can afford to pay more for a better experience, you may hire tour guide (from travel agent, someone who has good knowledge on flora & fauna). Please note all payment is by Cash Only.

Below are some photo walk-through so you know what to expect.

Timpohon Gate → Layang-Layang (4KM one way)

Timpohon Gate is the trailhead for Timpohon Trail, which is busier and shorter than Mesilau Trail. You will see many climbers start their summit trail here. Porters also use this path to carry supplies (e.g. tourist’s luggage, rice bag, gas tank, water tank) to the accommodation on mountain.

Pondok Timpohon
Pic: Timpohon Gate. You can buy snacks, drink and basic supplies (e.g. raincoat) in the building.

check point of Timpohon Gate
Pic: You need to show your tag (permit) to the Checkpoint at the left, before you hit the trail.

Carson Waterfall
After 300M, you will see Carson Waterfall at your left. If you see large volume of water, it might be raining in higher ground.

Kandis Shelter
Pic: the first shelter you will reach is Pondok Kandis (Pondok = Shelter), which is named after an edible but sour mangosteen (in Dusun language). At 1,981.7M asl, you are in the transition zone between lowland rainforest and montane cloud forest, where you start to see mosses, ferns, orchids, etc. Most of the time you will walk on the ground mainly consists of metamorphic rocks from here to Mempening Shelter.

Ubah Shelter
Pic: Ubah Shelter, the 2nd shelter at 2,081.4M asl, it’s named after wild guava tree. The signage says red leaf monkey could be spotted around there, but I never see one.

nature trail of Kinabalu Park
You can enjoy the scenery better than other climbers as you are not in a hurry to conquer the mountain. Just relax and enjoy the beautiful surrounding.

Lowii Shelter
Pic: 3rd Shelter, Lowii Shelter at 2,267.4M asl, which is named after Nepenthes lowii pitcher plant. You would see some pitcher plant such as Nepenthes tentaculata if you explore the bush next to this shelter.

distance marker along the trail
Pic: distance marker (in Kilometer) and trail map to show your current location.

Mempening Shelter
Pic: Mempening Shelter (2,515M asl), named after a species of Oak (family Fagaceae). In this shelter, you will hear many climbers start mumbling about the exhausting hike. You can tell them they are not even half way yet LOL.

mossy montane forest
At this point, you have entered the Montane Forest (Cloud Forest) above 2,500M, the surrounding will look misty and mossy, and so distinctly different from vegetation in lowland.

giant earthworm of Kinabalu Park
Pic: To survive the long trek, you have to to eat whatever you find along the trail, like the giant earthworm that comes out after heavy rain. Just kidding. If you are very lucky, you will spot Kinabalu Giant Leech, the predator of giant earthworm.

Layang-Layang Hut
Pic: The last shelter of Timpohon Trail, Layang-Layang Shelter at 2,702M asl, it’s named after a Bornean swiftlet (Collocalia dodgei). This is also where ultrabasic forest begins, which is made up of orange soil that is high in acidity, with high concentration of magnesium and zinc while low in phosphorus. You will see a lot of endemic plant from now on. Unfortunately, you will reach Layang-Layang junction within 10 minutes, where you need to turn back to Timpohon Gate or proceed to Mesilau Gate.

Mesilau Gate → Layang-Layang (6.2KM one way)

Mesilau Gate is 1,933M asl and located in Mesilau Nature Resort. This trail is longer and more challenging than Timpohon Trail, but you will be paid off by nicer view. Only a small number of climbers taking this trail to the summit, so it’s more pristine. The trail is also narrower and not that well labeled. A few sections are steep and slippery (after rain). You will be fine if you are careful.

Mesilau Nature Resort
Pic: Sabah Parks office and Mesilau Gate in Mesilau Nature Resort

Sabah Parks office in Mesilau
Pic: the registration and payment office is just next to Mesilau Gate

summit trail from Mesilau
Pic: start of Mesilau Trail. Enjoy the 6.2 KM hike!

mountain in fog
Pic: mountain and forest in fog

I only tried Mesilau Trail once and it was raining. It was so misty that I wasn’t able to take some good photos to show you. Please believe me that the scenery along Mesilau Trail is better than Timpohon Trail.

Schima Shelter
Pic: Schima Shelter, the 1st Shelter.

Bambu Shelter
Pic: Bambu Shelter, the 2nd shelter.

In average, there is one shelter for every one KM. All the shelters on Mesilau Trail are smaller and less developed than those on Timophon Trail.

bridge over West Mesilau River
Pic: bridge over West Mesilau River

Tikalod Shelter
Pic: Tikalod Shelter

trail marker
Pic: Don’t ask your guide how many KM left. You will always get the same answer, “We are near”. Read the distance marker.

Lompoyou Shelter
Pic: Lompoyou Shelter

nature trail in the forest
Pic: There are some viewpoints in open area. Too bad the view was obstructed by dense fog during my visit.

Magnolia Shelter
Pic: Magnolia Shelter

After 6KM, you will reach the Layang-Layang junction, where you should descend to Timpohon Gate or turn back to Mesilau Gate.

Layang-Layang

Layang-Layang is the meeting point of Timpohon and Mesilau Trails. The summit trail beyond this junction is off limit for Loop Trail visitors.

Layang-Layang Staff Quarters
Pic: Layang-Layang Shelter (left) and Staff Quarters

warning notice
Pic: warning to visitors without permit.

Layang-Layang Shelter
Pic: Layang-Layang Shelter. The Layang-Layang junction is less than 10-minute walk further up.

meeting point of Timpohon and Mesilau Trail
Pic: Layang-Layang junction

notice to non-summit climbers
Pic: final warning to climbers at Layang-Layang junction. You are not allowed to move further up if you don’t have the permit to climb Mt. Kinabalu.

signage at Layang-Layang junction
Pic: signage at Layang-Layang junction (Laban Rata and Gunting Lagadan Hut are the accommodation on the mountain)

Things to Bring

The following is a list of items you should bring. Try to pack light. When you climb a mountain, you can feel every Kilo of the weight. Also, wearing comfortable hiking shoes will help a lot (best if it’s water-proof).

  • Backpack (preferably with rain cover)
  • Water bottle (with water of course)
  • Pack lunch and snacks (no restaurant available on the trail)
  • Fleece or Windbreaker (It can be cold when it’s windy)
  • Raincoat (a Must-Have)
  • Sunblock lotion (UV on mountain is higher)
  • Walking pole
  • Camera (with spare batteries & memory cards)
  • Extra socks
  • Pain killer (for altitude sickness or knee problem)
  • Torchlight or LED Headlamp (just in case the sky turns dark before your trip ends)
  • Cash

Photos taken in Mount Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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