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Sabah Tea Garden, the Organic Tea Farm of Borneo

Sabah Tea Garden

Walk into any coffee shop in Sabah, and you would quickly learn that Chinese Teh Ping (Iced Chinese Tea), Teh-C Ping (Iced Milk Tea), Lemon Teh (Lemon Tea), Teh Tarik (Pulled Tea) are commonly ordered beverages among locals.

tea leaf

Sabah Tea

Our friends from Peninsular Malaysia are always surprised to find that Sabahans are fond of tea break and high tea too. Besides asking our friends to go Yamcha (drink tea), Sabahans would say “Let’s go High-Tea” too. Tea drinking is definitely part of our culture, and it fits well into our laid-back lifestyle.

Sabah Tea Plantation during sunrise

Sabah Tea Plantation during sunrise

“Tea drinkers take a break; coffee drinkers need a break.”

Not only that, Sabah also has its own local tea brand named Sabah Tea, which has established since 1978. Sabah Tea Garden is the only organic tea farm in Borneo. The tea leaves from its 2,480 hectare plantation are 100% pesticide free.

Variety of Sabah Tea products

Variety of Sabah Tea products

Anyway, you don’t need to be a tea lover to enjoy a trip to Sabah Tea Garden. Located 692 Metres above sea level, the cooling highland of Sabah Tea is an ideal place to escape the hot weather of cities.

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Sabah Tea Garden is the largest commercial tea plantation in Borneo, and now they produce eight flavors of tea, namely, cinnamon, ginger, geranium, pandan, tongkat ali, lemongrass, and misai kucing (cat’s whiskers). I tried their Pandan-flavor Pulled Tea (Teh Tarik Pandan) and I really love its rich flavor, a must-try!

Fresh tea leaves

Fresh tea leaves

Sabah Tea Garden has one of the most beautiful plantations in Sabah. Just take a morning walk during sunrise time around Sabah Tea, you will see the breath-taking view of misty rainforest around the lush tea plantation with majestic Mt. Kinabalu as the backdrop.

Sabah Tea plantation under Mt. Kinabalu

Sabah Tea plantation under Mt. Kinabalu

However, Sabah Tea Garden is more than a tea plantation with scenic view. They have successfully turned Sabah Tea into a recreational and educational site, which is friendly for family and student groups. Whether they have a day trip or overnight stay at Sabah Tea, there are so many things visitors can do there.

Tea processing in factory

Tea processing in factory

If you only plan for a short educational visit, you can pay a small fee to join one of the following day tour at Tea Factory. Note the best time to visit is between 8am-12pm (Mon-Sat) and Tea factory tour is not available on major Public Holidays:

  • RM7 (≈US$1.75): 30-min Factory Tour for Primary School students
  • RM14 (≈US$3.50): 45-min Guided Tour of the Tea Factory
  • RM17.50 – RM42 (≈US$4.38 – 10.50): 1.5-hour factory tour with tea tasting (with Sandwiches, Tea Bites, or Set Lunch)
Visiting Sabah Tea Factory

Visiting Sabah Tea Factory

Accommodations

For an “anti-oxidizing” trip by fresh air and tea, I would recommend you to spend a night or two at Sabah Tea. They have two types of accommodations:

  1. Longhouse: 25 rooms (triple sharing), can fit 75 people at a time. 14 shower rooms, 6 toilets.
  2. English Cottages (4 units): total of 16 rooms (1 queen bed + 1 twin bed), can host 48 people. Air-conditioning, Hot Shower and TV available
Longhouse accommodation of Sabah Tea

Longhouse accommodation of Sabah Tea

Cottage of Sabah Tea

Cottage of Sabah Tea

The cottages at Sabah Tea Garden are named after colorful personalities in Sabah’s colonial past. The cottage where I stayed was named after Lofty Hodges, an Australian hero who rescued the survivors of Death March during World War II.

Bedroom of Sabah Tea Cottage

Bedroom of Sabah Tea Cottage

Living Room of Sabah Tea Cottage

Living Room of Sabah Tea Cottage

Sabah Tea put some good efforts to create a farmstay experience. They have flowers and herbs, colorful ornaments, fish pond and Bunny Villa (rabbits) in the plantation, all these small and big things make this place fun to explore.

Coloured Tree of Sabah Tea

Coloured Tree showcases the United Colours of Sabah which underlines the social fabric of the local communities.

Hornbill made of used tyre

Hornbill made of used tyre

Feeding rabbits of Sabah Tea

Feeding rabbits of Sabah Tea. Each rabbit has a nickname such as Tennie, Ah Beng, Bala and Puteri.

Tea Adventure

Tea drinking has over 3,000 years of history, so it’s good to know more about this most consumed beverage next to water. Sabah Tea Garden offers “The Journey of the Tea” tour for visitors who want to learn how tea is processed.

Harvesting tea leaves

Harvesting tea leaves

Collecting tea leaves with Wakid container

Collecting tea leaves with Wakid basket

Participants of Tea Adventure will have a chance to harvest, process and sample the tea from their 1,000 acres tea plantation. They will provide you native hat and wakid (basket), then brief you the right way to pluck the tea leaves and buds. Did you know an experienced tea picker can collect about 32 Kg of tea in a day, which is enough to make 14,000 cups of tea!

Tea harvesting at Sabah Tea

Tea harvesting at Sabah Tea

After harvesting the tea leaves for an hour of fun, you can leave your freshly collected leaves dry and wither. Then you will use them to make Oolong and Green Tea the old-fashioned way later.

Fun with tea harvesting

Fun with tea harvesting

Oolong Tea is semi-fermented and Green Tea is unfermented, and their processing steps are different.

Drying the tea leaves

Drying the tea leaves

For Oolong, the tea leaves are left oxidized before they are roasted in wok, while Green Tea is cooked in steamer.

Black and Green Tea

Oolong and Green Tea

The end result is Green Tea will have milder taste and more astringent than Oolong Tea, which is in light brown color, with richer and stronger flavor. The participants will sample both tea and learn the difference.

Making tea balls

Making tea balls

Tea ball

Tea ball

Their staffs are very keen to share their tea knowledge. They also conduct tea talk for you to gain a better understanding of tea culture. Who knows your appreciation and enjoyment on drinking tea will go up next level.

Tea laboratory of Sabah Tea

Tea laboratory of Sabah Tea

Bad and good tea

Can you tell which tea is of better quality? (The one at the right has too much coloring, bad..)

Tea sampling

Tea sampling

Other Activities

I was also impressed by a full array of activities at Sabah Tea Garden available from day to night.

Misty forest near Sabah Tea

Misty forest near Sabah Tea

The forest, hill and river adjacent to Sabah Tea are in clean and pristine condition, and we can enjoy many types of nature based activities. For example, you can hike to the hill, trek in rainforest, swim in the river (if you can stand the cold!), mountain biking and even camp around.

Group photo after the visit to Sabah Tea

Group photo after taking part in Tea Adventure Programme

If you love wildlife, Sabah Tea Garden is a good site for bird-watching and night walk for spotting insects too.

Fun game after dinner

Fun game after dinner

Sabah Tea Garden is also able to organize team building, game challenges, obstacle course and various group activities for corporate retreats (for a minimum of 15 people).

“Tea” Cuisines

Tea can be used in food too. You can try such dishes at Sabah Tea, like their chicken soup cooked with vegetables and young tea leaves, and one-of-a-kind dessert, Tea pancake with honey.

Sabah Tea Chicken Soup

Sabah Tea Chicken Soup

Sabah Tea Pancakes

Sabah Tea Pancakes

Others local dishes are also available at Sabah Tea, just to list some, Fish with Bambangan (this Fruit only found in Sabah), Tuhau Beef (Sabah’s Wild Ginger Beef), Sabah Tea Black Pepper Lamb, Butter Prawns and Soy Sauce Free Range Chicken.

Restaurant of Sabah Tea

Restaurant and Gift Shop of Sabah Tea

Local cuisines at Sabah Tea

Local cuisines at Sabah Tea

Yes, the food are delicious.

Sabah Legend Tour

Kadazandusun is the largest indigenous group of Sabah. Their legend says Nunuk Ragang is where Kadazandusun people originated, and everything begins with a father and his 3 sons, who later split and migrated to different parts of Sabah and formed three main tribes (namely, Rungus, Kadazan, Dusun).

Tour about Sabah culture and legend

Tour about Sabah culture and legend

At Sabah Tea, the story-telling starts in their Rungus longhouse. Ruby, their staff showed us the traditional clothes, baskets, handicrafts, farming tools, hat, mats, beads and musical instrument displayed in the hallway, to introduce the interesting culture of each tribe.

Pool next to Sabah Tea longhouse

Pond next to Sabah Tea longhouse

Below is the contact of Sabah Tea Garden:
Address (see Location Map): KM 18, Jalan Ranau / Sandakan, Kampung Nalapak, Ranau (2.5-hours Drive from Kota Kinabalu City)
E-mail: info@sabahtea.net
Tel: +60 88-440882 (KK Office), +60 88-879220 (Sabah Tea Site)
Opening Hours: 8am to 4:30pm (best to visit before noon)
Website: www.sabahtea.com.my
Facebook: SabahTea
Fax: +60 88-440886

You may check out my photo album for more photos of Sabah Tea.

Beautiful pool of Sabah Tea

Beautiful pond of Sabah Tea

Photos taken in Ranau, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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Guide to Climbing Mt. Trusmadi (Mt. Trus Madi)

Mount Trusmadi

Mount Trus Madi (or Mt. Trusmadi) is the second highest mountain (2,642 Meters or 8,668 ft) of Malaysia. Albeit 1,453 Meters lower than Mount Kinabalu (4,095 Meters), climbing Mt. Trusmadi is more challenging, so it offers a thrilling experience for adventure seekers. Many tourists who have conquered Mt. Kinabalu are also keen to give it a try. If you are physically fit and exercise regularly, you would find Mt. Trus Madi is very climbable even though the trail is less tourist-friendly.

The peaks of Mt. Trus Madi

The peaks of Mt. Trus Madi

The facilities of Trusmadi have improved tremendously in past few years (especially the Tambunan side), so it has become a hot destination. Mt. Trus Madi is located in Trus Madi Forest Reserve (Code: FMU-10 = Forest Management Unit No.10), so you need to apply entry permit from Sabah Forestry Department for the climb. This article provides the most complete and updated information to help you planning the climb.

Overview of 3 Summit Trails to Mt. Trus Madi

Climbing Mt. Trus Madi can be done in 2 to 4 days, depends on the trail you pick. There are three summit trails that lead to the highest peak of Mt. Trus Madi, i.e.:

  1. Kaingaran Trail in Tambunan
  2. Mannan Trail in Keningau
  3. Mastan Trail in Sook
Location map of Mt. Trus Madi & starting points of 3 summit trails

Location map of Mt. Trus Madi & starting points of 3 summit trails

These trails have different climbing distance, starting point, road accessibility, level of difficulty and facilities on the mountain. Picking the trail is your first step to plan the climb. Kaingaran Trail (Tambunan) is the most popular choice because its climbing distance is shorter (4.9 KM) and the facilities are the most developed. Mannan Trail (Keningau) is the second best choice. Though the climb takes 4 days, the view along the trail is more beautiful and you don’t need a 4-Wheel Drive.

The following table is a comparison of three trails (can click to enlarge):

Table: Comparison of 3 summit trails to Mt. Trus Madi

Table: Comparison of 3 summit trails to Mt. Trus Madi

Since these three summit trails are connected to one another on the summit, you also can choose to ascend and descend to different points for more fun. For example, you can climb up the mountain via Kaingaran Trail from Tambunan, but climb down via Mannan Trail to Keningau, if you are able to arrange your return transport waits at other end.

Below are more detail reviews of three summit trails to Mt. Trusmadi:

1. Kaingaran Trail

Kaingaran Trail is the oldest and most developed trail. I climbed Mt. Trus Madi via this trail in year 2010. However, the climb is much more enjoyable and easier nowadays because of upgraded trail and accommodation.

Kaingaran Trail of Tambunan

Kaingaran Trail of Tambunan

Climbing Distance: 4.9 KM (require 2 day 1 night)
Location: Tambunan District
Starting Point: 27 Km (2.5 hours drive) from Tambunan Town (mainly gravel road. The last 6 KM road trip needs 4-Wheel Drive)
Accommodation: Mirad Irad Base Camp (foothill), Rest House (at 2.9 KM of mountain trail)

Mirad Irad Base Camp of Mt. Trus Madi in Tambunan

Mirad Irad Base Camp of Mt. Trus Madi in Tambunan

You can spend one extra night at Mirad Irad Base Camp of Mt. Trus Madi (7 KM before starting point (20 min drive) and 900 Meters above sea level), if you want to start your climb very early in next morning. The accommodation at Base Camp can accommodate 24 people, and camping (Fee: RM10) is allowed. The room rate is RM20 per night per person. Please note you MUST book 1 month in advance.

Starting point in Tambunan (Kaingaran Trail)

Taman Kitingan: Starting point in Tambunan (Kaingaran Trail)

If you start your climb on day 1 from Kota Kinabalu City (KK), you need to drive about 4 hours from KK to starting point in Tambunan, very likely you will start your climb around noon, which is kind of late. That’s why some climbers prefer to stay an extra night in Mirad Irad Base camp or hotel in Tambunan.

Plank walk & boardwalk in summit trail at Tambunan (Kaingaran Trail)

Plank walk & boardwalk in summit trail at Tambunan (Kaingaran Trail)

The first 3 KM of Kaingaran Trail is boardwalk. It’s leech-free and makes climbing more like hiking.

Taliban Point of Mt. Trus Madi

Taliban Point, which is named after OKK Taliban, the 1st native chief of Tambunan and has nothing to do with terrorist.

Toilet in summit trail to Mt. Trus Madi

Toilet in summit trail to Mt. Trus Madi

One of the shelters in Kaingaran Trail (Tambunan)

One of the shelters in Kaingaran Trail (Tambunan)

Summit trail to Mt. Trus Madi (Kaingaran Trail, Tambunan)

Summit trail to Mt. Trus Madi (Kaingaran Trail, Tambunan)

Mt. Trus Madi Rest House (only available for Kaingaran Trail)

There is only one accommodation on Mt. Trus Madi and about 2.9 KM away from the summit. The Rest House has 5 rooms, each with 4 bunk beds, and able to host 20 people at a time. The fee per person is RM20-RM100 per night per bed. The amenities are quite basic, water supply and lighting are available.

Rest House on Mt. Trus Madi

Mt. Trus Madi Rest House looks like a long house

Accommodation on Mt. Trus Madi

Accommodation on Mt. Trus Madi. Guide and Porter camp under the Rest House if the rooms are full.

Rooms of Rest House on Mt. Trus Madi

Bunk beds in Rest House. It costs RM20-100 per night per person.

Kitchen of Rest House

Kitchen of the Rest House. only tour operator can cook.

Toilet of Rest House

Toilet of the Rest House

Mt. Trusmadi Rest House, the only accommodation on Mt. Trus Madi

Rest House on Mt. Trus Madi

The following video gives a good overview of Kaingaran Trail, with a lot of aerial views of Mirad Irad Base Camp, Mt. Trusmadi Rest House and the summit:

The next two trails are relatively new and located in Keningau District (Sook is a sub-district of Keningau).

Mastan (left) and Mannan (right) Trails at Keningau District

Mastan (left) and Mannan (right) Trails at Keningau District

There is no accommodation in Mastan and Mannan Trails, so you will need to bring your own camping and cooking gears. This means you need to carry more weight, making the climb tougher. You can hire porters to share your burden. The camping fees are RM3 and RM5 for Malaysian and foreigner respectively.

2. Mannan Trail

Though Mannan Trail takes the longest time (4 day 3 night), many adventurers love its scenic view and pristine route. Another advantage is – you don’t need a 4-wheel drive to travel to the starting point.

Mount Trus Madi

View of Mt Trus Madi from Kg. Sinua (KM2.4 point to summit)

Climbing Distance: 11.6 KM (require 4 day 3 night)
Location: Sinua Village (Kampung Sinua), Sook (Keningau District)
Starting Point: 103 KM of paved road (3 hours drive) from Keningau Town. Good road condition. No need 4-Wheel Drive.
Accommodation: Camping and Resting Platform only

K.S. Khiong Point (4,200M) of Mannan Trail

K.S. Khiong Point (4,200M) of Mannan Trail, one of the camping sites

The GoPro video below gives you a good idea of trail condition in Mannan Trail:

3. Mastan Trail

Mastan Trail is very “raw” and the least developed. I have very little information about this trail. Judging from the map, Mastan Trail is the shortest (4.3 KM) but the steepest. You see, Mastan Trail is only 600 Meters shorter than Kaingaran Trail (Tambunan), which has far better trail and facilities, of course most climbers will go for the more relaxing option.

Taman Bunga (Garden Peak) of Mastan Trail

Taman Bunga (Garden Peak) of Mastan Trail

Climbing Distance: 4.3 KM (require 2 day 1 night)
Location: Apin-Apin, Keningau District
Starting Point: 76 KM (4 hours drive) from Keningau Town. Bad road, accessible only by 4-Wheel Drive.
Accommodation: Camping

Toilets in Mastan Trail

Toilets in Mastan Trail

Some village folks there have been doing day climb via this trail. Anyway, if you have only 2 days and want to see the most of Mt. Trus Madi, you may ascend via Kaingaran Trail on day 1 and descend via Mastan Trail on day 2.

The Summit

The flora of Trusmadi is very diverse and fascinating, where almost 600 species of 160 families of plants have been recorded here. Remember to get your certificate if you make it to the top (RM10 fee applies).

Nepenthes Trusmadiensis of Mt. Trus Madi

Nepenthes Trusmadiensis is a pitcher plant endemic to Mt. Trus Madi

Nepenthes trusmadiensis is the natural hybrid between Nepenthes lowii and Nepenthes macrophylla, you would see it when you are close to the summit.

The peak of Mt. Trus Madi (2,642 Meters)

The highest point of Mt. Trus Madi (2,642 Meters)

View of Mt. Kinabalu on Mt. Trus Madi

You can see Mt. Kinabalu clearly on Mt. Trus Madi

When you reach the summit of Mount Trusmadi at dawn, if the weather is good, you will be mesmerized by a breath-taking view of Mount Kinabalu, which lies about 40 KM to the north.

View tower near the summit of Mt. Trus Madi

New! 5-Meter Viewpoint Tower 100 Meter from the summit of Mt. Trus Madi (at Jiran Point)

How much does the climbing trip cost?

The total fee varies greatly, depending on the trail and services that you select. Below is a list of basic fees (in Malaysian Ringgit (MYR)).

Malaysian Foreigner
Climb Permit 30 80
Entrance Fee 5 15
Vehicle Permit 100 100
Accommodation (1 night)* 100 100
Forestry Guide (2 days) 100 200
TOTAL: 335 (≈USD$95) 495 (≈USD$140)

*For Rest House only. Replace this with camping fee if you don’t use Tambunan trail

The final cost can range from RM400 to RM800 per person, after you include other variable and optional fees such as rental of 4-Wheel Drive (RM800/day per car), insurance, transport (gasoline), food & personal supplies, porter, certificate (RM10), etc. You can save more money by going in group, so you can split the cost on transportation and guide fee.

Enjoying the mountain view from the tower

Enjoying the mountain view from the tower

If you have more questions, you may contact the Forestry Officers listed below:

1. Tambunan

Contact Person: Mr. Saleh Intang, District Forestry Officer (“DFO”) of Tambunan
Address: Pejabat Perhutanan Daerah Tambunan, Peti Surat No 64, 89657, Tambunan, Sabah, Malaysia
Tel: +60 88-899589
Fax: +60 88-899588
E-mail: saleh.intang@sabah.gov.my

2. Keningau / Sook

Contact Person: Mr. Azman Said, District Forestry Officer (“DFO”) of Keningau
Address: Pejabat Perhutanan Daerah Keningau, Peti Surat No 88, 89007, Keningau, Sabah, Malaysia
Tel: +60 87-331203
Fax: +60 87-338721
E-mail: azman.said@sabah.gov.my

Tour Operators

If your budget permits, you should consider hiring a tour operator to arrange the climbing trip for you. The cost will be higher, but they will save you the problems on paperwork (permit), 4-wheel drive transport, camping, cooking, etc. I strongly recommend the following tour operators, who are experienced in adventure trips:

1. TYK Adventure Tours

Address: Block E, Lot 38, 2nd Floor, Damai Plaza IV, Luyang, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
Tel: +60 88-232821
Website: www.tykadventuretours.com
E-mail: thamyaukong@gmail.com
Fax: +60 88-232827

2. Mount Trusmadi Travel & Tour Tambunan

Address: Lot No. 5, Kedai Tepi Sungai Tondulu, Majlis Daerah Tambunan, 89657 Tambunan, Sabah, Malaysia
Tel: +60 87–771312
Mobile Phone: +60 19-8831568
E-mail: widuresorttbn@yahoo.com

By the way, currently Sabah Forestry Department only has 16 mountain guides. During peak season, they may not have enough manpower to guide the climbers. They would disapprove your climb in that case. Therefore, I advise you to register a few months before the climb, to secure the limited capacity.

Useful Slides

Most of the information here is extracted from the following slides by Sabah Tourism Board and Sabah Forestry Department. You may download them for further reading. Also special thanks to Mr. Tham Yau Kong and Mike Miki from TYK Adventure Tours for contributing the photos. (Note: some info is inconsistent in different slides. I’ll correct them once I confirm the details).

Overview of Mt. Trusmadi, e.g. photos of road condition, starting points, accommodations, facilities, itineraries.

Useful info for planning the tour, e.g. booking and reservation procedures, various fees (permit, entrance, forestry guides), application forms and checklist of Things to Bring.

This slide contains some latest photos of the trails.

Please feel free to leave your question in comment section below, I’ll try my best to answer.

Photos taken in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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