Tag Archives: Tambunan
If you want to feel on top of the world and enjoy some breathtaking view, climb a mountain! For hikers who only want a day trip to conquer a mountain that is not too high to be overwhelming, but also not too low to be unexciting, Mount Wakid (Gunung Wakid in Malay language) in Tambunan is for you then. Even if you live in Kota Kinabalu City (KK), which is 80 KM away from Tambunan, you can finish the climb and back home on the same day.
Sabah is mountainous with over half of its land above 1,000 Meters above sea level, and Mt. Kinabalu is not the only beautiful mountain. No two mountains look the same. Standing at 1,372 Meters (4,501 Feet), Mount Wakid is distinctly different from other Sabah mountains that I climbed before. It’s also about the same height as Ben Nevis (1,346 Meters), the highest mountain on island of Great Britain and a popular destination that attracts about 100,000 ascents annually.
According to locals, in the past, an Odu-Odu (grandma) went to Mount Wakid to harvest some forest produces. She disappeared, so every villagers were searching for her on the mountain. However, villagers couldn’t find her except her wakid (a bamboo basket used by native to collect fruit & vegetables). That’s how Mount Wakid got its name.
When you head to Tambunan town from KK, about 10 KM before the town, you could see Mount Wakid prominently at the left of the road. Its long and crooked crest running parallel to the hilly road, like the spine of a dragon. No wonder the locals believe a Tombuokar (dragon) is living in this mountain. Every time I looked at this “crouching dragon”, it was like calling me to have a ride on its back. The most unique characteristics of Mount Wakid is – it is chartreuse in color.
Climbing Mt. Wakid (Gunung Wakid)
Mount Wakid is located in the state land of Kampung Sunsuron (Sunsuron Village). Its hill forest is kept intact to protect this mountain as a water catchment area. The villagers see Mount Wakid as an important source of water to irrigate their crops. It is only in Nov 2015 that they started promoting their “backyard” mountain as an attraction.
Yes, 1,372-Meter is quite an enormous height for a day climb. But no worry, we started our climb from Sunsuron Village, which is located at 780 Meter above sea level, so we only need to ascend less than 600 Meters (1,969 feet) to reach the top. Sound easy but remember three rules of mountaineering, which state, “It’s always further than it looks. It’s always taller than it looks. And it’s always harder than it looks.”
Here is the summary of the climb. The total distance of return trip is 9.75 KM. We hiked 5 KM via the new Jinkung Trail to the summit (GPS of the Highest Peak: 5.770667, 116.369209; see Location Map), then descend via the 4.75-KM Standard Trail back to Sunsuron Village.
We departed from Sunsuron Village at 8:30 AM, reached the summit at 12:30pm and came back at 4pm. If possible, you should move as early as 7am. Though Tambunan has cooling weather (about 25ºC / 77ºF), it’s still pretty warm in the afternoon.
In the beginning, we walked through the village houses and the local schools, before we entered the plantation at the edge of the village.
We passed by a preschool and the kids were so excited to see us. They screamed and waved at us, so adorable. Actually their smiles are the most memorable part of my climb.
After 10 minutes, we exited the residential area and passed through the farmland and grassland outside the village.
In the first 3 KM, we walked on flat ground most of the time. We only came across a few gradual slopes. It wasn’t challenging but we needed to be vigilant, especially at the narrow and slippery soil trail on the slope. We took a short break every 1 KM.
When we walked in paddy fields and meadow in open space, the sun was baking us. It’s so warm and I saw no farmer working in the field. Luckily I brought an umbrella so I just used it. Other climbers may think that I’m a wuss. Anyway, I think it’s a good idea because the shade reduces the heat and keeps me comfortable.
We crossed a few creeks without getting wet. The water is cold and super clean. I saw some “salad rivers” because the water is planted with a lot of leafy green “Sayur Hong Kong” (Watercress), which is commonly used in salad and sandwiches. As we moved deeper to backcountry zone, the forest was getting denser.
We arrived the starting point of Jingkung Trail around 11:15am and prepared for the last 1 KM push to the summit. Jingkung Trail is a new summit trail which is longer and more challenging than the standard trail. This route is thrilling for veteran hikers who want more adventurous experience.
However, Jingkung Trail could be quite tough and risky for inexperienced climbers, though all our newbie team members made it with some efforts. The trail is fairly steep, and we have to use our hands to move up some near-vertical route. We joked with one another that this trail should be named as the “Spiderman Trail”.
Mount Wakid is a new destination, so the trail is 100% nature and have no climbing aid such as ladder, handrail, boardwalk and trail signage. Our guide setup rope support in a few difficult spots. You would be happy to know that there is no leech all the way.
Someone says, “Climbing is action, it’s about doing, acting, trying. Words don’t get you up a vertical rock face or to a remote mountain summit.” That’s right, either you are up there, or you are not. Talking won’t take you there. I love the moment of keeping my mouth shut and fight my way up with crystal clear goal, as I believe action speaks louder than words.
As I was approaching the top at crawling speed, the trees became shorter and sparser. I knew I was near when I saw light on top. Then we we were welcomed by a PVC banner which meant we had reached the ridge and the summit wasn’t far away. I was gasping for breath and glad that the hardest part was over.
Here we were on the ridge of Mount Wakid. At this altitude, I expected to see lower montane forest with mossy environment. Instead, the top of Mt Wakid is dominated by a dwarf tree called Pokok Tagai locally. Its yellowish green leaves form the beautiful cap of Mt. Wakid.
Special Thanks to Dr. Arthur Chung, Dr. Reuben Nilus and John Sugau for the identification of the vegetation. According to them, these trees are Kerangas forest with berungis trees (Baeckea frutescens) and bracken fern (Pteridium esculentum), and part of the forest was burnt in 1983.
I googled and learned that the leaves and flowers of berungis tree can be harvested for medicinal uses and to make a refreshing herbal tea. All aerial parts of the plant are credited with antibacterial, anti-febrile and haemostatic properties. However, the local community doesn’t seem to use this plant.
We walked along the narrow ridge. After 10 minutes, we arrived the summit of Mt Wakid marked by a trig station. There are six peaks on Mount Wakid, and the highest peak is called Peak No.3. We celebrated the moment by taking a lot of photographs.
Climbers are often asked why they climb. We would reply, “If you have to ask, you’ll never understand,” so you have to climb a mountain to find the answer. When asked “What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?”, George Mallory, an English mountaineer, said, “It is no use… What shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem… What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy… We do not live to eat and make money.”
Therefore, if money can’t buy you any happiness, go climb a mountain! I also can’t explain why it’s cheerful, probably mountain is nearer to heaven. From the ridge, I can see that we are surrounded by rolling hills, lush forest, gorge and valley, what a spectacular view.
We continued moving to the next peak along the spine of Mount Wakid. By the way, Mount Wakid has a secret that our guide doesn’t want me to share it online. You can ask them if you climb.
It’s an easy hike. Within 20 minutes, we reached Peak No.1, which has a big cross erected. Every year before Good Friday, the local Catholic paid homage to Jesus Christ by carrying a big cross to this peak, but now this annual activity is moved to Kolindasan Hill.
If treated well, mountains give us clean water and fresh air, or they will hit back with flood and landslide. I’m glad that the forest on hills and mountains of Tambunan are in good condition, making Tambunan one of the greenest districts in Sabah. It’s sad that the Signal Hill of KK, which was used to be a lively hill with dense jungle, now has became a “Condo Hill”.
The following video is a good overview of our climb.
Next we were on our way descending to Sunsuron Village via the Standard Trail, which is about 4.75 KM in distance. Climbing up a mountain isn’t easy, but climbing down is more difficult. It’s advisable to bring packed lunch to the peak, so you can restore your energy level after eating.
Though the Standard Trail is less challenging than Jingkung Trail, there are a few steep sections that need rope support, which our mountain guide has provided. Even if it was drought season and the soil was fairly dry, I still found it hard not to slip.
The descending wasn’t easy, but it was faster and less tiring. We arrived Kolopis Waterfalls near the foothill after an hour. It’s a cascading waterfall with the small and deep waterfall in upstream and the big one 10 Meters downstream.
The big Kolopis Waterfall is a great spot for abseiling. A few of us couldn’t resist the temptation of clean mountain stream and decided to take a dip in the cold water.
Mountains are water towers of the earth because they provide 60 to 80% of the world’s fresh water. It’s quite amazing that Mount Wakid has flowing water after many dry months. Forest can do the magic of holding and releasing the water slowly.
Not far away from the waterfall is a camping site next to a stream. For those who want to enjoy the nature more, they can join the 2-day camping tour which includes mountain climbing, camping, abseiling at waterfall (by certified climbers) and night walk. A toilet is constructed for this campsite recently.
During the climb, you would see bamboo everywhere, that’s why Tambunan is called the Valley of Bamboo. In Malaysia, there are 80 species of bamboo, and some can grow more than 20 Meters high.
Finally we arrived the farmland of Sunsuron Village at the end of the climb.
There were a few local farmers having their lunch at the riverside. They are so friendly that they even invite us to join them. Their food is really fresh and yummy.
In this trip we see not only the beauty of mountain, but also the beauty of clean rivers. Tell me, how often you see river as clean as the one shown in photos here?
A toast to Tambunan, a land free of pollution.
How to get there
To climb Mt. Wakid, you can appoint a mountain guide to bring you to the summit. The guide fee is RM70 (≈USD$17) per head. A certificate costs RM10 (≈USD$2.50). You can get a guide through the following contact, or hire one via Sunsuron Homestay.
For safety, you should get a guide to follow you. The trail is not well-marked, so you can lose your way easily like the grandma. There was a Korean who lost in the mountain. Luckily he was found and saved. If we only found his iPhone, we would have to rename this mountain to Mount iPhone.
Things to Bring
It’s warm during daytime, so you don’t really need extra warm clothing. The most important thing is to wear a pair of good hiking shoes. Below is a list of recommended items to bring:
- Bottle of Water (min. 1 Litre)
- Raincoat / Poncho
- Snack / Energy Bar
- Packed Lunch
- Climbing Rope
- Walking Pole
- Optional: Swimwear
Photos taken in Tambunan, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo
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Tourism is defined  as “…the activities of persons travelling to and staying in places outside their usual environment…” Oh yea, travelling should be an extraordinary experience. If we go sightseeing like a typical tourist, everyone would see the same thing and go home telling the same story. Probably the only interaction between most tourists and the locals is waving hands to each other to and from a tourist bus.
Therefore, instead of staying in a hotel that looks no different to other hotels in your hometown, you may consider homestay. In hotel you are just a guest, in homestay you are a friend. Don’t just leave your footprint on a foreign land, leave a wonderful memory between you and the local people.
Last month I decided to live like a local in homestay of Kampung Sunsuron (“Kampung” is Village in Malay word) in Tambunan, a remote town 80 Kilometers away from Kota Kinabalu (KK), the capital city of Sabah. The mountainous landscape, cooling climate and scenic greenery earns Tambunan the nickname Switzerland of the East.
Sunsuron Village & Homestay
Tambunan is on a highland with average altitude of 750 Meters, so it is refreshing and can be quite chilling at night. Besides, it’s a land uninvaded by McDonald’s and Starbucks, where you can appreciate more authentic cultural experience and village lifestyle.
More than 130 years ago, the Sunsuron area was uninhabited, because it was a hot zone of headhunting and tribe wars. In 1885, British North Borneo Chartered Company established police base in Sunsuron to end the unrest.
Thanks to Taliban and the bygone British colonial government, Tambunan is also known as the Valley of Bamboo. When peace was restored in 1930s, flourishing agriculture and development created huge demand for bamboo, which caused over-harvesting and led to more shortage of bamboo.
Therefore, OKK Taliban, the first Native Chief of Tambunan, worked with Peter Lupang Tingkalus from Tambunan Forestry Department, to implement a policy requiring everyone to plant ten bamboo for every bamboo cut . This worked so well that thriving bamboo has became an icon of Tambunan.
The name Sunsuron is the slip of the tongue over time from the Kadazan Dusun word “Sunsuyon”, which means bridge. There was a bamboo bridge for the villagers to cross the Sunsuron River at that time. The host of our homestay is Mr. Peter Gatulik and his wife. Peter is a retired police officer and his children had grown up and live somewhere else, leaving some empty rooms that he is happy to offer to traveller who wants a home away from hometown.
Homestay in Sabah means more than cheap accommodation. You live like part of their family. It’s not a hotel where you can find bellboy or your favorite sweet-and-sour food.
You eat what they eat. No salad but tuhau; No salmon but basung; No red wine but lihing. None of our exotic food tastes like chicken. Enjoy the acquired taste!
In Sabah culture, food is important for building friendship, so your host will make sure that you are well-fed. For traditional appetizers, you would be given hinava (fish slices marinated in lime juice), tuhau (a type of wild ginger) and bambangan (pickled mango-like fruit).
Hinava is a “safe choice”. For first timers, tuhau can either taste like stink bug or food from heaven to them. No matter what, Tambunan is famous for Tuhau, so at least take a bite, or you can try Serunding (Deep-fried) Tuhau, a less potent version of tuhau.
You are lucky if it is the season for getting Borot (a type of small freshwater fish) and Birid (horn shell) from local river. Both are delicacy only available in rural area. Our traditional dish could be a bit of culture shock to you, but just be open-minded. You don’t travel a long way to Sabah just to eat hotel food right.
Just for fun, they also serve linopot, which is rice wrapped in big leaf. In the past, farmers and hunters brought linopot with them to the field and used the leaf as a plate.
Tambunan is an agricultural district, so the meals of homestay usually comprise fresh and organic vegetables from local plantation. You would find that almost every house in village has a mini-farm and fish pond besides garden.
The villagers are very friendly, so it’s quite likely you would be offered a couple of drink. You may love the idea of warming up your body with locally brewed liquor in the cool evening, or you can politely decline if you don’t drink, no problem at all.
Normally beer and wine are not included in homestay unless you request. Anyway, you would be invited to wedding or festival celebrations if there is any nearby, so be prepared.
Village is an excellent source of folk stories about strange things, but I was surprised that there is a weird “treasure” in the front yard of my host. Interestingly enough, it’s a rock, not gold or gem.
More than two decades ago, Peter was on duty and patrolled around Pamol, Sandakan. A contractor was digging the ground to build a house near to a river, and pair of strange rocks were unearthed. Peter found the rocks very beautiful because they looked like the carapace of a turtle. Since nobody wanted them, he took them back home and left them at the staircase.
The amazing rocks generated a lot of curiosity and the news spread. The rocks were even featured in Mystic magazine. Then a Chinese from Peninsular Malaysia offered RM30,000 (≈USD$7,300) to buy the turtle rocks. Even though the offer was irresistible, Peter cherished such serendipity and decided to keep them.
Before leaving, this buyer was kind to advise Peter that it’s more auspicious to place these rocks near the water. Probably this has something to do with Feng Shui, as tortoise or turtle is a sign of longevity and water symbolizes wealth.
Therefore, Peter put these rocks at the fish pond in his front yard. OMG I can’t believe he just leaves the RM30,000 rocks laying around like that. The whole village knows about these rocks, but for 20 years nobody steals them. Btw, Peter also welcomes anyone to study these rocks and tell him why they are so special.
Anyway, Bibiana, the daughter of Peter showed me more unbelievable things in Kampung Sunsuron, when we toured around the village later.
House of Skulls
In the past, the people of Sunsuron practised head-hunting to defend their territory. The skull was kept as a war trophy which locals believe was endowed with supernatural power and would protect the owner. Some said whenever their enemies approached their village, these skulls would shout to warn the people.
Most of the 35 skulls were the followers of Mat Salleh and collected during his last battle with British at Tambunan plain in 1900. These skulls were used to be hanged or placed in a wooden hut that didn’t last and always required repair, so a concrete head house was built, next to Spiritu Tobitua Church and a burial ground, in June 1959 by Y.N. Gampin to house the skulls.
The locals call this head house Sunsuron Guritom. Guritom means black people in Kadazan Dusun language, because Mat Salleh’s followers had darker skin than Sunsuron people. One of the skulls belong to Sambatangan, the most-wanted hero of the enemy, whose head is said as big as a bucket. The head house is still standing today (GPS Location: 5.742147, 116.377498, see Location Map or Street View), but the skulls are gone (a local says some of them are buried under the head house) because somebody stole them for use in black or white magic.
According to a research , at least half of the skulls were female, the majority being either young or very old, while some 10 percent of the remainder are adolescent boys.
In early days, you must ask head-house keeper to take you to visit the head house. If you go alone you must pay 2 dollars sogit (fine) to the village. People who disturb the skull would become sick, insane, or worst, die.
The elder villagers would tell you that the village used to perform ritual to feed and appease these skulls annually. Villagers were required to contribute some money to share the cost of buying food such as buffalo. If the ritual was postponed, people would hear the noise of chattering teeth from the skulls, it was freaking scary when there was no lamppost at night that time. However, villagers were too poor to feed them, so the last ritual was performed in 1970s, with Bobolian (native priest) declared to the skulls that there would be no more feeding.
Watu Tinuridung the Bulletproof Stone
Just a stone’s throw away from the Head House is the historical Watu Tinuridung Stone (GPS Location: 5.742725, 116.378539. See Location Map). According to oral tradition of Kampung Sunsuron, this stone was found in late 19th century, the time Mat Salleh revolted against the British ruling.
In 1898, Mat Salleh agreed to ceasefire (Palatan Peace Pact) with British North Borneo and stayed in Tambunan. However, Mat Salleh was hostile to Kampung Sunsuron, and he raided the village. Mat Salleh was more well-equipped with weapons such as cannon, so Kampung Sunsuron was asking for help from British government.
The men of Sunsuron also prepared to defend themselves by digging a circular hollowed-out area, which has a circumference of 40 Meters, and used the earth to erect ramparts around it . The excavated area was deep enough to hide standing men behind the wall. While digging they saw this large and flat stone and thought it’s an excellent shield for firearm. They erected the stone to make it stood.
In local dialect, the action of erecting something is called monuridung hence this stone was named Tinuridung. Then two priestesses (bobolian) performed a ceremony to invite the spirit to reside in this stone as a guardian to keep the village away from any sickness and harm.
Until today, some villagers believe a friendly spirit is still living inside Watu Tinuridung. Probably for this reason they don’t remove the stone, and it also becomes a memorial to commemorate the brave Sunsuron warriors who perished in the war.
Traditional Tambunan House
There is a traditional Tambunan house beside Watu Tinuridung Stone (GPS Location: 5.742818, 116.378591. See Location Map). This house was a real residence but now vacant after it was gazetted by Sabah Museum as a heritage house.
The bamboo house is raised on hardwood stilts, sometimes large river stones are used instead. Though the window is small, the translucent quality of bamboo allows enough light to get inside the house.
The beauty of this house is it was first constructed without using any nail. The wood, bamboo and poles are lashed together with rattan strips. However, after the ongoing maintenance, some nails are added to the structure.
This is a 100% wooden house, and most of the floor and wall are made of bamboo. There were many taboos in house building. For example, bamboo should not be taken during the time of full moon, and it’s bad luck to orientate the house entrance to the path of the setting sun, which is associated with death.
For safety reason, young girls overnight in an attic (Linimput), a small platform built above the house’s main cross-lintel, and parents would remove the ladder that accesses their room. The rattan knots that bind the wood together are already an art. I wonder how many people can tie these knots nowadays.
Sunsuron is awesome huh? Currently, there are 18 families participated in Sunsuron Homestay (Muslim host available). The standard rate of accommodation (with 2 meals) in homestay is RM85 per day (≈US$21/day). You can request your host to organize more activities (additional fees applied) such as visiting Mahua Waterfall, Mt. Trus Madi, Mt. Wakid, Batu Gong Rock and Rafflesia Information Center, biking, birding, fishing and hiking.
The following is the contact of Sunsuron Homestay. You are advised to book the tour earlier instead of walking in:
Sunsuron Homestay’s Coordinator: Ms Bibiana P. Gatulik (Cellphone: +60 14-6792148)
- Definition by World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)
- Source: Bamboo Planting in Tambunan, by Rahim Sulaiman
- For further reading: Head-hunting and the Magang Ceremony in Sabah, by Peter R. Phelan, published by Natural History Publications (Borneo), ISBN-13: 978-9839638158
- See Traditional stone and wood monuments of Sabah, by Peter R. Phelan, ISBN-13: 978-9839722031
- More Info: The Tambunan Bamboo House in Local and national History, by Richard Nelson Sokial, Vol 23 – The Sabah Society Journal – (2006)
Photos taken in Tambunan, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo
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