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Kiulu Farmstay at the Valley in the Mist

Kiulu Farmstay

Countryside is always stereotyped as a backward place for the poor. However, as a city grows big, urban people have to deal with more traffic jam and pollution, high living cost and smaller space, and now they envy the Orang Kampung (villagers), who enjoy a richer and healthier life because of fresh air, clean water and organic food in rural area.

Kiulu, one of the most beautiful villages of Malaysia

Kiulu is one of the most beautiful villages of Malaysia

I read somewhere that says Kiulu is the second most beautiful village of Malaysia and also known as the Valley in the Mist. In fact, Kiulu is a kingdom of villages because it consists of 103 villages. When driving on the winding and hilly road in Kiulu, you will be mesmerized by the lush hills, clean river, scenic plantation and peaceful villages.

Kiulu, the Valley of Mist

Kiulu, the Valley of Mist

Therefore, I was so glad to visit Kiulu Farmstay in April to experience village lifestyle for 2 days in this magnificent place. Kiulu is only 1 hour and 15 minutes away from Kota Kinabalu City (KK) by car, very convenient for me to reconnect with nature and to appreciate what are gone in city, i.e. fresh air, clean rivers and starry sky.

Tamparuli Town

On the way to Kiulu Farmstay, my guide, Pius and I stopped briefly in Tamparuli Town for a walk at Tamparuli Bridge and local market. FYI, Tamparuli Mee, a homemade local noodle, is a must-try if you eat in this town.

(left) Tamparuli Bridge and (right) view of Mt. Kinabalu in Kiulu

(left) Tamparuli Bridge that looks like a Natgeo logo, and (right) view of Mt. Kinabalu on the way to Kiulu

I saw people feeding fishes under the bridge. There are probably thousand of them, most are fat fishes over 1 feet long! According to a local, the river is under Tagal system (no fishing), so the fishes can grow really big.

“Village is a place where you can find peace, unity, strength, inspiration and most importantly a natural and beautiful life” – Minahil Urfan

The Fig Tree Eco-Lodge

After 45 minutes of driving from Tamparuli, we arrived Kiulu Farmstay. I was excited when I saw the crystal clear river from the hanging bridge. The emerald color of the river is a sign of natural water, something healthier than chlorinated blue swimming pool.

Hanging bridge to Kiulu Farmstay

Hanging bridge to Kiulu Farmstay

River under the hanging bridge

River under the hanging bridge

Kiulu Farmstay is surrounded by greenery. The bamboo lodge blends very well into the nature. I saw no big cement structure.

Bamboo houses of Kiulu Farmstay (Fig Tree Resort)

I overnight in the building at the right. The small building at the left is common bathroom and kitchen for campers.

In contrast to warm and sunny environment of beach resort, the riverside Fig Tree Lodge is tranquil and refreshing. I always dream of owning a house next to a river, so I can go swimming and fishing anytime. Staying in Kiulu Farmstay makes me desire it even more.

Bamboo house accommodation of Kiulu Farmstay

Bamboo houses of Kiulu Farmstay (Fig Tree Ecolodge)

The Fig Tree Lodge itself is an attraction. It’s so well built and designed, you can tell that they spend a lot of efforts to details. Except the roof, most items such as furniture and wall are made of locally sourced bamboo and wood. Some big bamboo poles are 20 years old. It’s an unique traditional house with some contemporary elements.

Dining area in the bamboo house

Dining area in the bamboo house. Nazllie (left, journalist), Pius (2nd from right, tour guide), and Jumadi (middle) & Esther (right) are our host

The lodge has two rooms that can accommodate about 4 to 6 people, big enough for a family group. They plan to build 8 more rooms in future. Electricity is on 24×7, so fan, light and hot water are always available. The lodge is also complete with a kitchen, bathroom and dining area.

My bedroom and the paddy grinder outside

My bedroom and the paddy grinder outside

The bedroom is clean and neat that I had no problem sleeping deeply. The split bamboo walling and flooring make this lodge looks like a cozy home of farmer. They add layer of rice husk waste between the walls to regulate the temperature.

This fig tree is the icon of Kiulu Farmstay

This fig tree is the icon of Kiulu Farmstay

Near the lodge is a big fig tree. Locals believe fig tree is spiritual (never swear or curse under fig tree), so some traditional rituals are performed under fig tree.

Fresh organic food in Kiulu Farmstay

Fresh organic food in Kiulu Farmstay

Esther is our cook who can make very nice local dish from fresh fruits and vegetables such as banana buds, tapioca, maize, pumpkin and sayur manis (Sabah vege). Worrying that we were not used to village food, she always asked, “is it good?” She should know that we are happy by looking at our empty plates lol.

Hiking

After a fulfilling lunch, Jumadi and Pius took us to explore the jungle nearby. Actually the so-called jungle is “forested orchard”. Instead of clearing the land for plantation, they let the fruit trees grow scatterly and wildly among the wood.

Plantation in village and forest

Plantation in village and forest. Can you tell what these trees are?

That’s why at first I was puzzled when Pius pointed here and there to introduce variety of crops, herb, vegetables and fruits that he spotted along the way, when I thought we were walking in a forest. My late grandfather also used to have such orchard in Tamparuli, and I often saw fowls, pangolin and other wildlife foraging in his plantation.

Variety of edible plant and fruits

Variety of edible plant and fruits. From left to right, top to bottom: Pineapple, edible fern, cempedak, salak

Just to list some crops that we saw, mango, durian, bambangan, rambutan, cempedak, rubber, peanut, maize, tarap, fern, sayur manis (Sabah vegetable). The best month to visit is September, which is the start of fruiting season, and they say you can eat so many free fruits that are almost worth as much as the tour.

Liposu fruit

Liposu fruit

Among the dense undergrowth are some herb and spice plant too, like gingers and tuhau. We also walked around the farmland of villagers. They are really friendly and don’t mind we roam in their territory.

Edible ginger

Edible ginger or tuhau

No matter how developed a country is, agriculture is still extremely important for a nation to achieve self-sufficiency on food. A healthy environment is crucial to sustainable farming, so it shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Trekking along the river

Trekking along the river

Even first world countries such as Japan and UK send their students to expose to farmstay, to learn the relationship between agriculture and mankind.

Mantub Waterfall in the forest

Mantob Waterfall in the forest

During jungle trekking, we also crossed a few streams and went upstream to see Mantob Waterfall. Watch at the video below and see how clean the water is, as if we can drink it unboiled.

The clean river isn’t by luck. The villagers of Kiulu love their environment, so they keep the water source free from pollution and deforestation.

Unpolluted river of Kiulu Valley

Unpolluted river of Kiulu Valley

River

We sweated a lot after 2.5 hours of hiking. Kiulu has one of the cleanest rivers in Sabah, so it’s a shame not to take a soak there.

Hanging bridge and the river

Hanging bridge and the river

I camped in Kiulu more than 20 years ago. I’m happy that the river still remains clean and chilling until today. Now Kiulu even becomes the most popular destination for white water rafting.

Crystal clear river of Kiulu

Crystal clear river of Kiulu

In America, 40% of the rivers are polluted and are considered unhealthy for swimming, fishing or aquatic life. The same thing will happen to Sabah, if we don’t protect our rivers.

Enjoying the clean water

Enjoying the clean water (but too shallow to do tubing)

I wanted to try tubing, but too bad the water was too shallow that time due to prolong drought. Further downstream there is a spot where you can snorkel and see many fishes. The world populations of freshwater species have declined by 55% between 1970 and 2000. Fortunately, many rivers in Sabah have tagal (no fishing) system in place to prevent over-fishing.

buffalo skull next to the bridge

Buffalo skull next to the bridge

buffalo skull next to bridge

Buffalo skull has replaced human as sacrifice for bridge construction

To locals, river is the source of life and the origin of civilization, and it is also viewed as the guardian. In our history, people were sacrificed to appease the river god, whenever a new bridge was built. Nowadays, buffalo skull is used instead.

The Stars

Kiulu Farmstay is formed by three villages: Kampung Mantob, Kampung Pinagon Baru and Kampung Dumpiring. City people can live at a place many years without knowing who is their neighbour, but nobody is a stranger in a Sabah village.

Party with villagers at night

Party with villagers at night. Thank you Saidin, Sikong, Johari, Pius and others for the wonderful time.

In the evening the villagers shared some food and liquor (Montoku and Lihing, the local rice wine) with me. We drank and played music until late night. Some local stories, history and folktales were told, the most interesting one is a snake-like eel up to 5 feet long could be found in their river in old days.

Milky Way in Kiulu

Milky Way in Kiulu

I ended up quite tipsy going to bed, so it’s a miracle that I could wake up at 3am to take some photos of Milky Way. Though starry sky is nothing special to our villagers, light pollution prevents 1/3 of world from seeing Milky Way. 80% of North Americans and 100% of Singaporeans can’t see Milky Way in their cities.

Quad Biking

Somehow I managed to get up on time in next morning and tried quad biking the first time. Initially I thought it would be something leisure like cycling in a garden. Oh my lord, the quad bike really rocks like a mini 4-wheel drive and able to conquer any terrain.

Quad biking in Kiulu

Quad biking in Kiulu

Quad bike can go really fast and furious. The braver you are, the more fun you can get out of it, and it’s really addictive. I would say it is the highlight of this trip. The deeper part of Kiulu is the best playground for quad biking, as it has many rugged road in undulating slopes, with scenic forest, hill, gorge and village view along the way.

Quad bike is quite easy to operate. Before we hit the road, they let us practiced in a field first. We started at 8:30am and had fun riding 22 Kilometers until 11:30am.

Gorge in Kiulu

Gorge in Kiulu

Quad biking is more powerful than scooter, so it can cause severe injury if we are not careful. However, I didn’t know what happened to me. I’m not a risk taker, but my personality changed when I was riding this bike. I was so reckless and fearless in speeding on bumpy and steep road. Anyway, it’s really fun.

Quad biking in Kiulu

Quad biking in Kiulu

Quad bike is a beast and seems like having a mind of its own. You have to fight a bit hard with it to fully control the stiff steering, or it’ll take you to hell. Don’t worry. Just go slow and get used to it in the beginning.

Big Foot Point in Kiulu

Big Foot Point in Kiulu

After 11 KM, we stopped by Big Foot Point in Kipunti Village for a break. Locals say footprints of big foot were seen around here, when they constructed the new road. Kiulu is also the Valley of Mystery.

Rumour says there is big foot around here

Rumour says there is big foot around here

Kiulu has gradually become a popular place for people who want to experience village lifestyle and outdoor adventure in nature. You can book the tour online. Other activities you can do include rice processing, rubber tapping, cooking, buffalo riding, BBQ, fish spa, camping, etc.

You can contact Kiulu Farmstay for more info:
Website: kiulufarmstay.com
Facebook: KiuluFarmstay
Tel: +60 88-438300
E-mail: info@kiulufarmstay.com
GPS: 5.975465, 116.302143 (see Location Map)
See more photos of Kiulu Farmstay

Photos taken in Kiulu, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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Mahua Waterfall, clean & cold water from Borneo mountain

Mahua Waterfall

Nearly 17 Meters tall and open to public since June 2003, Mahua Waterfall (local name: Air Terjun Mahua), which is 26 KM away from Tambunan town, is gaining popularity as one of the top destinations of Sabah interior. I visited Mahua days ago and strongly recommend this beautiful waterfall to those who drop by Tambunan. The GPS Location of Mahua Park is 5.796761, 116.408407 (see Location Map or Street View)

Signpost to Mahua Waterfall

To go there, you need to drive 1.5 hours from Kota Kinabalu to Tambunan. Before Tambunan town, you will reach a roundabout with ginger and machete statue on it. Turn left to Jln. Ranau Tambunan (Ranau Tambunan Road), Mahua Waterfall is only 13 KM away. You will see a brown signpost to Mahua Waterfall shortly. Driving for about 6 KM, you will see the Mahua signpost again at a junction at the left, which leads to a 6-KM small road in Kg. Patau (Patau Village). The road is nicely paved so you don’t need a 4-Wheel drive.

Sleeping dog on the road

In the beginning, you will pass by the beautiful paddy fields of the village. Drive slowly and keep an eye on the roaming dogs, buffaloes and kids along the road. Very often you would find village dogs sleep on the road and don’t even bother about approaching cars.

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Then you will enter a hilly road with forest view of Crocker Mountain Range. I saw many Yellow Wagtail birds, the common winter visitors called “Beras Beras” (rice) in local Malay language, and some Ashy Drongo and Pacific Swallow birds perched on power lines too.

Ticket counter and office of Sabah Parks (Mahua)

Ticket counter and office of Sabah Parks

At the end of the road is the Mahua substation (of Crocker Mountain Range National Park) managed by Sabah Parks, where you buy entrance ticket. The opening hour is 8am-5pm daily. The following are the ticket rates for visitors to Mahua:

Age Malaysian Non-Malaysian
18 years & above RM3 RM10 (≈US$2.50)
Below 18 RM1 RM6 (≈US$1.50)
Below 16 (student) RM0.50 RM6

Crocker Range Park, Mahua substation

The start of 500-Meter walkway to Mahua Waterfall is just behind this building. You already can hear the sound of thundering waterfall at this spot. Mahua Waterfall receives about 1,600 visitors a month, making it the most popular attraction in Tambunan. Besides locals, it also attracts foreign tourists from Canada, USA, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Norway, Australia, Japan and Brunei.

lacewing on orchid

Lacewing on orchid

Crocker Range is an important water catchment area. Water means life, so Mahua is a magnet for variety of fauna and flora. Like the 3-inch-big lacewing in photo above is new to me. Seeing my camera and tripod, the park janitor asked if I took photo for National Geographic. Haha.. if I answer Yes, not sure if they will charge me thousand$ for commercial filming.

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Only a few Meters inside I found big mushroom to photograph. Mahua Park is more than just waterfall. I am so glad that I discover a natural eco-garden.

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The walkway is under a mossy, shady and moist secondary forest, and such dim and damp environment promotes the growth of mushroom and fungus. The fungus above look like the skin of Chinese Bun (Bao) and Dim Sum. Edible?

Cup Fungi

Another type of fungi, they are very tiny.

Smiling rock in Mahua substation

See if you can spot this “Smiling Rock” near 10th Meter mark of the walkway

Concrete walkway to the Mahua Waterfall

Concrete walkway to the Mahua Waterfall

Despite the hot day outside, the shady forest and running stream make the surrounding very cooling and refreshing. The temperature hovers around 23 degrees Celsius, as if I am in an air-conditioning room.

Air Terjun Mahua

Normally I need to walk a long away on rugged jungle trail to see a waterfall. But the 500-Meter walkway to Mahua Waterfall is so short and easy, I didn’t even sweat.

grasshopper

The trail is quite flat and paved with cement. Watch out for the slippery mossy surface.

shiny beetle

There are some hut shelters, benches, trash bin and toilet along the trail, very well-facilitated for picnic. But sorry, BBQ and fishing are not allowed here, as these activities are bad for the conservation. Most visitors come here for swimming, picnic, camping and other nature-based activities.

Daddy longlegs (Harvestmen)

Daddy longlegs (Harvestmen)

caterpillars

Not only human likes waterfall, you also can spot many insects and bugs wandering among the undergrowth, ferns and shrubs along the trail.

Mahua Waterfall

Finally I saw the majestic Mahua Waterfall from a distance.

Air Terjun Mahua

Closer view of Mahua Waterfall. It is about as tall as a 6-floor building. I went there in weekday, so there was no swimmer around.

Mahua Waterfall

Viewing platform of Mahua Waterfall

Viewing platform of Mahua Waterfall

There is a ladder leads to a viewing platform.

Mahua Waterfall

Here you go, the photo of Mahua Waterfall. The force of water is so strong that it pounds the pool and create a mini storm and earthquake around it. Even though I was more than 10 Meters away, my camera and I was bathed by wind of misty spray.

Mahua Waterfall

Mahua Waterfall is nearly 17 Meters (55 feet) tall. But don’t try to jump from the top to the pool, as the water is only about 1+ Meter in depth (I never swim there, it can be deeper during wet day so just be careful).

wall face of Mahua Waterfall

You can swim around the waterfall, but be cautious of the falling rock from top.

Mahua Waterfall

Huge Tree in Minduk Sirung Trail

If you are a tree hugger, you will thank me for telling you that there is a gigantic tree hidden in Mahua Park.

Starting point of Minduk Sirung Trail

Starting point of Minduk Sirung Trail

About 120 Meter before the waterfall, you will see a hanging bridge at your right, which leads you to a signage that reads, “Minduk Sirung Trail. Mahua ke Gn. Alab 12 KM”.

Interesting tree in Minduk Sirung Trail

Interesting tree in Minduk Sirung Trail

Minduk Sirung Trail is a jungle trail that connects to Mount Alab (Gunung Alab) substation about 12 KM away, another park in Crocker Range. Some avid hikers use this trail for jungle trekking from Mt. Alab to Mahua Waterfall (mostly descending trail).

Some big trees next to the Minduk Sirung Trail

Other big trees next to the Minduk Sirung Trail

Anyway, the big tree that I mentioned is only 1.5 KM away from the starting point. However, there is no clear signage along the trail. You will see many big trees on the way and wonder which one it is. But, when you see it, you know that’s the one, as it is SOOooOOoooo…. BIG!

Huge tree at KM 1.5 of Minduk Sirung Trail

Huge tree at KM 1.5 of Minduk Sirung Trail

The trail is a bit steep in first 1 KM and lurked with blood-sucking leeches, so you better wear proper hiking shoes and anti-leech sock.

Accommodation & Meals

If you want to overnight in the park, you may book a room with Mahua Rainforest Paradise (located at park entrance), which has 12 bedrooms and a restaurant. Camping and meals are also available. The accommodation fees range from RM30 to RM95 per night (≈US$7.50-24), you may Click Here to check out its rates.

Hostels, bedrooms, common bathroom, camping area and BBQ gazebo of Mahua Rainforest Paradise

Hostels, bedrooms, common bathroom, camping area and BBQ gazebo of Mahua Rainforest Paradise

Here is the contact info of the hostel next to Mahua Park:
Hostel: Mahua Rainforest Paradise
Company: Mahua Nature Holidays (S) Sdn. Bhd.
Website: mahua.blog.com
E-mail: mahuanature@yahoo.com
Phone: +60 16 8403969, +60 19-8203198, +60 19-8203198

Restaurant in front of the entrance to Mahua Park

Restaurant in front of the entrance to Mahua Park

The owner of hostel also runs a restaurant near the park, which sells common food (e.g. fried rice / noodle, noodle soup, bread) and hot & cold drinks from 9am to 5pm every day. The prices of food are about RM5 to RM10, drink is RM1.50 to RM4, and they serve no pork. If you want to picnic there, BBQ gazebo is available for rent in full-day (RM45), half-day (RM30), and quarter-day period (RM15).

Photos taken in Tambunan, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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