Category Archives: Travel

How to Climb Mount Kinabalu and How Much it Cost?

Mt. Kinabalu

Standing majestically at 4,095 Meters (13,435 feet), Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain of Malaysia. Mt. Kinabalu derives its name from the Kadazan word, Aki Nabalu, meaning ‘the revered place of the dead’. It is one of the most conquerable peaks in the world. This article will help you to reach its summit, with some info that travel agents don’t want you to know.

Mount Kinabalu, highest mountain in Malaysia

Mt. Kinabalu is the highest mountain of Borneo and Malaysia.

News (10 Dec 2016): Besides the standard Ranau trail (open on 1 Dec 2015), the second summit trail named Kota Belud Trail is open on 9 Dec 2016.

  1. The maximum number of climbers (daily quota) is 165 climbers per day.
  2. Climb Permit fee is now RM200 for foreigner; RM50 for Malaysian.
  3. Child under 16 must be accompanied by a dedicated Mountain Guide. Each Mountain Guide can only take up to 2 children (or up to 5 adult climbers).
  4. Mountain Guide who takes care of children will not guide adult climber. For example, if your group has 3 adult and a child (below 16) climbers, you must hire two mountain guides (one to take care of adult, another one for child only).
  5. The rate of mountain guide service is RM230.
  6. The rate of porter service is RM65 per day.

You may follow the Facebook of Sabah Parks for latest news and notice.

Mount Kinabalu’s specialty lies in its location at a renowned World Heritage Site – Kinabalu Park. Nature lovers will be delighted to be able to witness the many variations of flora and fauna that are to be found on the mountain at different altitudes.

1. How much does it cost?

I know you want a quick answer. The lowest climbing fee of Mt. Kinabalu is about RM916 (≈USD218) for International Tourist and RM554 for Malaysian (last updated: Oct 2019). The cost includes transportation, accommodation, meals, mountain guide, permit, insurance, and other expenses. Please download the Excel file to see the itemized budget. My calculation is based on the standard package (overnight in Laban Rata and start climbing at Timpohon Gate for single adult).

  1. The Best Time to climb Mt. Kinabalu is between March and August, which are the dry seasons of Sabah. The peak season is Apr to Jun.
  2. You can climb in other months, but try to avoid Dec and Jan, which are the wettest months, due to the North-East Monsoon
  3. Laban Rata Rest House is the accommodation 2.72 KM before the summit of Mt. Kinabalu. Most climbers overnight here before conquering Mt. Kinabalu in next morning.
  4. If you are not allowed to climb Mt. Kinabalu in bad weather, there is No Refund.

How to Book a Climb Package

Booking the one-night Accommodation at Laban Rata (a.k.a. Panalaban) is the FIRST step. You can’t climb Mt. Kinabalu if you haven’t reserved any room on the mountain. Camping on the mountain is not allowed.

A few important things to note:

  1. You must book at least 6 months in advance. The park allows only 135 climbers to climb per day, due to conservation and limited rooms, so the accommodation is always fully booked.
  2. Conquering Mt. Kinabalu requires only 2 days 1 night. (some can do it in one day but you have to be very fit)
  3. However, to maximize profit, Sutera Sanctuary Lodges (management of accommodation) usually sells you 3-day-2-night accommodation (with 1 extra night at Kinabalu Park, foothill of Mt. Kinabalu).
  4. 2-day-1-night accommodation package is available, but only open 30 days before the climbing date.
  5. Gunting Lagadan Hut, Panar Laban Hut, Waras Hut, and Lemaing Hostel are next to Laban Rata, and these accommodations are Cheaper.
  6. All accommodation package is inclusive of full meals (buffet style).

You can book accommodation in Kota Kinabalu City at www.beelik.com.

There are 3 ways to book the climb package:

1. Book with Travel Agent

If you can afford, just book the tour package with licensed tour agents such as Mountkinabalu.com, Borneo Calling and Outback Venture. Though you will see a markup of price than I mentioned earlier, they will take care of everything, from transportation, registration, to the end of climb. This is the Best option.

2. Book with Sutera Sanctuary Lodges (SSL)

SSL is the management of accommodation in Kinabalu Park and Laban Rata. For booking, you can contact them at:
E-mail: info@suterasanctuarylodges.com.my
Tel: +60 88 308 914 / 308 915 / 308 916
Website: www.suterasanctuarylodges.com.my
Facebook: SuteraSanctuary
Address: Lot G15, Ground Floor, Wisma Sabah, 88000, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. (see location map)
Business Hours: 9am-6pm (Mon-Fri), 9am-4pm (Sat), close on Sun & Public Holiday

office of Sutera Sanctuary Lodges
Pic: office of Sutera Sanctuary Lodges

Online Booking is available in website of Sutera Sanctuary Lodges. You may drop by the office of SSL, which is located in ground floor of Wisma Sabah building in Kota Kinabalu city center and next to Wisma Merdeka, a popular shopping mall. Besides booking, the friendly staffs can answer all your questions on the spot. They can arrange full transport service for you too (the fees are quite high though). If you are lucky, you can find last minute cancellation by other tourists so you can snap up the vacancy. Anyway, don’t bet on this.

3. Sabah Parks

Next to Laban Rata Resthouse, Lemaing Hostel and Panalaban Hostels are new (and cheaper) accommodation available to climbers. Lemaing Hostel is only open to Malaysian climbers. You must book the accommodation directly with Sabah Parks, the management of these hostels. Please note you need to to pay other mandatory fees such as climb permit, insurance and guide fee, besides the meals and accommodation there.

All accommodations on Mount Kinabalu (Laban Rata / Panalaban)

All accommodations on Mount Kinabalu (Laban Rata / Panalaban)

A) Lemaing Hostel (for Malaysian only)

Open in 2014, this hostel has 75 bunk beds. (RM is Malaysian Ringgit (MYR).)
Accommodation & Meals: RM200
Insurance: RM7
Permit: RM50 (adult), RM30 (below 18)

Lemaing Hostel

Lemaing Hostel is near to Laban Rata Resthouse

B) Panalaban Hostels (for Malaysian and Foreigner)

Open in 2019, Panalaban Hostels (Kinotoki and Mokodou) can accommodate 50 climbers.
Accommodation & Meals: RM400
Insurance: RM7
Permit: (Malaysian rate) RM50 (adult), RM30 (below 18); (Foreigner Rate) RM200 (adult), RM80 (below 18)

Fees of Lemaing Hostel and Panalaban Hostels

Sabah Parks Contact:

You can visit Sabah Parks office located in KK Times Square (Kota Kinabalu City) to book room and make payment:
Opening Hour: 8:00AM – 5:00PM, Mon-Fri (closed on Sat, Sun & Public Holiday)
Phone: +60 88-523531 / +60 88-523572
E-mail: reservation@sabahparks.org.my, sabahparks@gmail.com
Pricing info and Booking Form: Lemaing Hostel, Panalaban Hostels

Still No Space?

You can climb the second or third highest mountains of Sabah (and Malaysia), namely, Mt. Trus Madi (2,642M) and Mt. Tambuyukon (2,579M). Though they are about half the height of Mt. Kinabalu, the climb is much more tougher.

Itinerary of the Climb

Below is a run-down of the 3-day-2-night climbing tour in brief:

Day 1

Check-in to overnight at Kinabalu Park (see location map), which is 88 KM away from Kota Kinabalu (KK). The extra night helps your body to adapt to the height so you will be less vulnerable to Altitude Sickness (acute mountain sickness) in the climb next day. Here is a list of accommodations near Kinabalu Park.

Day 2

9am: Register and pay fees (climb permit, insurance, guide, etc.) to Sabah Parks at Kinabalu Park HQ. Collect your name tag (climb permit) and packed lunch (usually consists of sandwiches, candy bar and a fruit, with a small bottle of drinking water), then meet your guide and porter (if hired). You also can arrange return transport there to transfer you between gate and park for a fee. Be there before 10:30am or they won’t allow you to climb.
9:30am: Transfer to Timpohon Gate, the starting point of the climb.
10am: Start of Climb!
4pm: Reach Laban Rata Rest House. Usually it takes 6 to 8 hours, depend on your fitness.
– Overnight at Laban Rata (or other huts)

Day 3

2am: Gather and having breakfast at Laban Rata, then head to the summit.
(The park may not allow you to climb in very bad weather)
6am: Reaching the summit of Mt. Kinabalu
7am: Descending to Laban Rata
10am: Check-out and descend to Kinabalu Park
1:30pm: Back to KK

Photo Walkthrough (with latest photos and info on new Ranau Trail)

Below are the photo walk-through of the 2-day climb in chronological order. The new Ranau summit trail (open on 1 Dec 2015) is 200 Meters longer than the old trail. They say the new trail is more challenging, but I didn’t feel much difference.

Or you can watch the video below:

Day 1: Climbing to Laban Rata

The standard trail starts from the Timpohon Gate (1,800m; 5,906 ft) which is about 4KM away from the Kinabalu Park Headquarters. Before reaching Laban Rata (3,273m; 10,738 ft), climbers will encounter a series of trail shelters (pondok)—Pondok Kandis, Pondok Ubah, Pondok Lowii, Layang-Layang, Pondok Villosa, and Pondok Paka. The climb from Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata normally takes 6 to 8 hours (for 6 KM).

Timpohon Gate
Pic: Timpohon Gate. You can buy basic supply such as snacks, drink and raincoat here.

Carson Waterfall
Pic: you will see the miniature Carson Waterfall very soon.

trail signage and map
Pic: There are signages and markers every 0.5 or 1KM along the trail, to show how far you go.

shelter next to trail
Pic: There is shelter for every 1 KM, where you can rest, refill water (untreated spring water), use the toilet and dump your trash.

Pygmy Squirrel
Pic: Cute pygmy squirrel would come to you wanting food.

trail to Mt. Kinabalu
The trail is clear and in moderate steepness most of the time. You will feel like walking on endless staircase than climbing. Just go slow and enjoy the scenic cloud forest (montane forest).

staff quarter
Pic: If you see this staff quarter, you are half way done.

pitcher plant
Pic: after 4 KM, pay attention to your left, you will see many big and bright-color Villosa pitcher plant in the shrubs. This species is endemic to Kinabalu Park of Sabah.

flora of Kinabalu Park
Along the trails, be sure to keep your eyes open for the plenteous interesting vegetation to check out. The unique ecology is what makes Kinabalu Park the UNESCO World Heritage Site, not just the Mt. Kinabalu. Kinabalu Park has the highest density of orchid species in the world.

ultrabasic rocks of Mt. Kinabalu
Pic: you will see the yellow path. These yellow rocks are 40-million-year-old ultrabasic or ultramafic rocks, and it is an interesting geology feature of Kinabalu Park.

ultramafic forest of Kinabalu Park
Pic: Ultramafic forest of Kinabalu Park.
Very few plant can adapt to the poor nutrients of ultrabasic soil, that’s why most vegetation in this area looks odd, as if you enter another planet.

trail with big boulders
Pic: when you see the trail with big dark-grey boulders with rough edges, congratulations! You are quite near to Laban Rata now. The boulders are slippery after rain so watch your steps. A walking pole will help you to balance.

Laban Rata resthouse of Mt. Kinabalu
Pic: Hooray! Laban Rata! You are now 3,272 metres above sea level. This is the accommodation where most climbers spend a night.

restaurant of Laban Rata
Pic: the restaurant of Laban Rata where you claim your buffet meals. You better reach Laban Rata before the restaurant closes at 7:30pm.

view from Laban Rata
The scenery at Laban Rata is fantastic! Just enjoy the view with a cup of hot coffee in your hand. The dense cloud is under your feet. The sunset view at Laban Rata is one of the best in Sabah.

The highest post box of Malaysia

Sending a postcard from the highest post box of Malaysia

FYI, you can send postcard from the highest post box of Malaysia, which is located next to Pendant Hut in Laban Rata.

room of Laban Rata
Pic: without heater, my room was freezing cold…

There are overnight accommodations provided for climbers on the mountain (Laban Rata Rest House, Gunting Lagadan Hut, Waras Hut and Lemaing Hostel). The rooms are humbly decorated but are comfortably equipped thick blankets, bunk beds, as well as clean drinking water.

cold temperature on Mt. Kinabalu
Pic: the temperature on the mountain can be lower than 10°C (50°F) and windy day makes it worse. It can be near freezing point near the summit so wear warm clothing.

Good Night! Sleep earlier because you need to wake up very early next day.

“Though perhaps not the highest mountain in the world, it is of immense height” (captain Alexander Dalrymple, 1769)

Day 2: Conquer Mt. Kinabalu

The climb to the summit resumes at 2am the next morning. The climb from Laban Rata to the summit normally takes 4 to 5 hours. To cut down weight, you leave unnecessary stuffs in Laban Rata. There is no water point to the summit (except Sayat-Sayat checkpoint). Carrying 1 Litre is quite enough as you won’t feel really thirsty under cold temperature.

Night view of Ranau town

In Ranau Trail, you can see the night view of Ranau town

Start of summit trail (Ranau Trail)

Summit trail (Ranau Trail)

The climb will start with steep ascend for about two hours on stairway. Then you will come to a section which is the most challenging part and requires you to hold onto a rope to move up. Just proceed slowly and cautiously.

alpine forest of Mt. Kinabalu

The sub alpine vegetation of high altitude

Ranau Trail

Beautiful scenery along Ranau Trail

Sayat-Sayat checkpoint
Pic: The Sayat-Sayat checkpoint. You need to register here so you can earn the certificate.

Rock-face trail to the summit

Rock-face trail to the summit

After Sayat-Sayat, the trail will be mainly flat rocky surface with 15 to 20 degrees of inclination.

view at 7KM
Pic: the nice view at 7th KM, where you can see Kota Belud town.

Summit trail after Sayat-Sayat

Summit trail after Sayat-Sayat. Note the Donkey Ears Peak damaged by earthquake

alpine vegetation
Pic: As you move upward to higher alpine zone, the vegetation will become thinner, so is the air. You will feel that your body is heavier and get tired easily.

South Peak of Mount Kinabalu
Pic: South Peak, the most photogenic peak of Mt. Kinabalu.

At this point, due to exhaustion, you would start to curse around and say “Why am I doing here?”. Be patient, my friend, you will be rewarded dearly later.

St. John Peak of Gunung Kinabalu
Pic: St John Peak, the 2nd highest peak (4090.7M). See the face in the peak?

Low's Peak of Mount Kinabalu

The last peak to conquer, Low’s Peak. The summit is on its tip. A daunting view to tired climbers..

Wishing Pool at the Low's Peak.

“Wishing Pool” at the Low’s Peak.

trail to the summit of Mount Kinabalu
Pic: the last rope section to drain your last energy reserve. You have come this far so you must make it!

Group photo on the summit

Group photo on the summit (medal not included)

50,000 climbers leaves their footsteps here annually. Despite the hardship, none of them shows a face of regret on the summit. You have only an hour to enjoy the moment of your sweet victory, as the guide will ask you to leave before 8am, because the mountain will be covered in dense fog shortly (poor visibility).

Bonus: If you reach the summit before 6am, you will be rewarded by the beautiful sunrise view on the highest mountain of Borneo.

More Tips and Advices

  1. Pack Light. Don’t carry more than 6 Kg of weight for the climb. Those bringing huge backpacks can hire porters (for extra fee) to carry their bags for them.
  2. The climate is cool with an average temperature range of 15°C to 24°C (59°F to 75°F) at the Kinabalu Park Headquarters and 6°C to 10°C (42°F to 50°F) on the mountain. It can even go down to freezing point in coldest months (Nov-Dec). Climbers are recommended to wear breathable cotton clothing and comfortable pair of hiking boots.
  3. Climbers are also reminded to be ready with torch lights, raincoats and warm clothes in case it rains and the temperature drops.
  4. Descending stresses your knee and muscle more than ascending. Try to descend slowly to avoid serious joint and muscle pain later.
  5. Trail can be slippery after rain. Wear comfortable trekking or hiking shoes with good grip (best if it’s waterproof).
  6. Stay with your group and Mountain Guide at all times. Never walk off trail.
  7. Don’t climb if you have ailments such as asthma, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and other sickness that severely affects your fitness.
  8. Always book the tour with licensed tour agent. There have been cases tourists cheated by unlicensed agents.
  9. Mt. Kinabalu is the Sacred Mountain (resting place of the deceased) of Sabah. Please be respectful and refrain from doing anything offensive to local belief such as taking nude photo.
  10. You may check out more photos of Mt. Kinabalu in my online album

Things to Bring

  • Passport / MyKad (for registration)
  • Proof of Accommodation Booking
  • Drinking Water (in Refillable 1 Litre water bottle)
  • LED Headlamp (head torch)
  • Energy Bars / Chocolate Bars
  • Light Backpack (best if come with raincover)
  • Raincoat / Poncho (Murphy’s Law says it’ll rain if you don’t bring one)
  • Toiletries (tissue paper, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste)
  • Warm Clothing (Wind breaker, Fleece)
  • Extra clothing and socks
  • Glove
  • Towel
  • Cash
  • Camera and spare Battery
  • Medication such as painkiller, headache or altitude sickness tablet
  • Plastic bags: to store rubbish and soil clothing
  • Condom
  • Optional: walking pole, sunblock lotion, sunglass, power bank

I hope you find this guide useful. Please feel free to add your tips in Comment section to perfect this guide for everyone.

Nova Renata

Author: Nova Renata is a freelance writer and editor based in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. When not writing at her desk, she will be cuddling her cat, clocking some miles or rolling on the mats. She aspires to be a best-selling author with solid six pack abs one day. Visit her Linked In profile.

 

Photos taken in Mt. Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

Turtle Sanctuary and Glamping at Libaran Island

Turtle

What a tourist couple did really touched me. I was buying cake in a bakery in Kota Kinabalu City. At the cashier counter, an Australian couple declined to use plastic bag to store their purchase. They explained to their children, “We shouldn’t use plastic bag because if it’s dumped into the sea, turtle would think it’s food and eat it, and that can kill it.” I’m so grateful that foreigners care about our turtles. On the other hand, I feel ashamed that Malaysians generate about 4,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste every day, and these contribute to plastic found on one-third of the coral reefs in the Asia-Pacific region.

swimming turtle

Jellyfish is the food of sea turtle, and plastic bag is often mistaken as jellyfish by turtles

Therefore, I see hope when Libaran Island, which used to be a turtle grave, has become a turtle sanctuary and a new tourism attraction now. Before a turtle hatchery was established there in 2012, every turtle egg laid on Libaran would end up in the stomach of villagers and stray dogs on the island. After 5 years, this hatchery has saved more than 27,486 turtle eggs!

Releasing baby turtles to the wild

Releasing baby turtles to the wild

And Top 4 Reasons to visit Libaran Island? #Turtle #Glamping #Stargazing #Sunset

About Libaran Island

With a population of 450 people, Libaran (GPS: 6.120437, 118.030001, see Location Map) is a 450-acre (about 2 sq KM) island located 45 minutes away by boat from Sandakan, the second largest city of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Though Libaran is only 5 minutes away from the famous Turtle Islands Park (a.k.a. Selingan) of Sabah, unfortunately it is not inside the boundary of this protected park.

Beach of Libaran Island

Beach of Libaran Island during low tide

If turtle landed on the wrong island, that’s the end of their cycle of life when villagers collected their eggs. Luckily this is changed by Alex Yee, a business-minded conservationist, who creates Walai Penyu Conservation Park with a win-win model for the locals and turtles.

Beautiful mangrove tree

Beautiful mangrove tree in Libaran

Trip to Libaran Island

Turtle sighting in scuba diving is always a delightful experience. This gentle reptile swims gracefully and look really chill underwater. We can’t call a diving destination a top dive site if it has no turtle. Turtle is also the Guardian of Coral Triangle because it maintains the health of marine ecosystems. If turtles are safe, our tourism and environment will do well.

Group photo of divers with the friendly turtle

Group photo of divers with the friendly turtle. But we were not allowed to touch it or we would be banned for next dive.

What’s better than looking at the turtle up-close? Malaysia is home to four species of turtles, namely, Leatherback, Green, Hawksbill, and Olive Ridley turtles, all are endangered due to pollution and poaching. When Alex invited me to his Walai Penyu Resort on Libaran Island last month, I said YES x 100 without thinking.

boat to Libaran

Alex named his boat “Tora” to commemorate his dog

In a sunny afternoon, our boat to Libaran departed from the Sabah Parks jetty located at Sandakan Yacht Club. If you book a tour with Walai Penyu Resort, they will provide boat and land transfer (Walai = Stay Together and Penyu = Turtle in local language).

Red cliff face of Berhala Island

Stunning red cliffs of Berhala Island

On the way to Libaran, you would pass by Berhala Island, a very beautiful island with distinctive red cliffs. Sadly, its beach is covered by so many junk that it never becomes a tourist attraction. If the locals love their environment more, they would have a nice island for weekend outing now. Rubbish is like karma, we will pay for our wrongdoing.

Approaching Libaran Island

Approaching Libaran Island

The ocean was calm and we reached Libaran Island after 45 minutes of smooth ride. It’s a fairly densely vegetated flat island, without any high ground and tall building. Turtles love such pristine beach with little development. Too much noise and artificial light will drive mother turtle away.

corals in the sea

You can see the corals in crystal clear water

Though we were about 100 Metres away from shore, the water was only knee depth, and I could see the lush corals clearly. Our boat cruised slowly to avoid crushing the corals.

Nesting spots of sea turtles

Nesting spots of sea turtles

Finally we landed on the golden beach of Libaran, the cradle of turtles. Their staff already waited for us with wheelbarrow and transferred our bags to Walai Penyu Resort.

Landing track of sea turtle on the beach

Landing track of mother turtle on the beach

Apparently we are not the only visitors here. Tracks and traces of turtle landing are everywhere. We found nesting sites under the shrubs, on the beach and near the camp.

Glamping at Walai Penyu Resort

We check-in to our room. Actually it’s a glamping tent, which is larger than standard camp and spacious enough to fit in two beds and a desk. The camp is very clean and located on the beach.

Glamping ground of Libaran Island

Glamping ground of Walai Penyu Resort in Libaran Island

Glamping is becoming a trend for travellers who love to be close to nature but stay comfortable with adequate setup. In short, Glamping is a luxury version of Camping. I have done camping many times, glamping is new to me, and it definitely offers a more family-friendly and enjoyable stay than camping.

Glamping is where stunning nature meets modern luxury

Glamping is where stunning nature meets modern luxury

To minimise the impact to the environment, there are only 8 dome-shaped tents in Walai Penyu Resort to host up to 16 guests each day. Lighting is kept to minimum to avoid disturbing nesting turtles.

glamping on Libaran Island

Experience glamping on Libaran Island

Bathroom in Walai Penyu Resort

Bathroom in Walai Penyu Resort

The tents have side windows covered with mosquito net. You can unzip them for sea breeze or view. As our tents are very near to the beach, it’s quite windy and we could hear sea waves clearly.

Toilet and shower room on the island

Toilet and shower room on the island

The common toilet and bathroom have lot of open spaces that allow good ventilation, so the place is dry, clean and doesn’t smell.

Beautiful Libaran

Turtle usually comes after dusk. It’s still early, so I strolled around the island. With me were three lady editors (Alison, Carmen and San) for China social media. If you want to walk one around of this island, the walking distance is 6.5 KM, which takes about 1.5 hours.

Mangrove trees on Libaran

These mangrove trees can prevent beach erosion

Near our glamping site is a few patches of lush mangrove trees. Alex told us that at night we could find fireflies there. The entangled roots of these old mangrove trees are so fascinating, some looks like bonsai.

Little mangrove island

Little mangrove “island”

I asked Carmen to be my model. Being professional, she didn’t hesitate to climb up and down the tree for some perfect shots (the mangrove root is quite slippery). Of course the outcome is brilliant. Instagram is full of cliche photos on sandy beach, so we are happy to bag many special shots.

shallow sea

From Left: Alison, Carmen, San and Alex Yee

Due to low tide, the water was very shallow and tempting, so we walked in the sea water to feel the soft sand and warm water running through our toes.

girls pointing at Racket Island

You can walk to Racket Island during low tide

Less than 2 KM away is Racket Island, where you can find the “tomb” of turtles. You can walk to that island during low tide. But do return before high tide or you have to swim back to Libaran.

model on mangrove tree

Thanks Carmen for climbing up there for a great shot

The beach is long and litter-free. The cleanliness is not by accident. Alex divides the beach into dozens of 100-Metres lot, and pays villagers MYR100/month to keep their allocated slot clean.

This mangrove tree looks like bonsai

This mangrove tree looks like bonsai

Clean beach is not only for tourists, but good for the turtles too. By regularly removing driftwood, plastics and other washed-up trash from the beach, turtles don’t need to crawl over piles of debris to lay their eggs on the beach.

mineral bottle house

Alex spent 3.5 years to collect 3,500 mineral bottles to build this little house

Alex has been buying plastic bottles from these cleaners for 3.5 years. He showed us his masterpiece he created with these plastic.

Plastic House Cafe?

Plastic House Cafe?

It’s a 300 sq-ft plastic house which took 5 weeks to build from 3,500 one-litre plastic bottles. This house reminds me that Malaysia is the 8th largest producer of mismanaged plastic wastes. Guess that’s the message Alex tries to tell (and show) the world.

Fishermen return home after fishing

Fishermen return home after fishing

Then Alex went back to the camp to prepare other activities for us. We continued to explore other side of the island. There is a garrison on the island. I saw police and dogs patrolled on the beach, so I feel safe.

Peaceful dusk at Libaran

Peaceful dusk at Libaran

The sea view was ravishing. We forgot the time until dusk was approaching, and the cloud was like in fire. It’s the famous flaming sunset of Sabah. We chased for the sunset view and reached a peaceful fishing village on other end of the island. The friendly villagers smiled at us while busy preparing for the nightfall. This is just an ordinary fishing village, but looks so surreal under the sunset.

Fisherman walking to the sunset

Fisherman walking to the sunset

Inspiring Success Story

By the time we were back to our resort, yummy dinner was already served under a canopy. During meal time, Alex shared some stories about his conservation project on Libaran. It wasn’t a smooth sail. If I were him, I would had given up.

Dinner on Libaran Island

Dinner on Libaran Island

Turtles have existed for over 200 million years, but if nothing is done, human can wipe them out in 10 years. Unlike Ninja Turtle, the shell of turtles can’t protect them from human greed. Turtles are fully protected by wildlife act in Sabah and Sarawak only. In some states of Peninsular Malaysia, turtle eggs are sold openly and it’s legal to consume them.

Mangrove seedling

Mangrove seedling

However, without any enforcement on a remote island such as Libaran, the locals were eating the turtle eggs. I’m not saying that the villagers there are bad. Turtle eggs have been the main source of protein for islanders for many generations. Now for conservation, we have to take this away from these poor villagers, so it isn’t hard to understand why they are unhappy.

Variety of corals exposed during low tide

Variety of corals exposed during low tide

Besides stop eating turtle eggs, we must not harass turtles too. Let me tell you a real case. Rantau Abang in Terengganu used to the most popular nesting location of leatherback turtle. In 1950s, there were more than 10,000 nesting spots. Then tourists came and ride on their back and flipped them over for fun. The consequence is – almost 0 sighting of leatherback there for last 5 years.

windy on Libaran

Sometimes it’s a bit windy on Libaran

Libaran is blessed because they act soon enough to prevent the repeat of Rantau Abang tragedy there. In 2011, Sabah Wildlife Department sought collaboration with Alex to protect the turtles on Libaran, because the villagers collecting turtle eggs. However, it’s a hot potato, not cash cow, being handed over to Alex. The former village head didn’t support his conservation work and even tried to stop his team from collecting turtle eggs.

Lovely morning of Libaran Island

Lovely morning of Libaran Island

Deeply dismayed by many challenges and people issues, Alex thought about quitting in Nov 2015. His visit to Libaran in Feb 2016 was supposed to be a goodbye trip. Then a turtle laid 70 eggs in front of his tent. Alex saw this as a sign and decided to continue. Due to his perseverance, Alex has successfully established a new turtle stronghold on Libaran. It’s a victory in Sabah conservation.

Alison recording a time-lapsed video for sea tide

Alison recording a time-lapsed video for sea tide

Just a trivia. During World War II, about 2 or 3 British prisoners of war escaped the infamous dead march, and one of them was hiding on Libaran until he was rescued by US Navy after the war. Many years later, his son visited Libaran and found that the father of Alex’s employee is the one who rescued his dad.

Starry sky in the cloud

We still could see starry sky though that night was cloudy

Libaran is also a great place for stargazing, since they keep the light to minimal. I saw many stars in the sky, but it was covered by dense cloud shortly.

bedtime

Good Night!

Before we went to bed, Alex said, “Tonight it will be high tide. We have good chance to see turtle landing.” And he was right.

Turtle Landing!

Because of the comfortable sea breeze and sound of sea waves, I had a deep sleep until I heard Alex was talking on walkie-talkie around 3:20am. I waked up and saw him standing outside his tent. From his serious expression, I knew a turtle has landed. I followed behind him with a torchlight.

Hawksbill turtle

Hawksbill turtle landed on Libaran

There are a total of 401 turtle landing (75% Green Turtle, 25% Hawksbill Turtle) on Libaran between 2013 and 2017.

Turtle laying eggs on Libaran

Turtle laying eggs on Libaran Island

And yay!!! We saw a Hawksbill turtle about 200 Metres away from our campsite, and it laid eggs under a tree near to beach. We were so excited but we had to observe it quietly from a distance. If disturbed, mother turtle would abort the nesting and turn back to the sea. Sabah has the largest population of hawksbills in Malaysia.

turtle laying eggs

Mother turtles only come to land for laying eggs. They will dig a hole with their legs, lay eggs, then cover them with sand. To me it’s bizarre. Imagine human who lives on land, but give birth a baby in the sea.

Moving the turtle eggs to hatchery

Moving the turtle eggs to hatchery for better survival rate

This Hawksbill turtle laid 149 eggs that morning, breaking the 3-year-old highest record of 146 eggs! According to Alex, Libaran got one turtle landing every 3 days in average. They prefer to come during high tide, so they don’t need to crawl a long way to the beach.

Turtle Hatchery

After the mother turtle left, the trained staff collected the eggs carefully and moved them to the hatchery near to our camp. This measure can increase the survival rate of hatching up to 90 per cent.

Turtle Hatchery on Libaran Island

Turtle Hatchery on Libaran Island

Turtle eggs look like ping-pong ball, and are delicious treat for crabs, monitor lizards and birds. Therefore, we have to place a circular wire mesh enclosure around the nest, so these predators can’t dig the nest.

Each nest in hatchery is labelled

Each nest in hatchery is labelled with date, number of eggs and turtle species

The nest is also labelled with information such as date, number of eggs and turtle species. The eggs will hatch after 45 to 55 days. Do you know that temperature can set the sex of a hatching? Cooler temperatures lead to a male, while hotter sand leads to a female.

This 4-ha hatchery was setup in July 2012 by Alex Yee at the site chosen by Sabah Wildlife Department. It’s named as Taman Hadiah, which means Gift Garden. It hatches about 4,000 eggs every month in average (73% Green Turtle, 27% Hawksbill).

baby turtles

From 2013 until 2017, the hatchery had collected 20,022 Green turtle eggs and 7,464 Hawksbill turtle eggs. On 1 March 2018, they will celebrate the release of 30,000th turtle!

I’m happy to witness the release of a few dozens baby turtles that evening. They usually release them at night to avoid the predators. Once freed, the baby turtles will head to the moonlight and enter the sea.

Releasing baby turtles to the wild

Releasing baby turtles to the wild

Another amazing thing happens during the release, these baby turtles will register the magnetic signature of this beach as their “home point”. Even after 25 years, the female turtle can rely on Earth’s magnetic field to navigate back to her exact birthplace to lay eggs.

Baby turtle staying alive

Only 1 in 1,000 of baby turtles can make it to adulthood

There is one cruel fact I hope I don’t have to tell you. Only one in a thousand baby turtles will survive. So every egg counts.

By the way, if you see any sneaky fellow in Sandakan City that shows you Ok sign in the street, bash him because he is selling turtle eggs illegally (but double check in case he is really a friendly Sandakian).

Leaving Libaran Island

Leaving Libaran Island with happy faces

In Sabah, anyone caught in possession or consuming turtle eggs could be fined MYR50,000 or be jailed five years, or both, if convicted. That means you are as guilty as seller if you are buying turtle eggs.

Glamping tent of Walai Penyu Libaran

Walai Penyu Libaran is one of the few places in Sabah where you can experience glamping

However, due to weak enforcement, these sellers are still around and certainly enjoy good business. I hope the authority will also prosecute the buyers to the fullest extent by law. This will send a strong warning to buyers that buying turtle eggs is also a crime.

How to get there

A visit to this new turtle island is highly recommended to those who want to see the miracles of nature. Day trip and overnight tour are available. For more information or booking, please contact Walai Penyu Resort via the following channels:
Facebook: WalaiPenyuResort
Website: walaipenyuresort.com
E-mail: sales@trekkerslodge.com
Phone: +60 16-8310168 (cellphone), +60 88-260263 (office)

View of Libaran campsite after sunrise

View of our campsite after sunrise

At the end, I would like to compliment Alex Yee for his dedication in conservation. What he does far exceeds the scope of Corporate Service Responsibility (CSR). It’s a long term commitment, not a one-time beach clean-up or symbolically planting a few trees. I hope more visitors will visit Libaran to support the turtle conservation there. Please learn from the story of Rantau Abang and don’t be the generation that bully turtles.

Photos taken in Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo