Soaking in natural hot springs at Mount Kinabalu, Sabah
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Soaking in natural hot springs at Mount Kinabalu, Sabah

By Virginia Tam

LOCATED at the foot of Mount Kinabalu, Poring Hot Springs is an open-air sulphur spring with an altitude of about 1600 feet. It is known for its effectiveness in treating skin diseases. The sulphur spas are perfect to refresh you, especially for relieving your sore muscles after the long climb up the peak.

The name ‘Kinabalu’ came from the Kadazan word ‘Aki Nabalu’. The Kadazan are the biggest ethnic group in Sabah. ‘Aki’ refers to ancestors while ‘Nabalu’ means mountain. The Kadazan people believe that spirits from their ancestors live in this mountain.

On the mountain is the Kinabalu National Park, one of the world’s largest wilderness areas. The park itself is bigger than Hong Kong and Kowloon altogether and has more than five thousand kinds of plants (not including mosses) such as orchids, rhododendrons, pitcher plants, oak, and the world’s largest flower Rafflesia. This flower can grow up to one meter in diameter and weight ten kilograms. There are also more than 100 species of mammals, reptiles and 300 species of birds here; numbers that accounting for half of their populations in Borneo. Because of its dense forests, abundant and valuable natural ecosystems, it was listed as a National Park and Reserved in 1964 as an important biological conservation and research center. In 2000 it was officially listed as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site.

Although many people around the world came to challenge themselves by climbing the peak, about 80 percent of visitors come only to visit the Kinabalu Park and surrounding area. There are several nature walking trails and a canopy walk, waterfalls, a botanical garden, orchid center, entomology museum, dining facilities and also an outdoor hot spring. So after the peak climb, visit the hot spring to chill and relax – that’s what we did.

To reach the hot spring, you take the canopy walk. Pic: Virginia Tam.

After a three hours drive from Kota Kinabalu city to Kinabalu Park, we arrived at the famous Poring hot spring that produces geothermal heated groundwater from the Earth’s crust. The spring was found by Japanese soldiers during the Second World War and initially the facilities were built only for Japanese soldiers. Hot springs (onsen in Japanese) have long been traditional public bathing places in Japan. As a volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of onsen scattered along its length and breadth. Today, they are mostly developed into spas and for tourism. It seems even during war, they couldn’t live without the hot springs.

Surrounded by luxuriant forests and enchanting hills, the spring is a piece of paradise. Once you go through the entrance you pass stalls selling mountain crystals and other souvenirs and there is even a Japanese bamboo grove but beyond this you will see the spring and how natural it is!


The entrance sign at Poring Hot Spring. Pic: Virginia Tam.

It is divided into four areas: the immersion bath zone, foot soaking pool, cold water pool, and private rooms behind the log cabin. The natural spring water flows from taps into bathtubs – only one person is allowed per bathtub. The morning we went was quiet so there were a few empty tubs to choose from. We got in to soak our tired feet there.

Water from these springs appears a little milky and emits a strong smell of sulphur so be prepared for that. The water temperature also varies from 29 Celsius to 60 degrees depending which spring head you choose. Locals believed the sulphur is excellent for the skin and especially good for curing acne. And the minerals in the water have positive therapeutic effects on skin disease, women’s diseases, asthma, neuralgia, arteriosclerosis, rheumatism, muscles sores and aches.


One person one pool, how cool is that?! Pic: Virginia Tam.

What we found truly amazing was the views you could enjoy here of the changing mountain scenery with butterflies and birds flying atop your head. There was also a lovely natural smell from all the plants.

If you are shy to bath in public, you can pay a little more for the private room located in the cabin behind the hot spring. Each room can accommodate two people. Remember to bring your swimsuit as you are not allowed to get naked in public in a Muslim country and a towel, a change of clothes and drinks.

To get there it is definitely good to charter a car or self drive. However if you are traveling alone, you can take the bus to Kundasang Ranau Merdeka at Field long-distance bus station in Kota Kinabalu city. Get off at the entrance of the park. The bus runs daily 07:30-17:30.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to find out more about travelling to Malaysia, please visit the Tourism Malaysia website


About the author…

Virginia Tam (Hong Kong)
Author of 9 travel guide books, Virginia has been published since 2002 in leading Hong Kong newspapers and magazines including CosmoGirl!, Cosmopolitan, Metro Daily, Mingpao Daily, Hong Kong Economic Journal. With an enthusiasm for coffee, she also founded the first Hong Kong online coffee magazine and had a coffee column in Metro Daily Hong Kong. Read more at her blog

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