Ranau by Herman (2006-7)

Short: Ranau is in the interior of Sabah, some 110 km from Sabah's capital Kota Kinabalu. It has a population of 49,358 (year 1991 census), comprising mainly of Dusun and Kadazan, and some Chinese. Ranau is the administrative centre for the Ranau district and between the Kinabalu National Park Head Quarters and Poring Hot Springs.



Ranau literally means 'wet-rice field' and the fertile plains of this vast valley must have been inhabited for a long time though little historical or prehistorically data are available at this moment. The surrounding hills have also been inhabited by Dusun but they would plant 'dry rice' on the slopes of the hills, leaving the fields fallow for several years after the harvest rather than 'wet rice' in yearly used rice fields. Hence the name of this place, which to this date has a weekly tamu on Sundays that serves more purposes than just selling and buying local produce. Every first of the month, regardless of what week-day, Ranau has a 'tamu besar' which is particularly colourful and vibrant with still many people attending who have to travel several hours by foot to reach Ranau. They live in remote and inaccessible areas and bring to the market rattans, medicinal herbs and tobacco. With the money they earn they buy commodities they cannot produce despite their otherwise self-sufficient life-style: soap, coffee, sugar etc. After having exchanged all the latest news and heard enough gossip they disappear again to their remote villages for another month.

Ranau has a definitive rural character to it, is laid back, has a couple of good restaurants and above all, is full of extremely friendly people always ready to stop for a quick chat with a traveller. No worries about parking here, one always finds space right where one wishes, and there are no traffic lights!

Places of Interest in Ranau

Few travellers stopover in Ranau. Normally you would be on your way to Poring Hot Springs, or coming from there and going to the Kinabalu National Park Head Quarters, from where one can climb Mt Kinabalu. There is unfortunately indeed nothing much that would attract tourists in this little charming town, if not the restaurants. The town was built in the 70ties, as is quickly apparent, just as apparent that most of the buildings have since their construction never seen any maintenance... But as already mentioned, the people are extremely friendly and the restaurants good and thus the outer appearance is not that important!

Close to Ranau, direction KK is Kundasang, Sabah's 'Vegetable Capital' and where an Australian War Memorial is located. The memorial marks the end of the infamous Death March of some 2300 mostly Australian POW, and an infamous chapter in Australian warfare: towards the end of WWII the occupying Japanese marched their POW from Sandakan all the way through the jungle to Ranau. Only six POW survived, and this because they managed to escape and were helped by local Dusun who hid them in the jungle and fed them until the war was over. Another war memorial in Sandakan, at the site of the former prisoner camp marks the beginning of the march. The journey has been retraced according to the few historical documents that survived and one can now trek along some of the stretches of the 'Death March'.

A few minutes by car from Ranau direction KK you arrive at the Kinabalu National Park Head Quarters (KNP HQ), from where one can climb Mt Kinabalu. With more than 10 km of well maintained trails the KNP HQ are also ideal for leisurely walks in the lower montane rainforest. The HQ are at more than 1650 m a.s.l. and the air is cool, making it ideal for hiking but take along a raincoat because the weather can change abruptly. The KNP HQ are also a paradise for ornithologists as many of the bird species you can, with some luck, spot around the HQ are endemic to this part of the world! There is also good accommodation infrastructure and since it has been taken over by a 'proper' hotel staying at the park HQ is an experience by itself! No wonder the KNP HQ are Sabah's most visited destination with over 120,000 visitors a year!

If you travel direction Sandakan you will come to a junction not long after you have left the last houses of Ranau behind you. If you turn left you will get to Poring Hot Springs, which is within the Kinabalu National Park and Sabah's second most visited attraction. At Poring there are, as the name indicates, hot springs which represent here the last manifestation of ancient volcanic activity. The Japanese 'discovered' the springs and rudimentarily developed them during their occupation. The locals have never really made use of those springs, as it is essentially only hot water, and not mineral rich water which normally has health benefits. However, in the 70ties the springs were developed, and recently again renovated and further attractions were added to cope with the increasing number of visitors each year. The springs are a great attraction for the local population (Malaysian visitors are the biggest contributor), and on week-ends, public and school holidays the place, though vast, still seems hopelessly too small!

Though there is not much forest cover left on the way to Poring there are some pockets here and there, belonging to local people. They have realised that Rafflesia flowers are quite abundant and will put up a signboard along the road when a flower is in bloom - which it is only for some four to five days, after nine to 26 months of developing its bud! Normally one pays RM 10 - RM 15 per person to see the flower, which normally involves a short trek through their orchards where one can see a wide variety of local fruit tress, vegetables and healing herbs (if you know them...). The locals will be happy to chat with you and let you get a glimpse of their life, alas most are not very fluent in English. If you know a couple of words in Malay you'll make new friends! The plots where Rafflesias grow are regularly checked by Sabah Parks rangers and the locals are explicitly allowed to ask for an 'entrance fee' if you wish to see the flowering Rafflesia. This helps the conservation of this intriguing flower - nevertheless the biggest in the world - and yet little studied plant: they could, for all we know, burn down the last pockets of forest on their property and plant durian or other fruit trees, or rice - arguably more profitable than waiting for nearly a year until a bud bursts open, and then only reap a couple of tourism dollars!     

How to Get to Ranau & Accommodation

Bus, taxi, van - 110 km / 2 hours; though there are a couple of small hotels in Ranau travellers usually would not stay there. Sabah's highland 'resorts' are in Kundasang, such as the Pine Resort, the Rose Cabin, and the Perkasa Hotel Kundasang; there is also ample accommodation at the KNP HQ in various categories and for every budget. Some accommodation is available at Poring.


the plains of Ranau

vegetable gardens, Kundasang

Pine Resort - accommodation in the cool heights of Kundasang

view of Mt Kinabalu from Kundasang

some Ranau Dusun faces...

swimming pool (cold water) at Poring Hot Springs

Rajawali Chalet, Poring Hot Springs

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Note: while every care has been taken in compiling the above information the Flying Dusun Sdn Bhd, its authors and associates cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracy, omission or alteration that may occur. Please contact us or the respective authors for further details and confirmation of facts and figures. © The Flying Dusun Sdn Bhd, 2005-2006; all rights reserved; reproduction in whole or in part without written permission strictly prohibited. 


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