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I finally made it to Koto Kinabalu to try some motorcycle riding in Sabah. Last time I was heading there I got food poisoning in Philippines and went back home. Fortunately this time round I arrived well and brought my mate from the Philippines along. It’s just an hour away from Manilla but so different.

Since I have had this ride planned for a long time it was a a snap to organise. I had my routes already waiting in Ride with GPS and knew the rental shop Go Go Sabah was located downtown so shot them an email and booked some hotels and had everything set in no time.

When looking for the rental shop it is worth noting they are inside the shopping arcade at the address given (also open to the back car park) and they open after 9.00am. They have 125cc scooters but these are only for use within the city and their other bikes are 150cc Kawasaki KX road trial bikes.

We set off late but got a good clean run out of the city at least to not lose more time and then it was not long before we were into the mountains. The route I planned was via Tamburan and the roads are absolutely superb. I took a few photos but really did not capture how nice the riding is in any shot. The views up higher go back to the city and ocean and all around you are deep lush valleys.

Heading down the range my mates bike threw its chain off and we noticed the rear wheel was not adjusted to suit the chain length. Also his throttle mechanism was broken and turned around the handlebar making it difficult to use. Fortunately we could find a small car mechanic shop and they were able to make repairs to the bike.

Wonderful riding all the way to Ranau where we had a late lunch and refuelled. We were quite a bit behind schedule due to the late departure and repairs in route so I did not stop as much as I should of for photos but here is my mate and some of the road we enjoyed.

Between Ranau and Beluran the road rises and falls along the valley with plenty of curves  before crossing a smaller mountain range near Beluran. It’s a much nicer ride than the map would suggest. We rode into some light rain and it was soon passed and were very lucky to avoid further.

The shop only had open face helmets and I have no idea how people ride very far with them, in rain they are useless.

The Pan-Borneo highway into Sandakan is a standard type highway which we should have been able to ride easy however the rental KX150 bikes were hopelessly underpowered. Open highway downhill we could almost reach 100kph wide open throttle but this slowed to 80kph with even a slight incline.

Passing vehicles needed a run up or slip stream and cars you might normally be passing – you were holding up. Not sure if these KX150’s are made so low power or that the engines were worn out. I am thinking perhaps the later considering their condition. The last portion of the ride to Sandakan is not particularly good. The road is a mess of holes and wash outs through palm oil plantations and then a chaotic jumble of half constructed roads on the outskirts of town that was grid lock.

Very glad to get to the hotel and wash away the diesel soot with a few beers on the roof top of the hotel which was nice view.

You don’t need an excuse to ride somewhere but if you are Australian then visiting the war memorial at Sandakan is a pretty good reason to ride over from KK.

The Sandakan memorial park commemorates a tragedy and an atrocity. The tragedy was between January and August 1945, within sight of the Allied victory in the Pacific war, the death of approximately 2500 Australian and British prisoners of war held by the Japanese in the Sandakan POW camp. The atrocity was the manner of the death inflicted upon them by their captors – starvation, overwork, beatings and terrible punishments. About 1000 remaining sick and weak POW’s were forced to march 260km carrying materials to Ranau when the Japanese decided to relocate. About 500 died on the way and the remainder died in Ranau. Only 6 survived – Australians who managed to escape. There is a great amount to see and learn at the memorial built on part of the former POW camp grounds which is also referred to locally as the Australian war memorial.

We were able to get an earlier departure for the return to Kota Kinabalu but did not get very far before riding into rain. After unpacking and putting on our wet gear at a bus stop we rode maybe 1 km and the rain stopped and it was dry roads again. The morning air was cool enough to leave the rain gear on so we tried to cover most of the open highway that was a chore on the KX’s towards Beluran before stopping for a coffee and getting out of the wet gear which was by then warm.

Beluran petrol station.

The return route was on roads that cross the path taken by the POW’s in the death march from Sandakan to Ranau. There are markers along the way showing places of significance and our ride remained dry all the way to Ranau.

After Ranau we were riding into the Kinabalu mountain region. The road takes you very high up and on this day we found ourselves in and out of clouds, fog and fine misty rain which was cold. The viewpoints were sadly obscured but the roads were for the most part dry. I would very much like to see this area on a fine day.

I was shivering taking this photo and I think my mate who feels the cold worse than anyone I know frozen not speaking. We had a rest below the clouds to warm up then shortly after came to a halt at an accident with police trying to tow a car out of a gully and would have been there until nightfall so I decided to ask if we could go past and first was told no then after waiting further asked other police office and told ok slowly.

From about half way down, the road becomes a roller coaster ride of dips and curves and I got a little too exuberant with the new found pace of the KX downhill and almost had a mishap with oncoming car on wrong side blind crest. The tiny single front disc brake that I had previously noted out loud would be insufficient to stop the bike in a hurry fortunately also lacked the power to lock the front wheel so I was able to veer while heavy braking without losing the front and narrowly avoid being hit.

I could see a huge storm building and the temperature which had been cold at the top was now humid at sea level. We made good progress into Kota Kinabalu until the Garmin took us completely off course. We manually pointed ourselves to towards the ocean knowing sooner or later would get our bearings.

This took us into some seriously heavy traffic. I could sense we had a small window of time before the storm was going to let loose so sitting there sweating away I said to hell with this and started using the trail bike as it was designed mounting gutters to ride along footpaths, over roundabouts and anything else to get moving. Good thing we did too as shortly after dropping the bikes back it rained in a biblical fashion.

I really like roads around Kota Kinabalu. I’ll go back if I can find a better bike to rent and will focus on the area between there and Ranau. The town itself seemed a bit boring but the food was wonderful as it always is in Malaysia and when I returned via Kuala Lumpur to snow in Japan I soon wished I was back there.


  1. thx for info… keep writing and giving us an information… glhf for ur day!!!

  2. Come and do a motorbike tour in India.

  3. Yes I would like to ride India very much

  4. Wow nice blog and nice clicks. It is inspiring me to go out.

  5. Hi. Really enjoyed this trip report. Great photos.. My late wife (dec 2004) was from Sabah. She was born in Rugading a small kampong near Kiulu. We visited Sabah many times. My in laws lived at Kampong Wonod , on the Death March route, 8 miles west of Telupid. I learnt a lot about the War from the old people. I first visited Sabah in 1983. Very poignant memories of a wonderful place. Thanks for sharing. Hope all is well with you.


    • Thanks Steve. I’m sorry about your loss. Despite my brief visit to the region I felt enriched – ‘soaked’ perhaps like dipping writing chalk into ink. I very much wanted to return as did my mate Dave from Philippines. He just passed this month and I am now fighting cancer too but hope to get back to Sabah.

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