The little-known Tambunan Rafflesia Information Centre, located just under two hours south of Kota Kinabalu, is probably your best bet for viewing the rare rafflesia flower while in Borneo - if not in all of Southeast Asia.
While the timing of your visit is crucial, the Rafflesia Information Centre has enough plots and documented flower buds to increase your chances of viewing a rafflesia. With or without catching a rafflesia in bloom, the centre is a great starting point for exploring Sabah's impressive Crocker Range National Park - a less-touristy alternative to Kota Kinabalu National Park.
The steep terrain in the park is home to a remarkable array of life and is usually given a miss by the crowds during Borneo's high season.
A Little About the Rafflesia Flower
The rafflesia is one of the rarest and strangest flowers in the world. Reaching weights of up to 22 pounds, the flower holds the title for heaviest flower in the world. The alien-like flower is actually a parasite which can be hosted by only one vine in the world.
Currently, the only known rafflesia flowers exist in Sumatra, Java, Peninsular Malaysia, Borneo, and the Philippines.
The rafflesia begins to smell like rotting meat near the end of its life cycle to attract flies and other insects that may carry pollen for reproduction. Flowers bloom unpredictably for only three to five days, seeing one in the rainforest requires good timing and a little luck.
Read more: An Introduction to the Rafflesia Flower
Visiting the Tambunan Rafflesia Information Centre
Before hitting the trails behind the centre, check in with the rangers then enjoy the educational signboards located inside. All visitors are expected to be out of the park by 3:00 p.m.
Open Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Entrance Fee: free.
Ranger Tours: $33 per group of six.
Rangers may be hired at the Rafflesia Information Centre to lead you to the plots where rafflesia flowers are in bloom. One ranger will take a maximum of six people in a group; the cost for a ranger-led tour is $33, booking ahead is not necessary.
Trekking around the Rafflesia Information Centre
Along with rafflesia flowers, the Crocker Range National Park is blessed with incredible mountain scenery; there are many challenging treks available. Many well-marked trails begin directly behind the Rafflesia Information Centre. The walks to the flower plots range between 1 - 3 kilometers; many trails are steep and challenging.
Bring proper shoes, all-weather clothing, and leech-proof socks - this part of Sabah receives around 150 inches of rain per year!
Accommodation near the Rafflesia Information Centre
Basic but comfortable accommodation is available at the Crocker Range National Park Headquarters located nearby.
Dorm rooms are available for $7 per bed, or rooms in a rest house can be had for $13 per night. Entrance to the national park is $3.33. Camping is available; call ahead for reservations: 019-8620404.
Getting to the Rafflesia Information Centre
Although brochures claim a travel time of one hour, plan closer to two hours for reaching the small town of Tambunan just south of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Borneo. The winding, mountainous road often fogs over with limited visibility; be prepared for a wild ride famous for making at least one passenger on the bus sick.
To reach the Rafflesia Information Centre, grab any bus from Merdeka Field in Kota Kinabalu signed for Tambunan. The intercity bus terminal near Bandaran Berjaya operates buses southbound from Kota Kinabalu.
Buses run between 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.; the one-way fare is around $3. (Read about money in Malaysia.) The Rafflesia Information Centre sits directly on the main Penampang-Tambunan road; you must tell the driver that you wish to stop.
Contacting the Rafflesia Information Centre
If seeing a rafflesia in bloom will make or break your trip to Borneo, consider contacting the Rafflesia Information Centre to confirm that there are flowers ready. Alternatively, rafflesia flowers can also be found at Gunung Gading National Park in Sarawak and sometimes at Kota Kinabalu National Park.
Tambunan Rafflesia Information Centre
Address: Tambunan, Sabah, Malaysia (location on Google Maps)
Phone: +60 88-899 589, +60 88-899 588