Mt. Kinabalu vs. Fansipan vs. Rinjani

I recently returned from climbing Mt. Rinjani in Lombok, Indonesia. This was the third in a series of major peaks in South-East Asia, having earlier climbed Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia and Mt. Fansipan in Vietnam. How did they compare?

  • Height. In terms of height, Kinabalu is the highest, 4,095 metres, followed by Rinjani at 3727m and Fansipan on 3143m. Of course pure height does not the reflect actual metres climbed or the degree of difficulty. The Kinabalu climb began at Timpahon Gate which lies at an altitude of 1,866m. It was more or less a straight up (and down) route so the actual height climbed was 2,229m. With Fansipan, we started at 1,800m (Tram Ton Pass), but almost immediately dipped to 1,700m and then up to 2,200m for the camp. Then a big up followed by some dips and detours as we negotiated the mountain in front of Fanxipan before climbing up to the summit. The total height actually climbed was around 1,593 metres. As for Rinjani, the trek started at 600m, we ascended to the crater rim, 2641m, then down to Segara Anak lake (2,051m) before climbing up to the 2nd camp, 2,638m, then up to the summit, 3,726m, followed by a long march down to the road at 1,156m. The total height climbed was 3,715 metres (more than double Fansipan!). It was also by far the longest distance walked.

    Kinabalu, 4,095m
  • Difficulty. Kinabalu was probably the least difficult of the 3 climbs because the path was well defined and maintained. Steps and ropes were in place to assist climbers over the tricky spots. Having said that, it was still very hard work. Being the highest of the 3 peaks, people were more likely to suffer from altitude sickness. I found the descent brutal due to the steepness of the path and the endless rough steps over unforgiving terrain which took a toll on my tired knees. Fansipan was probably the second hardest because there was a lot of mud to be trudged through and in places there were huge boulders to be clambered over which was not easy in the wet slippery conditions. The path was poorly defined and maintained. The hardest climb was Rinjani. This was purely due to the final exhausting 1000 meters which involved clawing our way up a sheer bank of soft volcanic ash. It was also the coldest peak of the three, though Kinabalu was also freezing.
  • Views/Scenery. Rinjani had the most beautiful scenery, especially the view from the crater rim. Shame we could not see a thing from the peak at dawn due to thick cloud. Kinabalu had amazing views from the summit. Fansipan involved a lot of hiking through bamboo forests but the view from the top was also worth seeing.

  • Porters. The porters on all three climbs were great and showed impressive stamina and skill at climbing great heights despite shoddy footwear.
  • Access. Both Rinjani and Kinabalu had easy access to their starting off points, a couple of hours drive from the closest airport. Fansipan needed an overnight train trip from Hanoi to reach the start of the trail.
  • Certificate. Kinabalu’s park authorities provided an attractive certificate to commemorate the successful climb. For Rinjani, our tour operator provided a certificate of achievement. Unfortunately no certificates were issued for Fansipan.
  • Accommodation/Food. Kinabalu was well organised to handle the large numbers who climb the mountain daily. Hostel accomodation, with hot meals, showers and toilets, was available at Laban Rata (3,720m) where most climbers spent the night before the early morning trek to the summit. The Rinjani climb included two nights in tents,the comfort of which, and the quality of the food, depended on which tour operator you used. Ours was excellent and they even provided a toilet tent in an attempt to at least bury the poo, which unfortunately was strewn all over the campsites. Fansipan had one or two grim shacks where climbers spent the night but the food again was pretty good.

  • For more information about climbing Mt. Kinabalu please refer to my website Malaysia-Traveller .com  //

61 thoughts on “Mt. Kinabalu vs. Fansipan vs. Rinjani”

  1. That is a great description cause I m planning a trip in early March between Mt KK and Mt Rinjani for a beginner.

  2. Hi,
    I’m a first-timer and would like to start with Rinjani first. Is this a good idea? Which operator do you recommend?

    1. Hi,
      I’m sure there are plenty of first timers who successfully climb Rinjani. As you will have gathered from my post it is not easy but as long as you have a reasonable level of fitness you should be OK. Let us know how you get on.
      We used Pac West, a Singapore-based operator and they were very efficient. You can take a look at their website,

  3. Hi
    Great, comprehensive but yet brief review of the hikes. I was just wondering what time of the year you did Fansipan? Just a tad concerned about the amount of mud. Also – any tour operator recommendations for that climb? Cheers!

  4. Hi Nugsey,
    I guess you also read my other post on Fansipan?
    I went during September. The best season for climbing is reckoned to be September to November. The wet season is from May to August but it was still very muddy in September so perhaps you could go in Oct/Nov instead. December onwards is very cold.
    My tour operator was Handspan ( and they were very good but that was a few years ago so I guess you should check the web for up-to-date reviews.
    Good luck with your trip!

  5. Hi,
    Great post! I’ve been to Fansipan and Kinabalu myself and I like your descriptions of the two. It’s pretty accurate and reliable information – great help to those deciding between the three peaks. I also wanted to ask you more about Rinjani – do you recommend doing the trip without a guide? Is the trail easy enough to follow? Also, should I engage an operator before going there or would it be better (and cheaper) to reach Lombok and find one?

    1. Hi Varun,
      Thanks for your comments. An experienced climber like yourself could probably manage to climb Rinjani without a guide – some people even go up and down in one day! The trail is fairly easy to follow and more busy than Fansipan but it can still be a hazardous trip. I would recommend taking 3 or 4 days (the scenery is beautiful so why rush?) and using a guide. They don’t cost too much and if you twist your ankle, or worse, they will help you get back to safety. They will also carry tents, cooking equipment and food. I think it might also be a requirement for foreigners to engage a guide. We used Lombok Network who did a good job. Their website is
      You might find cheaper operators in Lombok but you will need to check they are reliable.
      Good luck with your trip.

  6. Hi! Thanks for the info – good for beginner like me.
    In your opinion, is it better to have hiking shoes or water shoes for the hike at Rinjani?

    1. Hi Jennifer,
      Thanks for your comment. I would go for hiking shoes – something comfortable and not too heavy. It’s a long and tiring hike so the less weight you are carrying on your feet, the better. Good luck with your trip. David

  7. Hi David,
    Came across your site while looking for Fansipan. Very useful info as I am planning a trip in April. What kind of shoes do you suggest for the climb – hiking shoes, sandals? I heard that it can be very muddy and some have recommended wellies from the Sapa market.

    1. Hi Yen
      Fansipan was very wet and muddy. Personally I would go for well-worn in, comfortable, lightweight hiking shoes or boots with gore-tex waterproofing and good grips on the soles. Sandals might be OK for some people but you risk injuring your toes on sharp bamboo branches and other obstacles. The local porters manage with flip-flops or cheap rubber shoes but they are super hardy people. I wouldn’t want to buy a new pair of wellies from Sapa and then walk in them for 8 hours the very next day – the chances of blisters would be high. Have a great trip!

  8. hi there! 🙂

    thank you for your post!
    my friends and i are thinking of climbing rinjani! we have done kinabalu before (TIRING!).

    can i ask you.. what footwear/brand do you recommend for rinjani? or hiking/trekking in general?

    also, which was the tour operator that you used for rinjani? you do recommend them right? 🙂

    thank you and hope to hear from you soon! 🙂

    1. Hi Queenjia

      I used some Timberland hiking boots for my Rinjani trip and they were good although the sole has since fallen off them. I also like Merrell brand for hiking.

      The tour operator we used was Pac-West, a Singapore-based adventure travel agent. We also used them for Kinabalu and they were very efficient.

      Have a safe and enjoyable trip to Rinjani!

  9. Hi,
    I have phobia for heights but i would like to climb Mount KK. Base on your experience, are there any part during the climb which there are cliffhangers or sort? Would you advice i go ahead?

  10. hi Dan ,

    I’ve phobia of heights too & i’ve conquer the Mt.KK Summit. From my experience,The beginning trekking from Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata was ok , just enjoy the scenery and the cold fresh air as you climb. Only afew cliff that will challenge your fear as you climb from Laban Rata to summit , but not to worry you will climbing up in the dark and only use the light from your headlight ( so you only can see only whats in front of you..hehehe). The Challenge is when going down from the summit, the sky already bright and you will see how steep the trek..but not to worry you have your guide that will take care of you & all the climbers too 🙂 . Hope this info help.. 🙂

    “you conquer your FEAR , you conquer the WORLD!!!”… All the best Dan!!!…you can do it!

    1. Hi Zie,

      Congratulations on conquering the Mt. KK Summit. I certainly agree that the toughest part is when you head down in the day.
      Thank you for your info and the encouragement. I will definitely conquer it soon!!

  11. I climbed Mt Kinabalu with my second son in end-May 2010 and Mt Rinjani with him in Jun 2011. We reached the summit in both climbs. This year I brought my wife, eldest and youngest (third) sons to climb Fansipan. My wife and myself reached 2800m but my sons with the guide and porter reached the summit of Fansipan on the second day morning.

    Having been to these three mountains, I appreciate your comparisons. Good job.

    Many friends wondered why I am trekking at fifty. (I do secretly wished I did these trekking earlier)Little do they realise that it is my secret to keep healthy. And that involves many hours of jogging and climbing 30-storey staircases. Is there a short-cut to a healthy life?

    1. Thanks for your comment Mr. Choo. I too wish I had started trekking a little younger. I think it is the best form of exercise and plan to keep going as long as I can. The peaks might have to get a bit lower as I get older.

    2. Hi..just to share. i started this new hobby (hiking and appreciate the high altitude nature) at age 46 and it also my secret to keep healthy, where i was forced to jog, staircase climbing, cycling etc to get the stamina. I also do secretly wished I did these much earlier.

      At Rinjani last year, i met one uncle.. police pensioneer. just came back from Everest Base Camp! and he told me..he start mountaneering just after retired from service . that was wow! for me. seem like he’s on rushing over age…at least i know i am not too late and have many more years to come, to appreciate this

      1. Thanks for sharing your story Fauzi. Villagers who live at high altitudes often live longer lives so there is no doubt that hiking hills and mountains is good exercise.

  12. Hi there David

    Pardon my silly question but what is the difference between Pac West and Lombok Network? Would Pac West be able to help me arrange everything including the guide?
    Thank you ^^

    1. Hi Jenn,
      We booked through PacWest who arranged everything including the guide through their local agents Lombok Network. I suppose you could contact Lombok Network directly to cut out the middleman but we found it is easy to deal and communicate with PacWest and they are responsible for finding the best possible agents to meet our requirements. Hope this answers your question.

  13. Very useful comparison. I climbed Mt Kinabalu last year and thinking of climbing Mt Rinjani next month(last min decision). Can I ask is it possible to climb Mt Rinjani without any training? What is the level of difficulty comparing Mt Kinabalu and Mt Rinjani.

    1. Hi Jane,
      Thanks for commenting. As mentioned in this post, I thought Mt. Rinjani was harder than Mt. Kinabalu. It is possible to climb Rinjani without training if you are quite fit (which I guess you are as you climbed Kinabalu already). If you found Kinabalu very hard then I think you should do a bit more training before climbing Rinjani. On the other hand, if you found Kinabalu easy you should not have a problem with Rinjani. Good luck with your trip. David

  14. Very informative. I have done Mt KK and G. Tahan this year and now I want to do Mt Rinjani next year. I am 51 yrs old and started hiking late. How is the level of difficulty for Rinjani as compare to G. Tahan.

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment. I haven’t tried G. Tahan so I am not really qualified to answer but from what I’ve heard G. Tahan requires several days of hard hiking and climbing. I am sure you will manage Rinjani and when you have completed the climb please let us know your opinion on which is more difficult.

  15. Hi David,
    I don’t know how old you are but I am 57 and I have done Mt K twice and some spectacular mountains including Mt Kilimanjaro in the past 6 years. I like to try Rinjani for sure and now looking for friends who want to try it too. Like your informative review. I believe age is not the criteria unless you are 70 and even then, it can be done. The will to keep going will get you to the top. It’s a lot a mental thing. May take longer for some. Of course, basic fitness is important so if you are not, build on this before considering any climb. It’s a great sport with immense rewards. For all climbers …. keep going!!

    1. Hi Daniel,
      Thanks for your comment. I agree age is not a barrier provided you are still fit (I’m 58). Much as I enjoyed Rinjani I don’t think I will climb it again but perhaps some other readers would like to team up with you. Good luck with your climbing.

    2. Daniel, I am 55 now and is planning to go Rinjani in Jun 2015 with a bunch of folks from my online hiking club. You are welcome to join us, for Rinjani, other events and the training sessions, if you are in Singapore.

      1. Thanks for the invitation Richard. I don’t think I’ll be able to make it to Rinjani but I’ll let you know if I change my mind or if I’m in Singapore for your training sessions.

  16. Hi David,

    Your blog was very informative! Loved how you did the comparisons. I climbed Kinabalu 3 years back and this year, am considering Rinjani. I just didn’t realise that I would be hiking a further distance for Rinjani despite the fact that the peak is lower than Mt. K. How is the climb down from Rinjani though? My knees were in dire pain when we were heading down Mt. K and to go through that again…. Whoa… Climbing up was fine. I have said that I wouldn’t do Mt K again cos of the knee pains and now, here I am planning for Rinjani so I need to know what I’m getting myself into! Oh, and are the porters able to carry you down should it be required? (The Mt. K guides can put you in a sack and carry you down if you’re injured).



    1. Hi Tiara,

      Thanks for your comment. You have my sympathies for your painful knees. I had the same problem descending Kinabalu. The climb down from Rinjani was not so bad on my knees. The first part (the peak) was covered in thick volcanic ash which cushioned the knees (the hard part was staying upright!). Lower down, there were less staircase-like steps than Mt. K but there was a long, long walk at the end which was quite a strain on knees, feet and legs. I guess the porters would carry you down in case of emergency, like a broken leg, but I’m not sure if severe knee pain would count as an emergency. They have lots of equipment to carry and if they had to carry you they might need to make an extra trip. In any case you could expect to pay a substantial surcharge.But don’t let me put you off. Rinjani is worth the effort.


    2. Tiara,
      For downhill problems at Rinjani, there are two things you can consider.
      1. Pick up some new techniques to avoid knee pain (that’s what I did – by fast walking downhill), or
      2. Plan your trip to minimize descent (ie.start Rinjani at the lower level, Senaru @ 600m and then exit at a higher point, Sembalaun @ 1156m). I think that’s what David did.

      I am going Jun 25 but will be doing the reverse route (Starting at Sembalaun & exiting at Senaru). We planned this way because we wanted to try for the summit on day 1 (shooting to reach it by 330pm – running lunch & early start).

  17. 1. I am a Vietnamese who climbed Fansipan and I got a certificate, please contact the tour supplier for information.
    2. The highway Ha Noi – Lao Cai – SaPa has been used from 2014 so that you only have to spend 4.5 hours on a bus to get from airport to Fansipan trekking start point.
    3. There are other ways up to Fansipan peak which are quite difficult, Sin Chai and Cat Cat with good view on the way.
    4. There is a cable car which has been constructed recently from Tram Ton, so it can make Fansipan the easiest peak to conquer among those 3.
    Anyway, thank you for information! ^^

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    Rinjani trekking organizer established by experienced
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  19. Great sharing! that the information you provide was very useful and helpful for who hike to that Mountain. I am agree with you about that Rinjani had the most beautiful scenery as I am is Indonesian. 🙂 thanks for your post that a great post!

    well done

  20. Jou Trekking is local trekking company in north lombok senaru bayan indonesia.
    We provide porter guide and quality of the trekking equipment is the top priorities and it is newer every year, We are the only one Rinjani trek organizer with number one protection of environment priority. We all from Jou Trekking team would like to say thank you and much appreciate for your visit our beutiful mountain RINJANI

    Jou Trekking

  21. Hi.
    Glad to read info that you shared. We are attempting Mt Fansipan Vietnam in March, have few concerns:
    1. my hubby who has no enough training might not be able to up to summits. If he can’t finish the trail is there alternative mean (transport) to go see the summit since no certificate is issue to any climber.
    2. I on the other hand is an avid hiker. Stamina wise should not be a problem but have not tried carrying backpack on trail. So a bit skeptical my strength when told I need carry my own belonging on the journey. Is there no porter to engage to carry my load?
    3. Will walking stick (one or two) go or help in this trip?
    4. Before taking off what food and drink you would advise to take and bring along to hydrate and give more energy to combats fatigue.
    Appreciate your advice. Thank you.

    1. Hi A-ni,
      In answer to your concerns:
      1. When I did the climb there was no alternative transport to the summit. In an emergency the porters could carry a climber back to the start point but I don’t think they would carry anyone to the summit. However I read recently that there is now a cable car which takes tourists all the way to the summit. Your hubby could take the cable car and meet you at the top.
      2. Yes, you must engage porters and they do all the heavy carrying including water. I only carried a light pack with personal items.
      3. I took one walking stick and found it useful most of the time. In one or two places where I needed both hands to clamber up slopes the stick was a bit of a hindrance but overall I would suggest one telescopic pole. The porters could always make you a pole from bamboo sticks which grow everywhere on Fanxipan.
      4. Our porters provided good food and drink. You may have read my account here:

      Good luck with your trip.

    2. Hi Alice,
      I did Mt. Fanxipan last year. Yes there is a cable car to the summit. We hike up and took the cable car down. We did not engage a porter but a guide is a must. The climb package include lunch and water. We just carried some light stuffs in our backpacks (energy bars, windbreaker, rain poncho). Poles will come in handy when crossing river/stream.

      Happy trails to you!


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