A Homestay Experience – in Mesilau, Kundasang, Sabah

Skip the hotels and motels, why not experience more with the locals by staying with them? That was what we did at Mesilau, which is situated on the east side of Mount Kinabalu, a point where some climbers start. After the driver picked us up from the Cottage Hotel, we took a short drive to Desa Dairy Farm, one of the biggest dairy farms in Sabah with 600 cows! Greeted by the gorgeous sight of the top of the mountain on a clear day, we simply couldn’t resist taking pictures.. pictures that looked as if we were in New Zealand.

Now most of the cows I’ve seen in Borneo so far had only one colour. However, these ones had the more familiar white with black spots. Our guide informed us that these cows are not local, but are Freisian (from the Netherlands). With the smell of cow poo hitting your nostrils, I was reminded much of my time in Wisconsin or the zoo. Each cow could produce about 14 litres of milk daily! Unfortunately, the cows have already been milked when we got there, so what was left to see was the packaging of the milk. Our guide had a carton for us to try, but we had to decline since our stomachs aren’t really used to full cream.

Home stay Mount Kinabalu Sabah
Fresh cartons of milk

Our next stop was at our host family’s house where we unloaded our bags. With three rooms available with a bathroom in each, we chose the ‘dormitory’ style with bunk beds so that all of us can sleep in just one room. To my initial dismay, their water heater didn’t seem to be working and it was going to be chilly at night with such strong howling winds (or in my mother’s words, ‘as if the ocean is outside your door’). Bathe with boiled water from the kettle? Hey, that might make your kids appreciate how easily heated water is available in your own homes.

After taking a little break and having a homecooked lunch, we headed off to the strawberry and rose farms on foot, meeting some school girls on the way.

Home stay in Sabah.
High school girls waiting for school bus in Mesilau, Sabah

I was up for walking around instead of being in a vehicle because then I’d have some form of geographical bearings.. until our host pointed to our destination.. up there. Strolling through the rose garden/farm to see some of the processes before the roses were picked. Once the roses started blooming, it will be netted to prevent it from losing its shape too quickly. With roses at about $5 for a dozen, I’d say it’s quite a deal. Just across the road, we entered the strawberry farm to see how they sorted it by sizes and then grading the pack. Don’t be deceived by its size, usually the smaller ones tend to be sweeter!

The Nursery
The odd one out

Our host shared with me that the kids would play with this, squeezing it lightly, it will slowly make its way up from the direction that it was growing.

Back to our room for a quick change, we left with pails to go fishing for our dinner! This form of traditional fishing (known locally as mamaralau) uses only sticks, worms and cotton cords. Our host balanced effortlessly on top of a rock while he demonstrated how it was done. Gingerly stepping on top of one mossy rock, my foot slipped into the water! It was actually a good thing because I didn’t have to be careful about not getting my shoes wet after that. With clear waters, you could see how the fishes responded to your bait however, it wasn’t easy catching the fishes as it is for crabs that could be easily found under the rocks. Our host brought his son along and boy was he good at it.





Dinner that night consisted of deep fried crunchy crabs and fish. Initially it felt odd thinking about the crab being alive and then eating it, however I was hungry enough to lose that thought later. Without any internet, it wasn’t long before I felt myself falling asleep by 9pm. Though it was chilly out, it was nothing too brutal as the concrete walls could keep the winds out.

Next morning, our breakfast consisted of springy stir fried noodles aka mee goreng. Loved it!


Not faraway, we strolled to check out the facilities of Sk. Mesilou, a nearby primary school. Since the village is relatively new, there are only about 150 students. Playing congcak with a student brought back memories of when I used to play it with friends at family gatherings.

The primary school


A game of Congcak!
Soon, it was time to bid our host farewell and head off for the Borneo Bird Festival. To my delight, the Friday market was on the way so we could stop to take a look at what they had for sale. From vegetables, to toys, to flavoured drinks, there was definitely a lot to see and taste! We met our host’s mother at the market too!

At RM 160 per person (SGD 64/USD 52) for a 2D/1N stay, it has been an eye opener for us. For more information on rates and other itineraries, check out Mesilau Homestay.

Contribution done by Tricia Arifin (Writer and Photographer) and John Nat Arifin (Photographer).

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