Half-Naked in Poring Hot Spring, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

One would imagine that a lengthy soak in a secluded natural hot spring would be relaxing and idyllic, or at least that was what I believed when my friend and I visited the Poring Hot Spring in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. Located 136 kilometres from Kota Kinabalu, reaching Poring Hot Spring took a 3-hour’s drive, along a relatively quiet, scenic road of hardly any traffic, dotted with lowland vegetation.

Poring Hot Spring is one of the main attractions of Poring, a small tourist resort in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. We arrived without much fun-fare, and I was glad to get off the coach to stretch my legs and shake the sleepiness from my eyes, after having dozed on and off during the drive. Whilst there, I did not see too much bamboo, which is the meaning of the Kadazandusun’s, an ethnic group in Sabah, word for “Poring”; but I saw a number of people, men in their shorts, women in their swimwear and children in very little, either lazing, dipping or playing at the public bath area consisting of 20 free hot tubs built with covered roofs, which could accommodate 2 adults per hot tub at a time.

My first instinct was: I was not going to do that and have everyone gawk at me. My second more rational thought was: I did not bring any swimwear or towel or change of clothing, which were some of the essential items you should bring to a hot spring. Neither was I tempted to buy any of the swimwear, which the tiny gift shop there had to offer.

Besides the hot tubs at Poring Hot Spring, Sabah here was a small Rock Pool near the public bath area as well as a multi-level Slide Pool made up of 7 pools of differing sizes, from big to small, with a 6 metre slide where children, and adults, could slide down and splash around in the cold pool water. Yes, if soaking in hot water was not your cup of tea, there were cold water pools to cool down with, on a hot sunny day.

It was indeed a scorching day and the hot springs did not really help to cool the surrounding temperatures. To relieve myself from the relentless heat, I tried to seek some refuge from the few scattered gazebos around the Poring Hot Spring, while we decided what we would like to do. There is a difference between sunning yourself and being under the hot sun, and I am not a sun worshipper. The public pools were out of the question, but I was reluctant to leave without trying the hot springs, which are known for its sulphuric minerals and therapeutic or healing properties.

Finally, we agreed to rent, for RM20 an hour, a private bath house with two tubs. As there were no towels for rent at the Poring Hot Spring, for hygienic purposes obviously, I bought a bath towel for RM15. The private bath house consisted of a wooden hut with two separate tubs and a simple shower room. There were two taps for each tub, one for the hot spring water and one for cold water, in case the water temperature got too hot to handle.

The tub was big, about 5 feet in length, 2.5 feet in width and 3 feet in depth, enough to immerse the whole body in when filled to the brim. However, it took forever, it seemed for the water, even with two taps running, to fill the tub and the clock kept ticking away. I eventually sort of submerged most of my half-naked body by slinking down the tub, when it was half-filled, letting the hot water lap around me and transporting myself, in my mind, to a private hot spring pool somewhere in the rainforest of Borneo, or in this instant in Poring, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

After 20 minutes of immersion, I had enough as my skin had begun to wrinkle up. I got out of the tub, clumsily as my body felt boneless from the effect of the hot spring water, to take a shower, yelping in surprise when cold water gushed down my warm body, closing all the open pores instantly. I did some speed drying with the new bath towel and dressed as quickly. Then I had great fun hearing my friend experience the same shock in the shower.

We then took a brief walk around the surrounding vicinity of Poring Hot Spring, hoping to catch a glimpse of Jackie O, the resident female orang-utan of Poring Hot Spring, who had made the nearby hill and dipterocarp forest with plenty of wild fruits and plant life her home; but she must have roamed elsewhere more shady as I did not see a single brown-orangey hide or hair of Jackie O. The sweltering heat was probably too much for Jackie O and us as well, and we gladly agreed to leave the hot springs before we melted.

On our way back from Poring Hot Spring, I quietly reminisced on how our ideal expectations could turn out to be poles apart from practical reality. I would strongly advise visitors to here or any natural hot springs, to remember to bring the essential items of swimwear, extra clothing, towels, and slippers too, if you want to try the hot springs in relative comfort and ease. My suggestion is also to do the public baths, if you are not self-conscious, where there were no time restriction and no waiting for the tub to be filled.