Cultural immersion in Sabah

When an entire village turns to homestay…

In the tiny village of Kundasang, about 98 km from Kota Kinabalu city and about 13 km from Ranau Town, Ranau Walai Tokou Homestay is the closest homestay to the Mount Kinabalu. Winner of several state and federal tourism awards, we stopped-by to discover why.

puan asmiah ste jinin pengerusi
Puan Asmiah Ste Jinin Pengerusi

Established in 2002, and with 46 participating houses, almost the entire hillside village lends itself to Homestay, or “Kampung Stay” as the local people term it, with most homes having a breath-taking panoramic view towards Kinabalu Park and the mountain itself.

The region is populated primarily by the Dusun tribe, famous for their cultivation of temperate vegetables.

“Walai Tokou” is a Dusun term meaning “House of We”, or “Our Home”.

The concept of homestay is well suited for visitors who want to experience the village atmosphere, the refreshingly cool temperatures of the foothills of Mount Kinabalu and clear views of the mountain. It’s the perfect spot to take in the local culture, renowned for the traditional Dusun Bambu music and dances. The local musicians are renowned worldwide, recently featuring in the Asia You’ve Got Talent show.

ranau walai tokou homestay 2Ranau Walai Tokou Homestay is managed overall by a local cooperative association, which has an office in a roadside café/restaurant, where we met one of the leading members, Puan Asmiah Ste Jinin Pengerusi, who gave us a tour of the village and showed us her own home. “When the guests come here, they become part of our family”, she explained, adding, “They should feel totally at home with us.”

In the Kampung, there are around 100 rooms across the 46 houses dotted up along the steep hillside road. Several kampong communities in the region are related, meaning a much broader offering is in fact available.

ranau walai tokou homestay 8

Qualifying for homestay?

A set of guidelines have been produced for homestay villages. Asmiah explains, “More than ten participating houses and 20 people are needed in a single village or Kampung in order for the village to qualify. Before being able to participate, the villagers undergo training under the Ministry of Tourism, and a number of Government agencies are involved in the approval process, visiting the homes before the Homestay is officially open for business to ensure all criteria are met.”

ranau walai tokou homestay 7
Rooms are basic, clean and comfortable

Payment: Visitors are able to pay through the central cooperative, and all bookings are channelled through the co-op. Walk-ins are also accepted. For walk-in bookings, the local office coordinates their booking and payment. Complaints or other issues are also handled by the Homestay association.

Visitors: Chinese visitors make up the largest group of international tourists staying at this homestay village, followed closely by Australians. A number of visitors also come from Brunei.

What makes good homestay? “It’s not just the rooms – it’s the organisation of activities and the involvement in local experiences and culture”, explains our host.

Comfort is generally quite basic, and categories are based on the size of the rental – standard room, family room, or house – two or three rooms including kitchen. Higher comfort “VIP” rooms are available on request.


  • Visit to Highland Vegetable and Strawberry Farms.
  • Visit to Highland Rose Garden and Dairy Farm.
  • Fishing
  • Camping and Picnicking (jungle and river)
  • Jungle trekking / nature walk
  • Visit to hot springs
  • Canopy walk, waterfalls and caving
  • Visit to butterfly gardens
  • Visit to Sabah Tea Organic Farm
  • Visit to Luanti Tagal and Fish Massage
  • Visit to historical area (War Memorial Park and Nunuk Ragang Monument)
  • Visit to Kinabalu Park (Timpohon Gate to Climb Mount Kinabalu).
  • Traditional musical performance / dance (Sumayau)
  • Traditional wedding ceremony (Dusun)
  • Farming activities (Hill paddy and Vegetables)
  • Handicraft Making (Bamboo Traditional Music)
  • Traditional cloth-making and basket-making
  • Student camping and educational programmes
  • Local language learning and exchange (Dusun)
  • Learning modern and traditional sports and games