The Kundasang War Memorial honours the Australian and English prisoners of war and local Borneo denizens who risked or lost their lives to help them. One thousand POWs were forced to endure the horrific 240-kilometre death marches from the Sandakan POW camp to Ranau. Only six Australian soldiers managed to escape and survive. The Kundasang War Memorial is a peaceful spot with four gardens to commemorate and remember this atrocious war crime.
Parking & How To Get Here from Kinabalu Park
If you didn’t rent a car, there is supposedly a minibus that runs from Kinabalu Park to Kundasang. I can’t confirm since this service was not running during our trip. I don’t think it’s free, but the fare should be nominal.
Otherwise, you’ll have to use the Kinabalu Park taxi service to get to Kundasang. In the building next to the park headquarters (where trekkers get their permits), there is a desk labelled “transport services.” The taxi is pricey for a fifteen-minute drive – we had to pay RM30. You can also try to arrange a driver beforehand. Though, most will not be willing to do the difficult drive up the mountain for such a short distance unless you rent him for the entire day and see other Kundasang attractions like Sosodikon Hill or Desa Dairy Farm.
There is a public parking lot next to the memorial park. Parking looks to be free at the Kundasang War Memorial. There is a public pay toilet in this parking lot, but there are free toilets once you pay to get inside the grounds.
Opening Hours & Entrance Fee at Kundasang War Memorial
The admission fee for the Kundasang War Memorial is RM10 for foreigners and RM4 for Malaysians. The grounds are open every day from 8:30 am to 8:30 pm.
History of Kundasang War Memorial
The Kundasang War Memorial was constructed in 1962. It was funded by Sabahans and local expatriates, many of whom served in the war. Tourism, especially to Sabah, was not as popular as it is today. The park had such vast grounds but insufficient revenue to cover the costs to maintain it.
The Kundasang War memorial eventually became a dilapidated ruin and a deplorable memorial to the POWs it was supposed to commemorate. While the Sabah government injected some money into the site in 1995, it didn’t do much. The memorial remained a hangout for teenage hooligans and delinquents, full of garbage and empty beer bottles.
It wasn’t until Mr Sevee Charuruks, a Thai expat to Malaysia, took it upon himself to restore the war memorial. Disappointed with what the crumbling memorial had become, the project gave him a purpose in his retirement years. He managed to secure generous donations from the Australian government for reconstruction works. Today, the Kundasang War Memorial is one of the top attractions in Kundasang with nearly a perfect five-star rating based on thousands of reviews.
Newspaper clippings of Mr Charuruks’ incredible efforts and determination are plastered all over the gift shop. It was because of these clippings that I was able to recognise him. Today, he was tending to the ticketing desk as we were leaving. He is still a hands-on employee of the war memorial and is proud of what it has become.
What To See at Kundasang War Memorial
There are four gardens, each with a unique layout and look. The Australian Garden has a well-manicured lawn and a plaque at the far end. The plaque goes into detail about the death marches in both English and Bahasa. The English Garden, naturally, focuses on flowers and roses, although not many plants seemed to be blooming during our visit. The Borneo Garden has a path between two fenced-off areas with local fauna. Finally, the Contemplation Garden has hundreds of names of the soldiers who died in the Kundasang POW camp on one wall. Down the middle is a pool and fountain for quiet reflection. At the end of the Contemplation Garden is an arch that leads to an open terrace. There is a view of Kundasang below and Mount Kinabalu on a clear day.
The gift shop is on the way out of the grounds. There are newspaper and magazine clippings on the wall near the entrance that give lots of background information on the Kundasang War Memorial and its caretaker, Mr Charuruks. Next door, there is a small room where guests can watch a video on the Sandakan Death March, which costs an extra fee.
A visit to the Kundasang War Memorial will take an hour for most people. We spent a lot of time looking at Mount Kinabalu from the terrace and reading the newspaper clippings in the gift shop, and we were still only there for just over an hour.
There is a washroom on-site at the Kundasang War Memorial. When you come across the gift shop, walk through the shop towards the back. There should be signage directing you to it. Not surprisingly, the facilities were not good. The room was wet and smelly. While there was a sitting toilet, there was no paper anywhere. There was also no soap at the sink. My hands felt disgusting after touching the door locks in that place until I could get somewhere to wash them properly.
A visit to the Kundasang War Memorial fits nicely with a Kundasang day trip. I don’t think it’s a must-see like Sosodikon Hill, though. The gardens and the state of the toilets could be a lot better. Even if you find the war stuff too depressing, the view of Mount Kinabalu from the terrace could be worth it if you want a convenient viewing spot close to town.