- Elevation: 884 m (2,900 ft)
- Prominence: 656 m
- Ribu category: Spesial
- Province: Sabah (Malaysia)
- Division: Bahagian Tawau
- Google Earth: kml
- Other names: none.
Bukit Silam (Silam Hill) is a small but relatively prominent peak on the north-east coast of Borneo overlooking Darvel Bay. It is quite isolated from other mountains and makes for a good half-day outing to a great viewpoint, especially due to the mountain road which leads up to a viewing tower.
The closest town to Bukit Silam is Lahad Datu. This remains one of Sabah’s less-visited regions, at least in terms of foreign tourists, due to kidnapping incidents on the coast and some islands perpetrated by Sulu pirates from a notorious region of the Philippines. At the time of writing (2023), there have been no serious incidents on the mainland since 2016 and Malaysia has done a grand job of beefing up security forces on its eastern border. However it would be foolish not to check for recent updates before you travel and be sure to check if your travel insurance covers you in an area which unfortunately remains highlighted as potentially dangerous by several western governments. As things stand in 2023, the reality is that you are highly unlikely to encounter any serious problems but it is vital to remain aware and alert.
A short drive south of Lahad Datu (under 30 minutes) will take you to the signposted entrance gate to Bukit Silam and Menaraga Kayangan (Tower of Heaven). This ticket booth is open from 8am until 5pm and no advance booking is needed. Weekends may be a little busy but on a weekday you are may have the place to yourself. Once you have purchased your tickets, continue along the good-quality but windy road which leads for just under 10 kilometres up to a parking area by telecommunication masts and Menara Kayangan, the tower that is over 30 metres high and provides excellent views to the coastline. As usual in this part of the world, an early start usually means a higher chance of good views and if you wait until lunchtime the cloud may have rolled in.
From the parking area (677m) it is just one minute on foot up some steps to a viewpoint and some wooden beches overlooking Darvel Bay. This is very close to the entrance to Menara Kayangan (691m) and also some public toilets. The viewpoint is great in clear weather, looking out to sea in what is an area that has long had issues with pirates. You can also peer up the forested higher ridges of the mountain, assuming the mist is not clinging to them. There are some decent information boards about the islands that you can see in Darvel Bay, including some basic historic map fragments from 1770 and 1818. Ascending the Tower of Heaven is a must, because the views from the viewpoint are even better from the top of this tower.
Just beyond Menara Kayangan is the trailhead for Bukit Silam, also called Gunung Silam. A local trail map is shown. There are actually two routes to the peak from this point so a circuit is an option. You can also seek out a local guide if you really need to, and perhaps even from the entrance gate, but the hike itself is easy to navigate whichever route you choose. The information board suggests that the steeper Kayangan Trail takes 1 hour and 45 minutes to the summit and back, and the longer, gentler Kalung-Kalungan Trail takes 2 hours and 35 minutes, leading beyond the nearby camping area (Tapak Perkhemahan) to a junction where you turn right (Anjung Tinjau, or ‘viewing platform’). Whereas the Kayangan Trail is a traditional forest route all the way to the top, the Kalung-Kalungan Trail is a cement path for much of the way at an easier gradient. However, that cement path can get pretty slippery with moss and so on growing on it so do think carefully about your choice.
Assuming you have chosen the more direct and traditional forest route, you will start by ascending very steeply before a flatter part of trail at around 800 metres elevation. There is a more open area on the ridge (856m) before a short descent to the trail junction (Simpang Menara/Pwith the easier path where there are a couple of trail signs (848m). From there, whichever trail you have chosen to use, it is a short ascent along a forest ridge to the top. Allow around 2-3 hours in total from Menara Kayangan, depending on which route you choose, and including some time spent at the summit itself. In 2023, the summit is adorned with not just a cylindrical trig pillar but also a bright pink ‘picture frame’ for selfies! It is also known, probably jokingly, as Low’s Peak, after the much taller Kinabalu peak name.
Look out for small red Silam crabs in the forest, which are only one centimetre across and quite similar to the red crabs found on Indonesia’s Gunung Ranai in the Riau Islands. They are an endemic species here (Geosesarma Aurantium Ng). As you will see, these red crabs have become the icon of Bukit Silam and form part of the pink picture frame at the top and some of the signs down at the trailhead. There are also lots of pitcher plants, birds and orchids in the forest here, and one benefit of taking a local guide is having specific information about those species. According to the information board near Menara Kayangan, there are four different Nepenthes species here.
In 2023, the restaurant is being renovated, if not reconstructed entirely, but in due course you are likely to be able to enjoy refreshments near the car parking area. There is actually also accommodation available near the Menara Kayangan tower and this can usually be booked in advance via Sabah Forestry Department.
Bagging report by Dan Quinn (August 2023)
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- Name and location: Pak Budi, Surabaya, East Java.
- Contact details: +62812xxxxxxxx, firstname.lastname@example.org, https://www.instagram.com/budi_mountain_guide/
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- Getting there: It is less than 30 minutes from Lahad Datu and just over two hours from Tawau.
- Guides and GPS Tracks: Want a PDF version for your phone? Looking for a guide? Need GPS tracks and waypoints? Bukit Silam information pack can be downloaded here.
- Permits: The gates are open daily from 8am – 5pm and you can buy a ticket there. In 2023, RM15 for foreigners.
- Water sources: Don’t rely on the restaurant – take at least one large bottle (1.5 litre) each to be on the safe side.