Borneo is an island in the South China Sea. Some of Borneo is Indonesian, a small part is the rich Kingdom of Brunei and the part I will concentrate on is Malaysian Borneo. Sarawak and Sabah are the 2 Malaysian states situated on this beautiful island. American writer, Agnes Newton Keith, referred to Borneo as Land Below the Wind, as the weather is constant and the island does not suffer hurricanes, tornadoes or any extreme weather.
The state of Sarawak is on the south of the island and the main airport is in the city of Kuching, which means cat. The city is a good base for a couple of days, but the most interesting part of Sarawak is Batang Ai Lake , a few hours north of here. Local companies will operate a 2 day trip from Kuching to Batang Ai Lake, where the hotels are reached by boat.
From Batang Ai visit the local tribes, who live in ‘Long Houses’. Travel to these ‘Long Houses is by Long Boat.
Up to 20 families may live in one long house and one part of the house is for the whole community. Each family has a couple of private rooms – living room, bedroom, kitchen. Life is quite simple for these tribes, they share a lot and it is almost a communist society here. During the week the kids are sent away to boarding schools, run by the state. However when a young person decides to break away and work elsewhere, he or she will always return to the long house with gifts galore for the family, for example televisions, stereos. Some families have 3 or 4 televisions or stereos and they do not even use them but keep them as a sign of wealth.
It is also possible to do some nice trekking at Batang ai lake and even walk on one of Borneo’s canopy bridges.
Kota Kinabalu is a city situated on the South China Sea and is a good base for 3 or 4 nights. The town itself is a bustle of markets, shopping malls, eating and drinking places, especially along the seafront. Eating out is pretty cheap with Asian and Western food readily available.
A day trip out to the 3 Islands Gaya, Sapi and Manukan is a highlight and can be organised by the hotel concierge or local agents.
On Gaya there is a nice 1 hour trek.
Manukan is worth a short stop for a look at the huge 6 foot long Monitor Lizards. They look pretty scary but are harmless.
Sapi is nice to spend some time on the beach and have a swim in the South China Sea.
All 3 islands are just a 30 minute boat ride from Kota Kinabalu.
Kinabalu National Park
From Kota Kinabalu you can do a 2 day trip to the Kinabalu National Park and Malaysia’s highest mountain, Mount Kinabalu with a height of 4095 metres (over 13,000 feet).
The national park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and full of natural beauty. The really fit can do a 2 day climb to the peak of Mount Kinabalu otherwise you can just enjoy the flora, fauna and trekking here.
The highlight is the trek to the canopy bridge at the Poring Hot Springs. The trek itself isn’t difficult and the trail is well laid out so walking boots or trainers are fine. The elevation from the springs to the bridge is 250 metres nowadays – it used to be 500 metres. The bridge itself is divided into 5 sections and only 6 people are allowed on one section at a time. Each section of bridge is attached to trees using knots – not a single nail or screw is used.
It is an amazing sensation stepping onto the bridge for the first time as it sinks about 20 cm and wobbles about. Once you start there is no turning back – the bridge is one way.
The botanical gardens are also worth a visit and the Kinabalu centre with information on famous ascents up Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in South East Asia. There are various treks around here, ranging from easy to difficult.
You may see the World’s largest flower the Rafflesia in bloom here (up to 1 metre in diameter).
The Japanese occupied Borneo during the Second World War and you may want to visit the very moving war memorial in this area, which commemorates the suffering of the Commonwealth forces here and concentrates on the Death March of 6,000 soldiers, mainly Australian, of which only 6 survived.
There are many mountain lodges in this area for a one-night stay.
Borneo Rain Forest
A trip to the Borneo Rain Forest is an absolute must.
Fly to Lahad Datu and then 3 hours by jeep and you will find yourself in the heart of the Borneo Rain Forest. The only place to stay here is the Borneo Rain Forest Lodge. Many multi million dollar companies would like to invest here and build a proper road and big hotels with swimming pools. Fortunately, Sabah state have protected the rain forest and there is only one lodge with 30 fairly basic, but comfortable rooms.
The trekking here is incredible and at least a 2-night stay is recommended.
The density of the forest, the size of the trees and the sheer sounds here are intense and captivating.
A trek at sunrise to a canopy bridge; a trek to a waterfall, the ancient coffins on the coffin trail and a view point; a night time safari and a night time walk to discover weird and wonderful night time creatures are all on the lodge’s programme and all accompanied by the local, expert naturalists cum walking guides. For all treks it is not only advisable but a must to wear leech socks so you don’t get ‘leeched’. The Borneo tiger leeches are everywhere in the rain forest and need blood. It is pretty harmless being leeched, but it can be avoided by investing in a pair of leech socks. Among the wildlife to be spotted are weird bugs, insects, snakes, lizards and you may be lucky and spot an elusive orangutan.
Accommodation at the lodge is full board with excellent buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The best place to spot Borneo’s wildlife is from the Kinabatang River, on a safari by boat. There are many lodges, most fairly basic, along the river near Sukai. The safaris usually take place at sunrise and then at around 4pm when the heat has subsided.
If you are really lucky you may see Orang-utans, Borneo Pygmy Elephants and Proboscis Monkeys, the highlights of these safaris along the river.
Other species include snakes, monitor lizards, numerous birds, monkeys to name but a few.
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
Definitely worth a visit. At 9.30 and 2.30pm daily there is a film and then visitors can go to a platform where hopefully they will see orangutans feeding.