Borneo is shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and the tiny nation of Brunei (think “Sultan of Brunei” and the wealth that is there!) so maybe this causes people confusion??
This ancient biodiverse land is full of fascinating statistics and is home to half of all known plant and animal species - some aren’t found anywhere else in the world apart from Borneo. We have visited this beautiful Country on two occasions (so far) ... so how about I tell you about our amazing experiences and hopefully you will consider paying a visit yourself!
We opted for the Malaysian part of Borneo to begin our exploration and started our adventure in the Sabah region and the town of Sandakan.
Proboscis Monkeys are one of the species that can only be found in Borneo. From our Sepilok accommodation, Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary was a cheap 30 min taxi ride away. Although the sanctuary is in the jungle, there are purpose built feeding platforms to allow tourists to sit and view, planned feeding times are twice daily at 9.30am and 11am.
We arrived at 9am and managed to get an excellent view as close as you can get. Spending over an hour observing with fascination a group of around 10 – we saw they have so much character and personality, especially when calling to one another, they make a sort of honking noise. They are free to wander wherever they wish and the “king” chose to stand right next to us on the platform which felt very special. I will have to confess though, it’s difficult to take your eyes off the male’s huge and strange bulbous noses – unfortunately what is also on display is their long red pencil-pecker which hangs below their pot-bellies!
Orangutan’s are only found in the rainforests of Borneo or Sumatra. We had purposely booked our accommodation close to the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre which also has daily feeding times at 10am and 3pm. These creatures are semi-wild animals and will only come to feed if they want to – this isn’t a zoo and the conservation work carried out at the centre is fantastic. There is also a nursery and you can watch the youngsters learning to use the ropes and swings whilst interacting with each other through play.
Now that we had spent more time with these enigmatic creatures, we started to appreciate their simplistic beauty – in a way if felt like we were “people watching”. Observing as they used they used their hands with great dexterity to eat and watching their eyes move with purpose to look around really showed to us how closely related we are to our orange, furry cousins.
Directly across from the Orangutan entrance is the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre which opens at 9am. This is very convenient as the bears are sometimes more active in the morning giving you enough time to see them for 45 minutes, pop to the orang-utan feeding then use your open-day ticket to return to the bears.
If you have always wanted to stay in a treehouse (like I have) then Permai Rainforest Resort in Damai (in the Sarawak region) situated just 45 minutes outside of Kuching is the place for you. We booked directly and requested treehouse No. 2 as advised by reviewers on Trip Advisor... it did not disappoint! We had a wonderful sea view and could watch the waves crashing against the rocks from the comfort of our bed. If we were ever in doubt as to whether we were actually in a rainforest, these thoughts were quickly dispelled when a family of long tailed macaques decided to have a sleep in the tree opposite us! It was fantastic to be high up, surrounded by trees, watching nature at its best, sitting on our balcony.
Heading towards the jungle walk we saw a family of long tailed macaques playing and grooming one another then five minutes later was a wild proboscis monkey. Although we had seen them before in Labuk, this one was completely wild and so (once again) nature at its best! All of this was within 30 minutes!!
We spent a few days in Kuching (which means “cat” in Malay) and the city certainly lives up to its name – cat statues are found all over the place! Our accommodation was the delightful Limetree Hotel which not only had a wonderful theme (and smell), but it was close to everything.
Paradesa Borneo offer something different – city-centre cycling tours! At 8am we met our friendly guide Nik and were kitted out with bikes, helmets & bottle of water for the journey. It was so cool and refreshing to feel the breeze on our faces pootling around the streets, stopping briefly at a local Malaysian food court for a traditional noodle breakfast. We were taken around the city tourist spots of the museum, temples, monuments etc before loading up a sampan boat ...with our bikes ... to cross the river.
We tried pass through discretely, however the locals insisted that we not only sit and chat with them, but we absolutely should join in and eat!! Despite standing out like a sore-thumb; two Westerners dressed in shorts, t-shirts and walking boots in amongst a sea of beautiful silk dresses and saris, we couldn’t have felt more welcome. To read more about our amazing experience, check out our blog “Westerners (wearing cycling helmets) at a Muslim wedding”
About 45 minutes from Kuching are Fairy Caves & Wind Caves. We didn’t have time to see both so opted for Fairy Cave, thankfully we came prepared with a torch and trusty walking boots as these were both definitely needed. It was a little hairy at times walking up extremely steep, precarious, wet metal and stone steps but everyone takes it slow and it is worth it when you reach the top as it opens up into a magnificent green-rimmed light hole, the sun streaming through showing off the fantastic limestone formations and the bats flying high above you. As we explored this vast area, we encountered an engaged couple having pre-wedding photos. The Malaysians are always so warm and kind and on this occasion, the photographer offered to take a photo of us and email it over. I have enclosed the result for you so you can judge for yourself whether Fairy cave is indeed magic!
The majority of our time in Borneo was spent on the island of Mabul as the main reason we came here was to experience world-class diving both here and in Sipidan. We stayed at Scuba Junkie which we picked due to the amazing reviews on Trip Advisor – they didn’t just live up to their 5* reviews, they were exceeded and we just keep on returning to stay with them! SJ have accommodation for everyone from dorm beds to VIP rooms by the beach, we have stayed in them all!
Now that you know a lot more about Borneo and what it has to offer, will you consider a visit and have your own adventures? Let us know in the comments below what attracts you to Borneo.
Travel Facts (Malaysian side only):
- Official language is Malay.
- The official currency is the Malaysian Ringgit (RM).
- A Government Service Tax of 6% is added onto everything except food.
- Monsoon season is November to March, but due to its tropical climate, it can (and will) rain at any time throughout the year.
- Rice & noodles are the main staple here and there are a lot of Chinese influences in their food.
- Borneo is very near to the equator so the sun is roasting hot - you can easily burn! (this is coming from a sun worshipper!).
- It is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, being home to an estimated 15,000 different plant species, 3,000 species of trees, 222 types of mammals (44 of which are only found here) and 420 species of resident birds. During the last ten years, over 360 new species have been discovered on the island!
- The largest flower in the world can only be found here: the Rafflesia also known as the corpse flower because it smells like rotting corpses! Niiiiice!
- The indigenous people of Borneo are commonly known as Dayaks (you can visit their longhouses).
- Half of the world’s tropical timber wood comes from here along with palm-oil plantations. Sadly, this is rapidly destroying the Borneo rainforests.
Main attractions & what attracted us:
What attracted us:
It was the diving in Sipidan which first attracted us to Borneo and once we made the decision to visit, we knew we had to see the orang-utans! When we returned for the 2nd time, the question we were faced with was “out of the multitude of beautiful sights, what do we pick next???” We found this question difficult to answer ...... so we plan to return for a 3rd time to see more!
Some of the many tourist attractions by region (Malaysian side only):
Maliau Basin - jungle trekking
Mount Kinabalu - scenic walks and mountain climbing/walking
Kinabatangan River Safari - wildlife safaris
Mabul/Sipadan - scuba diving or snorkelling
Gunung Gading National Park – Rafflesia can be found here (2 hours from Kuching)
Gunung Mulu National Park - some of the world’s most spectactular caves
Semenggoh Nature Reserve - Orangutan viewing
Annah Rais Longhouse – view traditional Dayak living
Kelabit Highlands - traditional longhouses
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