Borneo the land of orangutans, magnificent national parks, UNESCO world heritage sites, white sandy beaches, tropical islands, long nosed (proboscis) monkeys, gigantic caves and so so so much more! It’s hard to describe this place in words, this magnificent place has so much to offer and it was so much more than I ever could have expected. My sister Kirsten and I were heading to Borneo with our Mum Kerry to celebrate her upcoming 60th Birthday. Initially we were arriving, climbing Mt Kinabalu (the tallest mountain in South East Asia) and then joining an intrepid tour for 10 days. However due to the earthquake and landslide that occurred in Borneo earlier this year the mountain was closed and our plans had to change.
We were left with a few days at the start of our trip which we had no trouble filing. Upon arrival at Kota Kinanbalu airport we picked up a taxi and headed to the luxurious Shangri La Rasa Ria resort. Our main draw to this resort was the Orangutan rehabilitation centre that it boasted. The poolside cocktails, beachfront sunsets and water sports activities were all just a bonus. Looking back this was probably my favourite place that we got to see the orang-utans, they only had two at the time we visited but this was the closest we got to get to orangutans, there weren’t too many other people and watching them swing through the trees to grab a bite to eat is something I’ll never forget!
The following day we did a tour to Mantanani Island, there has been sightings of dugongs in the waters surrounding this island so that was a big draw card. Unfortunately we weren’t lucky enough to spot one but the ridiculously white sandy beaches and crazy clear blue waters are more than a good enough reason to visit this tropical paradise!
Kota Kinabalu (KK), the capital of the Bornean state of Sabah is a bustling waterfront city. We had fun exploring the local markets, tackling the stairs to the observatory tower and enjoying dinner by the waterfront. I do have to mention that we also spent a fair bit of time taking refuge in air-conditioned shopping centres, the heat and humidity is always a bit hard to deal with!
Next up we were on a flight on our way to Kuching where we would be starting our intrepid tour the following day. On arrival we had a bit of free time to explore the city so we checked out a few of the sights and had some fun shopping up a storm in the Main Bazaar.
In the evening of the first day of the tour we had the welcome meeting followed by dinner at a local haunt called top spot, a group of restaurants on the top of a building. One of my favourite parts of a tour is meeting the group of people you’re going to be travelling with! Our group leaders name was Aye and the group was made up of 2 Aussie couples; Sharon and Darren and John and Anne, a family from England; Alison, Mark, Madison and Alex and a solo English traveller Jed. The first day of our tour happened to fall on the first day of Hari Raya, an important religious holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting.
Todays adventures had us heading to Bako National Park, we arrived by boat to the park and it was spectacular to say the least, its hard to describe it in words so I think pictures are the best way to get an idea of this incredible place. Looking back this was probably one of my favourite parts of the trip!
Following an overnight stay in Bako we were heading back to Kuching, we stopped at the Semenggoh Orangutan sanctuary on our way. Our second orangutan encounter, the wild men of Borneo never disappoint!
We then had an afternoon to burn in Kuching and an early night as we had to meet at 5:45 am for an early flight to Miri. I was particularly excited about this leg of the trip, we’d ditched our big bags and had packed smaller bags for the next 5 days that would see us heading deep into the Bornean Jungle. Upon arriving in Miri we set off for a two-hour hike to visit the longhouses of the Iban people, these beautiful people welcomed us into their home and this is where we would be staying for the night. But first up we went to visit the nearby caves of Niah National park our first caves of the trip (exciting!!).
We headed back to the longhouses, each family took in 4 of us grubby travellers, Mum, Kirsten, Jed and I had Cecelia and her family as our hosts and after a long day of sweating like never before #jungleproblems we were all very excited for a shower, even if it was in the form of a bucket. On my way back from the shower I was quite amused to find Kirsten and Jed in the kitchen with our hosts husband drinking an unknown substance. I was immediately invited to join in on the fun and how could I resist, the drink on the menu, home brewed rice wine! We were definitely getting an insight into how the locals lived and boy was it a whole lot of fun. We had a group dinner out in the long corridor in front of all the longhouses and then we were treated to some traditional music and dancing of the Iban people.
Up early the next day to head to the airport, we bid farewell to our families and hiked back out of the jungle. We were on our way to the UNESCO world heritage listed Mulu national park, the only way in and out of this park is by plane or boat and that’s only a tiny bit of what makes this place so special! I felt like I was in a Jurassic park movie, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d turned a corner and come face to face with a raptor! Never a dull moment on an intrepid tour upon arrival at the park head quarters we headed straight off for an afternoon hike to Deer cave, one of the largest cave passages in the world and home to millions of bats! We took a tour of the cave and then watched in fascination as the millions of bats left the cave at dusk. Dinner at a local joint, a bit too much rice wine and I was more than ready for bed after another long day!
Todays first activity a speed hike to sweat out some the rice wine we consumed the night before and prepare us for the head-hunters trail in a few days, we took a swim in the falls to cool off before we made our way back to the park HQ. Then we were off on our first longboat adventure; we were heading for Clearwater cave and one of the most beautiful swimming holes I’ve ever been too in!
Now for the real adventure to begin, today we headed off for an 8km jungle trek to camp 5, this is where we’d spend the night before starting the head-hunters trail the following day. The trek wasn’t particularly tough, there was a clear trail and it was relatively hill free but the extreme humidity, sometimes-slippery boardwalks, uneven ground and afternoon rain showers made for an exhausting few hours. A magical moment in this incredible jungle was when we looked up to see a flock of hornbills up in the canopy, even Aye said he’d never seen this many in one place, you know when your guides amazed that you’ve really got to witness something special!
We were delighted to reach camp 5 and more than happy to go for a refreshing swim in the river just up from the camp. We were scrambling up some little rapids when Aye called us back because the water levels were picking up, this was a sign of possible flash floods so we all got out of there as quick as we could. Probably not as funny when I describe it in words but just thinking about it still makes me laugh, I remember looking over at Kirsten trying to get down the mini rapids, in a truly graceful fashion she got caught up in the current and rolled all the way down into the river below.
We were scheduled for a night walk and it was probably one of the biggest adventures we went on, we headed off with Aye (who’d possibly had a little too much rice wine) into the jungle to find some wildlife, we ended up on a path that was blocked by a giant tree that we had to scramble over with only our torches to guide us on the other side we were greeted by a steep muddy trail with a rope to help us on our way down. It was definitely a memorable walk!
The headhunters trail follows the route taken Kayan headhunting parties who launched raids against the Limbang people. Today its just a jungle trek that can be used to enter or exit Mulu national park, originally it was 11.3 kms long but due to a number of fallen trees and re routes to the trail its now about 14.5 kms long! As usual the humidity made the trek harder than you’d expect but it felt great to reach the river at the end of the trek and jump in the longboats that would take us to the city of Limbang where a comfy hotel bed and our big bags that we’d left behind 5 days ago would be meeting us.
We were on the last leg of our tour now and we had 2 ferry rides that would land us back in the seaside capital of KK. We went out for the final dinner with the group and then onto a bar for a few drinks. Most people headed back to the hotel but a Jed, Alex, Madison and I kicked on and headed to a waterfront bar with Aye. From here everything starts to get a little bit fuzzy, there were some bars a club and way a few too many shots, somehow I ended up back at the hotel at about 3:30 am. Considering I had to be up at 5 for a flight to Sepilok this probably wasn’t the best move on my behalf. It will always be a mystery to how I managed to get up the next day, pack my bags and get onto a plane. But somehow I ended up in Sepilok with mum and Kirsten and we were ready to see our final orangutans of the trip. I managed to snap some cute photos and we visited the Sun Bear conservation centre as well.
I bid a sad farewell to Borneo, it was a bigger adventure than I ever could have imagined! I’ll definitely be back in the future, I have unfinished business with Mount Kinabalu, I want to trek to The Pinnacles of Mulu national park, explore Danum Valley conservation area in the hope of seeing oranguatns, gibbons, mouse deer and clouded leopards in the wild, discover the turtle islands and visit the tiny nation of Brunei (another country I need to tick off my list!).
I put together a quick video to give you a bit more of an insight into Borneo and everything it has to offer, enjoy!