Borneo – Head Hunters, Jungle Safaris and Beach Retreats

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My latest exciting travel adventure took me to the remarkable Island of Borneo.

Borneo is the third largest Island in the world, famously known for being home to many unique and endangered species, such as the Orang Utan, Proboscis Monkey, the Borneo Rhino, the Pygmy Elephant, as well as the Green and Hawsbill Turtle.

The Island is divided among three countries; Brunei, Malaysia to the north and Indonesia to the South. The Malaysian part of the county is certainly the most advanced in terms of tourism, which was where I was heading.

There are no direct flight services into Borneo from the UK however the Island can be reached with a brief stop (or a longer one if you prefer) via one of Asia’s key hubs ie: Singapore or Kuala Lumpur – both terribly efficient and before you know it, you’re back on your way.

First stop was the capital of the Western state of Sarawak, Kuching. This charming waterfront city is a melting pot of cultures and has a wonderful relaxed feel to it, which certainly helps aid recovery from the long journey. Perhaps its biggest asset is the close proximity to the first-rate nature sites, which can be easily reached by day trip.

We spent a day exploring Sarawak’s oldest national park, Bako – It’s one of the smallest national parks in Sarawak yet one of the most interesting. With its rainforest, abundant wildlife, jungle streams, waterfalls, interesting plant life, secluded beaches, panoramic rocky shoreline, bizarre rock formations and extensive network of trekking trails, Bako National Park offers visitors an excellent introduction to the rainforest and coastline of Borneo.

Bako National Park Bako National Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my opinion no trip to Sarawak is complete without a visit to one of the traditional Iban Longhouses. It’s a pretty long journey so we spent the night at the Batang Ai Resort, managed by Hilton before travelling the last 40 minutes by native river boat the next morning to meet our tribe.

What wonderful and welcoming people the Ibans are and although there was a language barrier it didn’t seem too difficult to communicate over a glass of homemade rice wine! They were delighted when we presented them with the tea, salt and sunflower seeds that we had bought the day before for each of the 13 families.

After taking a look around one of the family homes they changed into their tribal costumes and performed a traditional dance for us and yes, I did have to join in!

Iban Long Houses

Iban Long House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the help of one of the families and our guide, we then cooked and enjoyed a delicious lunch together (cooked mostly in bamboo over the fire).

Traditional Iban LunchTraditional Iban Lunch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sadly it was time to leave our new found friends and head to Mulu.

Mulu National Park was a listed World Heritage site back in 2005 and is known for its spectacular natural marvels, diverse wildlife and remarkable tropical rainforest. It’s a great place to spend a couple of days, exploring all the superb outdoor activities such as visiting the various caves with their incredible formations and the many treks that can be enjoyed.

One of the most remarkable experiences in Mulu happens most days (unless it’s raining) around dusk where you can observe the ‘exit of the bats’ – literally millions of bats swirl and spiral out of Deer cave into the night sky, it’s quite a sight!

Deer CaveDeer Cave - Exit of the Bats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The weekend came and after my first week of superb trekking and outdoor activities, it was time to cross over into Sabah and take a little time out at the beach.

As I landed into Kota Kinabalu, I was whisked away on a 40 minute journey to the wonderful Shangri La Rasa Ria resort – a beachside haven a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city. I was extremely lucky to be upgraded to their brand new Ocean Wing which was a perfect end to a busy week. As well as the superb restaurants and beach activities, the resort also has its very own Orang Utan Sanctuary where guests can enjoy watching the daily feeding of these amazing orphaned animals.

Baby Orang UtanBaby Orang Utan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kota Kinabalu is a great place in which to base yourself for a few days, not only to spend some time relaxing but also to visit (or even climb) Mt Kinabalu and the surrounding national park. Surprisingly the park HQ is around 2 hours’ drive from the city itself but it’s certainly worth making the visit for the day or even staying in one of the lodges within the park itself to fully immerse yourself in the flora, fauna and trekking.

Mount Kinabalu

It was now back to Monday and feeling rejuvenated, I took the first flight of the day to Sandakan. On arrival I met up with my driver and headed to the jetty for our 1 hour speed boat journey to Selingan Island, also known as Turtle Island. By day the island is tranquil and guests spend time snorkelling, lazing on the beach before the evening’s main event.

After dinner I was on standby for our ranger to inform us of the first turtle to land on the beach to lay her eggs – luckily it was a relatively short wait and around 8.30pm, equipped with our torches all guests headed down to the beach to witness the giant green turtle lay over 60 eggs. The rangers then took the eggs to the hatchery where they will be incubated for a number of months before the baby turtles are released back into the ocean.

Turtle IslandTurtle Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning we headed back to the mainland where I caught the morning feed session at the famous Sepilok Orang Utan sanctuary before heading South by boat down the Kinabatangan River. A couple of hours later I arrived at the lovely riverside Eco lodge, Sukau where I spent the next couple of nights.

Kinabatangan is Sabah’s longest river at around 560km long. Along the banks of this mighty river lie original lowland forest and mangrove swamps providing a sanctuary for some of Borneo’s highest concentration of wildlife. Days at the lodges are spent exploring the river and surrounding lakes by boat and searching for some of Borneo’s most indigenous animals such as Proboscis monkey, Orang Utan, Pygmy Elephant as well as a wide variety of birdlife.

Proboscis MonkeyMonitor Lizard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A region not to be missed is the pristine rainforest of the Danum valley – home to arguably Borneo’s most luxurious lodge, The Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Danum Valley can be easily combined with Kinabatangan River and the journey takes around 4 hours overland.

Daily jungle activities such as trekking,  night walks and night drives are included within the package price and depending on your personal preference (and fitness levels) your visit can be as relaxed or actioned packed as you like. A great highlight was crossing the canopy walkway and seeing the spectacular rainforest from a birds eye view – just like Prince William and Kate did on their visit to Borneo in 2012!

 

Danum ValleyBRL Canopy Walk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After an excellent few days of sampling many of the superb treks, delicious meals and a some of the cocktails, I headed back to Lahad Datu for my flight back to Kota Kinabalu. With one last weekend before flying home, I spent my time exploring Gaya Island which is just a short boat ride from the city of Kota Kinabalu.

There are a few island resorts to choose from and all very different in style so there is something for everyone. What they do all have in common is that even though they are quite remote there are lots of things to do other than sit on a sun longer such as snorkelling, diving,exploring the forest nature trails, fishing, spa, yoga and meditation to name but a few.

Gayana Eco ResortBunga Raya

 

 

 

 

 

 

After an amazing three weeks exploring this beautiful island, it was time to head back home with some fantastic memories.

Borneo really has something for everyone and makes for a great family holiday, honeymoon or even just an adventurous break for couples or friends. So if you are thinking of something a bit different for your summer holiday this year, then look no further…

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