For those with apassion for beautiful wildlife, intriguing culture and pristine beaches, then Malaysian Borneo is the perfect destination.
Sabah is renowned for its lush rainforest, which is home to an incredible variety of wildlife inthe Danum Valley and Kinabatangan including the comedic proboscis monkey andthe iconic, gentle giant of the forest, the Orangutan. There is also South East Asia’s highest peak, Mount Kinabalu, whose walkable slopes are the perfect challenge for the adventurous, whilst the glorious beaches and islands of the northern archipelagos such as Gaya Island are the ideal place to relax and enjoy some world class snorkelling and scuba diving.
Bako National Park
Gazetted in 1957, Bako is not only Sarawak’s oldest national park, but also one of the smallest covering an area of 2,727 hectares. However it is easily accessible from Kuching and is a wonderfully diverse ecosystem with rainforest, abundant wildlife, jungle streams, waterfalls, incredible flora, beaches, a dramatic rocky shoreline and an extensive network of trekking trails from which
to enjoy the wildlife. Otters, bearded pigs, silvered langurs, long-tailed macaques, proboscis monkeys and over 150 species of birds can all be seen in this beautiful national park.
Batang Ai National Park is a beautiful area of lush jungle and part of the region’s largest trans-national protected rainforest area as it adjoins the Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary in Malaysia and the Bentuang-Karimun National Park in Indonesia. Together these protected areas cover almost 10,000 sq kms and form a sanctuary for one of the few viable wild orang-utan populations (estimated at over 1,000 animals) in Borneo as well as many other species including many primates, the elusive clouded leopard, civet cat, sun bears, bearded pigs and a huge number of bird species.
The area is also renowned not only for the stunning Batang Ai reservoir, but also for the indigenous Iban people, famed for their head hunting ancestors and their traditional longhouses. The area is reached along the many jungle rivers by the longtail boats that are skillfully skippered by Iban boatmen and once you reach the remote villages you have the opportunity to eat with local Iban families, visit and stay in their longhouses as well as witness their way of life and experiencing their ancient culture. It is possible to trek into the jungle, try out their blow pipes, see how they use medicinal plants and cook in the traditional manner, making for a fascinating cultural experience in a stunning, natural wilderness.
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Beaches of Borneo
Ringed byBorneo is home to some incredible beaches and world class scuba diving sites, which are the perfect place to relax after an adventurous few days exploring the highlights of Sabah and Sarawak. On the west coast of Sabah is the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park with 5 glorious islands and some heavenly hotel hideaways, all of which are easily accessible by boat from Kota Kinabalu. The Semporna Archipelago is located on the north east coast of Sabah and includes Sipadan Island, which is renowned for its incredible marine life, coral reefs and diving. For those looking for honeymoon luxury or rustic charm, then Borneo offers a wonderful variety of delightful beach hotels in stunning locations.
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Danum Valley Rainforest
The Danum Valley Conservation Area is one of Sabah’s most important and beautiful natural jewels. It is a sprawling 438
square kilometres of rainforest and is one of the richest bio-diversity conservation areas in the world. Not only is it home to over 200 species of tree per hectare some of which are the oldest and tallest in the world, but also boats a huge variety of endangered wildlife including the Sumatran rhino, Asian elephant, clouded leopard, orang-utan and proboscis monkey. It is also birdwatchers’ heaven with over 325 species recorded here and there is a 100-foot high canopy walkway allowing visitors to get great views of the birds and the surrounding forest.
Not only can you enjoy guided forest walks, but also night drives by open jeep, which offer a different perspective of the rainforest. There are a number of beautiful waterfalls and rivers including Sungai Purut 7-tiered pools and also a trek to the viewpoint which passes Coffin Cliff, an ancient Kadazan Dusun burial site.
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Stretching over 550kms from the Crocker Range in the southwest to the Sulu Sea in the east, the Kinabatangan River is Sabah’s longest river and boasts one of the world’s richest ecosystems and the lower basin of the river itself has the largest concentration of wildlife in South East Asia.
The area is home to ten species of primate including the endearing orang utan, but the real highlight here is the proboscis monkey, which can only be found in Borneo and are famed for their huge, comical noses and an impressive harem of wives. River trips at dawn and dusk offer superb opportunities for seeing these endearing monkeys as well as an abundance of other wildlife including the Asian elephant, monitor lizards and a huge variety of bird species, including rhinoceros hornbills, macaques, crested serpent eagles and blue-banded kingfishers.
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Kota Kinabalu (known as ‘KK’ by the locals) is the principal entry point into Sabah and the launch pad for trips to all the key highlights of Sabah. The city itself was razed to the ground a couple of times during World War II so is not a town of any great
beauty but it has a few historic buildings, museums and mosques that are worthy of a visit. The large, bustling Night Market is home to huge numbers of traders selling their wares and a great variety of Malay gastronomy and is a must-see. It is also renowned for its wonderful tropical islands and its coastal location that boasts some of Borneo’s finest beaches and great resort hotels.
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Kuching (meaning‘cat’ in Malay) is the capital of Sarawak and the entry point for those wishing to visit the longhouses of Batang Ai and the Semenggoh Orang-utan Sanctuary. Located on the banks of the Sarawak River, the city itself is small and charming with a fascinating history dating back to the days of the famed headhunters and the White Rajah’s such as Charles Brooke, who ruled there until 1946. The city itself offers a fascinating blend of colonial buildings, Chinese temples, bustling markets and colourful shophouses and for those with a little extra time to explore, Fort Margherita, the Sarawak Museum and the stately Istana Palace as well as a number of temples and churches are well worth exploring.
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Standing at over 13,000ft with its granitic peak towering over the island, Mount Kinabalu is South East Asia’s highest peak and as no specialist climbing knowledge is required, it is the perfect challenge for the more adventurous visitor. Although it is a strenuous 2 day trek and those attempting it should be reasonably fit, the sense of achievement as you enjoy the sunrise with the surrounding forest
spread out before you is immense. A visit to the hot springs at Poring offers the perfect tonic to a few aching muscles. Sleeping on the mountain is in basic hut accommodation and due to the demand for places, should be booked well in advance.
Mount Kinabalu National Park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Listed site and has a well maintained network of forest trails along which you can enjoy the large variety of spectacular plants and flowers including many orchids, ferns and pitcher plants as well as many bird species. Even if you are not doing the climb, it is well worth spending time exploring the park’s beautiful rainforest.
Mulu & Niah Caves
With its rich biodiversity, and world-famous caves, Gunung Mulu National Park offers a fascinating cave and rainforest experience. Combinable with a visit to the Niah Caves, the park includes one of the world’s largest and most spectacular cave complexes. Still only partly explored, the five principal Mulu caves are estimated to be at least five million years old. Deer Cave is not only the world’s largest cave currently open to tourists, but it is also home to a spectacular colony of over 2 million bats, which is not only rather smelly, but also truly spectacular when you see them swarming out en masse at dusk in search of food. Wind Cave is equally impressive on account of its chambers filled with amazing stalagmites and stalactites.
The rainforest in the park is also home to an abundance of flora and fauna, including many primate and bird species as well as over 8,000 types of plant and trees and there are some lovely short hikes or longer overnight treks available in the park.
Located to the south of Miri, the Niah National Park is home to the Niah Caves, one of Sarawak’s most impressive natural features.
At its heart is the Great Cave, which is one of the largest caves in the world and is famed for the swiftlets that nest here in huge numbers. It is the nests of these little birds that are the key ingredient in birds-nest soup and the collectors’ bamboo scaffolding can be seen wedged against the cave roof. The caves are also a great place to see some fascinating rock paintings where human
habitation dates back over 40,000 years and also large numbers of bats as they swarm out at dusk.
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Semenggoh Orang-Utan Sanctuary
Reached by road from Kuching, Semenggoh Wildlife Centre was originally set up in 1975 as a place to care for a wide variety of injured or orphaned wild animals. Since then it has perhaps become better known because of its work with orang-utans, which have suffered on account of deforestation and the illegal pet trade. The Semenggoh sanctuary is a small area of natural forest and so although a sighting of an orang-utan is not guaranteed, this centre is a good place to see them as they arrive swinging through the trees at the morning and afternoon feeding times. Semenggoh is also far less touristy than the better known Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre further north in Sabah.
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
One of only four orang-utan sanctuaries in the world, the Sepilok orang-utan rehabilitation centre was established in 1964 and now covers 40 sq kms of the Kabili-Sepilok Forest. Set up with the principal aim of rehabilitating orphaned and injured orangutan so they can eventually be returned to forest life, this centre is now one of Borneo’s most popular destinations.
There are morning and afternoon feeding sessions, so despite the thick jungle it is normally easy to see these wonderfully gentle and playful great apes in their natural environment as they come swinging through the trees for their food. There is also a regular presentation about the work of the centre, which allows visitors the chance to learn about the work being done here.
Sarawak meanwhile offers not only some wonderful wildlife at Bako, Batang Ai and the bat caves at Mulu, but also a fascinating insight into the colonial history of Kuching, the many different tribes and dialects of the area, some of whom still live in the communal longhouses and the legends of the ‘Land of the Headhunters’.
Full Borneo Itineraries with details coming soon. Call us on 01905 731373 for more detailed information.