Why Borneo is an Incredible Adventure
Out of every ten people I told that I was going to Borneo, eight of them had no idea where it was. I was one of those eight at one time. So why go to a place I had never even heard of until a few months before the trip? Well partly my boyfriend had convinced me because he has been there before and partly because I was ready for an incredible adventure like no other.
Borneo is a massive subtropical Island on the Ecuador consisting of Malaysia and Indonesia. It is hot, humid and home to one of the most diverse rain forests in the world. It also has wild Orangutans, which was a major selling point for me. We started in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah. On our five weeks in Borneo we stayed only on the Malaysian side in the region of Sabah. It kept us plenty busy, and I highly recommend starting here if your skeptical of traveling here. The regions is extremely tourism friendly and we actually worked with the tourism board. People are incredibly friendly and being a young blonde girl I had no problem exploring the cities solo and felt very safe.
We had jungle on the brain, and were ready to go and get it so Geoff and I booked our cheap bus to Sepilok where there is an Orangutan Sanctuary and Sun bear rehabilitation center. Everything is very affordable in Sabah and I found it reasonable to live on $20USD a day including hostel accommodation, by no means did we live 5 star but it was comfortable and a great way to meet new people. It can get more expensive when you book tours and diving but it is worth the extra cost.
The Orangutans are worth visiting Sabah alone. These beautiful human like creatures have the softest expression and the most amazing personalities. It is hard not to see the devastation that logging, agriculture and palm oil have had on this area, these animals are in a sanctuary because of habitat loss and I honestly think the best way to really understand it is to visit the area and see first hand. Research how you can contribute to help and know your facts. We all have responsibility to protect our diversity and seeing these animals only enforces that. That being said this small area is beaming with life. Colorful birds, horn bills, amphibians and mammals cross your path every hour. It's hard not to be astonished by the color and sounds of the rain forest. I could tell it was going to be an amazing experience spending time here.
Geoff and I headed to the Kinabutan River next to stay with Myne River Resort. The resort does river tours where you have a chance to see the most diverse wildlife along the strip of secondary forest along the river. Sadly this is all the animals have to live on, but it does keep them very concentrated to the edges of the river where sightings are guaranteed. If you get really lucky you can even see Pygmy Elephants! Everything is by boast but you can have the option to do night walks as well, which is when all the birds are sleeping so it is very easy to spot them. They don't move when you shine the light on them. The lodge we stayed at was incredible, good food and beautiful villas but there are many resorts along the river to choose from. Whatever fits your budget. After our time at this resort we tried something a bit different by staying at an eco-lodge, an hour up the river by boat.
If you want the real experience please take my advice and stay with Martin at his Eco Camp booked through here. Why? Well Martin moved to Borneo 20+ years ago to help reforestation efforts. He now runs Eco- tours for kids to come from schools around the world to help plant and manage rainforest regeneration. The Eco-Lodge is only part of his program. The entire company is called Mescot, and they specialize in sustainable tourism and conservation efforts. They do village homestays and general river tours so it's a great way to see the jungle in a more sustainable way. Profits go towards conservation and the local villages are supported by the homestay program. Geoff and I loved this place. The Eco-lodge had a jungle feel and we even did some volunteering cleaning weeds out of a local lake. The place was crawling with wildlife and I remember being woken up by the most stunning bird songs. Such an amazing place with an exellent vision worth supporting.
After the river Geoff and I were very fortunate to get a booking at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge in the Danum valley. It is often booked months in advance so book very early for this one, and prepare for a pricey budget. A more affordable alternative is the Danum field center, which is also difficult to book but more affordable. We went from living with no electricity to 5 star accommodation! Greeted by the manager of the lodge we were introduced to our personal guide, he was available to take us out whenever we liked into the jungle. The food was spectacular here as we ate lunch, an endless buffet and tons of local fruit! When we went to our villa is was incredible. A view of the river, a massive outdoor tub and a bamboo style interior. The lodge is well worth the cost, and not because of the fancy accommodation, because of the primary virgin rainforest. BBC had done filming here for the planet earth series due to it's abundance of wildlife and diversity. We saw a wild orangutan daily while here, and my favorite were the little cheeky Red Leaf Monkeys that were everywhere! Even while eating lunch they were jumping back and fourth in the trees off the balcony. The massive canopy walk was another highlight. Every morning the forest filled with mist and made for incredible photos, but the best was the sound of the gibbons methodically calling to each other in the distance, a soothing sound. The rainforest is never quiet. Through out the day each octave of Cicada would ring in the heavy air. The rainforest is alive with sound constantly. If you do come out here, be sure to bring your leech socks! Those little guys are in abundance as well.
Geoff and I had a few days to kill before our next adventure with some friends we had met back in Kota Kinabalu. We had heard about a look out tower that gave stunning views across Danum Valley at sunrise so we went to investigate. Our friend Charles said their was a small accommodation up there so we found a way to stay there for two nights even though it isn't public. Smooth talking. It was nice to have a little house to ourselves above the valley. We however had a 10km walk back down to the valley to catch our ride the following day. It was a long walk but awesome to spot wildlife, pitcher plants and listen to the gibbons on our way down.
Our next trip brought us to the Tabin river for a homestay with Charles (nat-geo adventure wildlife photographer) and his team. He runs a company called Sticky Rice which connects tourists to conservation friendly tours and tours that supports locals. We drovehours to a remote village to stay with a family for the week. It was this village's last chance to stay alive for many of the locals had moved and only one family remained. They needed a way to fund their life out in the forest. Farming and fishing was no longer enough. It was so much fun to get to know these locals even though only Nagit, the organizer and son, was the only English speaking member of the family. We ate our dinners by sitting in a circle on the floor and using our hands, traditionally, and we were shown how the set their crayfish traps. Macaque monkeys actually try to steal food from the traps by pulling the nets up out of the water, that is if a crock doesn't get them first! We spend the next few days jungle trekking and boating on the lush mangrove forest surrounding the river. It was wonderful cultural and wildlife experience with the friendlest locals I have ever met.
Our last adventure was something we wanted to do from before the trip even started but we did not have to funds to go and do it. Lucky for us we convinced the tourism board to help us out. They sent us to Mabul Island for 3 days of diving at the world class marine reserve of Sipadan! I hadn't been diving for years so I was a little nervous to get back in open water. The guides were very helpful and understanding and it came right back to me. It was INCREDIBLE. We saw a massive tuna fish twice the size of me on our first dive! Sea turtles were everywhere and the fish reminded me of metallic rainbows constantly flooding my view. We were lucky to get two day permits out at Sipadan. It consisted of 8 dives 45min each. The Island is only accessible by boat and heavily policed because it is so close to the Philippines. It is a marine reserve so the fish life is abundant and hardly touched. We still found plastic in the water sadly. In fact when boating to each island we had to dodge large islands of plastic and rubbish in the water. It disgusted me to no end. One of our dives Geoff and I swan alongside a sea turtle with a plastic bag over its head. We managed to help it free but it was disheartening. Oh what have we done to this world.
Over all the diving was an incredible experience. We even managed to do a solo dive just Geoff and I without a dive master. We then did a night dive with a dive Master which was something I have never experienced before. I am so glad we did it, I was tired and not up for it but if I have learned anything from traveling you should always try and say yes to every new experience.
Geoff and I wanted to do one last trip to Maliau Basin, another amazing piece of virgin rainforest. However the tours mixed up our dates and we were unable to get a booking. Geoff ended up going with a friend for a few days to record some forest devastation and I decided to hang back in Kota Kinabalu for the last few days.
Borneo was more incredible than I could have ever imagined. I would love to go back one day, but for now I will always hold the memories of the jungle in my mind and in my photo album.