The Island of Pulau Borneo is the third largest island in the world and the largest in Asia. The island is politically divided by three countries: Malaysia and Brunei in the north, Indonesia in the south.
Sabah is the northern state if Malaysian Borneo, and this is where I was lucky enough to visit. After a two hour flight from Hong Kong on Air Asia, we landed in Kota Kinabalu.
KK (for short), formerly known as Jesselton, was a major port and owned by the British North Borneo Company. Destroyed by the Japanese in WW2, Jesselton was then ceded to the British Crown Colony following the war. When the collective states of Malaysia gained independence in 1963, Jesselton, renamed as Kota Kinabalu, became Sabah's capitol city.
Though KK is a gateway city for travellers moving on through Malaysia and Borneo, There are still attractions to be found. Mt. Kinabalu is not far from KK and is great for hiking and climbing. And as KK borders the South China Sea it is ideal for diving, water sports and warm weather relaxation.
We had only a one night stay in KK before moving on to Sandakan, and the orangutang of Borneo. This was enough time for Sian to knock over an Avengers make up stand in the local Sephora, breaking the Captain America blush and thus being required to pay for it.
Through Steppes Travel, we had a planned itinerary with scheduled drivers. When planning a complicated trip, where there is much to do in little time, I live to have some help. This is where travel agents come in. Though I plan most of my travel myself, occasionally it is nice to have someone else do the thinking for you.
After our arrival in Sandakan, we went to the Puu Jih Shih Temple. This temple, built in 1987 is the largest Chinese temple in town, chock full of swastikas and featured on the Amazing Race 2003.
Sandakan has a large market, where local citizens do the majority of their shopping. This is not far from our lunch stop, the English Tea House. With the Agnes Keith House just next door as part of the old British North Borneo Complex, this tranquil restaurant offers a glimpse into colonial British life.
Next up was the Malaysian Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sepilok. The sun bear is the smallest bear, aboral and second only to the panda on the endangered list. The bear's population has decreased 30 % in the last 30 years, due to loss of habitat, pet trade and of course, Chinese medicine.
We saw several bears from a short distance, many birds and a red, flying squirrel, snoozing in a far away tree.
Across the parking lot from the MSBCC is the Sepilok Orangutang Rehabilitation Centre. This centre has been treating orphaned, injured and mistreated orangutan since 1964.
Rescued animals are first quarantined, then placed in the nursery. Here they learn necessary skills such as nest building and socialisation. They then transfer to the outdoor nursery, where they live more independent lives. Once capable, the orangutang are released into the Kabili-Sepilok Forest to live long and healthy lives.
It was also great fun to watch them from the observation room. Orangutan are exceptionally good at somersaults, rolly-polies,wrestling, and just hanging around.
Our lodge for the evening was the splendid Sepilok Nature Resort, a five minute drive from the conservation centre.
The next morning, after a two hour speed boat journey down the Kinabantangan River we arrived at our next stop, the Sukau Rainforest Lodge.
The lodge is listed as a National Geographic Unique Lodge. They also have a Travalife Gold Certificate for providing quality accommodation while retaining its sustainability ethos.
The Sukau Lodge offers morning, afternoon and evening boat safaris, day trips to Sepilok, overground safaris, and much more.
Meals are buffet style from a repurposed canoe that once transported David Attenborough up and down the river!
The star of this river show is the Proboscis Monkey. With it's big nose and pot belly, the monkey is one of the most endearing animal I've seen. And while endangered, there are plenty of them garnishing the rainforest tree tops up and down the river.
We also spotted Macaque monkeys, lizards and more Kingfishers than anyone ever needs to see.
The only thing missing from my wish list was the Borneo Pygmy Elephant. They look like elephants and sound like elephants, but are only about the size of a horse. Protected now, the elephants are still critically endangered.
Borneo/Sabah is a wonderful place. The people are friendly and there is an entire eco-system to discover.
Things to Consider
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
°C 27 27 28 28 28 29 30 29 28 27 27 27
°F 81 81 82 82 82 84 86 84 82 81 81 81
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
mm 443 278 188 120 154 190 184 241 231 230 300 435
Air Quality Index
Sabah, Northern Malaysian Borneo has an Air Quality Index of 35
Residents of Australia, United Kingdom, United States, Canada and members of the European Union are exempt from obtaining visas for visits not exceeding 90 days.
How to Tip
The currency in Malaysian Borneo is the Ringgit (MYR).
Guides: 25-30 per day
Drivers: 1/3 of what drivers receive. 15 per day is a good guide
Taxis: Taxis do not expect tips
Restaurants: 10% service charge is usually applied to the bill