Borneo has planted itself firmly in the top 3 of our list of favourite countries, although it didn’t exactly get off to the best start. We had to get a taxi from the airport in Kota Kinabalu to our hostel, but when we got into the car our driver definitely did not look as though he was old enough to have a license! That seems to be fairly standard here however, and we’d managed to avoid any transport related accidents so far, so we weren’t too fussed. But, about 5 minutes into the journey, our young driver tried to change lanes without checking his mirrors, whilst also talking on the phone, and unsurprisingly, collided with another car. I may be letting my inner drama queen get away with herself here, as it was only minor and everyone in both cars were absolutely fine. But we did end up getting abandoned on the side of the road after arguing for some time for a refund, as our driver had to go to the police station to sort the whole thing out. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long before another taxi pulled up, and we made it to our hostel without any more drama.
The next day we got a taxi at 6am for the two hour journey to Kinabalu National Park. Again the driving was ABSOLUTELY BLOODY MENTAL, and although we were shattered, nobody got any sleep as we were too busy holding on for dear life. But when we arrived the sun was just starting to burn through the clouds, making the scenery look incredible, and as we’d got up so early, we were some of the only people around. It was wonderful. Due to budget and time restraints we’d decided not to climb Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Malaysia that rises 13,435 ft above sea level, but chose to spend the day trekking around the forests covering the park, and also made it to a tour of the Botanical Gardens. It was a lovely day, and we saw some fantastically weird insects and plants, enjoyed our packed lunch of homemade jam sandwiches in the middle of the forest, and only had a minor panic attack when the path suddenly disappeared, causing us to think we might get stuck in the middle of the rain forest, and miss the last bus back to Kota Kinabalu.
After Kota Kinabalu, we hopped on a bus for 7 hours, and made our way across Sabah state, to Sandakan, in the East. We stayed at a really lovely hostel called Harbour side Backpackers, where the staff were so friendly and helpful, and the free breakfast was a nice change from the standard toast and egg we’d normally been finding! Definitely a recommendation from us if you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Sandakan. We really enjoyed our time in this city, and spent it travelling to a number of wildlife sanctuaries and conservation centres, as our main aim for our time in Borneo had been to experience as much of the wildlife that this incredible island has to offer, as possible!
The best day in Borneo, and in fact one of the best days of the whole trip, was when we went to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. The center covers about 40 sq km of the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, and aims to rescue and rehabilitate orphaned and injured orangutans, before returning them to the forest. As corny as it sounds, it has been a dream of both of ours to see orangutans in the wild, since we were about 10 years old, and this day basically could not have been more perfect! We knew that it wasn’t a guarantee that we would see any of the great apes, so when a mother and her baby appeared on the feeding platform for breakfast, we were absolutely thrilled.
After the morning feed, we went across the road to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, a rehabilition centre for the world’s smallest bears. They were adorable, dotted amongst the trees napping contentedly, and we spent a happy couple of hours snapping away, searching the canopies through the telescopes provided, for little black balls of fur.
When we returned to the orangutan sanctuary we headed to the nursery for feeding time, where we saw another mother and baby, 2 males and a young female! (Although as this was at the nursery it was all through a glass viewing platform, but still amazing). Walking back through the forest afterwards we came across a group of visitors silently watching 3 adult orangutans playing in the trees, swinging on vines (and trying to make each other fall off) about 3 metres away from the walkway. We stayed and watched them play until they had disappeared back into the forest. It was a genuinely breath taking moment, and felt totally surreal. And to top off an already incredible day, we were treated to seeing even more of the apes back at the feeding platform for the last meal of the day, bringing our total sightings up to 13. BEST DAY EVER.
During our time in Sandakan we also went to the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. This was also a really enjoyable day, although the centre does feel a little more zoo-like, as the monkeys are enticed onto the platforms daily. It is also possible to spot these animals in the wild (as we did on our Kinabatangan river cruise), but it was fun to be able to get up close to these weird looking creatures, and also the grumpy looking silver leaf monkeys. Although I’m not sure Amie would agree, as she was almost bowled over by a large male who decided that instead of hanging with the other monkeys, he would much rather sit where the humans were!
For our final two days in Sandakan we signed up for a trip to the Kinabatangan River. We stayed in a lovely lodge a few hours away from harbour side backpackers, where were given a welcome drink (us backpackers ain’t used to this kind of treatment), and shown to our dorms. Soon after we’d checked in we went for our first cruise along the river. In a boat of about 9 people, we kept our eyes peeled for any movement on the riverside. We spotted some proboscis monkeys, silver leaf monkeys, a few interesting birds including a beautiful kingfisher and a few Hornbills, and many macaque monkeys (which we are not the biggest fans of! They are absolutely everywhere in Asia and tend to be a pretty big nuisance as locals will try and make them a tourist attraction. Often it just ends up with the monkeys biting people and/or stealing their possessions or their newly bought biscuits (I’m not bitter). The macaques are the devils of the monkey world. Sorry. Rant over). But on our way back to our accommodation our skipper spotted a crocodile! We hung a safe distance back and watched it swim around the shallows, and even though we thought it was huge, the Australians in our group of course informed us it was actually pretty small. On the last stretch of river before arriving back we saw the most vibrant sunset ever, it was a stunning end to the boat trip.
That evening we went for a night walk through the jungle with a local guide. We had been warned about the possibility of there being spiders and snakes in the trees, and also that there would be a lot of leeches about, and so we decided to take just a few precautions with our clothing….it may have felt like we were melting inside our jackets, but at least there were no spider related incidents!
We were given a pair of wellies to protect us from the leeches and off we went. Our guide was simply incredible at being able to spot the wildlife in the pitch black jungle. He spotted tiny sleeping birds and tree frogs in the trees, small poisonous centipedes, a flying lemur, and even a slow loris! My favourite was the sleeping kingfisher we saw up close, he wasn’t aware of us at all and his colouring was amazing, though sadly it was very hard to get a decent picture. We soon forgot about the threat of spiders, leeches and snakes!
We got back to the lodge and went straight to bed as the next morning we were up for another cruise down the river at 5:45 am. There was mist all along the river banks and through the trees, it was so beautiful. Again we saw a range of monkeys and birds, and our guide also spotted some elephant tracks. We spent some time trying to track them, and even though we didn’t manage to it was still nice to feel that we were near some wild elephants in their natural habitat. Back at our accommodations we were treated to a huuuge buffet breakfast spread (which of course gave us all huge food comas as we can’t hold back when there is a buffet anyway, let alone when travelling). We rounded off our time in Borneo with a final day back in Kota Kinabalu, where we perused the local markets for souvenirs, before heading back to the airport for our flight to Bali.
A & K