Borneo is beautiful in a special way but much more expensive than I expected. When I touched down in the capital of Sabah; Kota Kinabalu I was shocked at the prices of tours and spent an entire week trying to figure out how to do Borneo on the cheap. I emailed people who’d been there and met up with tour guides and managed to put together a rough idea of what to do that was within my budget. I also wanted to volunteer with orangutans, one of the most expensive things you can try and do. I never did get to do the orangutan volunteering but I did get to do something equally as rewarding. Borneo is not for the faint hearted, there’s bugs, dangerous animals, nature and sadly, deforestation everywhere! But if you’re an adventurous person then Borneo will take a special place in you’re heart. Here are the highlights from my month in Borneo:
1. Meeting the tour guide who took Princess Mary and the Prince of Denmark around Borneo; Lilian Agama. Lilian was one of the most respected tour guides in Borneo. I had a beer with her and she was blunt and open but told me loads of cool secrets about Borneo and things to do here when on a budget. I can’t thank her enough for all her help.
2. Catching boats to pristine, almost untouched islands near Kota Kinabalu. The 3 islands named Gaya, Mamutik and Manukan are a peaceful getaway from the grimy city and a good place to escape the heat. Though all the other travellers seem to have the same idea too. If you try to walk around the sides of the island, though, you can usually find a semi-secluded beach away from the crowds.
3. Catching crazy local buses around Kota Kinabalu just like the locals. This is a great fun and cheap way to see the city and so easy since there’s only one bus stand that goes to the rest of the city and people will point you in the right direction.
4. Meeting the founder of the Sun Bear Sanctuary: Siew Te Wong. I wanted to spend time volunteering at an orangutan sanctuary making a documentary but they didn’t need one. After meeting with a guide, she suggested I contact the Sun Bear Sanctuary as they were in the same vicinity as the orangutans. Wong was excited to meet with me and discuss the project and happily agreed to help me make a video. The Documentary is currently being edited and should be released soon.
5. Filming a documentary in Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary with sun bears. Sun bears are the smallest and most vulnerable of all the bears in the world. They are super cute, the size of a dog, bark like one and love honey! I was so excited to be able to film there and get up close and personal with the bears. The general public can also see the bears at the Sepilock Orangutan Sanctuary.
6. Having two orangutans steal my sunscreen. While on my first day filming I had two sneaky orangutans go through my bag and steal my sunscreen. They did eventually give it back after they’d played with it for a while.
7. Getting pissed on by an orangutan at the Sepilock Sanctuary. There I was just minding my own business watching a teenage orangutan play about in the ropes above us when BAM! Pissed on! I was recording at the time so you can see the video here!
8. Going to a Malaysian farewell party with the Sepilock Centre staff and ending up in a karaoke bar until 3 in the morning. It’s no secret that Malaysians love their karaoke. But I didn’t realise they were all so good at it! That put me to shame.
9. Catching a small 30 seater passenger plane through a storm to Mulu National Park. The park is only accessible by plane or a 2 day boat. It’s also one of the only UNESCO world heritage sites that tick off every requirement for world heritage, so I was desperate to go there. The plane was so not built for the type of storm we flew through, though. In case you are wondering, the tiny planes can also be used to fly from Miri to Barrio.
10. Seeing snakes, centipedes, scorpions and glowing mushrooms on the night walk in Mulu National Park. The park organises night walks every night and if you’re lucky you’ll get to see a tarsier!
11. Watching 3 million bats leave the second largest cave opening in the world at sunset. The deer cave in Mulu National Park was the largest cave opening until about 5 years ago when a bigger one, Son Doong, was discovered in Vietnam. Every day 3 million bats leave the cave entrance in a continuous stream that lasts for a couple of hours.
12. A full day of adventure caving through Clearwater Cave. I squeezed through tiny passages, balanced along the edge of 500meter drops and floated 2km down the clear waters of the crystal-clear cave river. This day was hands down the best caving I’ve ever done!
13.Trekking for an entire day through caves and jungle to reach the Garden of Eden waterfall. The Garden of Eden is an area grown out of the collapsed roof of the Deer Cave (which would have still been the largest cave system in the world had this collapse not have happened) and can only be reached by penetrating through the cave system. The trek took up an entire day of crawling through small spaces, tramping over bat shit, wading up a stream, dodging leeches and finally swimming in and jumping off from a gorgeous waterfall.
14. Zooming up and down the river on long boats seeing local villages and the incredible jungle of Mulu. Mulu National park is simply breathtaking and most of the areas are only accessible by boat. Which made day trips all the more fun!
15. Seeing Gibbons, herons, kingfishers, crocodiles, monkeys and PIGMY ELEPHANTS on the Kinabatangan 2-day boat cruise. Yep that’s right. I got to see a herd of rare pigmy elephants… Twice! The Kinabatangan river has the highest concentrate of wildlife in Borneo due to the surrounding deforestation. That means that cruising the river you have a very high chance of seeing the wild life in their natural habitat.
16. Boating up the Kinabatangan at night seeing owls, crocodiles, snakes and frogs. Our tour included a night cruise which meant we got to see a bunch of animals that weren’t visible during the day.
Country: Borneo, Malaysia
Currency: Malaysian Ringgit
$1 USD = 3.27RM
I was there: August 2013