I was recently lucky enough to be selected for an Educational trip to Borneo and Kuala Lumpar. This was a fantastic opportunity to experience a destination which had always appealed to me, but apart from the obvious Orang Utan attraction I wasn’t sure what else it had to offer.
My trip began with a 12 hour flight on a Malaysian Airlines A380 flight to KL followed by a 2 hour flight to Kota Kinabalu, (or KK as it’s affectionately known to the locals). Upon arrival we had a short 10 minute transfer to the gorgeous Shangri- LaTanjung Aru Resort and Spa. This resort is set on the South China Sea and is the perfect spot to enjoy a cocktail as you watch the sunset. The resort is bursting with activites for all ages and the Marine Centre offers diving trips, snorkelling and trips to neighbouring Islands .
The following day we had an early start as we were off on the highlight of our trip, to visit the Orang Utans! We had to return to KK airport for a one hour flight to Sepilok, (this journey can be done by road but it takes 6-7 hours, so I would only recommend this with an overnight stop). Before being allowed in to the Sepilok Rehabilitation Sanctuary we were advised that it wasn’t a zoo and Orang Utan sighting isn’t guaranteed.
We had to leave all belongings in our coach as the Orang Utans have a habit of stealing things and heading off into the rainforest. As you can imagine, sun creams and cosmetics can be extremely harmful to them. Phones and cameras are allowed as long as you are aware of the risks! The thought of an Orang Utan getting hold of my IPhone and taking a few “selfies” was intriguing.
We visited at feeding time and we were lucky enough so see several Orang Utans; one was even curious enough to walk amongst us and ignore the ranger when he tried to ‘shoo’ him away. I expect he had worked out the “phones and camera” rule and was on the outlook for an upgrade! Although the public viewing platform is within the ape’s free roaming area, human interaction is discouraged as the ultimate aim is to rehabilitate them sufficiently to be released back into the wild.
Next we visited the nursery, where we could view the baby Orang Utans interacting with each other through a one way glass. This reminded me of watching naughty children at play as they stole bananas and chased each other around. It is strange how warm you feel towards these distant cousins with their human-like characteristics and strong family bonds. It was a truly moving experience.
The “close to nature” theme continued when we spent a couple of hours at the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre, a rescue and rehabilitation facility dedicated to the world’s smallest bears.
Malayan sun bears are only found in Southeast Asia and get their name from the golden fur around their neck. This pintsize creature is under threat due to forest degradation and illegal poaching of cubs to serve the pet trade. Tragically adults are hunted for consumption, medicine and decorative purposes making the whole species vulnerable in the wild. Resembling Paddington Bear without his duffle coat and hat it was impossible not to feel emotional about their potential extinction.
We rounded off our visit to Sepilok with a short drive to the Rainforest Discovery Centre. Although the main purpose of the RDC remains as an environmental education centre for students and teachers, it has opened its doors to the public since August 2007. This attraction has become extremely popular with bird-watchers and also features a huge selection of flowering plants and trees. All of this is viewed from tree-top canopy walkways, just beware of the monkeys!
Although the day in Sepilok was long and busy, it was definitely worth the time and effort. So it was exhausted, but full of reflection, we set off for a couple of days of rest and relaxation on the beautiful Gaya Island.
Gaya Island or Pulau Gaya as it’s also known is the largest island in the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. It is covered with dense virgin, tropical forest and boasts two five-star beach resorts.
The Island is reached by a 10 minute speedboat ride from downtown KK. As you approach the Island you really feel like you’ve arrived in paradise. This is definitely the place to switch off and unwind…. Yoga, spa treatments and enjoying the marine life are the order of the day. It’s not unusual to spot a wild boar walking along the beach or for a monkey to join you for lunch. Luckily the monkeys are quite used to hotel guests and generally keep themselves to themselves.
With our batteries fully charged it was time to trek the majestic 4095m tall Mount Kinabulu, known as Borneo’s backbone. The mountain and its surroundings are among the most important biological sites in the world, with between 5,000 and 6,000 species of plants, 326 species of birds, and more than 100 mammalian species identified. As a result Mount Kinabalu has been accorded UNESCO World Heritage status.
Usually people will take 2 days to complete these treks, camping overnight half way up. Due to time restrictions we were only able to do a half day trek but it still gave the opportunity to sample this beautiful area and its fantastic views.
I am often asked the best time of year to visit Borneo. I think the term “rainforest” can make visitors wary of the weather they may encounter. Borneo has a tropical climate and enjoys hot, sunny days year round, however, as you would expect, it also experiences heavy rainfall. April signals the beginning of the dry season, which continues through until October. I travelled in June and the weather was mostly good, although we did have occasional, heavy downpours.
In summing-up I feel Borneo is a destination that will appeal to people who enjoy an adventurous type of holiday with the bonus of fantastic beaches. I think to travel all that way just to sit on the sand would be to miss the point; it’s too good to be just a beach destination, go and explore. You won’t regret it!
Errors and omissions excepted.
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