Borneo, the land of orangutans and the most amazing sky

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April 13th 2013
Published: April 29th 2013
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For us, uninformed and unprepaired, Borneo was one big surprise. The first thing you notice about Borneo is the most amazing sky you have ever seen. It is the most beautiful mixture of all shades of blue with different types of clouds in different layers and everytime you look up you think wow this is really something special. The second thing we realized pretty quickly was that Borneo is much more developed that we would expect and very modern and very very expensive (although the public transport between cities and touristic places is an absolute disaster that would deserve some improvement). The only two things we have planned for Borneo was to climb the famous Mount Kinabalu in the northern Sabah and to visit the Bako national park in the sourthern Sarawak state of Malaysian Borneo. We didn't do either of that. And honestly the price of the Mount Kinabalu climb was pretty much the only reason to change our minds about the climb. And we actually skipped the Bako park for financial reasons as well but would have probably done that if we haven't seen it all already in the most amazing Kinabatangan jungle. And finally, we had some vague ideas about Borneo having some cool jungles but in reality, the landscape and the wildlife is much more beautiful and more much exciting than we would have ever imagined on one hand and much more alarming and sad on the other.

We arrived to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the Sabah state and experienced the hottest and the most humid weather of our travels. Surprisingly only an hour drive from Kota Kinabalu in the Kinabalu national park we got to be really cold for the first time since we started travelling as we were caught in a heavy tropical rain in the middle of a national park and there was just no escape to that (and to the blood sucking leeches either). Now, being in Kuching in the Sarawak state, we got a room with an air-con for the first time and 25 degrees inside temperature feels like it's absolutely freezing in comparison to the crazy hot weather outside (oh yeah dreading to come home to the 25 degree summer 😊.

I probably wouldn't be the biggest fan of Kota Kinabalu town itself, it felt like a small version of Kuala Lumpur, chinese and touristy and noisy and hot but I think Davy loved it with its cheap t-shirts and sport bars with live football matches. But it has its own charm (mainly in comparison to Kuching which is quite boooring I have to say) and its Sunday market was a great adventure. Staying up late and getting up early and actually living on the main Gaya street, we saw the market being set up as early as at half 2 in the morning and it is a perfect mixture of stalls with anything thinkable to be sold from fresh fruit to gardening tools, fish, the cuttest puppies being locked in tiny cages in the crazy heat to the usual touristy t-shirts and souvenirs.

Being on Borneo, we decided to invest into a proper jungle adventure and considering what everything was included in our 3 days/2nights package it was actually quite cheap and definitely worth of spending money (free pick-up, accommodation in a lovely ensuite jungle hut, 3 meals per day, 4 river cruises, 2 night and 1 day jungle treks all with an experienced local guide for 450 ringgits each which is around 110 euro). The jungle we went to see and where we got to spend the two nights was along the Kinabatangan river and as another surprise apparently next to the Lahad Datu region where a civil war is happening! Other tourists in our group contacted their embassies before coming to Borneo and were told it is not safe to come here to Borneo at all but by talking to local people and checking the news here, it seems that there is no real danger unless being in the Lahad Datu itself and being very unlucky at the same time! Again, before coming to the Kinabatangan jungle, we didn't really have a clue what animals to expect to see and that's why the reality really surprised us. We got to see an amazing array of monkeys, including long-tailed macaques, pig-tailed macaques, a wild orangutan in his tree nest and two monkey species living only on Borneo, the cute nocturnal slow Loris and the funny looking Proboscis monkeys with their huge noses and huge pot bellies. Then we got to see crocodiles which were just massive and you loose your desire to jump into the river for a small dip quite quickly. And lots of different birds like kingfishers and hornbills and other bird and bugs and geckos and a small snake and stuff.

After the real jungle, we moved to Sepilok to see some semi-wild orangutans in the Sepilok rehabilitation centre which takes care of orangutan orphans and tries to return them back to the real jungle life. We met a couple who went there a few days before us and they told us they got to hold a hand with an orangutan while they took a walk around corner from the feeding platform where you can see the orangutans twice day coming to get their fruit. We, or definitely me, got really excited that it might maybe happen to us as well but the risk with the Sepilok sanctuary is, that the orangutans are semi-wild and sometimes you don't get to see them at all when they just hang out in the jungle and feed themselves which is obviously a good sign of their successful rehabilitation. Sepilok itself is not even a village, it's more of a few resorts for tourists and nothing else as people really come here just for an hour or so to see the scheduled feeding. We stayed overnight to have the luxury of a full day in the sanctuary and what happened to us absolutely blew our minds away. We got to the sanctuary well before the morning feeding was about to start and bought a few bananas as Davy thought it'd be good idea to have some bananas for the monkeys and even before we bought our tickets, we saw an orangutan freely walking outside the sanctuary. Davy went closer and gave him a banana. Exciting! Then a second orangutan appeared and walked straight towards Davy and without any warning he just put his hand inside his pocket and got his own banana. Davy had to fight a little to keep the last banana he had as he didn't want to give away all bananas to the one guy. So that was a wee adventure for the start and we felt so lucky to really see the amazing creatures so close that we thought maybe there is no point of paying the entry fee and going inside the sanctuary after that. But of course we did and following recommendation of the couple we met, we got to the feeding platform and sneaked out around the corner hoping to see an orangutan there. And there he was! Swinging on a tree and you have to see the following video so you would believe how amazing moment it was. He climbed straight to us and got to hold our hands and wanted to be swang from us and it was just the best best moment of the whole Borneo trip and definitely one of the very best highlights of the last few months. It is incredible how lucky we were getting so close to one of the most amazing animals on the world. So there is one link here
and another one here

Sadly this is the moment when I'm gonna have another comment of how we people are terrible, merciless and selfish and stupid. So you drive across the lovely island and at first you just enjoy the amazing green and dense jungle full of wildlife and then you notice that the jungle is gone and all you can see for hours and hours are palm oil plantations. Obviously I'm not expert of any kind in this field but it can't be right when the precious rainforest is replaced by endless palm oil plantations and when all the wonderful animals are being killed in
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the name of human profit. There is simply no reasoning for burning orangutans alive just to get more land to make more money and you just wonder if we are gonna stop being so greedy and stupid and blind about the future before we destroy all the nature that is there left.

So after realizing all of that and having the most amazing experience of the Borneo's wild life, I stopped being sorry we couldn't do the climb as the mountain will be here in 50 years but the animals and jungle might be gone a few years from now...

On the way back to KK (no not to Kilkenny, just to Kota Kinabalu), we stopped in the Kinabalu national park and did some basic trail walks but it couldn't compare to the Kinabatangan jungle and went for a day trip to Poring and did this crazy canopy walk when you actually walk on a wobbly rope bridge 40 metres high in the tree crowns which was really cool and where we were caught in the rain so we missed all the other attractions like butterfly farm and ended up just hiding in a hot spring bath with
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all the other tourists. Then we missed our buses back to Kota Kinabalu and got stuck in the most unfriendly guesthouse and it was still great experience, being wet and cold and in the middle of nowhere unable to get back to civilization.

So that is pretty much it, we are spending our last few Borneo days in Kuching and as we are low with money and this place is not that exciting anyway we got to be a little more lazy and instead of exploring a new place as we were doing for the last 3 months we got the luxury of doing ordinary things and we went for a swim to a local swimming pool, to a cinema to see a movie and to play bowling. And we found a few geocaches around. As much as I love geocaching back home, it is not my favorite here. It still possess the advantages of bringing you to cool places which you probably wouldn't bother to go or wouldn't find but it is kind of a torture to be wandering around in the excruciating heat and what I refused to do so Davy has to do, to be trying
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to find the caches in all the holes and under trees where you can imagine all the tropical animals and snakes and bugs could be hiding. Oh yeah and there is one more thing about Kuching. I simply have to say that if you ever come here, you just have to stay at Beds guesthouse as it is the best place we have stayed so far, so amazingly guest-friendly that coming to Kuching is worth just for staying here.

Sending lots of love from Borneo from the two of us and we are just getting ready to leave for our next stop in Lombok and Gili islands.

Photos to follow!

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