So you fancy a trip to South East Asia but enjoy a more ‘off the beaten track’ experience. Why not consider the jungles of Borneo? I visited this summer and trust me this trip takes you out of your comfort zone and drops you right in the thick of the jungle, bugs and all. Borneo has so much to offer and I am aware I only saw one tiny corner but when you are on a whirlwind tour of South East Asia in an attempt to see places you feel your peers already saw in their twenties, you squeeze as much as you can in! Check out my posts on where to see sunbears and about the great work being done to rehabilitate orphaned or injured orangutan as well as this detailed trip to the jungle.
- Borneo is the third largest island in the world and falls under the governance of three different countries Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
- It is also home to some of the oldest rainforest in the world (estimated to be about 130 million years old)
- Borneo is home to the largest flower in the world, corpse flower, because it apparently smells like rotting corpses. Grim. I did not see this.
I spent three days in Borneo and included an overnight jungle experience on my itinerary. Fly into Sandakan from Kuala Lumpur with Air Asia for as little as €35 one way.
From what I saw Borneo is still as yet developing. Yes, there are more options for accommodation and activities for tourists but the 5 star luxury, available in other areas in South East Asia, is as yet not widely available. Ecotourism is still on the rise there.I have read that the devastating effects of tourism and commerce have already been hailed as responsible for the predicted deforestation of an estimated 75% of the island’s rainforest by 2020 (ref). Tourists require hotels and hotels need land. Land is being cultivated and trees cut down, all to benefit the tourists who are there to see the very forests being destroyed. Bit of an Alanis Morisette ‘Ironic’ moment here.
I stayed in the Sabah Hotel in Sandakan, about 20 minute drive from the airport. Buy a taxi ticket inside the terminal building and then queue up for the drivers outside. The ride cost about 30 Malaysian Ringgit which is about €4-5. Uber and Grab (taxi apps) are also cheaper alternatives to taxis if you have access to wifi.
My visit to Borneo was dominated by my hope to see orangutan and proboscis monkeys in the wild. So I opted to go with Uncle Tan’s Jungle Experience for a ‘roughing it/ wilderness adventure’.
We chosse the 2 day 1 night experience but were repeatedly reminded that a 3 day 2 night trek would give you more opportunities to see more wildlife and immerse yourself fully. Since I am not a huge camping fan, two days seemed enough for me but in hindsight, once you are there and soaked to the skin you may as well see as much as you can. Right?!
Lunch is provided before departure at the Uncle Tan Jungle Experience Base Camp before you are driven to the jetty on the Kinabatangan river. Baggage and all are loaded into speedboats and you are ferried along the river for about an hour towards camp. The guides point out wildlife they spot with their incredible eagle eyes en route. This is the start of your jungle nature spotting experience.
Into the Jungle
We arrived at camp and are reminded that this is not a five star experience. But who comes on a jungle trek expecting anything of the sort?!
After a quick explanatory briefing, get your bed sheets and make your way to your wooden hut on stilts to unpack and let it sink in that you are infact in the jungle, surrounded by bugs and frogs and lizards and squirrels and monkeys and who knows what else!
The sleeping huts are reached via purpose built wooden walkways over the swamp. Each hut sleeps 6-8 people.
Your mattress on the floor has a mosquito net around it and each hut is furnished with a plastic, sealable bin, so the night time visitors can’t get at your stuff! Toiletries and medicines go in here. Apparently jungle critters like pills! Don’t be foolish enough to bring food into the huts. It made me think of those bear proof bins in national parks in the US.
Once we had settled in our guides brought us on a night safari, to spot more wildlife. We were unfortunate as a thunderstorm had started about 20mins before we were due to go out and unsurprisingly the animals like to take shelter.
We saw tree frogs, kingfishers, spiders, macaques and rumors of a crocodile!
Our next morning outing provided drier and more favorable conditions and we saw proboscis monkeys and a baby croc but there are no guarantees of spying any wildlife in particular so no pygmy elephants or orangutans for us! The 3 day visitors go on a jungle walk and this takes you away from the river deeper into the jungle. This 2D/1N visit was €74 and included all meals and transfer to and from the Base Camp in Sepilok. Drinks are extra but very reasonable. Beer is available but they do not recommend you bring liqor because no one wants to deal with ‘that guy/girl’ when you are already deep in mosquito soup.
What to bring:
- Mosquito repellent
- Long sleeved (light material) top and trousers
- Underwear and socks
- Walking shoes (however, you can buy rubber boots before hand and rent them at the camp)
- Change of clothing (just in case)
- Sweater (in case it is cold)
- Essential toiletries and medications
- Baby wipes (cos let’s face it no one wants to shower in the jungle)
- Camera and power pack
Since orangutans were on my list and I didn’t get to see them on the overnight experience a visit to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok (close to the Uncle Tan base camp!) allows you to see close up orangutans who come to the centre at feeding time. These primates were rescued and taught skills needed to help them to survive in the wild. There is also an orphanage where the babies are cared for by volunteers. Where can I sign up!? Check out my post on the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre here.