Home to some of the world’s most diverse rainforests, Borneo has long been on the radar for nature lovers. Yet the island is not all swinging orangutans and steamy jungles, it is also home to beautiful beaches and fascinating cities. Asia expert, Maddie, tells why, whether you’re in search of waves or wildlife, Borneo is the destination for you.
Borneo is known locally as the ‘Land Below the Wind’ and it certainly lives up to that magical name. From cloudy rainforests to sparkling blue seas, this wonderful island offers some of the most spectacular and untouched landscapes in Southeast Asia.
Largely protected from the typhoons and storms that whip across the South China Sea, Borneo is an excellent destination year-round, particularly for those looking to travel during the school holidays. Although the accommodation options are, at present, still rather limited, meaning you need to book far in advance to secure your spot, Borneo is fast catching up with the rest of Asia as it embraces increasing levels of tourism from the West. This is having a very positive knock on effect, not only on employment, education and healthcare, but also on wildlife, as the government strives to conserve the diverse fauna of the island and significantly reduce poaching.
Malaysia offers a little something for everyone. For those wanting a big city scene, or excellent shopping, you can head to Kuala Lumpur, or otherwise every large town is home to a huge shopping mall offering a range of known brands. For sun worshippers, you can head to the dreamy and relatively undiscovered island of Langkawi, or to one of the beach resorts that dot the shores of Sabah, Borneo’s northern state. And nature lovers will be entranced by all aspects of Borneo, from the national parks near Kuching, to the spectacular caves of Mulu, home to Deer Cave, the largest cave passage in the world which is estimated to be three times the size of Wembley Stadium and contains a population of over one million bats.
Of course, most people heading to Borneo do so in order to meet its most iconic inhabitant, the Bornean orangutan. You are most likely to catch a glimpse of these charming yet elusive creatures in Sabah, but the apes are slowly being successfully reintroduced to parks and reserves in Sarawak too. At the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, just a short drive from Kuching, guests are invited to visit twice a day for a sighting of one of the rehabilitated orangutans at feeding time. Sightings here are not guaranteed though as the orangutans range freely across the protected area, but the best time to spot them is in April and May, when the trees are not in fruit and the forest’s inhabitants are eager for some additional food.
For a guaranteed sighting, travellers can head to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre where injured or orphaned baby orangutans are kept in a secure nursery within a protected area. A small population of adult orangutans live freely alongside babies, and capable infants are encouraged to join the adults as they outgrow the confines of the nursery. But of course, the biggest thrill comes from seeing an orangutan in the wild as you explore the ancient jungles of Borneo, by boat along the Kinabatangan River, in a 4×4 across a palm plantation or on foot as you traverse the mountains and gullies of the magnificent Danum Valley Conservation Area.
Borneo (and Peninsular Malaysia) offer a spectacular range of activities and locations to suit all ages and budgets and is well suited to those wishing to escape to the beach, or for families looking to inject a little more excitement into their summer holiday plans. For adventurous souls with a passion for travel, Borneo is a challenging and exciting choice with some thrilling activities. Whoever you are and whatever you’re looking for, guaranteed a trip to Borneo will leave you wanting more.