Calling all nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, hikers and wildlife seekers to travel & explore Borneo!!!
If you are any of the above exploring Borneo will absolutely fill your sense of adventure and spirit. I’m a big fan of National Parks and Borneo absolutely wins in this category.
“To walk in nature is to witness a thousand miracles.”
National parks are natural attractions. It’s the exact opposite of a cliche tourist trap and that is why I will hands down always gravitate towards them. They capture and motivate me to discover new worlds in caves, water and over various terrains.
Where is Borneo?
Borneo is a naturalists and adventurers destination paradise.
Borneo is divided among Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei in South East Asia. There are many attractions that bring travelers here. Most seek to see & learn about endangered orangutans, explore the dense rain forests, discover caves or swim among its bio diverse waters. Borneo levels up outdoor enthusiasts travel experiences.
When planning our visit to Borneo, we knew exactly what we want to get out of our trip. We were geared up to experience caving, boat rides, exotic wildlife and hiking. We found ourselves pinpointing our focus on Gunung National Park, Bako National Park and Kubah National Park. It was these 3 National Parks where we were going get our adventurous spirit filled.
Gunung Mulu National Park
Deep, deep into the jungle is Gunung Mulu National Park. In 2000 Gunung National Park was added to UNESCO World Heritage sites. Known for its karst features, Gunung Mulu is home to the largest known cave chamber in the world, the Sarawak Chamber.
We came to this particular area of Borneo for caving and to lay witness on one of the most famous bat exoduses that happens every evening.
When arriving on plane and looking down at the small section of land that was the airport landing strip it was evident that we were in da’ jungle, the mighty jungle…. Okay, not in that part of the world jungle, but it was remote.
We certainly got so much more than bats during this journey.
During our trek to the first cave we became distracted with all the insects we passed along the walking path.
Interestingly enough our guide told us not to use the handrail as a lot of insects use it as their pathway. The handrail was definitely an insect highway.
Gunung Mulu National Park has extraordinary caves and we chose to explore Deer, Cave of Winds, Clear Water Cave and Lang Cave. This would fill 2 days of exploring.
Deer Cave – Mulu National Park; Borneo
The entrance of Deer Cave is jaw dropping. I had no idea mouths of caves are this big. The entrance is wide and big enough for a Boeing 747 to enter.
Can you even see the people in the picture above? Look very closely towards the bottom. You can make out people backs. Don’t they look like small like ants?
It is here outside of Deer Cave where you can witness 3 million bats mass exit for their dinner. For about 5 minutes we were paralyzed watching the magnificence of nature at its best.
Lang Cave – Mulu National Park; Borneo
Deer Caves neighbor is Lang Cave. Known for its stalactites and stalagmites formations.
Down here there is a path that helps guide you along the way. At times a flashlight is needed.
On our way back from Lang Cave our guide spotted a viper. Surly, I was super nervous being so close to this venomous snake (it was about 2 feet away from us).
The next day was our longboat excursion and 2 more caves along the Melinau river.
Clearwater Cave – Mulu National Park; Borneo
After 20 minutes we arrived at Clear Water Cave. At the landing dock there’s a staircase that goes straight up to the entrance of the cave. Only 200 steps to the entrance of the cave.
Nothing like a leg workout to start cave exploring. This cave has an underground river that flows through. Walking through this cave was unbelievable.
The chambers go deeper and deeper (say goodbye to sunlight) as flashlights will be your guide.
Wind Cave or Cave of Winds – Mulu National Park; Borneo
Just like Lang and Deer Cave. Clear Water Cave and Wind Cave are neighbors. Thank goodness for the walkway systems that have been built around these caves as it would have been a whole new experience of needing to rock climb.
The winds that flow through these caves shape the stalactites and stalagmites formations into different structures than the ones found with no flowing winds. Making them quite different.
At the end of our cave exploration, our hotel organized our bags to be delivered to the airport for us for our next flight. We literally arrived to the airport by longboat.
Bako National Park, Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
In 1957 Bako National park was marked a protected area. It houses 7 complete eco-systems; mangroves, cliffs, swamp forest, beach, heath forest, grasslands and dipterocarp forest (dominated by the Dipterocarpaceae tree species). In addition, it’s also the oldest national park in Sarawak, Malaysia.
It truly is a nature enthusiast’s paradise. Made up of 16 beautiful trails, one can pick to hike from 30 mins to 8 hrs.
We arrived on a small boat that was a quick 20 minutes boat ride. It is to date, the most colorful & bio diverse parks I’ve yet to encounter.
This national park is home to exotic plants, like the carnivorous pitcher plant.
Although the hero and the star of Bako National Park is the proboscis monkey. Not to be left out, there are silver leaf monkeys and macaques too.
Upon arrival, I was fascinated with the bearded pig.
Watching him dig with his nose like it was a shovel was quite a spectacle. Before coming upon him there were divots along the path. It was evidence the path he took, looking for roots and insects to eat.
Overall, Bako National Parks hiking is fantastic. The terrain changed from colorful roots to small wooden ladders, wooden plank paths, mud (lots of mud) and wooden stairs and sand to traverse over.
This day of adventure was fantastic.
Orang utans, Borneo
I know, orangutans or is it orang utans? Toe-may-tow , Toe-Mah-toe. More on the spelling below.
Our last adventure in Borneo was to see orangutans. Native to Indonesia and Malaysia, the best places to see them in the wild is in Sumatra and Borneo. In the Malay language orangutan means ‘person of the forest’. After hearing a lot of the locals pronounce the word orangutan. It became widely evident I’ve been pronouncing this word incorrectly my whole life (Í’ve been living a lie).
The pronunciation emphasis is Oh-ran GU-tan. Not only was the pronunciation different but the spelling as well. I kept seeing it written as orang utan. Two words not one.
We headed to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre which is part of the Semenggoh Nature Reserve and is the largest rehabilitation centre in Sarawak. The focus of the organization is to locate captured, orphaned and injured orang utans and bring them to the centre. Once an orang utan is healthy and knows how to be an orang utan they are released into the territory of the protected reserve.
Within the reserve territory, the orang utans have formed families and occasionally come to a designated spot in the wildlife centre for food. If the reserve land is plentiful of fruit and berries, the orang utans most likely won’t visit for the free buffet. This is what happened during our visit. Which is a good sign of a healthy forest.
Our tour guide never promised animal sightings (which is completely understandable and acceptable). He did provide amazing service, a wealth of information, pointing out species we would have never of located on our own and a lot of adventure. Not wanting us to go empty handed he took us to Matang Wildlife Centre in Sarawak.
Matang Wildlife Centre in Sarawak
Located in Kubah National Park is Matang Wildlife Centre. Like its’ counterpart Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, the Matang Wildlife Centre focus is on the rehabilitation of orang utans and their release back into the wild.
Besides these incredible mammals the centre also has sun bears, wild cats, crocodiles, deer, civets, porcupines, horn bills and more.
Here is Aman. His story and why he is a phenomenal animal just did it for me. I love his massive cheek pad, long fur, and expressive eyes.
Speaking of his eyes, he is the worlds first orang utan to receive cataract surgery. Not sure if he could see me, but I could gaze upon him forever (call me a stage 5 clinger. I’ll for sure take that title when it comes to Aman!). I’ll have to buy another plane ticket to see him. 🙂
Aman has also survived 2 serious accidents.
He was electrocuted by biting an electric, live cable and unfortunately had to have his tongue removed. He also lost a digit during an ultra male-aggro-throw-dominance-down. Ritchie, Aman’s arch nemesis, went Mike Tyson on him and bit off one of his fingers.
Needless to say, Ritchie is super alpha (-ridiculous). He took down a door at a rehabilitation centre when he saw his OWN reflection on it (decaf Ritchie. Decaf!!).
After learning more about orang utans and how deforestation is contributing to their decline in numbers. I suddenly became acutely aware of my personal consumption.
It was hard not to become very apparent how I inadvertently was affecting their livelihood. Mass consumption & demand of palm oil is the reason why orang utans and other wildlife’s forests are being cut down.
I took a survey of my consumption of palm oil (just take a look at your bathroom products) and it’s hard to ignore it’s in a lot of my toiletries and food consumption.
Not only that, but I started to see a stupid amount plastic used in my daily life. I used to reassure myself that recycling will take care of most of it, but the reality is, most plastics are not recyclable.
Since then, I’ve taken measurements to eliminate plastic.
Big companies like Unilever, Pepsico and General Mills are making strides to change their supply chain to be more transparent and partnering with sustainable palm oil suppliers. Which are huge movements to decrease the destruction of Aman’s home, affects on climate change and additional economic impacts.
It may sound like a lot of marketing propaganda, but you can learn more about the palm oil industries and what Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil Organization are doing for transparency, sustainability, trade and trace ability.
If you would like to know more about Aman and volunteering at the Matang Wildlife Centre click here. I highly recommend a visit or donate to their cause. As that’s what they really need.
Tips and Tricks. What to know before you go to Borneo.
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1) Hire a guide. Sure, you can go on trails yourself, but guides are experts in a few areas:
- Pointing out wildlife that are so well camouflaged Without guides we would have easily missed a lot. Also there were a lot of species that I’ve never seen before and our guides were so knowledgeable to tell us about the wildlife.
- We picked private tours because we didn’t want the chance to be in a group with those that didn’t have the same fitness level during trekking.
- They know where the locals eat. And we wanted local food. We were provided the inside scoop of eating areas – which is a great addition to experiencing the area.
- We were in good hands when it came to payment park fees, boat fees, etc. It was all prepaid for and we know we weren’t being scammed.
- Lastly, it employs locals who care, love and know so much about the National Parks. I couldn’t recommend Sarawak tourism enough.
2) Repellent bug spray or wipes. I know I know, deet is not healthy, but neither is west nile, malaria, dengue, zika. I do not muck about when it comes to keeping disease away from me. I’m a big fan of Ben’s 30% deet wipes. The bottle is travel friendly and they pack a punch on keeping those mozzies away.
3) Obviously proper hiking shoes, apparel is necessary. But you will need to wash them. If you don’t have time for your items to be laundered. Bring The Laundress Bar Soap to hand washing clothing. Because you WILL NEED for stains, cleaning perspiration out of clothes and smells. This laundry Soap Bar is great for travel.
4) Laundry bags for shoes. Not just for clothes but for your shoes. By the end of our trip, I ended up throwing out a pair (they were on their way out) but if I had brought them back, they would have definitely need their own bag.
5) Women for feminine products. Bring your own. You may find yourself in an area that doesn’t sell what you need.
6) Prior to landing in Borneo get cash. I can’t stress this enough. Especially when traveling to remote areas. Many vendors, tour companies (if not pre-booked), accommodations, car rides, etc take CASH and CASH only. ATM’s are available but depending where you are they are not in abundance and easily accessible.
7) There are leaches. Nothing to be very alarmed about. Be vigilant when checking not just yourself (and others) but your clothes too.
There you have it. Another area of the world that is far more intriguing, adventuresome and beautiful than a zoo.
If you’re interesting in another area that’s just as amazing, check out my adventures in Komodo National Park.
To wild adventures and beyond!