Malaysian Borneo is the world’s third biggest island and has much to offer the adventure seeking traveller. Unique wildlife, impenetrable forests and unspoilt islands make this a destination begging to be discovered.
Sarawak, the ‘land of the hornbill’, is the largest state in Malaysia, covering an area of nearly 125,000 sq km in northwest Borneo with a population of just over two million. It is dominated by the snaking crocodile-infested Rejand river is renowned for its headhunters’ trail and Iban, Melanu and Kenyah longhouses. In the mid-19th century, Charles Darwin described Sarawak as “one great wild, untidy, luxuriant hothouse, made by nature for herself”.
Sarawak is Malaysia’s great natural storehouse, where little more than half a century ago great swathes of forest were largely unexplored and where tribal groups, collectively known as the Dayaks, would venture downriver from the heartlands of the state to exchange forest products of hornbill ivory and precious woods. Today the Dayaks have been gradually incorporated into the mainstream and the market economy has infiltrated the lives of the great majority of the population. But much remains unchanged.
Neighbouring Brunei glimmers with golden-roofed mosques whose calls to prayer ring out over the country’s dense and pristine rainforest, filled with proboscis monkeys and lazy pythons, while offshore, flares from oil rigs light up to clouds in the tropical night.
The moody peak of Gunung Kinabalu, Borneo’s highest mountain, offers views down through the swirling clouds to Sabah’s islands including Palau Gaya, Layang Layang and Spiadan, which offer unparalleled underwater adventures. Sabah’s jungle, though fast making way for endless plantations, still provides stunning jaunts for the hardy in the Maliau Basin, home to elephants, orang-utan and the shy Sumatran rhino.
Few travellers cross into Borneo’s greater portion, Indonesian Kalimantan. The coastal cities are seething with energy, chocked with traffic beyond which the jungle is rapidly becoming consumed by logging concessions. Boat travel is the most rewarding experience here, chugging up the Mahakam on the way to visit Dayak long-houses, or around the vast Tanjung Puting National Park, whose empty riverways still echo with the call of Borneo’s untamed beasts.
Engage with the Iban people staying in a traditional longhouse, and head into the jungle wilderness of Mulu National Park on a longtail boat to explore the cave systems. Visit the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok, cruise on the many ox-bow lakes ideal for wildlife viewing and take a jungle walk to search for Proboscis monkeys. Bathe in the naturally heated waters at Poring Hot Springs and take a canopy walk through the heights of the rainforest, or climb South East Asia’s highest mountain, Mount Kinabalu.
When all is said and done, relax on the pristine beaches of Beringgis, or swim and snorkel in the clear waters of the South China Sea - but if you’re still looking for adventure, opt for one of the nature trails, tribal village encounters or boat excursions to nearby islands.
Explore Sabah on its own, or combine with Sarawak and embark on our “All Borneo Discovery”. We also offer specific teen departures of our family itinerary which has the Kinabalu Trek included.