Malaysian Borneo: Hidden From View

We’d made the decision to explore only the East of Borneo after leaving Brunei. This is mainly because we had the goal of climbing Mt Kinabalu, the highest peak in South East Asia. Also the cheapest flight out of Borneo was from Kota Kinabalu airport! Little did we know that nobody is allowed to climb Mt Kinabalu for up to three months following the recent earthquake which resulted in a lot of damage, meaning the trail has to undergo repair works. Had we known this we may have decided to explore the West of the island too.

A big city greeted us as we left the bus in Kota Kinabalu, something I was glad about after coming from Brunei where it was hard work finding something to do in their tiny towns. After finding ourselves a nice hostel for a few nights we set out in search of food and came across a tasty and very cheap Indian street restaurant where we dined almost every night during our time in Kota Kinabalu for just a pound between us each time. On returning to the hostel that night and for most of the following morning we researched about Mt Kinabalu planning our climb, it was only once we talked to locals that we found out we were unable to go. Once we’d admitted defeat we felt a little lost at what to do, it’s so disappointing to not be able to climb the mountain but I suppose if it’s not safe for us to do then it’s for the best. To cheer ourselves up we booked on a tour to see wild proboscis monkeys and fireflies. It’s worth noting at this point that in order to go anywhere or see anything in Borneo it is required that you book onto a tour. Something we both hate to do, as we’d rather have the freedom to explore something by ourselves than get dragged around by somebody in the company of a load of package tourists. We did look into seeing the proboscis monkeys without a tour but after extensive research found it wasn’t possible. The monkeys live around rivers so the best way to see them is on a boat, we could have hired a motorbike and driven to the boat station but all the boats run as part of the tours and wouldn’t have taken us alone. So the only way for us to get on one was to book a tour. Reluctantly. Nonetheless we were excited about seeing the monkeys, which are found only on Borneo and are possibly the most unusual looking monkeys, and it would take our mind off being unable to do the Kinabalu trek.

Our driver came to pick us up and we drove for about an hour to the river where we were greeted by about fifty other people, mainly Chinese package tourists. We were offered unusual green snacks that resembled Yorkshire puddings and then guided onto the boat. It wasn’t long before we saw the monkeys sat in the trees at a distance, they were far away but it was clear to see that they had huge noses and tummies, their lighter shade of fur and their large body size. They must have got scared off by the sound of the boat and the screaming people (who’d blame them) and they soon scarpered down the trees hidden from view. The boat journey continued and we also saw kingfishers, herons and the familiar macaque monkeys. Back on land we ate our provided tea before getting hurried back on the minivan and taken to a very long and quiet beach. Not the most picturesque place but once we escaped the hoards of people taking photos of their friends star jumping in the air we saw horses come out from the trees and graze on the grass by the beach then trot down to the sea. It was a nice moment until wild dogs spotted us. Luckily our recently discovered tactics of not looking at the dogs and walking slowly away side on worked a treat and they soon left us alone. Back on the minivan again and we got taken to yet another boat which took us out as dark set in, we saw fireflies lighting up the trees that lined the river like a Christmas tree. It was very pretty and magical looking, ruined only by the amount of mosquitos.

With a little extra time than planned in the city of Kota Kinabalu we ended up spending the next day in a shopping mall playing a real life escape game. Basically we got locked in a room, I was wearing a straight jacket… And we had to solve different problems in order to escape. It’s safe to say we were completely useless at this game and didn’t make it past the first part without help from the staff. On leaving we had to get our photo taken with a “we did not survive” sign and then left feeling rather useless.

In the hope of seeing more wildlife we got aboard a bus to an Eastern town called Sepilok, in the town is an Orang-utan and Proboscis Monkey Rehabilitation Centre. Due to the hefty entrance fees and reading bad reviews we opted to just visit the Orang-utan centre as we had seen the proboscis monkeys in the wild just a few days ago. The town of Sepilok doesn’t have much to report, the guesthouse we opted for felt like Camp America and was abundant in mosquitoes. First thing we headed to the Orang-Utan centre and got a brief talk about what they aim to achieve, finding out reasons why the apes are in rehabilitation in the first place and what their future holds. After a certain amount of rehab and getting weened off human dependency the Orang-utans are moved to a part of the centre that is open to the rainforest meaning that they are free to leave if they wish. Some choose to and will never return whilst others may partially leave and return only for food. After the talk was the opportunity to watch feeding time, in which we saw lots of the furry orange creatures and also some macaques keen to get some free food. They’re as cute and fascinating in real life as they appear on the TV, it was so amusing to watch them swing around the trees and rolly-polly around the grass. Unfortunately we had an afternoon bus to catch else we’d have visited at afternoon feeding time as well to get another glimpse.

On our return to Kota Kinabalu we were a little lost at what to do for two days to occupy ourselves before our flight to Indonesia. We returned to the mall, this time to watch a Jurassic Park although we were tempted to return to the escape game to redeem ourselves. Another highlight was the delicious fish BBQ we ate by the waterfront on our last night. All in all we found Borneo to be hard work, the freedom to roam and investigate alone has been taken away and everything is driven by tour groups. It’s difficult to find out any information as tour operators are reluctant to give away information unless you are booking onto a tour. It also takes a long time to travel between places and accommodation options are considerably pricier than the rest of South East Asia. If we were to go back we would attempt to do things differently but I’m unsure how easy that would be. On the plus side this has made us even more eager to get to Indonesia and explore our own way there!

Next stop Bali. Until then.

Flickr still not working.

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