Header image courtesy of Scott Dunn
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. Here are some of the best things about this rugged island in the Malay Archipelago.
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 typhoons and storms that whip across the South China Sea, Borneo is an excellent destination year-round, particularly for those in Asia looking to travel during shorter holiday periods. Accommodation options are at present still rather limited, meaning you need to book far in advance to secure your spot, especially as Borneo is quickly catching up with the rest of Asia in embracing 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 governments (Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei all share portions of the large island) strive to conserve the diverse fauna of the island and to significantly reduce poaching.
Malaysia’s beach resorts that dot the shores of Sabah—Borneo’s northern state—are popular with families, couples, and friends looking for secluded leisure breaks. And nature lovers will be entranced by all aspects of Borneo, from national parks near Kuching to the spectacular caves of Mulu, home to Deer Cave, the largest cavernous passage in the world—estimated to be three times the size of London’s Wembley Stadium and to contain 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 reintroduced to parks and reserves in Sarawak too. At the Semenggoh Nature Reserve, a short drive from Kuching, guests are invited to visit twice a day to view one of the rehabilitated orangutans at feeding time. Sightings here are not guaranteed though, as orangutans range freely across the protected area. The best time to spot them is in April and May, when the trees are not in fruit and the forest inhabitants are eager for 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 four-wheel-drive vehicle across a palm plantation, or on foot as you traverse the mountains and gullies of the magnificent Danum Valley Conservation Area.
Malaysian Borneo offers 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.