In July 2014 I travelled to Sabah, Malaysia on the island of Borneo. My itinerary was private throughout. From Kota Kinabalu, KK as it is locally referred to, Mt Kinabalu quickly came into view as a dominant feature – 4,095 metres, the tallest mountain on the island of Borneo. The national park has very well marked walks and this is where you start the trek to the summit of Mt Kinabalu.
From here we travelled to Kundasang War Memorial (near Ranau) – the last camp of the Sandakan to Ranau Death Marches. A video is shown and we walked through the Australia garden, the New Zealand garden, the Britain garden, the Borneo garden. At the ANZAC garden there is a list of all of the soldiers names that died or were killed – 2,428 POW’s, only 6 survived the Death Marches of Sandakan. A very sombre and moving tribute with beautifully kept gardens and views of the mountains and valleys.
The road trip to Sandakan is approximately 220kms which took about 3 hours. The roads are ok – not really bad but not really good either, however this the only road that connects the west, Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan in the east so it is used by everything including the trucks for transporting the palm oil fruits. About 35kms before you get to Sandakan is Labuk Bay, the location of the Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary in the mangrove forest. A DVD is shown about the monkey prior to the daily feedings so it is good to get there earlier. The Proboscis Monkey is endemic to Borneo. One of the staff puts some food – sugar free pancakes and cucumber, on feeding platforms and they come from everywhere – we saw probably 30 or so of them.
Sepilok Orang utan Sanctuary is approximately 25kms from downtown area. Again there was a video presentation about what happens at the sanctuary. The young ones are kept in a nursery and you don’t get to see them. The boardwalk takes you to a viewing platform where 2 times a day one of the guides puts out food for the orang utan’s. Six of them came down for food while we were there. They are solitary animals, unlike the proboscis.
The following day was a 115km (2 hour) drive to Sukau on the Kinabatangan River via Gomantong Caves – bat and cockroach infested caves, but also the home to the very lucrative swiftlet bird. The nests which are harvested 3 times a year for making birds nest soup in Hong Kong and China – starting at approx. USD2,000 per kg for the nests. We went into the largest cave, approximately 50 metres high with 3.5 million bats and 2 million birds – you can imagine the stench and the manure on the ground.
On arrival at Kinabatangan River, Sukau we were met by staff from Sukau Rainforest Lodge (owned by the owner of Borneo Eco Tours) and transferred to the lodge just 5 minutes up the river by boat. The lodge has 20 rooms which are quite basic but still very comfortable (no air con but a ceiling fan). A very peaceful and relaxing atmosphere. All meals are included along with a river cruise each morning and afternoon, boardwalk guided tours and lectures regarding the animals/bird life. We were lucky enough to have a female and baby Orang utan about 50 metres from the lodge along the boardwalk. On the river cruises we saw numerous proboscis monkeys, long tail macaque, crocodiles, many different species of birds including 6 of the 8 varieties of hornbill and the highlight – a heard of about 35/40 pygmy elephants. It was a long, hot afternoon but the wait was well worth it. Three of them played in the river about 15-20 metres from us with the remainder of the heard munching on elephant grass on the bank of the river. It was an amazing spectacle and one of the best wildlife experiences I’ve had. The guides we had during our stay at the lodge were amazing – very knowledgeable and great spotters.
Near the Sandakan airport is the Sandakan War Memorial for the Death Marches. A large peaceful park with an information area with a history of this atrocity. Part of the park is on the actual grounds of the POW camp. Once again a very moving tribute.
On arrival back in KK we were transferred to Nexus Resort and Spa, Karambunai which is about 45 minutes north of the airport. The resort is great for any type of traveller – couples, families, singles – 6 restaurants/bars, very professional and amazing massage rooms, a bar/nightclub, sunset bar/restaurant near the beach, golf course, tennis and squash courts, gym, lots of beach activities – volley ball, kayaking etc and also 2km away a lagoon park where they offer water sports like jetskiing, water skiing, etc.
A very relaxing and stress free country. I would like to return one day and travel deeper into Sabah – particularly Danam Valley and also Turtle Island.