A Trip to Borneo

by Uwe Fischer |

Best of Malaysia, Part 2 (Part 1)

Impenetrable rainforest, wild animals, headhunters and tropical, humid-hot climate – no wonder that Borneo was once respectfully called „green hell“ by European explorers. Today, the island is still green, although due to deforestation and slash-and-burn erosion huge jungle areas have disappeared and many species are threatened with extinction. However, for a large part, the country is still a natural paradise and the Malaysian Government is committed to protecting and preserving it. Meanwhile, gentle tourism is promoted rather than overexploitation.

Borneo is the third largest island in the world after Greenland and New Guinea, and the only island that is shared by three states: The largest area of the island in the south belongs to Indonesia, the north is divided between the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah, and a small spot surrounded by Sarawak on the coast forms the Sultanate of Brunei.

The two largest Malaysian cities of Borneo are Kuching in Sarawak and Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. Both are ideal for starting points for day trips or expeditions lasting several days.


Kuching, the city of cats (‘Kuching’ is the Malaysian word for ‘cat’) is the capital of Sarawak. Located 24 kilometres from the city centre is the Semenggoh Wildlife Center. The Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre takes care of orphaned orangutans and trains them so that they can survive in the wild. Some 20 orangutans live in the forest within the nature reserve and often return to the centre for additional food. For visitors, this is a fantastic opportunity to observe the animals up close and take some great photos.

Also not far from Kuching is the Bako National Park, where proboscis monkeys, silver langurs (monkeys), long-tailed macaques, wild boar, monitor lizards and numerous bird species are frequently seen. The park also offers an impressive variety of flora, from mangroves and heather forests t0 tropical swamp, rock and beach vegetation. Especially spectacular is the coast of the park with a multitude of small bays and beaches.

If you are interested in the diverse cultures and peoples of Borneo, you should not miss a visit to the Sarawak Cultural Village. The award-winning museum offers an excellent introduction to local cultures and lifestyles: Sarawak’s major ethnic groups are presented on a spacious site; the typical longhouses of Bidayuh, Iban and Orang Ulu, a Penan jungle settlement, a Melanau high building and more can be found here. Each building has a ‘storyteller’ who explains traditional cultures and lifestyles.


Sunset over Kota Kinabalu (flickr/Graeme Tozer)

The capital of the state of Sabah is Kota Kinabalu, most commonly simply called KK by the locals. The modern city with its historical centre is idyllically situated in a bay on the northwest coast of Borneo and is partly surrounded by rainforest. Sightseeing attractions include the Central Market and the Sabah Museum which exhibits historical and modern artefacts of archaeology. The open-air grounds include a collection of vintage cars, a village with traditional single-family houses and a botanical garden with endemic plant species.

An about 20 minutes drive away from Kota Kinabalu lies Mari Mari, which unites the typical houses of different tribes in a heritage ‘village’, which has been built as a showcase for tourists, and conveys their cultural customs (read our article here). In addition to an informative guided tour, you will also be invited to a meal and to experience cultural dance performances. Not far from the village there is also a nice little waterfall, which is worth visiting if you are in the vicinity.

One of the absolute highlights is Mount Kinabalu, with 4095 meters height Malaysia‘s highest mountain. It is located about 50 kilometres outside the capital city in the national park of the same name and is a popular destination for hikers and mountaineers. You should plan at least 2 days for this if you want to go a bit higher up: After the compulsory registration in the national park, the tourists are assigned to groups of local guides. On the first day, you can take the minibus up to 1800 m above sea level to the bus and taxi stand. From there you can walk up to the Laban-Rata huts at an altitude of 3200 to 3300 m, where you will spend the night. The paths are quite demanding, sometimes with roots, sometimes with irregular steps and small rocks.

If you have a sense of adventure in the rainforest, you will also find it in Sabah. However, more suitable for this purpose is Sabah‘s east coast, more precisely, the Danum Valley Conservation Area. It houses the Borneo Rainforest Lodge, which offers eco-friendly luxury chalets. The jungle oasis is an ideal base for extensive guided trekking tours and safaris.

The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is also located in the northeast, about 25 kilometres west of Sandakan. The 43 square kilometre nature reserve is home to about 25 orangutans in the breeding stations, in addition to about 60 to 80 people living in the reserve. The centre takes special care of rescued young animals found as a result of clearing the forest, illegal hunting or as pets. The orphaned orangutans train there to survive in the wild again and are released as early as possible.

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