When I first purchased a one way ticket to the largest city of Borneo, Kota Kinabalu, I honestly had no clue what to expect. Coming from Singapore I knew it wouldn’t be as westernised so I was excited for a change in scenery.
We landed late in the evening, transferring straight to our hotel and having a good sleep before exploring the city the next day. Although excited for our adventures Kota Kinabalu didn’t do much for me. It was noisy, expensive and unlike Bali and Singapore, we were constantly being looked at as if we were the only tourists to ever step foot in the city. I quickly told myself to not stress out, it’s not that I was unsafe I just felt as if I was being observed everywhere I went which was an odd feeling for me.
Once there we quickly had a few things in mind we wanted to do in KK, some of the most popular things to do and main reason people visit are:
- Kota Kinabalu Mountain Climb (2D, 1N)
- Kota Kinabalu Natural Park
- Mari Mari Cultural Village
- Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine National Park Island Hoping & Diving
- As well as a bunch of other activities such as White Water Rafting, Snorkelling, Wetland & Hot Spring tours etc.
Tunku Abdul Raham Marine National Park
However on the budget we are on we opted out for only 2 day trips. We visited the Marine National Park which cost approx $26AUD for a return transfer to 2 islands (Manukan Island & Sapi Island).
Manukan Island – Think crystal clear waters, hundreds of colourful fish, white flour like sand… yes, complete paradise. Although we didn’t get a chance to do diving snorkelling was in itself inexpensive & totally worth a visit.
Sapi Island – Adventure island I call it! There was an array of options available on this island, also considered the busiest one of the 5. You could do zip lining, diving, snorkelling, parasailing, jet sky, banana boat, tubing & more. We opted to do parasailing, it cost approximately $40AUD for both of us and it was somewhat of a bumpy ride but perfect for an adrenaline junkie!
Mari Mari Cultural Half Day Visit
We wanted to get a better insight of the Culture in Malaysia, Borneo in specific. After looking at a few different tours we opted with doing a half day tour to Mari Mari Cultural village, we booked it through Diverse Borneo which were nothing short of amazing, their communication and professionalism was outstanding. The driver was safe on the road and everything was organised perfectly.
The Village itself was amazing, very unique to the culture, informative and entertaining. Although directed mainly at tourists it is a must for anyone wanting to find out more historical background and the way of life in Borneo for many centuries. For more information click here.
(Note: If you are visiting Borneo on a budget please research on how to do tours on your own as we didn't and ended up paying... A LOT. If you have the funds to spend, a tour is usually the best way to get the most of an experience)
After 6 days exploring Kota we took a 7 hour bus ride to the city of Sandakan. This is where the real adventure began! Sandakan is known for its wildlife, all those documentaries you see on the discovery Chanel about Borneo were most likely filmed in this amazing location. Again, we seemed to be the only tourists in the city, I guess a mix of going in off season and not taking part in a massive tour group had something to do with that but nonetheless we absolutely loved our time here.
The top things to do in Sandakan are:
- Sepilok Orangatang Rehibilation Centre
- Labuk Bay Proscibious Monkey Sanctuary
- Rainforest Discovery Centre
- Borneo Sunbear Conservation Centre
- Sandakan Australian War Memorial
- Gomantong Cave
- Kinabatang River Cruise
- Turtle Island National Park
- and probably another 100 things I didn’t come across!
We only had about 4 days of adventure in Sandakan so we opted to do a day tour covering most of the sites. Please note that if you have time and are on a shorter budget you could do these independently as they are all next to each other and inexpensive to visit.
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
This is probably the one and only reason I wanted to visit Borneo and it is of course… the ORANGUTANS !!! As you know I’m all about that animal life and the feeling of walking silently in the thick dense forrest and spotting the first Orangutan of the day was something that simply took my breath away. Having the chance to be so up close and personal with these creatures is something I will cherish until the day I die.
Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre was more than just a chance to get to see these beautiful creatures in real life, it also was beyond informative. I urge anyone who has an interest in preserving our wildlife to donate to the great work they do here. Visit their website here to find out more information and to make a donation or even adopt an Orangutang.
Fun Fact: Orangutans live lone, they only ever interact for mating purposes. The female will care for its young for approximately 8 years until they grow and become independent.
Borneo Sunbear Conservation Centre & Rainforest Discovery Centre
The Sunbear and Rainforest Discovery Centre are basically next door to Sepilok Orangutan Centre so it is easy to do all 3 sites in the one day. The Sunbear conservation centre is the newest of the 3 only opening up in 2016, it also has some great information about Sunbears and other wildlife that is endangered.
The Rainforest Discovery centre is a MUST for any flora and fauna lovers. They have such a wonderful array of plants and wildlife on display that you lose yourself marvelling at natures wonders.
Fun fact: Sun Bears are one of the smallest bears in the WORLD
Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary
After about a 30 minute drive from Sepilok, in the midst of acres of Palm Oil plantations you reach a small carpark with a bridge leading to the feeding grounds for the Proboscis Monkeys.
Although it is called a Sanctuary, there is no work being done here. The owner is a wealthy man who owns palm oil farms and decided to open a tourist attraction amongst the mangrove Forrests for business purposes only. Which in a way is good because instead of cutting down the Forrests where these beautiful monkeys live, he let them roam freely and instead fed them twice a day for some tourists to snap some photos (yes I’m guilty of it too. Although I was not aware of this prior to visiting)
Nonetheless, it is truly an awesome experience to be able to see the Proboscis monkeys up close. They are indeed beautiful creatures with such unique personalities and traits, native to the island of Borneo and thankfully protected by the government.
WARNING - DO NOT ENTER IF YOU ARE AFRAID OF CREEPY CRAWLIES.
Wow. I’m usually not scared of much, apart from foam of course… (yes I know it is a strange phobia) but god dayum was this cave filled with all the nitty critters you could image. Living in Australia I am used to the odd cockroach, spider and even bat here and there, but walking into this cave was unreal. You could hear all the noises from the bats in the air, followed by the actual crawling of insects as huge as my head, not to mention the hundreds of cockroaches I was trying hard not to step on in the pitch black.
Apart from all the gross stuff though, this cave is a MUST if you are into nature at its finest. Just being inside the cave was like being in another world, the smells, sounds and ambience was definitely something to remember. Although be warned, unless you are a pro photographer, getting a good photo of the cave at dark is no easy task.
Kinabatang River Cruise
We booked a full day River Cruise to Kinabatang through Borneo Sandakan Tours , there are many other trips you can do such as overnight stay in a lodge but due to our budget and time we stuck to a 1 day filled with adventure.
After about a 2 hour car trip to the lodge we quickly understood why people stay overnight. It was beautiful, calm and everything you would expect from a jungle river. After a lovely Malay lunch we had time to explore the resort before embarking on our river journey.
Although we didn’t get to see any Pygmy elephants we did see a range of Proboscis monkeys, pig-tailed macaques, Silver Lutung monkeys, wonderful exotic birds & so much more. Next time hopefully I’ll get to spot some crocodiles!
After 10 days of adventures in Borneo it was sad to say goodbye to this exotic place. If I were to return I would certainly spend a lot more time and bring along a much larger budget. With so many areas unexplored such as Sarawak state, Mulu National park, Kuching and more – it is almost certain I will be back again. It truly was a magical place where lifetime memories were made.
*all opinions are my own, post and tour recommendations have not been sponsored*