Brilliant Borneo: Orang-utans, Mountains & Jungle Adventure
It’s much more than adorable apes (though they're still there and pretty darn snuggly)...
While many have backpacked their way around hearty parts of Asia, there are still a few relatively untouched gems that have avoided the majority of the tourist trail.
Step forward, Borneo - surprisingly the world’s third largest island (after Greenland, and Papa New Guinea, geography fans), and stuffed full of abundant wildlife, adrenaline-surging adventure sports, and some of the most stunning scenery this side of a BBC nature documentary.
MTV travelled to Borneo with Intrepid Travel, and discovered adventure aplenty. Grab a cuppa, settle in, and get your passport ready - here are seven reasons why Borneo’s your next must-visit destination…
1. Mount Kinabalu is bucket list goals
When it comes to mountains to summit, we all know the ‘Beyonces’ of the hiking world.
From Everest to K2, Kilimanjaro to Ben Nevis, while each is spectacular in their own right, they’re also well-worn. Well-worn to the extent that you can often find yourself queuing to simply pass others along the way.
Which is where Mount Kinabalu comes in. The highest mountain in Malaysia, it stands at a calf-emboldening 4,095m, and offers a challenge almost as jaw-dropping as its surrounding scenery.
Unlike its competitors, it’s also doable in just two days - which may sound easy, although the reality is a darn sight tougher, thanks to good old altitude sickness.
Day one is spent climbing 1453m over the length of 6km, up through rainforest and then above the clouds, where the food/drink/mattress/chocolate-stuffed Laban Rata Resthouse and Pendant Huts offer a merciful reprieve from the climb.
Day two, on the other hand…. well that just makes day one look like a walk in the park…
2. Seeing the sunrise from the top is *kisses fingers*
If you manage to sleep through the altitude sickness, then congratulations - you’ll probably an average of around three hours sleep before having to wake up at 2am to start the night climb up the final stretch.
At a mere 776m of further elevation, and at only 2.72km in length, you’d think it’d be a doddle.
But a few things scupper any hope of a gentle stroll.
First up is, you guessed it, altitude sickness. The higher you go, the harder the toll on your body, and the less oxygen you’ll able to process. Secondly, you’re doing it in the pitch black, and while a head torch certainly lights the way, the path can still be rocky and treacherous.
Especially, that is, when you get to that third minor little inconvenience - the final part of the hike is vertiginous, path-free, and at times literally climbable - meaning you have to clamber onto a rope and pull yourself up as your feet slip and slide off the smooth granite terrain.
On the plus side, the stars above you as you clamber up the mountain are some of the most incredible you’ll ever see. Constellations and galaxies paper the sky, and at least your jaw will be sufficiently agape as you struggle for breath.
And then there’s the sunrise - a phenomenal sight that conjures purples, pinks, reds and yellows unlike any you’ve ever seen. As the sun breaks before you, so do views of the entire Sabah region. It is one of the most beautiful things we’ve ever seen, and well worth whatever you endured to see it.
3. Once you’ve summited the mountain, why not hang off it?
Along with its natural wonders, Mount Kinabalu boasts one of the world’s most unique adventure sports.
On the trek down from the summit, you’ll come across the world’s highest Via Ferrata. ICYMI (because, let’s face it, we’re not all Italians or aspiring rock climbers), Via Ferrata is essentially mountain climbing for dummies.
You whack on a harness and hard hat, and proceed to clip yourself onto rungs, rails, cables, ladders and bridges that have already been hard-fixed onto the mountain side.
It’s safe and secure, but still able to make you more than shart yourself, as there are numerous points where there’s nothing but air beneath your feet as you shimmy across the face of the mountain.
It’s as spectacular as adrenaline sports come.
4. Yes, the orangutans are as cute as you’d hoped
Hop on an uber-affordable plane to the Eastern coast, and Sandakan offers you the chance to get up close and personal with Borneo’s most recognisable of celebrities - the orangutan.
The Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre is a conservationist’s dream - offering a safe retreat for orangutans and a host of other wildlife to live peacefully, and recuperate before being released back into the wild. From breakfast feeding in the wild, to playing ‘Spot a Baby’ in the trees high up in the forestry around you, it’s a joyous and utterly adorable experience.
Hop across the road and you’re introduced to one of Borneo’s other star animals, at the Borneo Sun Bear Conversation Centre.
The world’s smallest bear is officially endangered, and so you’ll get the chance to find out far more about this gloriously derpy, and comical Yogi-ish cuddly toy - not only are they very cute, but they’re fascinating, too; with enormous claws, and a tree-climbing skill that’d put most monkeys to shame.
5. And even the plants are surprisingly cool
You don’t need to be a botanist to find Borneo’s plants inherently interesting. Take the Nepenthes Rajah, a beautiful but deadly(ish) plant you can spot on the scale up Mount Kinabalu.
Well we say ‘ish’, we’re happy to report that humans aren’t at risk, but does target insects and even small mammals who are drawn to the pitcher by an alluring scent, before inevitably slipping into the huge bucket-esque opening, with nothing to hold onto - and then slowly being digested within.
6. Go native in the rainforest
If it’s one thing Borneo has in abundance, it’s gloriously dense rainforest.
So what better way to soak it up then with a stay in the Lupa Masa Rainforest Camp - an accessible (read: hour trek from civilisation) establishment with homeliest of accoutrements. Homely for Bear Grylls, anyhoo.
While it’s not The Ritz, it’s still pretty comfortable - with tents, roll-out floor mats, and a fully-covered dining/hang out area for you to chill out as the sound of the forest reverberates around you.
Sure, there are leeches literally everywhere, but (a) they’re easy removable, (b) it’s all part of the adventure and (c) you have the awesomeness of the jungle to make up for it.
The sounds, the smells and the sights are intoxicating (if you’re bored, simply wander down to the pristine river for a swim), while you'll even get to learn a few survival skills from the camp masters (if you're ever in need of water, there's a handy way to hack open bamboo to drink it straight from the plant).
Oh, and they have ‘camp cats’ who adore snuggles. Especially when you’re in a hammock.
7. Its beaches and scuba sites are world-class
If you’re staying in Kota Kinabalu, then a short boat ride out to the Tunku Abdul Marine Park is a must.
Not only can you laze on the beaches of its many small islands, but you can kayak, snorkel and even zip-line between some of them.
For the scuba divers amongst you, a short trip over to the south-east coast will introduce you to Sipadan Island and Layang Layang - dive sites replete with hammerhead sharks, turtles, schooling fish, tornadoes of barracudas and incredible corals. In short, they’re world-class underwater havens for the PADI-happy amongst you.
MTV Travelled With… Intrepid Travel’s Borneo – Hike, Bike & Kayak trip costs from £1,455 per person for 8 nights’ accommodation, airfares not included. Trips run from 26th March 2018 through to 24th December 2018 and includes selected meals, activities and transfers. All trips are accompanied by Intrepid Travel’s local leaders and can be booked online at www.intrepidtravel.com or by calling the sales team on 0808 274 5111. Borneo Eco Tours’ Sepilok Wildlife and Sandakan Tour allows you to see Orangutans and Sun Bears up close.