What with moving house, changing jobs – and a lot more besides – all of which has happened in the last month, it feels like my little trip to Borneo (a thirtieth birthday present to myself) was more than a lifetime ago. In reality, just a few short weeks have passed since I spent 7 days drinking in all of what this magical country has to offer!
Here, in no particular order, are my best bits:
1. The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
This is what Borneo is most famous for; the Bornean orangutan – a species native to the island. Together with the Sumatran orangutan, it belongs to the only genus of great apes native to Asia.
Orangutans share approximately 97% of their DNA with humans, but Bornean Orangs are a critically endangered species, with deforestation, hunting and ever-expanding palm oil plantations posing a serious threat to their continued existence.
Seeing these guys relaxed and happy within the confines of the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve (which covers more than 10,000 acres of mostly virgin rainforest) was an absolute privilege, and an experience I will never forget. We had to take an internal flight to the other side of Borneo to get there, but it was so worth it.
2. The Shangri-La Rasa Ria Hotel
Set on the white sands of Pantai Dalit Beach and surrounded by 400 acres of lush tropical vegetation, the Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort & Spa is ideal for nature lovers who also want their holiday to include more than just a touch of luxury. It’s pricey – but there are certainly bargains to be had, if you’re prepared to shop around for a great deal (see my blog post on this, here).
We absolutely loved the tropical swimming pool & jacuzzi which is exclusively for the use of residents staying in the Ocean Wing – if you’re planning a trip here, you’re going to want to make sure that’s where you stay, not least of all to avoid the hordes of kids in the Garden Wing pool!
When it comes to the food, we were thoroughly spoilt for choice, with a selection of eight pay-as-you-go dining and drinking venues to try out. We often went for traditional Malaysian ‘street food’ at the Tepi Laut Makan Street restaurant, followed by cocktails at the laid-back Sampan Bar on the beach.
The hotel is a great base to stay if you want somewhere to really relax and have your every need taken care of, but be mindful that it is a good 40 minute taxi ride from the centre of Kota Kinabalu, so you do need to factor in the costs (and time taken) to travel around during the days.
3. The endangered proboscis monkeys
The proboscis monkey or long-nosed monkey, is a reddish-brown arboreal Old World monkey that is endemic to Borneo. As a species, they co-exist with the Bornean orangutan, and are easily identifiable because of their unusually large noses.
At dusk, these guys head down to the riverbanks of the mangrove forests of Borneo to drink, and that’s where we spotted a group of males frolicking in the trees – some of the mere 7,000 which are still left in the wild.
If you’re ever heading to Borneo, make sure you book a trip which includes firefly watching once the night falls, too – it’s a magical experience which involves boating down the river in the dark, before coaxing the fireflies into lighting up in the trees all around you, using a dull flashlight to mimic the light show usually put on by their beckoning ‘queen’. Proper spine-tingling stuff.
4. ALL of the food
Malaysian food is *the shit*. From BBQ’d seafood, to noodle broths, to fried rice and spicy satay sauces – I could never tire of this cuisine.
We paid way over the local prices for the dishes we ate at our swanky hotel, but they were still crazy cheap compared with what you would expect to fork out here in the UK.
Head to the markets in the city for an even better deal on real, authentic street-food – just ignore the rats – seriously, you’ll be fine!
5. The crazy-beautiful weather
For every day that we spent in Kota Kinabalu, the weather was different. From torrential rain on the day we arrived, to sunshine and showers on day two, to gale force winds and of course, finally onto sweltering hot sunshine – Borneo gave us everything it had for the seven days we were there, and I loved it.
The reason that this country is so lush, green and beautiful is because it gets plenty of both sunshine and rain – and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Besides, a rainy afternoon is a bloody great excuse to treat yourself to a large cocktail followed by a 90 minute massage in the spa!