Our Amazing Family Holiday Trip of a Lifetime in Borneo

Chris Cottam

12 Oct 2015

A Holiday of a lifetime

When I retired we decided to celebrate with a ‘holiday of a lifetime’; something that combined a back-to-nature element with a change of culture, some first class relaxation and a city experience. The team at NWS were fantastic in helping us build a holiday that exceeded our expectations on every level; 17 nights and over 1,000 photographs later, here is the short version of what we did:

Part 1 – Getting there (2 days)

The formal beginning of our safari was to start in Sandakan on the north-east coast of Borneo, so rather than get there as fast as possible we decided to take a couple of days over the travel to get in the mood and help with the 7 hour time zone shift.  We flew to Singapore and overnighted at the airport Crown Plaza hotel.  Changi airport has a huge range of things to see, do and eat, and the hotel is great with direct access to the airport.

Next morning we headed off to Borneo with a flight to Kota Kinabalu and transferred to the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort hotel. A beautiful resort hotel located on the ocean. We only spent one day but it was the perfect place to relax after the travel and get ready for the adventures to come.

Having fully acclimatised and feeling very chilled, the next morning we made the short hop (20 minutes) from Kota Kinabalu over to Sandakan to meet up with our guide and start getting back to nature.

Part 2 – Myne Resort on the Kinabatangan River (2 days)

On arrival at Sandakan we met up with our fantastic guide, Jenny, who was looking after us for the next four days. We can’t say enough about how well she took care of anything and everything, plus she was an excellent source of information about history, vegetation, culture and anything else we could think of to ask.

Accommodation was in comfortable wooden huts on the edge of the river.  We spent the next two days on river safaris (early morning and twilight), rainforest walks, visiting the spectacular Gomantong bat caves, night safari and eating marvellous food.

We saw one – a wild orangutan.  We actually saw four over the two days at Myne Resort. Amazing!

Over the two great days we spent on the river we saw an array of wildlife, including four wild orangutans, one of which wandered into our camp.  Why do you never have a good camera when you really need one?! But the memory will stay with us forever. Other animals included macaque monkeys, eagles, monitor lizards, ‘Beckham’ monkeys, hornbills, pit vipers, owls……..and many more.  We didn’t get to see pygmy elephants or river crocodiles although others staying at the lodge did, and we did find some fresh elephant poo just outside our camp. Lovely!

Part 3 – Sepilok Nature Reserve (2 days)

The drive from Myne Resort back to Sandakan took in a stop at the proboscis monkey sanctuary which was brilliant. Other monkeys join in the feeding at the Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, and some of the little ones are as cute as you can get. Once back at Sandakan we checked into our lovely accommodation at the Sepilok Nature Reserve. Thus began two days of non-stop activity and education.  We did two night walks in the reserve with private guides. Their skill at finding creatures in the dark is amazing!  These walks started at dusk so we also got to see the amazing flying squirrels. 

Everything about the stay at Sepilok was superb but the highlight has to be the up close time with the orangutans in three different situations. First was the young ones (up to 6 years old) in the nursury. These have been brought in from the wild where some were abandoned, some were displaced by forest clearance, and some were kept as pets. Some of the new arrivals are sick or traumatised so first priority is to provide whatever care they need to be healthy and comfortable.  Then comes a period of socialisation and learning life skills (like climbing) so they have a chance to survive in the wild. Great fun to watch these youngsters exploring each other and their new world from the comfort of the observation galleries.

When ready the juveniles are released into the ‘wild’ of the reserve. They mostly fend for themselves but twice a day the staff put out fruit on special platforms where you can view them from about 15 metres. There’s no guarantee that any orangutan will show up but we had visitors on both occassions that we went.  There is is something magical when the assembled watchers grow quiet, the staff member carries out the basket of fruit, and ever so slowly these wonderful creatures climb across to the platform for a feast with an old friend.

Our third opportunity to meet the orangutan was very special. We were assembled just outside the nursery at the start of one of the night walks, waiting for dusk to fall as this is when the flying squirrels do their thing.   Without warning we were joined by one of the juvenile orangutan. He had recently been released but liked to return ‘home’ from time to time to see what was going on with his old playmates. Sitting a couple of feet from this chap while he sized us up was the absolute top moment of the whole trip. Truly unforgettable.

Part 4 – Relaxing at Gaya Island (6 days)

After all the excitement of the rain forest and the incredible experience at Sepilok it was time for some well deserved relaxation.  Gaya Island Resort is a 10 minute fast boat ride from Kota Kinabalu. After a tearful farewell to Jenny on delivering us safely back to KK we checked in at the office on the harbour and waited for the boat.  Our pictures of Gaya Island don’t go anywhere near conveying the incredible sense of peace and calm, or showing the quiet attentiveness of the staff.  

The accommodation was 5 star; perched on the hillside the quality of the fixtures and fittings was palatial. 

The food in all the restaurants was simply scrumptious. When we checked out six days later we couldn’t think of a single negative. This was a first for us. Even the occasional wild boar wandering through the gardens was charming.

Lots of watery activities including snorkeling and diving, this was something we couldn’t resist and we went kayaking through the mango swamp.

Part 5 – City Life

Pretty much our final act at Gaya Island was to take a professional massage at the spa before joining our bags on the dock for the short trip back to KK.  5 hours later we were back in Singapore and ready for some shopping (and yet more great eating). Singapore is an amazing place with a bit of everything for everyone. We stayed at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront, right on the Singapore River. This put us out of town but only a 30 minute walk to the harbour area.

Even though we were only in Singapore for 48 hours it was such a conrast to everything else that it felt much longer. Plenty of time for strolling around and exploring. The ladies managed a grand present shop in one of the many super malls and we rode the water taxi down the Singapore River all the way to the harbour. There were three specific things we wanted to get done if we had time; visit the world-famous Singapore Zoo, experience Gardens By The Bay, and drink the customary Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel. We managed to do all three and more!

When we were done with everything it was time for the flight back to London. We were aiming for a once-in-a-lifetime holiday that we would remember for a long time. The daughters summed it up nicely... simply the best holiday ever!

If you want us to help organise a family holiday or Borneo safari for you, please do get in touch! 

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