Rainforests and Beaches of Borneo

Christine Spronk

24 Apr 2017

Kota Kinabalu

We arrived on 14th Sep and were met by not only our contact person for the safari but also a breath taking view of mount Kinabalu in the distance on exit from the airport building. Our hotel, the Shangri-La Rasa Ria had its own private beach, pool area and luxurious rooms with air conditioning. We gave ourselves one day to acclimatize which I can recommend as the change in climate takes at least 24 to 48 hours to adapt to. 

After breakfast on day 2 we headed off to the Kiulu Countryside for a cycle through the area and local villages, where we stopped off at the home of some locals and had traditional home made cakes and refreshments. Its very humid and hot so make sure you have sun tan lotion. Also, a helmet is mandatory for the cycling and is provided. It was a leisurely cycle and the guide catered well for all levels of expertise. Take your swim suit as there is a river next to the start and end point where you can cool off afterwards which is great.

Sepilok Nature Resort

Our next stop was Sandakan to the Sepilok Nature Resort. This required a short domestic flight. The airport pick ups and all the transfer by car were individual and well organised, no delays. Our guides were also very polite, friendly and knowledgeable. The resort is breath taking! Totally different to Kota Kinabalu. Its built around a water feature (small dam) fringed with luscious vegetation. The bungalows are wooden with air conditioning and enough distance for privacy. It felt like we had just landed in paradise. Fabulous resort. If mosquitos like you, make sure you have tropical strength repellent e.g Repel (tropical strength) available from Boots at the airport or online. This works wonders! 

Next stop was the Orang-utan and sun bear rehabilitation centre which is a stones throw away. Again, the earlier in the day the better as these 2 spots in particular are very popular so there are often many tourists. Long sleeves and trousers recommended. Its also cooler earlier in the day. The Orang-utans were shy on that day so we only saw one on the platform outside, however there were loads of young ones out playing on the platform in the nursery area. Here you were inside an air-conditioned viewing area with a great view of the feeding and play area. On our way out we were also lucky to spot one youngster right near the walkway and an adult up in the trees nearby.  

At the sun bear centre, we were greeted by some curious macaques who were wandering along the walkway railing. Here it was quieter and we got to see 2 to 3 sun bears fairly close by. Unfortunately, the pictures weren’t so clear to share a good one.

After lunch we headed off with our personal guide to Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary in time for the afternoon feedings. It wasn’t so busy here either and the viewing platform allowed to see the monkeys a bit closer. We got to see a whole troop feeding just before they wandered off into the surrounding shrubbery.

On the second day we took a taxi to the Kabili-Sepilok Forest reserve on our own as we had a bit of time outside of our tour itinerary. Its better to go early in the morning as in the afternoon you won't see many animals since its just too hot, especially up on the canopy walk. Its within walking distance to the resort, but its about 20 mins and we went in the afternoon so it was just too hot.

Kinabatangan River

We transferred by car from Sepilok to the port where we continued our journey by boat with another small group and met our guide for the River portion of our trip. At the port we had the opportunity to walk through the water village and get an impression of the locals which was great. The first portion of the boat trip was in the ocean until we reached the Kinabatangan river mouth. From here the journey was along the river. About 20 mins into our journey up the river we spotted a small group of elephants feeding on the river bank.

Our first stop was the Abai Jungle lodge where we were greeted with refreshments and a friendly welcome from the staff. The lodge is built on stilts with wooden basic but clean bungalows surrounded by lush vegetation and exotic plants along the walkway. If you want an air conditioned bungalow, this needs to be requested up front as they only have a few and there is an additional cost. 

The night walk at Abai along the walkway with our guide is recommended. Some of the animals we saw were lantern beetle, various spiders, butterfly and wild pig. In the morning and evening we were taken by our guide Abas and boats “Captain” in a boat up the River to look for animals. We had our own boat and guide which was great as we received a lot of one to one information on the area as well as the animals in the region and were able to quietly approach and get some great pics. The guides are really knowledgeable and know exactly where to look for animal sightings. Its also not so hot on the river which makes the boat trips more enjoyable. As the river side is cooler for the animals as well there were always plenty of sightings e.g. Rhinoceros, oriental pied and Asian black hornbill, different king fisher birds, Birds of prey, pig tail and long tailed macaque, bats, red and grey flying squirrel, orangutan, proboscis monkeys and elephants to name just a few. 

Our next stop was the Kinabatangan Riverside lodge. Another stunning lodge on stilts with wooden cabins. Again, if you want air conditioning, either book this up front or inform your guide who can phone ahead and organize this for you. Our guide was absolutely fantastic. The food at the lodges is fresh and good quality but lacks variety especially if you are vegetarian. As my husband missed some home food after a week, Abas organized some potato chips for him which was great. Honestly, the guides couldn’t have done more. We had our own guide for the entire river trip and our transfers and boat trips were always individual rather than group. If you are a keen photographer and enjoy your peace we can only recommend this option. 

Part of our day trips was a visit to the local village where we were given a tour and lunch cooked and served on the river bank. This is a great way to get a feel for how the locals live. We also took part in the tree planting project and planted a tree each on the river bank. Again, a great way to interact a bit with the locals and get a true feel of the community.

Borneo Rainforest Lodge

From the Kinabatangan Riverside lodge, we transferred to Lahad Datu where we had to register at the Borneo Nature tour office before continuing our journey. Here we received a briefing and nice water bottle to fill for our journey. The idea is that no plastic is taken to the lodge which focuses on renewable resources and is environmentally friendly which we found fantastic. The trip to the lodge itself is mostly on country roads, so quite a bumpy ride of approx. 2hrs. The lodge is nestled in the middle of virgin rainforest. All you hear are cicadas, hornbill flying over and red leaf monkeys, macaque calling. Positively breath taking. The lodge is again on stilts with the wooden bungalows reached via a wooden walkway. They have a small spa. Suggest you book when you arrive as its nearly always booked out. The lodge also uses Eco friendly products and provides shampoo, soap etc. that are biodegradable and friendly to the environment so we didn’t use any of the products we brought along but rather respected the great mindset of the lodge. The standard bungalows are not air conditioned but have roof fans and there are ventilation slats (covered with net of course) that allow fresh air in and also the sounds of nature so you feel like you’re sleeping in the middle of the jungle, but without the creepy crawlies!

This rather large spider came running up the walking stick as I wanted to take it – nearly fell out of my tree to put it politely!  

We only did 1 jungle trek as there had been torrential rain prior to our arrival so everything was incredibly slippery and muddy and some of the pathways were not accessible. There were also more leeches than usual due to the rain and moisture which also made the trek incredibly humid. Important are leech socks and tropical strength mosquito repellent. The repellent has to go over the rim of the sock otherwise they can get inside. Same with trousers. Our guide said that the leeches are not normally that bad on a trek. So if its rained before you go, be prepared and make sure you have at least 2 bottles of water. Its hot and humid in the jungle, very! Also, if you are not very fit, choose your trail accordingly and try go early in the morning or late afternoon. When its cooler its more pleasant. We didn’t see too much on our trek as the conditions weren’t optimal on that day. Our colleagues who went again however saw orangutans so its really down to the day and timing. 

What I can recommend is the night drive. We went on the late drive as most of the guests prefer to go earlier. The late option allowed for far more sightings! What we saw were owl, crab spider, deer, mouse deer, civet cat, red flying squirrel and a leopard cat!!! Totally awesome and perfect end to our rainforest adventure. Fantastic. 

We also went down to the tree top canopy walk but weren’t able to sight anything other than birds on that day. The walkway was still worth a visit as the construction and view is a master work. These red leaf monkeys were regular visitors. They were either playing in the trees around the bungalows, even strolling along the walkway and railing in the late afternoon. At breakfast they came to check out the humans “grazing” and put on quite a show. So one doesn’t even need to go far, absolutely fantastic.

Gayana Eco Resort

This was our last stop. In fact, we were supposed to stay at Bunga Raya however the lodge was closed due to a fire in the kitchen. The rebooking and the way this was handled was seamless, both by NWS and the local contact.

Our bungalow had its own deck and private entry into into the lagoon for snorkeling. A day trip was organized to Bunga Raya where we had the opportunity to spend the day on the private beach as Gayana hasn’t its own beach. The snorkeling area was really great and the location totally secluded. Don’t forget the mosquito repellent though. Sand flies on the beach also bite like mosquitos do. 

There is also a ferry going over to the main port so you can go into “town” and take a look around, have lunch, check out the shopping center etc. Gayana in addition, has marine center with tanks, different fish and information. The pool area and restaurant is recommendable with live music most evenings. There is also a spa and bar area which is very nice although we didn’t visit the spa. 

To close, our Borneo trip was a fantastic adventure and well worth the many hours of travel to get there. A great many thanks to Jessica from NWS for putting together such a diverse and colorful itinerary. We had a fantastic time, thank you so much!

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