Jess is a Wanderer in Borneo
Days 68-73: Jess is a Wanderer headed to Malaysia's city of Kota Kinabalu on the island of Borneo. With no plans other than the hopes of climbing Malaysia's tallest mountain (Kinabalu) and bumping into some orang-utans, it was an amazing few days.
There are a million more photos than what I've included here so check the gallery section to see the full selection!
Arriving into Kota Kinabalu, I had no idea what to expect. I'd sent a couple of emails to enquire about wildlife tours and climbing Mount Kinabalu. For reference, you need a permit for the mountain and can't go unaccompanied. The minimum is a two-day-one-night trip and it is limited to 135 people a day. Unfortunately, it was super expensive to climb at such short notice so I had to pass this up.
The city is a waterfront paradise - with easy access to islands that offer some amazing snorkelling opportunities. There is a night market, variety of malls and plenty of bars and restaurants to keep you busy. You can also visit the Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre for 15RM (£3) and maybe see some birds flapping around. I was there during the monsoon - of course - so there wasn't much wildlife to be seen other than a mudskipper fish (it walks on its gills through the mud) and a million bazillion crabs of varying types.
However, in passing the opportunity up to climb the mountain, I found myself heading off into the jungle of Sipolek on the island's east coast. It was a six hour bus ride from Kota Kinabalu and cost 43RM each way (just less than £8). The bus was air-conditioned (aka freezing), had a toilet on-board and only stopped once for 45 minutes at a lunchy-place. An excellent service that I definitely recommend. If you're staying in Sipolek, ask the driver to give you a nudge at 'Mile 14'. It's a roundabout that is literally on the side of the road but it's easy to get your lodge to pick you up from there. There are a number of lodges in the area, ranging in quality and price. I opted for one which was slightly further away - Paganakan Dii Tropical Retreat. It cost me £18 for three nights, including breakfast. It was located about 5km from 'anywhere' but each day at 9am and 2pm, a free shuttle took you to the places of interest.
Which brings me on to the places of interest! In Sipolek there is:
A rainforest discovery centre: 15RM (around £3)
This is a walk through the rainforest, including a canopy walk and watch towers which you can climb up to get a better look at the wildlife. You need to be quiet and patient. Each night at 6pm, they offer night walks which makes it easier to see animals (because of their eyes reflecting) but more difficult to get photos (because it's dark!)
An orangutan rehabilitation centre 30RM (£6 +£2 for camera)
The jungle is completely natural, open and wild. It's filled with all sorts of creatures, great and small. At this centre, they take in rescued pets and performing orangutans and seek to send them off into the wild. Each day at 10am and 3pm, food is put onto a feeding platform for those critters who are unable to fend for themselves out in the wild. The food is the same each day so that the apes get bored and want to go out and find their own grub. Over 600 rescued orphans and pets have been sent out into the jungle. An average of three turn up each day, with some days seeing no orang-utans at all. The centre sees is as a positive when no-one turns up as it means that animals are all able to survive independently in the wild.
A sun-bear sanctuary 31.80RM (£6)
I hadn't heard of a sun-bear before heading to Sipolek and they're in a really sad situation. Poached for their paws (a delicacy for some) and their bile and gall bladder (for use in Chinese medicine), there is no official number for how many bears are left in the wild. They are the smallest of all the bears and live up in the trees - as high as 40m. I was fortunate enough to see two frolicking in the branches and enjoying a spot of sunbathing.
Over towards Sandankan (on the east coast), there's a popular area for overnight stays: Kinabatangan River. There are a few lodges lining the river banks but do your research. I went to one for a day trip (245RM - £40) and was so glad not to be staying there. Despite offering night-walks and a range of activities, some lodges cater a little too much to the tourist and have karaoke nights deep in the jungle! Now that's not what you want, in my opinion! However, the wildlife spotting opportunities (before the karaoke kicked off) were amazing. I was so blown away by the number of proboscis monkeys, silver-leaf monkeys and reptiles. Some people get lucky and see elephants too. You can take a boat trip (depending on your group size) with a guide and the boats park up for fab photo opportunities.
All in all, Borneo's jungle is sawing with wildlife that you won't be disappointed with visiting. Completely natural, nothing is guaranteed to be seen but that makes everything all the more exciting!