Borneo – the undiscovered paradise

Chasing tigers at Ranthambore National Park, India, scuba diving with fishies in Indonesia and road tripping through the snow-capped mountains of Kashmir, India—  we love adventurous vacations and we’re lucky to have a group of friends as crazy about them as we are. This year, our motley crew was on the lookout for something pocket friendly yet mega exciting and we found our match in…

… *Drumroll*  BORNEO, the land of rain forests, idyllic islands, noodles, hot curries and super-welcoming people! Borneo is the largest non-continental island in the world shared by the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, Indonesian Kalimantan and the tiny nation of Brunei. Known for its rugged landscapes, world famous dive-sites, orangutans, clouded leopards and unusual wildlife; Borneo was a no-brainer.

Here, we’re giving you a day-wise itinerary for those thrill seekers ready for an adventure like no other.

Day 1: Mumbai – Kuala Lumpur –Tawau – Semporna

While Malaysia may seem reasonably close to those travelling from within Asia, newsflash it’s not that quick making your way off the main Malaysian peninsula and on to the island of Borneo. Once you land at Tawau, the closest island airport to the coastal region, hop on a shared taxi to the port of Semporna, the gateway to the best dive sites in the world. Semporna is a smelly old town filled with super markets, 1 pizza place and a plethora of dive offices where spending one night seemed close to a lifetime but all worth the journey we were about to embark on.

1 night stay at Scuba Junkie Dive Lodge.

Day 2 – Day 5: On to Mabul Island and the various surrounding dive sites

After a good night’s rest, our scuba diving adventure was about to commence. Hopped on to a boat, bathed in sunscreen and swimsuit-ready— we made our way to Mabul Island, off the north east coast of Borneo. No time to unpack or take a quick wee, we were ushered to our boat and before we knew it we were suited in our scuba diving gear left astounded by the various marine life swimming around us. Did you know that Borneo is home to the No.1 dive site in the world? #staytunedformore

3 night stay at Scuba Junkie Mabul Beach Resort.

Day 5: Fly from Tawau to Sandakan for 3 nights in Jungle bliss

Post our diving sojourn we hopped on to another flight and landed at Sandakan Airport from where we drove to our pit stop for the night.

1 night stay at Sepilok Jungle resort.

 

Day 6: On to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre before cruising on the Kinabatan River Safari

Given our tight schedule for the day, we rose early to take in the two most perfect sights set in the Bornean rainforest. Due to mass deforestation, mining and forest fires, the natural habitat of the orangutans is depleting and under constant threat. As a consequence, the orangutan and sun bears are now regarded as critically endangered animals that need protection. Both these centres provide medical care to orphaned and confiscated orangutans as well as dozens of other wildlife species. Recently rehabilitated individuals have their diet supplemented by daily feedings of milk and bananas. The additional food supplied by the centre is purposefully designed to be monotonous and boring so as to encourage the apes to start to forage for themselves. Best to visit the Orangutan centre post the 10 AM feeding time in order to get an undisturbed view of these gorgeous creatures.

Post a quick lunch we were on a bus heading to the jetty for our boat ride to the next location – Kinabatan River.

1 night stay at Bilit Adventure Lodge (Kinabatan River).

 

Day 7 – Day 8: Kinabatan River Safaris at Bilit Adventure Lodge

River views, night walks, day/night cruises and chilling by the river sundeck was how we spent the next three days. Bilit Adventure Lodge perched on stilts over the Kinabatan River is located within the dense rainforest providing ample opportunities for monkey, orangutan, crocodile and bird sightings. Evenings were spent mingling with locals and tourists over traditional Malaysian dinners post which we might have drunk ourselves silly, amidst the deafening silence of nature.

2 night stay at Bilit Adventure Lodge.

 

Day 8 – Day 10: Flight from Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu & Tunku Abdul Rehman National Park

Another morning, another adventure entailed a visit to Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary for a meet and greet with the unique long-nosed Proboscis monkeys. Feeding platforms ensure good views of these cuties while they monkey around swinging from branch to branch playfully taking jabs at each other. After our morning monkey session we made our way to Gomantong Cave home to swiftlets, edible bird nests, bats, rats and around a million cockroaches (without exaggeration). While the men in our crew screamed like 6-year-old girls giving up at the sight of a roach, your GYG girls battled the creepy crawlies and stench to explore the wonder that is this cave.

From the dense jungle to a mini concrete one, it was time to head to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Malaysia’s Sabah state. Pick a hotel close to the city centre where it’s easy to walk in to a mall for some food or hail a taxi to take you to the jetty. The following day involved sun tanning and playing Frisbee at Tunku Abdul Rehman National Park. The Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is accessible via 15 – 20 minutes speedboat ride from Kota Kinabalu. The departure and arrival point for the boat transfers is at the Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal and you get to pick from 5 azure islands best known for snorkelling. Find a quiet spot on an island away from the throngs of tourists and let yourself soak in the sunlight.

P.S – Beer and Malaysian snacks are readily available on almost all of the islands.

2 night stay at Accord Regency Service Apartments.

Day 10 – Day 13: Drive to Kudat & relish 3 nights of pure luxury by sea.

With 3 nights to go, we drove 3 hours to Kudat, a small town in the Sabah state, close to the northern most tip of Borneo. A typical day was spent waking up to the aroma of Francesca’s (our housekeeper, of course) American-style breakfast followed by a laze on the private beach and the occasional activity aka Frisbee. Enter infinity pool swims, afternoon siestas, tequila shots, Malibu and pineapple cocktails, crisps and duty-free chocolates for when we needed a quick munch. No day at the villa was complete without a luxurious spa bath concluding with a glorious sunset for the ultimate island experience.

3 night stay at Kudat Riviera – Frangipani villa.

Day 13: (17th Aug): Drive back to Kota Kinabalu for that gloomy flight home (via Kuala Lumpur)

Flight: Malaysian Airlines from Mumbai

Internal flights: MASwings (Malaysian Airlines) or Air Asia.

Best time to visit: March – October is considered the dry season though it rains irregularly throughout the year. July-August is considered peak season so be prepared to pay high season supplements during this time.

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