Imagine being on a sandy seabed with a large hawksbill turtle within arm’s reach. This is the amazing encounter you can have in the clear waters off Sipadan Island in Borneo.
The island is small at only 40 acres, but is covered in pristine forests. However, it is the marine life around the island that you should focus on. There is more in the water than the turtles.
Taking a slow trip across the shallow reef plateau located on the eastern tip of the island will surround you with wildlife. There are batfish and schools of yellow snappers that will take your breath away. You can get a good look at the groupers over the black coral and get close to the turtles at West Ridge. You will never be short of something to see as there are over 3,000 species of fish.
Climb the First UNESCO World Heritage Site in Malaysia
Mount Kinabalu stands an impressive 4,095m above sea level and is the highest peak between New Guinea and the Himalayas. It is also one of the most accessible mountains. There are well-maintained paths you can take and the world’s highest via ferrata at 3776m above sea level.
It does not matter which path you take up the mountain, but you need to pay attention to your surroundings. The mountain is paradise for any botanist. There are 5,000 species of plant including 1,200 varieties of orchids. There is also a stunning carpet of the largest mosses in the world.
If you are not the biggest fan of plants, there are 100 mammal species and over 300 bird species to see. As you hike, you should keep a lookout for frogs as small as your fingernail, gibbons and orangutans.
Go Up River
A great pathway into the interior of Borneo is the Kinabatangan River. The river takes you to the heart of the land of pygmy elephants, traditional tribes and proboscis monkeys which are out of the pages of books. If you want to increase your chances of seeing the smallest elephants in Asia, you need to book a river tour.
The tour will be a Klias River Cruise and you can check the riverbanks for crocodiles, the occasional orangutans and lizards. If you take a look up while on the river, you will see some kingfishers and hornbills.
It is also worth taking a look at the Gomantong Caves. They are buried under the largest limestone hills of the area and contain an intricate system of 19 caves. However, only one of these caves is open to the public.
This open cave is the largest in the system and known as the black cave for good reason. You will need to brave the dark and have a strong stomach to deal with the smell. There are cockroaches that scurry over your feet and you will hear the swooping of bats as they fly overhead. If you want a fantastic and terrifying experience, visit the cave at dusk.
Spice Up Your Life
Borneo is not on the list of any culinary capitals, but this does not mean the food is boring. With Malay, Chinese and Indian influences, the local food is an experience. The locals also like to season their food with spices harvested from the rainforest resulting in flavours you may never have experienced before. If you want to be introduced to the favoured jungle spices, you should find a Nasi Lemak hawker.
The culinary staples in the country include rice, fish, noodles and local vegetables. The traditional dish is a clay pot soup. The noodle-based broth will keep you happy and full whether vegetables, fish, seafood or tofu has been thrown in. If you want food that kicks it up a notch, try Hinava. This is a popular dish in Sabah and is made with mackerel covered in ginger, chilli, lime and bambangan seed.
The Music of the Rainforest
The Sarawak Cultural Village is located deep in the heart of the Borneo rainforest. The village preserves and showcases the culture and life of the local tribes. It is also where the annual Rainforest World Music Festival is held. This is a 3-day event that attracts around 24,000 people each year.
The festival started in 1998 and draws performers from across the globe. These musicians are on stage next to the local and indigenous musicians. At the foot of Mount Santubong, you will learn about the traditions of the local tribes, their music, dances and experience everything yourself. There are also rows of traditional longhouses.
The days are full of educational workshops while the evenings leave you free to dance to the entertainment. You can enjoy the drink and food stands around the grounds. There are also craft areas where you will find the perfect souvenir of your trip.