Days 10-12 Kota Kinabalu
We flew from Penang to Kota Kinabalu (KK), an odd concrete city with waterfront markets, malls and a base for visiting the nearby national park.
Tip:To get to/from the airport or around town use the Uber app in Malaysia and Sinagapore – both convenient and cheap!
We caught a mini bus from Padang Merdeka to Kota Kinabalu National Park. We arrived at the minibus stop at 7.45am and within five minutes other travellers had arrived and the bus was full! We did not have enough time to climb the mountain, so were just visiting the park for the day complete with a packed lunch. We paid the minibus driver for a return fare and he arranged a time to collect us. After paying the park entrance fee and armed with jumpers and water proofs (it is a lot colder up there), we chose a route and set off. We had an enjoyable trek through rainforest and even saw a large bat up close! Unfortunately for Phil, he also managed to get a leech attached to his ankle through his sock! After getting over the initial hideousness of this, I managed to man up and get rid of it, not something either of us is keen to repeat!
On our last day in Kota Kinabalu we decided to spend the day at the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru using their pool facilities. It was very expensive for what it was and no food or drink was included, but after lots of travel and our trek we were in need of a relaxation day. The bar here was also fantastic for viewing the sunset, although you need to arrive very early for this and it fills up with both hotel guests and external guests.
Days 13-16 Sandakan and Kinabatagen River
Whilst on mainland Malaysia, we had managed to secure an Orangutan tour with Borneo Eco Tours, (which we later realised was extremely lucky as they book up a long time in advance)! Our guide picked us up in a mini bus from Sandakan airport early in the morning and took us to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre where we got to see the Orangutans up close. The centre has a nursery area, a feeding station to supplement their diets and wooden boardwalks through the rainforest – the Orangutans were swinging from trees right beside us!
It was a great start to the tour and we learnt a lot regarding the issues facing Orangutans in the wild. We were then taken next door to visit the Sun Bear Conservation Centre – the smallest bears in the world. The Centre has tree top walks where you can observe these magical bears and helpful staff are at hand to talk to you about them.
From here, after a lunch stop, we boarded a small boat to take us up the Kinabatangan river to the Sukau Rainforest Lodge (a National Geographic Eco Lodge) where David Attenborough has stayed! The lodge was wonderful with twenty rooms, an outside dining area overlooking the river and boardwalks at the back into the rainforest. When we visited, they were building twenty more rooms – unfortunately we feel this will completely ruin the intimacy of the lodge. Our guide was fantastic and during our stay we were lucky enough to see Orangutan both from our river cruises and at the back of the lodge! We also saw Proboscis monkeys (or Dutch monkies as they are locally called due to their large noses), Gibbons, Macaques, leaf monkeys, langurs, slow loris, motor lizards and a huge number of beautiful birds. Each day we were woken up early, given tea and toast before our first river safari cruise and then returned for a big breakfast. We then had free time to relax, explore the boardwalk rainforest behind the lodge or take a dip in the pool before a large lunch and then an afternoon river cruise. There were lots of mosquitos in the forest so take repellent!
One day of the tour was spent going to some bat caves – really not worth the extra day to go on this trip – we could barely see the bats clinging inside the caves and it smelt horrific. Not to mention you had to continually move your feet because the floor was heaving in cockroaches! At dusk, watching the bats exit the cave was spectacular and the eagles were ready to swoop in for a meal.
On our last day, we took the boat ride back to Sandakan and got caught in torrential rain – waves were coming into the boat, the driver had no visibility and we were seriously worried we might get lost at sea! Soaked through we did make it, and after a lunch stop we visited the Rainforest Discovery Centre before being dropped off at the airport for the last leg of our adventure. Borneo is a magical place and I feel privileged to have been able to see so many spectacular animals in the wild. The photographs don’t do the island justice…