800 km east of Peninsular Malaysia lies 61% of the country on the northern part of Borneo. Covered in thick jungle, this is where travellers and tourists alike flock to all year round in search of wildlife, national parks and indigenous tribes.
Less populated and therefore less developed, East Malaysia is home to the five of the counry’s highest mountains in including Mount Kinabalu (Read about trekking Mount Kinabalu here!) which claims the title of 10th highest peak in Southeast Asia! Transport is made tricky by dense jungle, so expect to travel by boat…
The hottest time of the year in Borneo is between May and September, although there is very little difference between this time and the rest of the year. The average daytime highs will be in the low 90s, while during the rest of the year are in the upper 80s. The average nighttime lows will be in the mid 70s throughout the year. Humidity is fairly high year round.
Borneo has only two seasons – rainy and dry. Although rain is a possibility year round, the rainy season in most of Borneo is from October to February.
Places to Visit In Malaysian Borneo:
- EAT! – Pok. A yummy fish-based curry full of spices and flavor. You also have to try the fresh cakes from the Butterfly bakeries in Kota Kinabalu, heaven!
- DRINK! – Sabah Tea. A great flavor and refreshingly thirst-quenching in the heat.
- WEAR! – Although a Muslim country, tourists and many Muslims wear as they please to keep cool.
- BEWARE! – Mosquitoes as jungle areas are considered malarial.
Climb the mighty Mount Kinabalu, trek through the Kinabatangan jungle, visit the adorable orangutans, spot beautiful baby turtles and dive the amazing reefs. The Sabah region of Borneo has it all if you are looking for adventure and stunningly impressive scenery. Not a destination overrun with tourists, you really do feel as though you are visiting the locals rather than joining a swarm of backpackers. The Malay people are extremely friendly, and you soon become comfortable with the constant stream of waves and ‘hellos’.
The awesome Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
There are plenty of malls and plazas in the city of Kota Kinabalu (KK City) housing high-end shops, coffee houses and restaurants – as well as bars, clubs and karaoke.
A great many travellers flock to the stunningly beautiful Kinabalu National Park, 90km from Kota Kinabalu (KK) City, and one of the world’s most significant natural environments. Nature walks can be undertaken to view thousands of types of flora and fauna – several hundred exclusive only to the park, which was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000 (the first in Malaysia).
For the more adventurous, Mount Kinabalu is a tough but possible climb, with a 90% success rate in reaching the summit. Views are incredible, starting with lush rainforest and plentiful plant-life, giving way to impressive rock formations the higher you reach.
Sepilok, east of KK, is home to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, where you can watch several of the adorably amusing creatures being fed twice a day. Semi-wild, they often enter the boardwalk, resulting in excellent photographs. You can also see long-tailed macaque monkeys, lizards and squirrels around the feeding platform.
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah
Jungle life is provided by the area surrounding the Kinabatangan River, the second longest river in Malaysia. This dense rainforest is home to some amazing wildlife and tours almost always result in seeing several of the many species of mammals, reptiles and insects. You will feel like a true adventurer walking deep into the jungle or speeding down the river in pitch darkness with only a torch to seek out the creatures of the night.
The historical city of Sandakan is the second largest in Sabah. From here, you can visit the Seligan Turtle Islands Park, 40km north of Sandakan, in the hope of seeing baby hatchlings. You can also visit Sukau Proboscis Lodge, and the impressive archaeological Gomantong Caves, home to many species of birds and bats. Sandakan is close to the impressive diving sites of Lankayan Island, Sipadan Island, Mabul Island and Kapalai Island.
The city is also the notorious site of a World War II Japanese airfield which was built by the forced labour of Javanese civilians and Allied prisoners of war. In 1945, the surviving prisoners were sent on the Death Marches —after which only 6 survived the war.
5 Random Facts about Sabah
- Sabah is home to the Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world.
- Mount Kinabalu, situated in the Kinabalu National Park, is the highest peak in South East Asia.
- The Malaysian flag was adopted on Sept 16,1963. The flag was designed by Mohammed Hamzah, a 29-year old Public Works Department architect in Johor Baru who entered a design competition with two designs.
- SIPADAN Island off Sabah is one of the worlds top diving spots.
- THE largest undivided leaf in the world, Alocasia macrorrhiza, comes from Sabah. A specimen found in 1966 was 3.02 metres long and 1.92 metres wide
- EAT! – Bario Rice! Grown from the Bario Highlands, this has a gorgeously nutty flavor, and is delicious with chicken.
- DRINK! – Tuak with the locals at an Iban longhouse
- WEAR! – Mosquito repellant!
- BEWARE! – Never wanting to leave
Like Sabah, Sarawak (incidentally the largest state in Malaysia) is an excellent destination if you’re looking for high adventure. Jungle trekking, mountain climbing, caving and rock climbing are all possible here, as are trails through un-spoilt highlands and visits to remote longhouses.
There is a huge array of wildlife species to try and see during your visit to the place also known as ‘Land Of The Hornbills’ – no prizes for guessing why! National Parks are in abundance, with many just a short day-trip from Kuching, the capital.
Daytrips from the capital, Kuching might include Semenggoh Rehabilitation Centre to see the Orangutans, Bako National Park to check out the proboscis monkeys, and a trip to the Sarawak Cultural Village in Santubong just an hour away (where you might also want to laze about on the beautiful beach, or even attempt a climb to the summit of the very steep Mount Santubong). The Fairy and Wind caves are also accessible from Kuching, as are a multitude of longhouses in the vicinity (overnight trips include a stay with the Iban and the Bidayuh tribes).
Another popular stop-off is Sibu, which is the main tourist gateway to the Upper Rajang River. You can do a long, multi-day trip by boat down the river, visiting the towns of Kapit and Belaga, many other small riverine towns in between, and a number of longhouses of the Orang Ulu (river) tribes as you pass by.
Miri is a must, mainly because of its proximity to the famous Gunung Mulu National Park and Niah Caves. It’s also a very short plane-ride (in a 16-seater otter – great fun!) to Bario, which resides at the core of the utterly beautiful Kelabit Highlands. Aside from the plane journey alone, you shouldn’t miss out on the Kelabit Highlands – and especially not if you’re into remote wilderness.
There are trekking opportunities aplenty amidst the rolling hills of this beautiful region: you can trek from village to village through jungle and virgin rainforest, staying in homestays or longhouses as you go – or opt for shorter adventures that include the two-hour trek from Bario up Prayer Mountain (particularly good for sunrise and sunset) and the hike up to the Bario Gap.
Clearwater Cave in Miri Borneo
Visit during July for the annual Bario Food Festival if you can (usually held not long after the fabulous Rainforest World Music Festival in Santubong, Kuching). One important nugget of advice, though – book your seats on that plane early. They sell out quickly.
5 Random Facts about Sarawak
- Kuching means ‘cat’ in Malay – and somewhat appropriately, the city also boasts a Cat Museum, which houses just about everything you’d want (and a whole lot of other things you don’t need to) know about cats in the entire cosmiverse.
- Sarawak has more than 40 sub-ethnic groups, all with their own customs, language. Just 23% of the population is Malay.
- The most populous group is the Iban, which make up 30% of the Sarawak State total population, and are said to have settled in Sarawak from Indonesian Borneo’s Kalimentan in the 15th century. They are famous for their headhunting past, and were once Borneo’s most fearsome warriors. Nowadays, they’re said to be the most enthusiastic entertainers of all Sarawak’s indigenous tribes! Stay overnight at an Iban longhouse (organize from Kuching, Sibu or Miri) and expect to partake in more Tuak than you ever could have bargained for!
- The Penan are the only semi-nomadic tribe left in Sarawak, with many of them still concentrated in the depths of its dense virgin jungles. However, times they-are-a-changing, and more and more Penan are beginning to eschew their old ways in order to make lives for themselves in nearby towns and cities.
- English adventurer James Brooke arrived in Sarawak in 1839, and was honoured with the title ‘White Rajah’ in 1845, as a thank you for having stepped in and helped the nation rebel against the rule of the Brunei Sultanate. Christianity is now the most practiced religion in Sarawak.