I am way behind on travel stories as my focus has been on travel, holidays, more travel, and more holidays. Anyone relate? But as the new year has just begun, I figure it’s a good time to get caught up. So let’s head all the way back to August of last year and dive into a little recap of our jaunt around Southeast Asia.
When we told people we were going to Borneo on our vacation the typical response was “Where’s that?” I thought that was fair since before deciding to travel there I was in the same boat. Derek read an article about Borneo being an outdoor lover’s paradise early in 2018 and after doing some research we decided it was the place for us.
A little information before we begin-Borneo itself is not its own country. It is divided manly between Malaysia and Indonesia with a small portion making up the tiny country of Brunei. It is the third largest island in the world and absolutely beautiful. We spent most of our time in the Malaysian portion of Borneo so let’s start there.
After almost 24 hours of travel with some lengthy layovers in Los Angeles and Hong Kong, we arrived in tone of the larger cities on the island, Kota Kinabalu. We headed straight for bed and woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to explore. We spent our first full day roaming the city, checking out local markets, and enjoying some good food. We finished the day by watching the magnificent sunset from the Sunset Bar at the Tanjung Aru Resort.The next day we began our trek up Mount Kinabalu, the tallest mountain in Malaysia standing at 13,435 feet tall. We drove two hours to the base of the mountain and then after some information and pep talk from our guide, Roger, we began the climb. The ascent is required to be done in two days due to frequent afternoon thunderstorms, so we started around 11am and made it the 4 miles to the rest house, Laban Rata, a few house later. It is a tough climb. The trail is steep and most of it is made up of steps packed into the dirt or actual man made staircases built out of wood. When we got to Laban Rata, we enjoyed a beer, some great food, a beautiful sunset and by early evening we were out. We awoke at 2am to have an incredibly early breakfast and head for the summit. By 5 am we made it to the summit and then waited around for another hour (in the cold) to see the sunrise before heading back down. Again, tough climb, but completely worth it and views like I’ve never seen before. After finishing the descent we were taken to a delightful lunch with a great view of the mountain we had just conquered and then headed to Poring Hot Springs for a long deserved soak in the warm pools and a good night’s sleep.The next day we soaked some more, hiked to a bat cave, saw a waterfall, walked around a jungle canopy and made our way back to KK City. When we got back we went to get my phone screen replaced as I accidentally destroyed it on our climb down from the mountain.The morning brought a flight to Sandakan where we spent the day getting massages (they were so cheap!!) and floating in the pool of the Sabah Hotel. We ventured out briefly enough to see the Puu Jih Shih Buddhist temple full of dragons and colorful lanterns.The next day began our animal extravaganza. We were transported to Turtle Island, a conservation area for sea turtles. We swam and snorkeled in the Sulu Sea and watched turtles come up on the beach and lay eggs late that night and then got to assist in releasing baby sea turtles into the ocean. That was so cool! The next morning we left the island and headed back to the mainland to see orangutans at the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. We saw all sorts of orangutans but seeing the big males come into the area for food was amazing and scary all at the same time. We also got to hop over to the Sun Bear Conservatory where we enjoyed seeing tiny sun bears move around, scratch there back on trees, and eat some trees. That evening we made our way deeper into the jungle along the Kinabatangan River. We took our first jungle river cruise and saw all sorts of monkeys (including orangutans) and other animals in the wild. We did a night hike through the jungle and spent the evening in our cozy jungle hut.We went on two other river cruises the next day and did a longer jungle hike to Lake Oxbow with our guide, Ramzan, who was super knowledgeable about the jungle and all its animals. We spent one more night in the jungle and had one last river cruise before saying goodbye and heading back to Sandakan. On our way we stopped by the Gomantang Caves with Ramzan as our guide and ventured through a guano covered cave with more creepy crawly bugs, bats, and terrible odors than I’ve ever experienced. It was beautiful and disgusting. Strange combination. We hopped a flight back to Kota Kinabalu and made our way out to the various Pasar Malam (night markets) in the city. We had milk straight out of a coconut and the best lobster ever and enjoyed a tower of Tiger Beer at a place called Beer Factory.The following morning we went sight seeing and saw the Masjid Bandaraya Mosque before taking the boat ride to Gaya Island to stay in an overwater bungalow for the night. This was a bucket list item for me. We enjoyed the ocean view from the balcony and went snorkeling. We had a fancy meal at one of the restaurants and relaxed to the sounds of ocean waves.The next day we woke up with a traveler’s stomach bug. Neither of us know what from, my best guess is the market food. We were still able to enjoy some snorkeling and kayaking before leaving the island but spent the rest of the evening in our hotel room in Kota Kinabalu eating ramen and drinking tea.Luckily whatever we had was a 24 hour thing and we felt fine the next day. We headed to Brunei which I’ll cover in another post so more on that later. After a couple days in Brunei we returned to Malaysia for our last day in KK City. We did a little souvenir shopping and went to a local muse before catching our flight back to Hong Kong and beginning our journey home.So, if you were one of those people who had no idea where Borneo was prior to reading this post I highly encourage you to do some research and plan a trip. You’ll fall in love with it. Just as we did.