Wild wonders of Borneo

Part one of my winter escape to Malaysia & Singapore

Back in October I headed out to Malaysian Borneo and Singapore for a couple of weeks to retreat from the inevitable cold and darkness in Blighty.

I’ll start by giving some Kudos to Singapore Airlines for great journeys both in and out of Singapore.

As a keen aviation enthusiast travelling on an Airbus A380 for the first time was a great experience – particularly given the size of the jet it was impressive how quiet the cabin was. And the cabin crew delivered on the trademark Singapore Airlines service; the food, general comfort and ambience for the 13 hour flight was all better than any other airline I’ve experienced, even if my knees were aching somewhat afterwards!


Kota Kinabalu (abbreviated by locals to ‘KK’) is the largest city in the north-eastern Malaysian state of Sabah, which itself comprises of the upper half of the island of Borneo, the third largest island on Earth. KK is not an overly touristy destination, historically it’s an industrial hub of Malaysia but its great beaches and close proximity to the rainforests of Borneo have meant it’s started becoming an attraction for travellers.

My brother Nishay and I stayed at a resort just south of the main city area.

One  of the most acclaimed experiences in Borneo, to see the Orangutans. Unfortunately they can only be seen in a handful of rehabilitation centres as their natural habitat has all but been destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations.

We ventured to the Shangri-La Rasa Ria resort which houses a sanctury for the youngest organgutans, and it was a real surreal experience for half an hour to see them being fed and swinging round freely in their enclosed patch of rainforest. A particularly nice moment was a little one peeling and enjoying a papaya fruit while hanging upside down with one foot, he looked like he was really enjoying it!




The experience was emotionally a very sobering start to our adventure because it stirred thoughts of how such incredible creatures were threatened almost to extinction because of humanity’s demand for cheap oil substances, without consideration of environment within which our ancestors roam. Images of these destructive actions bit me over and over across the remaining week in Borneo.

Climbing Kinabalu

One of our most memorable excursions was our trip to climb Mount Kinabalu, the tallest mountain in SE Asia standing at 4095 metres above sea level.

It was an early start – we had to ascent to the top camp by mid-day to avoid getting stranded in darkness. A 3 hour bus journey out of town we got to see the rural side of Sabah. The elevation of the mountain meant that there wasn’t a great deal of wildlife to spot (hardly even insects in fact, although we were well prepared with a set of leech socks!) but what we saw was a stunning diversity of fauna. The images were as if someone had turned up the saturation up on those brilliant David Attenbrough documentaries. With high humidity and general wetness everything has a beautiful richness and vibrance to it. And once we ascended to the clouds with fog obscuring our path it took on a somewhat mysterious vibe to it as well.

A view early on into the hike up the mountain

A view early on into the hike up the mountain


Clouding over near the top of our trail

Clouding over near the top of our trail


A carnivorous Pitcher plant that eats insect for a living, would you believe

A carnivorous Pitcher plant that eats insect for a living, would you believe

The climb was pretty tough; it was only 10k but at some points we were ascending over significant distances vertical up 85% inclination on the most challenging non-summit trail. After about 8 hours, knees and feet numb, we jumped back into our minibus back to KK (with company of a hitch-hiker from Colchester) to reflect on probably the highlight of our trip.

Another memorable highlight was our trip along the North Borneo Railway, which operates the only surviving British steam locomotive outside Britain. Travelling around 30 KM through Sabah, the sights weren’t spectacular, just villages and some rural foresty areas but it was the whole experience that made it special. We each had 6 tiffins of local snacks and the cabin ambience with 1920s décor and some old American swing music  (not to mention the lack of air conditioning) made the experience quite memorable.

North Borneo Railway

North Borneo Railway

The week in Borneo went by quick and before we knew it we were on our flight back to Singapore.

Check back in a few weeks for part 2!


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