Cover Photo Credit: The World At My Feet
Our guide stopped and motioned us closer. We moved slowly through the soft sand and mangroves of the the rainforest of Malaysia. A wild pig and half a dozen two week old striped piglets were trudging through the sand a few meters away. We froze. They gathered in groups, sniffing the air with their pink snouts. The wild piglets stood within touching distance for a moment. Then, they changed direction and they scattered into the underbrush. Our guide, was a local and had had lived his entire life in that jungle, said he had never experienced anything like it. Of all the places I have travelled around the world, Malaysian Borneo has given some of the most unforgettable wildlife experiences. We encountered orangutans, proboscis monkeys, enormous monitor lizards, bright green snakes and much more apart from piglets. If you are looking for a Southeast Asia destination that is relatively less unspoiled by tourism and overflowing with natural beauty, I highly recommend it.
How to get to Malaysian Borneo
You can fly into Sabah via the Kota Kinabalu International Airport, which is about 20 minutes from the city. Then, you’ll need to take a taxi as this is the only mode of transport, although some hotels offer shuttle bus pick up. There are daily flights offered from Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia. If you fly to Kuching International Airport, you can travel from there as well. Once you are in Malaysian Borneo you can take flights between many of the cities including Miri, Bintulu, Sibu and Sandakan. There are bus services between the main points in Malaysian Borneo.
You travel via ferry to Sabah from the Philippines, Indonesia and Labuan. You’ll arrive at Kota Kinabalu and go through the immigration checkpoint there.
The Best Places to See Wildlife in Malaysian Borneo
Photo by Luca Ambrosi
Here are some of the best national parks and outdoor experiences.
Bako National Park
It was while around Bako National Park, we had the unforgettable encounter with wild piglets I wrote about in the introduction to this post. We hiked around Bako National Park with a local guide who knew the jungle was so incredibly enriching and it enhanced our experience greatly. We noticed a snake curled around a tree from several meters away, even though it was exactly the same colour as the leaves. I would definitely recommend hiking around with a guide, they will point out so many creatures and plants that you would otherwise miss. This dense rainforest ecosystem in Sarawak is home to 64 species of mammals, 237 species of birds, 46 species of reptiles and 20 species of frogs. You can hike Lambir Hills to find refreshing waterfalls in the jungle. There are arrangements to stay overnight in the park at wooden forest lodge chalets. They are basic, but they are comfortable. If you really want to get up close with nature there is also a campsite. One of the most fascinating creatures you can see in Malaysian Borneo is the orangutan. These beautiful and intelligent animals are endangered species and are decreasing due to hunting, the live animal trade, humans encroaching on their habitat and deforestation. The orangutans are not fenced in, and are free to roam the jungle and are fed twice a day by the sanctuary workers. This protected park has been established since 1975 and it offers a safe home for orangutans that have been orphaned, injured or rescued from captivity. When the orangutans are rescued, they are given medical care and then they are raised to become independent and be able to survive on their own in the wild. They learn the basic activities, how to swing, climb and forage for their own food. It takes around two to four years until the orangutans are able to fend for themselves and can be released.
Kinabatangan River Safari
Commencing in the Crocker Range, it is the longest river in Sabah and travels 560km down to a mangrove swamp estuary in the Sulu Sea on the East Coast of Sabah. This gorgeous river has a unique ecosystem and is thought to be one of the most accessible and varied places to see wildlife in all of Southeast Asia. This is home to proboscis monkeys. These monkeys have large bulbous noses and they are often seen jumping and chattering in the trees. On your safari you might also encounter giant monitor lizards, hornbills, hawks, kingfishers, rare birdlife and even saltwater crocodiles. The best way to see the abundant wildlife of this rich ecosystem is best experienced by the river safari. As you float down the river you will see the local fishermen everywhere, as the river is their livelihood. This is a protected area of virgin rainforest. It is located in the eastern region of Sabah and it is home to an incredible cast of creatures, including mouse deer, clouded leopards, Sumatran rhinos, Borneo pygmy elephants and gibbons. Bird watchers can spot spectacled flowerpecker here, one of the rarest birds in the world. Over here, you can indulge in many thrilling activities, including swimming in the river, bird watching, jungle treks, night tours and much more. To reach here, head to the nearest town of Lahad Datu, then make your way to Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Guided walks through the lowland rainforest trails, night walks and drives are highly recommended. I’ve had a lot of amazing wildlife encounters on my travels, from swimming with wild dolphins in Brazil to spotting leopards on safari in Sri Lanka to feeding kangaroos in Australia.
Malaysian Borneo is sketched out in my memory prominently as one of my favourite places in the world for experiencing unspoilt nature up close. Getting within sniffing distance of tiny wild piglets, watching proboscis monkeys swing through the trees, seeing rare orangutans are some of the unforgettable experiences.