THE SIGHTS OF BORNEO

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SABAH 

The state of Sabah is located in the Northern-most portion of the island of Borneo. Its coastline is washed by the waters of the South China Sea on the West, and the Sulu Sea and Celebes Sea on the East. The main attractions in Sabah could be said to centre around nature and the diversity of wildlife and vegetation. By no means should the influence of the Sabah culture, however, be discounted as a prime attraction. The population of the state comprises over 30 different races and 80 dialects. 
 
 
 

View of Mt Kinabalu from Tanjung Aru ResortMt Kinabalu from Tanjung Aru
KOTA KINABALU - Kota Kinabalu is the current capital of the East Malaysian state of Sabah, and was originally known as Jesselton. It is located in the North-West of the island of Borneo. KK, as it is known locally, is a thriving city which is currently booming, to a large extent due to the investment by the Malaysian government in the region. The city itself is relatively new as the original town was destroyed during world War II. Large areas of the waterfront to the immediate South-West of the centre of the city have recently been reclaimed and are being developed as resort and hotel areas, as well as a commercial area. 

KK is a good place to base yourself for trips to various places in and around Sabah. 

TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN PARK - The Park is made up five islands, the largest own as Pulau (island) Gaya, the smallest as Pulau Mamutik. Some of the islands have been previously used by various settlers, however, a large part of Gaya has included in a Forest Reserve since the 1920's. 

All of the islands are popular for day trips with the locals and visitors alike. Activities on the islands include swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving, bush walking on marked trails where you are able to discover the diverse variety of vegetation and animal life, and sun bathing. Some of the islands provide shelters near the beach for day trippers to enjoy a picnic, as well as kiosks and casual dining areas for refreshments and light meals. 

The closest island to KK is Pulau Mamutik, and is very popular with the local population. It is also the smallest of all the islands. An enjoyable walk to the top of the hill on the island offers excellent views over the surrounding sea and reefs. 

Pulau Sapi is close to Pulau Gaya, and in fact can be accessed at low tide over a sand bar at the South-Western end of Gaya. It is also very popular and is considered to be one of the best places for swimming and having a picnic. The waters around Sapi are extremely clear and there are many coral beds around the island. There are crab eating monkeys on the island, and the magnificent white bellied Sea Eagle has its nest on the island. 
 
 

Pulau Gaya and Sapi (far left) from ManukanPulau Gaya and Sapi (far left)
Pulau Gaya which is the largest island has many bays and beaches to explore. There are over 20 km of jungle trails over and around the island, including an interesting boardwalk through a small mangrove forest on the Southern side of the island. Gaya also provides the only example on all the islands of the original forest, including the huge Dipterocarp, which is a member of the family of tropical hardwoods that supplies Borneo with most of its timber. Gaya is also host to some of the island wildlife, including Macaque monkeys (which occasionally wander over to Sapi), Monitor lizards, squirrels and Wood swallows, and Pied Hornbills. The Southern side of the island has some excellent snorkelling sights. 

Pulau Sulug is further away from the mainland than the other islands, and has fewer facilities, however, it does offer excellent swimming. Snorkelling and even scuba diving are possible from here as good coral areas are found close to the island. 
 
 

Beach at Pulau ManukanBeach at Pulau Manukan
Pulau Manukan is the second largest island, although in comparison to Pulau Gaya, it is but a pimple, and is today the site of the Park Headquarters. The island has been previously used as a stone quarry - the remains of the manager's house, and a number of old graves are still visible to the visitor. The island boasts a circular track around the island, taking in a ridge and the beach, which provides the visitor with good views to most of the other islands and back to KK. 

All the islands offer coral reefs for snorkelling and scuba diving. There is a great diversity of marine life in and about the reefs, including Parrot fish, Wrasse, Butterfly fish, Clown fish, Sea anemones, star fish, delicate corals including plate coral, brain coral, and the ubiquitous staghorn coral. 

The islands are easily accessible from KK by shuttle boats, and from Tanjung Aru Resort by a continuous shuttle service provided for guests. We recommend a day trip out to Manukan Island as a good way to unwind while staying in Kota Kinabalu. 
 
 
 

View of Mt KinabaluMt Kinabalu
KINABALU NATIONAL PARK - The main attraction of the park is of course Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in South-East Asia at over 4100 metres. The granite massif dominates the surrounding landscape. The park is a paradise for naturalists, botanists bird watchers and those who admire nature. There are 11 km of marked and graded trails at the Park Headquarters, many of which cut across the mountain forest vegetation. The higher you climb, the less dense the forest becomes. The Silau Silau trail is the easiest and perhaps the most beautiful. 
 
 
 
Dawn on Mt KinabaluView from Mt.Kinabalu at Dawn
Guided tours to the summit of Mt Kinabalu take two days for the average tourist to the area. On a clear morning it is possible to see to the Philippines from the summit. Be warned - the second day begins at 03.00 hrs!! 

PORING HOT SPRINGS - Poring Hot Springs is one of the best places to visit after a climb of Mt Kinabalu, or after a trip into the Sabah jungles. The steaming sulphuric water is an excellent tonic for tired limbs. Between hot and cold baths, you can trek through the dipterocarp forests of Poring which are rich in fruit trees, kanas and rotan palms. The baths were originally built during the Japanese occupation and set in a lush green setting. It is called "Poring" because it is named after a species of bamboo abundant here.

Experience too, the canopy walkway (not for the faint hearted) where you are able to walk through the forest canopy of a suspended walkway. It is definitely worth the effort.

The vegetation in the area is lowland rainforest.   
 
 
The train from Beaufort to TenomThe train from Beaufort to Tenom
PADAS GORGE AND THE BEAUFORT TRAIN

The train which runs between Beaufort and Tenom is the last remaining train in Sabah. The trip passes across the scenic Padas Gorge. The spectacular view of the swift flowing river flanked by high hills and mountains makes the journey an interesting one. The rail often disappears into the jungle growth, and the view from the window often has you wondering just where the track might be heading. The journey also passes tropical rainforest, rubber estates and villages along the Padas River. The Tenom Pangi Hydroelectric project is also a very impressive sight from the train. The Padas River is also the site of white-water rafting adventures which shoot through rapids up to Grade 4. 

The Padas River as seen from the trainThe Padas River as seen from the
train

Note that the train schedule currently prevents a worthwhile day trip to Tenom, although it is possible to travel to Tenom and back without a stop of consequence in Tenom - sufficient time for the train to change ends, passengers to disembark and re-board the train.
 

We are watching the schedule for any sign of a change, and will advise as soon as it might be possible to once again do the full Tenom day trip. 

Buli Sim Sim - the birth place of Sandakan in 1879Sandakan water village
SANDAKAN - Sandakan was the capital of North Borneo until it was devastated by Allied bombing at the end of the Second World War. Some of the sights of Sandakan include the extravagantly ornate Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple built on the hilltop just South of the town centre. The site of the original town of Sandakan, which began in 1879, is located a short walking distance from the centre of town at Kampung Buli Sim Sim, which is a large water village where the neat wooden houses are perched on stilts above the sea and reached by plank walkways. 

Sandakan was also the starting point of the infamous "Death March" of the Second World War. For further information, refer to: Australians in Borneo During World War II 

Sandakan Central Market is one of the most interesting produce markets in the region, and is certainly worthy of a look. 
 
 
 
Young Orang-utansYoung Orangutans
SEPILOK - Located a short distance from Sandakan, it is the largest Orang-utan sanctuary in the world. It is also the scene of an exciting conservation programme. The orang-utans are not kept in captivity, but rather come and go as they please while becoming used to living in the wild again after being held in captivity by various people.

Mother and Baby Orang-utanMother and Baby orang-utan
 
 
 
  The Orang-utan is man's closest relative, and has been shown to be highly intelligent. The Orang-utans come into the sanctuary to be fed twice a day. Although visitors to the reserve may be disappointed that the Orang-utans are free to come and go as they please, the park wardens are thrilled when an Orang-utan does not come back for food as it generally means that the animal has started to fend for itself. The tourists are, however, certain to be able to see Orang-utans in close proximity, and will be provided with many opportunities to take some good photographs. (be sure to bring along at least 200 ASA film as it can be a little dim at times due to the surrounding jungle) 

TURTLE ISLANDS PARK - Sabah Parks has created a marine park around three islands in the Sulu Sea about 40 km North of Sandakan, which are important areas for the breeding of the Green Turtle. Each night of the year, the turtles come up onto the beach to lay their eggs and then return to the sea. Left to nature, some of the eggs would be destroyed before they hatch, or the hatchlings would not make the journey to the water without being eaten by predators. Sabah Parks has stepped in to assist the Green Turtle population to establish itself again after reaching danger levels. The Park rangers remove the eggs from where they are laid and take them to a hatchery where they are hatched. The hatchlings are then returned to the sea under the benevolent eye of the rangers. 

Visitors are able to watch the turtles arrive on the beach, lay the eggs and return to the ocean, then help the rangers return the new born hatchlings to the beach, where they race to the sea. Even with all the "outside" assistance, only 3% of the hatchlings are likely to reach maturity. 

Visitors can be assured of seeing turtles arrive nightly to lay their eggs throughout the year, although, during the monsoon season from October to February, it is occasionally possible that the boat trip from Sandakan will not leave due to rough seas 

GOMANTONG CAVES

The Rear of Simud Hitam Cave The Rear of Simud Hitam
Cave
The caves, located in a limestone outcrop near the Kinabatangan River have been harvested for their edible birds' nests for centuries. There are two cave "systems" in the area - one producing the black nests, the other producing the much more valuable white nests. As in Niah Caves in Sarawak, swiftlets and bats co-habitate in the caves. The black nest cave - known as Simud Hitam Cave - is the most accessible cave. Here the roof is 90 metres above the floor of the cave, which is covered in guano which must be metres deep and is home to thousands of the the largest cockroaches you are ever likely to see. There are some 27 species of bats in the caves, the majority of them being wrinkled-lipped bats. 

The white nest cave - known as Simud Puteh Cave - is less easily accessible. 

The bird life around the caves is particularly rich - birds which are commonly sighted include Kingfishers, Crested Serpent Eagles and Asian Fairy Bluebirds. 

The caves can be accessed as an easy side trip from Sukau Rainforest Lodge.
 
 
 
Proboscis Monkeyproboscis monkey in tree
SUKAU AND THE LOWER KINABATANGAN RIVER - The Kinabatangan River is the second longest river in Malaysia (the longest being the Rajang in neighbouring Sarawak) The flood plains of the Kinabatangan offer the visitor a rare glimpse of the mangrove forests that cloak the shoreline with their population of Proboscis Monkeys and crested egrets. The Proboscis Monkey is one of nature's jokes. It is a specialised leaf eating primate whose prominent nose and "sunburnt" appearance probably inspired the local name which translates to Dutch monkey. 
 
 
 

Sunset on the KinabatanganSunset on the Kinabatangan
The Kinabatangan is also home to Borneo's largest population of elephants, which are occasionally seen on the afternoon jungle river cruise to find the proboscis monkeys. Other wildlife found in the area include the long-tailed macaque, pig-tailed macaque, silver, red and grey-leaf monkeys, gibbon, Sumatran rhinoceros, sambar deer, bearded pig, greater and lesser mouse deer, hairy nosed otter, slow loris monitor lizard and of course, crocodiles. As well as the egrets, bird life includes herons, storm's stork, osprey, falcon, kingfisher, hornbill, woodpecker, drongo, oriole, parakeet, coucal and many others. 

BORNEO RAINFOREST LODGE - Borneo Rainforest Lodge has been designed by naturalists, built with local materials and located in a magnificent setting beside the Danum River in Sabah's largest protected lowland forest. It is a wildlife experience in a remote primary rainforest, combining comfort, privacy and good food with high quality natural history interpretation. The accommodation has been designed along the lines of traditional Dusun dwellings linked with the lodge by an attractive walkway.  All buildings have been constructed from local products, and power is generated on site.
 

Bearded PigBeared Pig
A bare minimum of trees have have been cut so that nature is never more than a few metres away. More than 275 species of birds and 110 species of mammals, including Asian elephant, orang-utan, Sumatran rhinoceros, deer Bornean gibbons, bearded pigs, flying squirrel, Rhinoceros hornbill and Bulwar's pheasant, have been found in the area. The staff of Borneo Rainforest Lodge are able to show the visitor an incredible diversity of flora and fauna. Tree species in the vicinity of Borneo Rainforest Lodge exceed over 200 per hectare. 

 While staying at the Lodge, you will have the opportunity to: 

  • visit an ancient Dusun burial site which has recently been discovered, complete with belian coffins and ceramic spirit jars - visit the jacuzzi pool on the way down - quite safe for swimming and also leech free;
  • undertake nature walks with experienced naturalists through undisturbed riverine and lowland dipterocarp forest;
  • use the 170 metre long canopy walkway to experience the abundance of bird life in the canopy of the forest;
  • take a night drive in an open jeep in search of wildlife;
  • visit beautiful waterfalls and rivers;
  • enjoy evening wildlife video and slide presentations by naturalists;
  • take in a jungle wildlife trek along the escarpment with panoramic views over a wild orang-utan habitat;
  • take advantage of the opportunity for extensive wildlife photography.

Ideally, you should plan on staying at least three days to have a good success at finding the wildlife (remember that it is wild, and in its natural habitat, so there are no guarantees that you will see everything)

Additional photographs on this page are courtesy of Sabah Tourism Promotion Corporation (Mt Kinabalu, orang-utans, and proboscis monkey), Wayne Tarman (Bearded Pig), Borneo Adventure (Dawn on Mt Kinabalu).
 

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Last Update: 01/05/2005 
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