Borneo’s top 5 travel secrets
24th October 2012
Borneo is a land of intrigue, popular with travellers the world over. Award-winning guide Kevin Albin reveals how to avoid the honeypots, starting with sun bears
1. Sun bear sanctuary, Sepilok
Sepilok is a popular destination to see the orang utans but right next door is a brand new sanctuary for sun bears (helped along by Kevin’s Guide Award bursary). These bears are the smallest of all sub-species and, like the orang utan, they are arboreal and are losing their habitat through deforestation. Sadly, they are also poached, captured for pets and used in Asian medicine.
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre currently has 25 bears in residence. Conservationists are nursing them back to health and where necessary, educating in how to be a wild bear. The intention is then to release them into the forest. As so few people know about the sun bears, including Malaysian and Indonesians, the Centre is also involved in education and raising the animal’s profile.
2. Lupa Masa
Picture an eco-camp made from giant bamboo with palm thatched shelters, solar powered lighting and reed bed toilet disposal. There’s no roads, no hunting and it employs solely local people.
The real beauty though lies in the forest, which is full of jungle animals who live undisturbed. Track down exotic birds, curious insects and a range of primates, such as gibbons who make the most enchanting noises. Clear rivers and stunning waterfalls complete the experience.
Lupa Masa means literally to ‘forget time’ and near to Poring Hot Springs, surrounded by the beautiful Mt Kinabalu National Park it’s easy to see why.
3. Picnic with the Penan
If you are looking for a genuine experience in the jungle with local people, this one is exceptional. The Penan, once a truly nomadic tribe, know exactly how to live in harmony with the forest. You’ll need to take a light aircraft flight to Long Lellang, deep in the rainforest and maybe a boat journey in a dug-out canoe.
Witness how the jungle provides for its inhabitants with food, water, and shelter as well as those comforts such as baskets and bracelets made from rattan, and even musical instruments from bamboo. The area is stunning and the guides who will take you trekking are very knowledgeable.
4. The Kinabatangan River
This is a remarkable place to see wildlife. Pygmy elephants, proboscis monkeys, and even saltwater crocodiles. Cruise the river at dawn and dusk, stay in a bamboo hut at Sukau or Abai Village and savour the great food being served.
Take a night walk in the jungle with a local guide who will find things you would never have spotted on your own. The nearby Gomantong Caves are worth a visit for the bats and swiftest and their nests – a spectacle straight out of a David Attenborough documentary.
This is across the bay from Bako National Park near to Kuching and is a little known area. It’s where 19th century British explorer and naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace carried out some of his research, thought to have been instrumental in Darwin’s evolution theory. For wildlife enthusiasts there’s the chance to spot rare hornbills, turtles, and the Irrawdy dolphin.
If you’re feeling fit, Mt Santubong is worth the four-hour trek to the summit.
Kevin Albin won Bronze in the 2011 Wanderlust World Guide Awards. He used his prize bursary to help set up the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. Find out what makes him an award-winning guide here.