Tired of going to Phuket or Bali and fighting for a quiet spot on the beach? This month, Suitcases & Souvenirs takes you off the beaten track instead, to a destination, which is a wonderfully kept secret – until now of course. From unique wildlife to untouched jungle, few places can match the natural drama of Malaysian Borneo. Visit the local tribes, spot orangutans in the wild, explore tropical islands, and enjoy the most gorgeous sunsets on this unforgettable adventure, only a two-hour flight away!
Half of me does not want to write this article. I want to keep Borneo as my little secret, and I resent the thought of anyone else knowing about my special Asian vacation hideaway. The other half of me can’t stop talking about Borneo at every party or get-together, and wants to regale everyone with tales of how fantastic this place actually is.
“If Borneo is so wonderful, how come nobody has told me about it yet?” I imagine you asking eagerly. Well, they are probably facing the same dilemma described above. Except the writer and travel enthusiast in me has won; so read on as I share where to go to get the best out of your Borneo experience.
Best for Orangutans:
It is feeding time at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, but it’s surprisingly quiet, with bunches of bananas, coconuts and jackfruit piled on the feeding platform. The quiet doesn’t last very long. Soon I hear the snapping of trees, and two chocolate eyes peek out straight at me. Pretty soon, more orangutans swing down, cartwheeling lazily through the trees to gather up the fruit. I look over at the rapture on my two-year-old daughter’s face, and share her unbridled fascination with these animals.
Of all of Borneo’s wild inhabitants, the Orangutan is clearly the king. Derived from the Malay words, orang (person) and hutan (forest), these “people of the forest” live wild only in Sumatra and Borneo. It is a surreal experience watching these animals in their natural habitat. They seem to have their own personalities; some are forthcoming, others shy, some greedily grab the fruit and linger for photographs, while others nonchalantly stretch out for a siesta.
The Lok Kawi Wildlife Park is a great option for people with little time to spare in Sabah, since it is only 30 minutes away from the capital, Kota Kinabalu. The 280-acre wildlife center is home to several tigers, elephants, orangutans and other protected animals. Go early in the day to beat the heat, and have the best chance of spotting the orangutans in near solitude.
Further information: www.lokkwaiwildlifepark.com/public/main2.asp
Entrance fees: MYR 20 for a non-Malaysian adult and MYR 10 for a child. It is best to hire a car and driver at the hotel to drive to Lok Kawi.
Best for Tribal Culture:
Babbling streams of water, screeching birds and humming crickets make me realize that it’s never quiet in the jungle. As I step inside a traditional longhouse at the Mari Mari Cultural Village, I am surprised to hear the history behind these longhouses (a salient feature of the Rungus tribal culture in Borneo) that our guide, Adam, describes. Each longhouse includes private quarters for up to 50-60 families as well as a shared veranda for village meetings and storage.
The Mari Mari Cultural Village is located deep in the Borneo jungle, about a 25-minute taxi ride from the capital of Kota Kinabalu. The undisturbed beauty of the forest is certain to capture your heart as soon as you step into the village. The village shares the knowledge, history, culture and tradition of the various tribes in Borneo.
A very interesting experience ensues as our guide takes us to view various tribes and explore the way their ancestors lived. We also have a chance to see their different activities such as rice wine making, honey tasting, bamboo cookery, rope- and vest-making from the bark of a tree, tribal tattoos, fire starting and jumping on a trampoline floor. This is followed by a cultural performance of various dances, including jumping across bamboo pipes (audience participation necessary!). Lastly, we are treated to a light Halal meal of fish, chicken rice, vegetables and salad (If you are a vegetarian, it is best to let your tour guide know in advance so vegetarian arrangements can be made). If you go for an evening session, as we did, remember to pack the mosquito repellent!
Further Information: www.marimariculturalvillage.com Book a tour package at the Mari Mari Cultural Village. Admission is MYR 150 for adults and MYR 130 for children. Morning, afternoon and evening sessions are available and include lunch, tea or dinner.