Sunday, 12 May 2013

Adventure in Borneo, Malaysia

For a holiday with adventure, Escape Worldwide's Karen Stewart swapped Wanstead for Malaysia and the island of Borneo, where she discovered glorious beaches combined with intriguing wildlife.

Borneo is on a lot of people's must-see list of places because of its beaches, wildlife – most famously the orangutan – jungles and, for the more energetic, mountain climbing. It's a really special place, and while it's not the easiest to get to, it's well worth the effort. Consider spending a few days in the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, on the way to Borneo, visiting the Petronas Twin Towers, Chinatown and the great markets, then fly over to Kota Kinabalu, the main town in Sabah.

Borneo's geography is quite complicated, with the one island split between three countries, but while the Malaysian side of the island is far smaller than the Indonesian side – the third country, Brunei, has a really tiny area – far more visitors head to Malaysia, and the province of Sabah receives most of these.

The town of Kota Kinabalu, or KK as it's often known (they seem to like shortening town names in Malaysia), is a bustling place with plenty of interest, some great restaurants and a relaxed feel – it's certainly far less hectic than Kuala Lumpur (KL). There are some beautiful beaches along the coastline either side of the town, so you can stay close to the centre if you want to try the local restaurants and do a bit of shopping, or base yourself out of town on one of the glorious beaches a bit further away if you're looking for a more relaxed stay.

Over on the east coast of Borneo is the town of Sandakan, where the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is located, and this is definitely worth visiting either for a day trip or overnight. The centre has been helping to release rescued orangutans back into the wild since the 1960s, with many of their residents coming from areas of Borneo that have been cleared for logging, from illegal hunting activities, or from being kept as pets. Orangutans are so rare and so mesmerizing that a centre like this is such an important place – many visitors are really moved to see some of the younger orangutans being hand reared by the staff, on their gradual way back into the jungle.

An Orangutan at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

One of the leading places to stay in Borneo is the beautiful Shangri-La Rasa Ria, a gorgeous hotel set on the beautiful sands of Dalit Bay. The whole area around the Rasa Ria has a very relaxing feel, but the highlight is their very own orangutan centre, a 64-acre site that allows guests to see these amazing creatures up close. Here you can actually get closer to the orangutans than you generally can at Sepilok, which is a good sign for Sepilok as it shows their programme is working, with the animals gradually moving back into the jungle areas of the centre.

Some of the younger residents of the centre at the Rasa Ria can be particularly curious about the visitors, and they swing on the ropes to take a closer look. If you visit the centre, don't be surprised if one of the orangutans comes within a few inches before the rangers intervene.

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