Borneo. The name rings with end-of-the-earth appeal, occupying an almost mythological place in the traveler's lexicon, as though it were a jungle-covered Atlantis. Travel to Borneo reveals wonders that these wonders are actually very real - rainforests teem with wildlife such as the pygmy Asian elephant, proboscis monkey, clouded leopard, slow loris, sun bear, barking deer, pig-tailed macaque and the huge flying fox bat. The profusion and variety of bird species is also astounding. Eco-tourism offers a unique vantage-point from within prized wildlife sanctuaries.
A Closer Look
And then there is the orangutan, or "man of the forest" in Malay. These extraordinary creatures may be seen up close in the wild at places like the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, where orphaned orangutans are conditioned to return to the wild. Founded in 1964, the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre was created in order to protect orangutans who had been kept in captivity or made homeless due to logging activity, and no trip to Borneo is complete without a visit. The apes that are brought here are rehabilitated to forest life, and there are two daily feeding times for them. Over the years, the center has handled about 80 orangutans, and it now encompasses 15 square miles. In addition to the orangutans, visitors can see Sumatran rhinos and walk on trails through the rainforest for a close-up look at a diverse world of trees, climbing plants, birds and insects.
Highlights of a Borneo tour could include a jungle river cruise with a silent outboard motor, which allows close access to wild orangutans, macaques and hornbills. Or help release green and hawksbill turtle hatchlings to the sea on Turtle Island. At Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary visit Ox-Bow Lake, to search for hairy-nosed otters, tortoises and the freshwater terrapin. Go out on a nocturnal wildlife jeep safari, to look for the western tarsier and slow loris. Don your mask and flippers and head out into the clear waters off Sipidan to see schools of barracuda that travel in tornado-like formation, greenback and hawksbill turtles, manta rays and huge but harmless whale sharks. Some of our favorite Borneo tours include a classic luxury barge on an expedition up the mighty Rajang River.
Borneo travel is at once wildly remote and logistically easy, due to a well-developed infrastructure for accessing its natural treasures. Suspended aerial walkways in many areas of the jungle canopy make travel to Borneo an exceptional immersion in wildlife habitat. Eco-tourism in Borneo provides direct financial benefit to its wondrous species, and will help decide the fate of many of Borneo's animals, so don't delay travel to Borneo.
One of the many spectacular things to do in Borneo, trekking can be arranged in the remote Danum Valley, Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary and Gunung Mulu National Park. These treks can be done as day hikes or overnight excursions with tents and guided support.
EXPEDITION RIVER CRUISING
The new luxury barge, RV Orient Pandaw, now operates along Borneo's most remote rivers. The ship has an ultra-shallow draft and can travel to remote areas unreachable by other vessels, let alone overland. There is much to do and see along the river, such as visiting traditional longhouses, exploring river towns and taking jungle treks to spot wildlife like crocodiles, macaques, monitor lizards and hornbills.
Sipadan is "an untouched piece of art," according to Jacques Cousteau. This tiny island boasts spectacular underwater landscapes, unspoiled marine life and more turtles than you ever dreamt possible. Among the most popular things to do in Borneo, snorkeling is unlimited and just steps away. The accommodations here are rustic-but-clean beach huts. The outstanding food and ambiance combine for a wonderful experience for lovers of the sea.
Upscale accommodation is available at Mabul Island at the Sipadan Water Village, which offers stilted over-water villas with pleasant air-conditioned rooms. It is just an hour by speedboat from Sipadan Island.