In a world where the constraints of modern living often make us yearn for nature and freedom, hidden worlds have tucked themselves on the island of Borneo.
In the northeast of the vast island of Borneo, Sabah is one of Malaysia’s states that offers unforgettable and scenic sites for thrill seekers, adventurers, and nature lovers alike.
Kinabalu Park is a World Heritage Site that every adventurer should see. The area is rich in flora and fauna diversity, many of which are native to Kinabalu and Borneo. Accommodation here ranges from basic hostels to more luxurious chalets located within the Kinabalu Park Headquarters area.
Rooftop of Malaysia
Mount Kinabalu, which tops out at an elevation of 4,095 metres, is of course the park’s major attraction. There are two known climbing routes to the summit, the popular Ranau trail or the less-used Kota Belud trail. The mountain’s summit is considered among the safest and most accessible in the world. To take on this thrilling yet awe-inspiring conquest, one only has to be physically fit and healthy.
When the thrill of traditional climbing isn’t enough, one can ascend along the ‘Iron Road’ also known as Via Ferrata. Mountain Torq’s Via Ferrata, located on Mount Kinabalu’s Panalaban rock face, is Asia’s first and world’s highest Via Ferrata. The two routes for climbers to experience are Walk the Torq and Low’s Peak Circuit. The wonderful feature of the Via Ferrata is that prior mountaineering knowledge or experience is not required to enjoy the ascent. Suffice to be at least 1.3 metres tall, healthy, and fit, with no fear of heights. The misty atmosphere throughout the ascent is the reward for the more difficult climb.
Danum Valley, located in the Lahad Datu area, is another diversely rich conservation site amid Sabah’s 130-million-year-old rainforests. The area is recognised for protecting endangered wildlife such as the banteng, the clouded leopard, and the Bornean pygmy elephant, which is endemic to Borneo. The complex ecosystem of the virgin forest includes over 120 mammals, including 10 species of primates, over 300 species of birds, and the list goes on. Aside from seeing ancient burial sites, adventurers and nature lovers can birdwatch, explore the forest, walk along the canopy walkway, and embark on night jungle expeditions – and this is only the tip of the iceberg.
The Danum Valley Conservation Area houses a few luxurious accommodations for far-wandering travellers. The Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Kawag Nature Lodge, and Danum Valley Field Centre (DVFC) – which was once only opened to researchers – offer comfortable stays, guides, as well as head-turning activities around the valley.
After soaking in the chill and excitement of the mountainside, forest bathing in Sabah’s primaeval rainforest, a lovely cruise along the 560-km Kinabatangan River, spotting its magnificent wildlife, is an activity one must experience to further form a kinship with North Borneo’s nature. As visitors travel deeper into the interior, whether on dawn or dusk cruises, a sense of surrealism emerges as they are able to listen to the rainforest’s secret tunes, have chances to spot all eight species of hornbills, observe colourful tropical birds, spot a few or all 10 species of primates, and other wild daytime or night-time residents in the area.
Trekking through the jungle along the river to the U-shaped Oxbow Lake is also an option. The Lower Kinabatangan area is lined with luxury rainforest eco-lodges that provide comfort in the midst of the jungle and are eco-friendly and sustainable for tourism activities, thereby playing an important part in conservation efforts.
On Land and Sea, the Animals of Sabah
The Turtle Islands Park, which includes the islands of Selingan, Gulisan, and Bakungan Kecil, would be the next stop for the adventurous. The park’s main attractions are two endangered turtle species, the Green and Hawksbill turtles. These turtles will come to shore at night year-round to lay eggs. Divers, swimmers, and avid snorkelers will also be treated to stunning blue waters. Selingan Island has visitor lodgings. Permission passes to access the park, like Sipadan, are extremely limited. To avoid heartbreak, reserve your spot early!
Nature lovers seeking for more educational trips might visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SOURC), Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), or Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC). These destinations offer a change of scenery from the vast ocean, as they are located in the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve in Sandakan, formerly known as Elopura. Accommodation options range from lodges and motels to resorts in and around Sandakan. There are also other Jungle Lodges in the vicinity of the aforementioned centres.
The SOURC is well-known for its work in rescuing orphaned and injured orangutans. Visitors can observe the endangered inhabitants at feeding periods and, on occasion, on trips on the centre’s boardwalk. The Nature Education Centre, on the other hand, is a place where visitors may learn more about SOURC.
The BSBCC, SOURC’s neighbour, rescues and rehabilitates the world’s smallest bear species, which is native to Southeast Asia. These little sun bears, also known as Malayan Sun Bears, are an endangered species. Sun Bears can be seen at BSBCC by wandering along the available boardwalks and observation platforms. The gift shop at BSBCC sells anything from instructional books, caps, tote bags, and postcards to adorable handmade keychains. Aside from strolling along the boardwalk, visitors can participate in the centre’s educative bear talks.
A Walk in the Forest
The RDC is located on a pristine lake on the outskirts of the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve and is another great place for nature lovers to immerse themselves in the tranquil ambience of Sabah’s rainforests. Visitors can take guided excursions to learn more about Borneo’s unique flora and fauna. The Rainforest Skywalk, the Plant Discovery Garden, exhibition rooms, environmental education programmes, and night walks are among the attractions offered by the centre.
There is also a suspension bridge that runs across the lake. With eyes wide open, one will have the opportunity to spot rare wildlife such as the Giant Red Flying Squirrel, the Bornean Bristlehead, and plants such as the prehistoric cycad. Annually, RDC is chosen as the host venue for the Borneo Bird Festival, an event that draws ardent bird watchers from all over the world.
Tawau Hills Park sits quietly among the gorgeous surrounding Bornean jungle. The property safeguards watershed resources for Tawau and the Semporna Peninsula. The park, which is dotted with natural deepwater pools and peaceful waterfalls, is a must-see for nature lovers. The park is made up of three hills: Mount Magdalena and Lucia, as well as Bombalai Hill, which offers an exciting challenge to brave hikers. The park is also home to a variety of fauna and vegetation, not to mention tall towering ancient trees and woodland critters. A canteen, multi-purpose rooms and halls, and even tourist lodgings ranging from hostels to chalets are available in the neighbourhood.
From guided nature and botanical walks to diving into coral-adorned sea beds and seeing Borneo wildlife in ancient rainforests, to venturing into rugged mountain pathways and conquering one of Southeast Asia’s highest peaks, Sabah is a location where beautiful memories are painted that last a lifetime. North Borneo has much to offer everyone, whether they are passionate mountain climbers, divers, or wildlife enthusiasts. The best part is that these incredible destinations are just the beginning, and only part of Sabah’s enchanting opportunities for visitors.
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