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Monkeys, Cats and Kayaks on a Bornean Adventure
Researching Southeast Asia’s best #nature destinations, we discovered that the island of #Borneo is the obvious choice as it is home to some of the oldest and most diverse rainforests in the world. Kuching provided an ideal base to get #active and explore Sarawak. It combines the comforts of city life with access to some of the best wilderness #adventure activities on the planet.
My mum lives in Cambodia, and for the last five years or so, I’ve been making it a habit to venture to Southeast Asia on an almost annual basis. On this trip, she got some time off work and we decided to hit up Sarawak in Borneo, lured there by the promise of abundant wildlife, stunning scenery and Malaysian food. Sarawak delivered above and beyond on all counts. There are frequent cheap flights between Kuala Lumpur and Kuching, making ‘The Land of the Headhunters’ more accessible than ever.
The locals were so welcoming that we felt the city would make a perfect base for the whole week.
Given the reputation of Borneo being a mysterious wilderness of rainforests and tribes, we were surprised that our first impressions were that of a very British style quaintness. Sarawak had been under the rule of English ‘white rajas’ between 1842 and the 1960s and its capital, Kuching still retains that colonial feel, exuding a civility of years gone by. The locals were so welcoming that we felt the city would make a perfect base for the whole week we were staying. We chose The Pullman Hotel because of the great reviews it received, and it worked out well. It was luxuriously comfortable with huge windows and a pool.
Hotel Pullman Kuching
Borneo Orangutan Tour
Orangutans Boat Tour
We later found out that it’s supposedly haunted! Luckily nothing went bump in the night during our stay, unless you count my mum tripping over in the dark on the way to the bathroom.
Venturing into town, we were happy to discover that lots of cultures were represented in the many temples, galleries and museums. Sarawak is the most multicultural state in Malaysia with no particular ethnic majority; there are Malay, Chinese, Indian, British and local Iban influences. This is good news for the food scene, and we enjoyed many of the local hawker centre food stalls. I became addicted to iced coffee (kopi) with Milo chocolate powder added - so wrong but so right! We also discovered there was a three week food festival taking place in a park just outside the centre, so we became regulars, eating everything from tempura to cheesecake. We chilled out by taking a boat trip down the Sungai Sarawak River, it was a great way to take in the sites and see just how multicultural the city is with its mixture of Buddhist temples, mosques, colonial fortresses and modern buildings.
I was desperate to see some of Borneo's famous wildlife.
On our second full day, we decided to get adventurous. I was desperate to see some of Borneo's famous wildlife. Until that point, the only animals we had come across were the numerous cat statues situated all over the city, ‘Kuching’ means cat in Malay, hence the popularity of the mascot. We had booked a day tour with Semadang Kayak, combining a morning visit to see orangutans at Semenggoh Wildlife Centre with an afternoon kayaking. The day started with feeding time at the sanctuary, it was amazing to see the orangutans in their natural habitat.
Borneo Orangutan Tour
Diving on Sipadan Island
Orangutans Boat Tour
They also did some nifty acrobatics after breakfast. It was hard to tear ourselves away, but the kayaking was even better. Believe me, I had some initial doubts thinking that I was so unfit I would slow everyone down, but it was fine, there were even little kids doing it...and my mum isn’t exactly a spring chicken. The lunch provided was delicious and the scenery along the journey was breathtaking, with some exhilarating mini-rapids and plenty of butterflies and monkeys to spot. It was a really fun day out.
Encouraged by that trip to the great outdoors, we wanted to see more nature, so we headed to nearby Bako National Park for two nights. This area of rainforest is the oldest in Sarawak and only accessible by sea, however we went there independently via public transport, which is OK for longer trips, but if time is an issue, you should take a tour. We met some people who had been for the day with CPH Travel and highly recommended it for being well-planned with knowledgeable guides. We stayed in a two-bed bungalow in the park grounds and awoke to the noise of monkeys jumping all over the tin roof, it was crazy but fun. I went out when it had calmed down and saw a few monkeys sitting and strolling around.
We awoke to the noise of monkeys jumping all over the tin roof.
There were so many animals to see within Bako’s accommodation grounds and on the beach, such as bearded pigs, leopard cats and the ubiquitous long-tailed macaques, sitting around grooming each other. The most famous inhabitants are Sarawak’s indigenous Proboscis monkeys, known for their penis-shaped (yes, really!) noses and big bellies. There are numerous trails you can take, and when night falls you can go on a guided walk. We saw a huge black scorpion, a pit viper and an adorable little kingfisher sleeping upright on a branch.
Sarawak became one of the best holidays of my life, and Bako National Park was undoubtedly the highlight. To be so close to wild animals in their natural habitat is a real privilege and the rainforest is like another world. The fact that a city as cosy and as tame as Kuching can be so close to the wilderness is awe-inspiring. Sarawak is really the best place for novice adventurers to start exploring Mother Nature.