Once one of the most diverse and wild places on earth! I have always thought the orangutan was a phenomenal creature and this was my chance to see one in the wild! There are only two places on earth that this can be done. Borneo or next door on the island of Sumatra. The population of Bornean Orangutans has now dropped to 45,000 and there are only about 6,300 left in the wild in Sumatra. I hate to even have to say that if I don’t see them now I may never have another chance..
I flew a short two hour from Manila in the Philippines to Kota Kinabalo, Malaysia. After spending a month speaking only English around mainly catholic Filipino people I was ready for things to get weird. Many people I met were a bit bored with this city but I loved it! Muslims, Buddhist, Catholics. Malay, Chinese, Indian. A bit of everything all wrapped up into one. I also forgot that they drive on the other side of the road in Malaysia. The steering wheel is on the opposite side of what I am used to as well.
I stayed at a great little hostel called the Masada Backpacker. The first hostel I have ever stayed at where they had a washing machine to wash your clothes for free! If you’re a backpacker like me, your mind was just blown!
I also found a fancy sushi joint in the mall with one of those sushi conveyer belts I hear about in Japan that deliver the food to your table. Always wanted to see one of these places and I got 24 pieces of sushi and a green tea for less then $5! Mind blown again right?
There is many night markets full of everything from shoes to jewelry to fresh sea food. Kota Kinabalu is a good walking city. Most everything you need can be gotten to on foot. I always felt safe walking around at night.
If you really feel like taking a hike you can walk to the City Mosque. It is a beautifully designed mosque on the outside of the city along the oceans coast. When I arrived I was not meeting the dress code in my shorts and t shirt so I went down the road and got my hands on some proper Muslim attire and walked back to pay a visit to the Mosque in style..
There is a look out point you can visit on your way back to town to have lunch overlooking the city and after that you have pretty much seen it all. Not to many attractions in KK. You can book a day tour from here to go see the Proboscis monkey (in the heading photo.) This island is the only place on earth that you can find this monkey! Part of that tour also includes taking a boat down a river to see the fireflies. After seeing the mosque and the monkeys I booked a bus to Sandakan for the next day.
On the six hour bus ride through the “jungle” it was full of mainly local people with a couple of British girls sitting near me. I heard them talking about how amazing it was to be surrounded by nothing but jungle for miles on every side. I had to inform them a bit about what was really going on. For the last 70 years the jungle has been being burned to the ground piece at a time to make way for palm oil! The homes of wild elephants, tigers, orangutans, probiscus monkeys and sun bears has been being destroyed at alarming rates!
They tell me that there is so much corruption that 80% of the logging is done illegally.
This was copied and pasted from a note I had in my phone from months back before I ever knew I was going to Borneo.
“One of the biggest crimes against humanity ever… Every day 300 football fields of rain forest are destroyed an hour to make way for Palm Oil. Indonesia is one of the largest producers of Palm Oil in the world. The largest wild fire on earth is happening right now! Over 100,000 fires have taken place in Indonesia and Malaysia in the last couple months. Orangutans are on track to be extinct in 5-10 years. Sumatran tigers will be extinct in 3! A third of all of the mammals in Indonesia and Malaysia are endangered.. The air quality is so poor they are canceling flights and even school! The smoke is literally such a crisis that people are dying because they cannot breathe! They are burning fields of the most beautiful hardwoods in the world along with burning tigers and Orangutans alive! Corrupt corporations like Nestle and Pepsi are 100% to blame for this catastrophe. Frito-lays and Pepsi isn’t food anyways fuck head! Palm oil is in half of everything so maybe you can’t just not use it but Pepsi products particularly use conflict palm oil. (Pepsi owns pretty much all of the junk food you eat.) Less then 300 Sumatra tigers remain in the wild because their homes are burned to make fucking Pepsi! Disgusting.” I wrote that in March. And yesterday I took a 7 hour bus ride through what once was one of the most amazing stretches of jungle in the world! And has since been burned to the ground and replaced with palm plantations. The whole ride I was sick to my stomach.
What a world we are living in. Nothing is safe if there is a few dollars on the other side.
So a few hours later I arrived to the town of Sandakan. In the first half of the 1900’s the British occupied Borneo until 1944 when the Japanese occupied the area. They bombed the city until it was completely destroyed because the Japanese wanted to bay in front of the town as a port for ships because it was so secluded. The town was left in ruins for years until it was rebuild later to be a main port of export for oil, tobacco, coffee, timber and fish.
Sandakan is the jump off spot for expititions to see elephant, orangutan, sun bears and proboscis monkeys in the wild. There are three day river tour that can be arranged here. There is also some rehabilitation centers like … where you can come visit the orangutan in its natural habitat. There is no walls here, the orangutans are free to come and go as they please. But some do tend to come back every day for a feeding of coconuts in the morning. This gal walked passed me as I was leaving and I was so excited that I focused on the background on accident.
Near here is a center as well that you can see sun bears in the jungle.
After my second day in Sandakan I was talking to the owners boyfriend of the Sandakan Backpackpackers where I was staying. I was asking him what else there was to do near there and he told me about Turtle Island. An island an hour by boat from Sandakan east towards The Philippines where turtles hatch eggs and you can help the baby turtles get to the sea before eaten by predators. I asked him “isn’t that where the pirates are at?” He basically told me that is exactly where the pirates are at but the waters near there are protected by the Malaysian Navy and that they have Navy ships on the route to make sure there isn’t any problems. This was taken from the roof of the Hostel. Pirate waters or not it sure looked pretty from my seat!
Then I started reading about the waters near Sandikan on the internet and read about how Filipino pirates have actually come onto land and kidnapped local people from a restaurant and took them to sea for ransom. Then I went on to read about how they kidnap Malaysian fishermen in these same waters and hold them for ransom or kill them. And it was at this point that I decided that I didn’t need to see anything else in this town. That night I booked a flight the next day back to Kota Kinabalu. This was the only stretch of untouched jungle I could see the whole flight.
From KK you have a few options for traveling. You can take the ferry boat to Brunei or you can go by bus. If you take the bus you better have some room in your passport because you will acquire 9 yes NINE new passport stamps to go this route. Brunei is made up of two parts so you have to exit and enter borders 4 times which is 8 stamps. Then you get a stamp when you go from the state of Sabah into Sarawak. Once in Brunei I read that it is not designed for tourism. There isn’t much to do other then to see the Sultans Palace. I read that a few years ago he was one of the most wealthy people in the world. But from Brunei to the other end of Sabah looked on the map like a solid 12 hour or more bus ride to Kuching. And the flights were not cheap from Brunei to anywhere. So I decided to chalk the rest of Borneo up on the fact that I would spend a whole lot of money only for basically bragging rights. I figured I could save that money and go to Myanmar or India so the cheapest flight out of Kota Kinabalu I could get my hand on was to Singapore and I had not been there yet. Sooo next stop Singapore!
Getting to and from-
From Kota Kinabalu you can book cheap flight to Kuching, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Manilla. Cost- 43 ringgit ($9.50)
From Kota Kinabalu you can arrange a bus to Sandakan from the terminal that leaves every other hour. You can also book a bus at the terminal or a ferry boat to Brunei from the port. Cost is about 50 ringgit ($10.50) either way.
Where to stay-
Kota Kinabalu- The Masada Backpacker- 40 ringgit ($9) a night with AC, good wifi and breakfast included.
Sandakan- The Sandakan Backpacker is ok for a night or two. The staff is very nice. The rooftop view is the nicest thing in the whole city. Its 35 ringgit per night. If I could do that trip again I would stay at the hostel in Sepiloc for the same price that has a pool!