Arrival at Kota Kinabalu. There will be a welcome briefing this evening to meet your leader for the week and to hear more about the trip ahead.
Today we explore World Heritage Site; Mount Kinabalu National Park, home to the highest mountain in South East Asia, Mount Kinabalu at 4,101m. This impressive peak of huge granite walls can be viewed from the Crocker mountain range which we pass over, with panoramic views of the countryside and soaring hills. The lower mountain slopes are covered in thick vegetation and it is well known for its diverse botanical and biological species. En route, we stop at Nabalu market where villagers come to sell their produce and handicraft. We will walk to the Nepenthes Garden, a slope covered with naturally growing pitcher plants; including the giant Nepenthes rajah and native orchids, many are endemic to Borneo only.
We also have a tour of a tea plantation where we spend the night in a traditional Rungus, bamboo longhouse. Tea, medicinal herbs, fruit and vegetables are just some of the things produced locally. From the plantation, the sunrise with a view of Mount Kinabalu is often spectacular. If we are lucky it may be possible to view the spectacular rafflesia in flower nearby or en route to the plantation.
We leave the plantation behind and continue our journey to Sanadakan on the east coast of Sabah. The town was once a huge logging centre (it first exported wood in the late 1880s to supply the building of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing) and is home to many Chinese and Filipinos. The late afternoon is free to explore the city, take a trip to the Sandakan War Memorial or take a short taxi ride to the restored colonial home of renowned local writer Agnes Keith. The nearby Buddhist hill temple is also worth visiting and offers great views and sunsets.
After breakfast we take a short boat ride to Kabili Sepilok forest reserve. From here, we start our walk into the mangrove forest, continuing through virgin primary forest to our jungle lodge located near the Sepilok Orang-utan Centre. This is our first chance to experience the beautiful untouched lowland rainforest. If we are lucky we may spot various primates, hornbills and perhaps a civet cat! The walk should take about 5 hours and includes two steep but short hills, which have wooden steps. Our main bags will be transported by taxi to this evening's accommodation. At certain times of the year the trails may be very muddy with the occasional leech.
This morning we will head to the nearby Rainforest Discovery Centre. Here there are fantastic bird watching opportunities: Hornbills and the Borneo Bristlehead are often seen, and an array of displays highlights the island's diverse flora. Orang-utans can also be spotted during the fruiting season. There is an impressive canopy walkway and some easy trails to explore. In the afternoon we visit the quieter of the day's two feeding sessions at the Orang-utan Centre, the largest orang-utan sanctuary in the world. Here rehabilitated orphans and captured orang-utans are cared for until they are ready to be released into the wild. We get the opportunity to see these incredible relations of ours close-up and learn about the very real threats to their continued existence.
This morning we take a mini bus (approx 2.5 hrs) to our jungle lodge in the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. En-route we stop at the bizarre Gomantong caves. The caves are a major source of the swiftlet bird nests that are a Chinese delicacy. Every day, when in season, workers climb large ladders up to 400 feet up to the roof of the caves to collect the valuable nests. Our river lodge is located on the mighty Kinabatangan River, the 3rd longest river in Borneo. The area is home to an astonishing array of wildlife including ten species of primates, four of which are endemic to Borneo. It has one of the highest concentrations of proboscis monkeys and orang-utans in Malaysian Borneo. Other wildlife includes bornean gibbon, Asian pygmy elephants, long tailed macaques, sun bears, clouded leopards and barking deer. There are also over 200 species of birds including hornbills, eagles, herons, kingfishers, oriental darters, night jars, flowerpeckers and spider hunters. We will take jungle walks and river cruises during the day.
We are up with the animals for a dawn wildlife cruise followed by a trek out to an ox-bow lake and forest restoration site for tree planting. Here, we can learn what is being done to protect this fragile environment. In the afternoon, we will once again take a river cruise to spot wildlife and if we are lucky a crocodile or two. We will also have the opportunity for a jungle night walk with possibilities of seeing scorpions, night owl and even western tarsiers.
We drive to Danum Valley conservation area (approx 2-3 hrs), the largest protected lowland dipterocarp forest in Borneo. It is one of the last remaining pockets of primary lowland rainforest in Asia. Danum Valley is at the forefront of tropical rainforest research, and home to many rare and endangered species of mammals and birds - it is a real privilege to spend 2 nights here in the comforts of the Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Danum Valley is probably the very best place in Malaysia to see wild orangutans in their pristine habitat. Apart from orangutans, it has just about the complete range of Bornean wildlife and great trails. After settling in, there is an afternoon nature trek to try and spot the elusive orang-utan, and after dinner a night drive is possible to spot many of the shy and retiring creatures of the forest. We will spend our time here with very experienced guides who accompany us on all our walks. One night drive is included during our stay.
We will spend a full day with our very experienced guides. We will have an opportunity to explore the trails, the 300m long canopy walkway and waterfalls whilst searching for wildlife in this remarkable place. Danum is home to over 275 bird species, 110 species of mammals including orang-utans, five species of deer, giant flying squirrels, gibbons, bearded wild boars, flying frogs and the Asian elephant. One of Danum's least known animals is the elusive Sumatran rhinoceros, unfortunately facing imminent extinction.
After one further early morning nature trek, we leave Danum and take a flight back to Kota Kinabalu. The afternoon is free to relax or explore the bustling Filipino markets. In the evening it is possible to enjoy a sunset drink on the waterfront.
Today you are free to enjoy some of the many activities Kota Kinabalu has to offer. The most popular option is to visit one of the tropical islands in the marine park, a 15 min boat journey from the city. Here you can never be bored whether you are relaxing on the white sand, snorkelling or just swimming in the warm South China Sea. There will also be the opportunity to take a gentle cycling tour through some of the villages to a nearby orchid farm.
We leave the city behind and fly to Mulu National park (schedules for this flight often vary). After checking-in at the Park HQ, we will be introduced to the park guides and head through the forest to Deer Cave. Some of the caves have been mapped by occasional expeditions, they have their own ecosystems with plants and animals living in the cave chambers. Deer Cave, the largest cave passage in the world, is home to millions of bats and swifts that live side by side on the roof of the cave. The cave floor has a raised platform, though that is no escape from the smell of the 'guano' - the excrement from millions of birds and bats. Close-by is Lang's Cave, which though much smaller, has some excellent stalactites and stalagmites and other cave formations. The forest around the caves is spectacular and there is plenty of time to examine it closely. We will arrive at Deer Cave in time for dusk which is when the bats leave the comfort of the cave to feed on insects (as long as it is not raining). This is a site to behold with the bats leaving the cave in a long line snaking across the sky for quite some time.
Today is a day for exploring this stunning park with a local guide. In the morning we visit three of the 'show caves' including Clearwater where a picnic lunch can be had in the gorgeous riverside location.The park has some incredible statistics; It has over 3,500 plant species, 8,000 different types of fungi and 170 species of orchid. Over 100 new plant species were discovered between 1960 and 1973, and many are still being added. There are 262 species of bird, almost 300 species of butterflies and many reptiles and mammals. Members of the Penan tribe live within the park. They are a small population of nomadic forest dwellers who live as hunter-gatherers. There has been fierce international opposition to the Malaysian government who tried to settle them in permanent longhouses and indeed the Penan themselves have also resisted. In 1994 they were granted an area of the forest where they could continue their traditional lifestyle. Although you are unlikely to meet these elusive people, you occasionally see their fishing shelters or areas in the forest where they have recently visited.
Today there are a number of options available. For those feeling adventurous there is the chance to do some basic caving, or visit one of the local Penan settlements and understand a little more about their unique way of life. Otherwise simply relax in the park and listen to the weird and wonderful creatures that call it home. Alternatively those with a head for heights can try the optional canopy walkway. This 480-metre skywalk is the longest tropical canopy walkway in the world and takes approx 2 hours to complete. Along the way, visitors may be able to see macaque monkeys, hornbills, flying lizards, squirrels and a variety of rainforest birds. In the evening we can try the local Mulu 'firewater', Tuak. There is also an optional night walk.
There is time to take a final early walk in the park before returning to Miri for an afternoon flight to Kuching, the capital of Sarawak. Kuching is a vibrant riverside city full of different ethnic groups who have migrated from the surrounding forests. With a great museum and a well-preserved colonial centre there is much to do in this fascinating cultural hot spot. We can have dinner at the hawkers stalls on the waterfront.
This morning we travel to visit Semenggok Orang-utan Centre where we can see the semi-wild orang-utans during feeding time. The orang-utans here have been released into the wild after rehabilitation but some still come back for feeding when food in the forest is not sufficient. Other animals such as wild monkeys, honey bears, porcupines and hornbills are also kept here. In the afternoon we will return to Kuching in time to visit the Sarawak museum with the best collection of artefacts in South East Asia.
We will take a day trip to Bako National Park famous for its Proboscis monkeys. This is where the rainforest meets the sea. It has abundant wildlife, jungle streams, waterfalls, interesting plant life, secluded beaches and trekking trails. It is such an interesting environment as it contains almost every type of vegetation found in Borneo despite being the smallest National Park in Sarawak.
As we come towards the end of the trip, we relocate to a relaxing beach resort on the Santubong Peninsula. Surrounded by the Sarawak River, mangroves, forest and at the foot of Gunung (Mount) Santubong, this is the perfect place to relax.
This morning we visit the Sarawak Cultural Village which portrays the distinct cultures of Sarawak's many cultural groups. Here it is possible to view Sarawak's ethnic communities at a glance with a look at their homes and lifestyles. The rest of the day we can take full advantage of the resort's facilities.
While returning to Kuching, we will take a boat trip to look for the rare Irrawady Dolphins. Although we cannot guarantee sightings, this playful mammal is often seen swimming and diving around the estuary of the Santubong River. From here, we will continue our journey to Kuching. We will have a final few hours in Kuching which is perhaps the best place in Borneo to buy authentic tribal handicrafts. End Kuching.