Borneo September 2011

Small jumping spider, Kinabalu National Park, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Small jumping spider, Kinabalu National Park, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

In September I led a small group of eco-tourists to Sabah, Borneo.  This was my fourth trip, although the itinerary has been different each time. On this occasion I stayed on for a short time to visit the Mulu National Park, in Sarawak, which I had not visited before, and the Mount Kinabalu National Park, where I have been on every visit to Borneo but which never ceases to impress me. Mulu was something of a disappointment: although I’m sure it is an interesting and beautiful park, a screw-up in my bookings meant that I had to take accommodation a couple of miles from the park itself, which was very limiting. The trails at Mulu are mostly boardwalks which, while keeping your feet dry, tend to detract from the impression that you are in pristine rain forest. The other attraction at Mulu are the caves, of which there are four: two can be visited on a morning tour and two in the afternoon. Although I understand the need for controlling tourists in places like these, it’s not the way I like to do things and I was disappointed to find that there were no opportunities to photograph the caves properly, i.e. with a tripod.

Prior to Mulu I had accompanied my group to the Selangan Island to watch female green turtles come ashore to lay their eggs, the obligatory orang-utan rehabilitation at Sepilok and the swiflet caves at Gomantong.  All these places are worth seeing if you haven’t been there already. The Kinabatangan River is also on most people’s itinerary and this is probably the best place to see proboscis monkeys: we saw several groups and were also lucky enough to see a female orang-utan with her infant in the wild here.

Rafflesia keithi flower, Poring Hot Springs, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Rafflesia keithi flower, Poring Hot Springs, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

The final part of the tour took us to the Kinabalu National Park, a superb area of montane rain forest at a higher (and cooler) altitude. This is my favourite place in Sabah, with excellent trails, ranging from the one-hour Silau-silau trail, which follows a stream through the forest, to the trail that takes you to the summit of Mount Kinabalu, a serious undertaking that requires a mountain guide, permit, two days and plenty of stamina. Poring Hot Springs is in the same vicinity and is the best place to see Rafflesia flowers – this plant is a parasite of a species of vine and its flowers only last for about three days. Flowers are opening up constantly, however, so there is a very good chance of seeing one.  The bird-life is good at Kinabalu, and there are several endemic species of frogs. The best places to stay are inside the park; although this can be expensive it avoids the problem of having to obtain special permission to visit after dark if you are looking for frogs and other nocturnal creatures.

Montane horned frog

Kinabalu horned frog

We ended up, like every other tourist, back at Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah. A great place to unwind, shop for souvenirs and sample some of the wonderful food from this part of the world.

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