Sabah's natural delights

10th July 2011 | by Lionel

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In 2011, Lionel and Karl visited Borneo's eastern state of Sabah to discover more about the incredible wealth of natural delights the region has to offer.

Arriving at midday in Kota Kinabalu (KK), we took the opportunity to grab a couple of hours sleep at our hotel, The Beverley, before meeting our colleagues from Sabah for a tour of the city, and dinner. The city of KK is quite spread out and traffic during peak hours can be heavy.

We had actually arrived during the Muslim festival of Hari Raya, celebrating the end of Ramadan, and traffic around town was particularly dense, as many of the locals were out and about, either shopping for the festivities or making their way to visit friends and relatives.

After a tour of the city and harbour areas we settled into a traditional open-air seafood restaurant for a sumptuous feast of fried grouper with garlic, chilli clams and lemon-roasted chicken, all served with steamed rice and Tiger beer.

The next day was spent inspecting a number of hotels which we regularly use - this part of the trip is definitely work, but essential stuff. We managed to find time for a brief visit to the Monsopiad 'headhunters' village about 30 minutes outside of KK. The visit gives a fascinating insight into the life of tribal warriors in past times.

The next morning we left KK for Kinabalu National Park, taking a stop en-route at Poring Hot Springs. There is a small but enjoyable canopy walkway and some jungle trails that are worth exploring, but the actual hot spring pools are perhaps a little disappointing. They are overcrowded at certain times of the day, and are man-made rather than natural.

Continuing on to KNP, we arrived around mid-afternoon and had time to explore a jungle trail before dark. The Park's elevated location means it has a cooler climate than the surrounding lowlands, and fleeces were essential in the evening.

The restaurants in the NP serve delicious, hearty food, catering for the numerous climbers and trekkers that visit each day. The next morning started cloudy with the peak of Mt Kinabalu hidden from sight. Being a whistle stop visit we did not have much time to explore the many trails, and were envious of the groups setting off in various directions with guides leading the way.

We drove back to KK Airport in time for the short flight to Sandakan, where we met our new guide for lunch and some hotel inspections, followed by a brief tour of the town. The sun was setting as we arrived at the beautiful Sepilok Nature Resort, adjacent to the world famous nature reserve and orang-utan sanctuary.

Karl and I enjoyed a delicious Malay meal at the restaurant and bumped into an old friend from the UK who was there enjoying her honeymoon! It really can feel like a small world. We shared stories and a couple of drinks before retiring to our comfortable chalets.

Feeding time at the Sepilok Orang-utan Sanctuary was a very enjoyable experience, and due to it being a public holiday the majority of visitors were locals. The work done at the sanctuary is extremely important for the long-term survival of the orang-utan, and to see them feeding at such close quarters is a remarkable experience.

A three hour boat journey up the Kinabatangan River followed and we were extremely lucky to spot a wild orang-utan, as well as numerous other primates and bird species, before arriving at the Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge. The lodge makes an excellent base for exploring the waterways of the region, and also serves delicious food and wonderfully cold Stella Artois!

The following morning we left at sunrise and drove to the Danum Valley, home to the Borneo Rainforst Lodge. Switching to a 4WD, we set of for a further two hours on unsealed jungle roads into the heart of the primary rainforest in Danum Valley Conservation Area. The jungle trekking and night cruise were fantastic experiences, and the 5-section canopy walk is amongst the finest anywhere in the world – absolutely breathtaking. It was a shame to leave again so early the next morning, but we weren't really there to relax, after all, and Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort beckoned - and so we hit the road again.

Arriving at Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort (a remarkable stilt village built entirely over water) on a 40 minute boat ride from Semporna Jetty on the mainland, one goes past Mabul Island, with the chance to view the extremely odd oil-rig (yep) that has been positioned just off shore to accommodate divers. Even though it is not actively drilling oil, one must question the thought process that allowed such a monstrosity of a “resort” to be located here.

Kapalai was beautiful, a haven for divers to the nearby Sipadan Island sites, and also popular with honeymooners drawn by the clear blue sea, numerous turtles and incredible corals and reefs.

The next morning we returned to the mainland and flew back to KK after an incredibly busy but enlightening week in Sabah. What a land; high mountains, humid jungle, stunning beach, and a huge diversity of wildlife both on land and at sea.