How do you feel about embarking upon an expedition to Sabah’s ‘Lost World’? Starting out from Kota Kinabalu, you’ll traverse mountain passes, skirt some of Sabah’s oldest settlements, then head deep into the rainforest. When the small villages and paved roads run out, you’ll finally find yourself at the remote and extraordinary Maliau Basin.
Stretch your wings even further into Sabah by visiting Sepilok to see orangutan conservation in action, gliding down the Kinabatangan River on a longboat, and balancing your intrepid rainforest days with dedicated down-time on one of Borneo’s stunning beaches.
Those who make it to this pristine area of rainforest, almost entirely encircled by imposing mountains, are amongst a lucky few. A preliminary expedition team only entered the Basin as recently as 1982, and it remains one of Borneo’s least-explored rainforests, home to an abundance of rare wildlife. To date, a staggering diversity of flora and a number of brand new species have been identified. In an region which covers an area larger than the entirety of Singapore, who's to say what else is yet to be discovered?
The Maliau Basin requires special permission to visit, which our local team will be on hand to enable, and facilities are extremely basic. Accommodation is either at the Maliau Basin Studies Centre (a working laboratory and research facility), or in simple camps deep in the rainforest, and guests can expect simple food, basic beds and bunks, cold water showers and limited electricity. You’ll only be roughing it for a few nights, however, with the remainder of your trip including a few more home comforts, and if you’ve got an appetite for adventure this experience is second to none. Our destination specialists will chat with you about how best to fit the Maliau Basin into your tailor-made itinerary, and in the meantime here are some ideas to get you thinking about the shape of your journey…
Days in Maliau are spent traversing its wild terrain, following your guides on undulating treks through the dense undergrowth with the forest canopy towering above you. Pulling yourself up on ropes when you come to particularly steep sections, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular panoramic views over the Basin. This area has the highest density of waterfalls in Malaysia, with the 7-tiered Maliau Falls being the largest and most impressive. It’s an ideal place to picnic, take in the scenery, and cool off with a swim in the tea-coloured, mineral rich waters. Whilst this might not be everyone's idea of a relaxing holiday, it makes for an undeniably memorable experience.
Whether at the start or end of your Maliau adventure, you’ll almost certainly pass through Sabah’s capital city. Often known as ‘KK’, Kota Kinabalu might lack the high profile and distinctive character of some of Asia’s better known metropolises, but is swiftly developing to take advantage of its waterside location and mountain backdrop. Although some of the architecture is a little bit ‘concretey’ and increasingly high rise, it’s one of those cities where visitors tend to be pleasantly surprised.
Not everyone chooses to stay in the city itself, with many favouring the nearby beaches, but highlights for those who do include the Atkinson Clock Tower (Kota Kinabalu's oldest building from the British Colonial era), the iconic floating mosque, bustling markets, and a pleasant waterfront area with ample bars, night markets and restaurants serving super-fresh seafood. If you’ve still got an adventurous itch to scratch, you can attempt to reach the summit of Mt Kinabalu, one of South-East Asia’s highest peaks. Climbers with a reasonable level of fitness can ascend from tropical lowlands and mossy forests to alpine meadows, dominated by the jagged granite peaks of the mountain rising over 13,000 feet towards the sky.
A few days in the wilds of the Maliau Basin, paired with a couple of nights in Kota Kinabalu and a sojourn on a nearby beach, is more than enough to fill one visit to Borneo, but for those with more time, Sabah has plenty to offer. A short flight from Kota Kinabalu takes you to Sandakan and the nearby Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, which is famous for its rehabilitation work with young orphaned and injured animals. Watch the youngest orangutans from behind one-way glass as they play in the nursery, and head out to the feeding platforms to spot older animals, who live wild in the reserve, venture in for a guaranteed source of food.
From there, longboats wait to glide you through some of the wildlife hotspots of the Kinabatangan River. Cruise along at a leisurely place, watching the banks for glimpses of Borneo’s diverse wildlife making its way down to the water’s edge. Alternatively, jump into a jeep and head deep into the towering rainforests of the Danum Valley to spend immersive nights in the rainforest and wander high in the canopy along treetop walkways...
We believe that the perfect trip is a balanced one, designed to bring you home inspired, fulfilled, refreshed and revitalised. At the end of a full-on expedition, such as this one to Maliau, we’d highly recommend including a few days’ dedicated relaxation time, which is something that Borneo’s glorious beaches provide beautifully well. Our trips are tailored around you, and not everyone is a beach person, so what we’re really aiming for with ‘beach’ is balance; there are many different ways to achieve it.
If you do opt for relaxation by the sea, the beaches on the mainland, and on nearby Gaya Island, are all within easy reach of Kota Kinabalu, with no more 4WD vehicles, trekking or longboats required! If your thirst for adventure is still going strong, you can continue the exploration by diving into the waters of the nearby Tunku Abdul Rahman National Marine Park for an insight into another very different world.
Whilst your accommodation in the Maliau Basin is basic and then some, you’re not going there for 4-poster beds and room service. However, elsewhere on this journey we would recommend that you balance this out with a little more style. So for £4,390US$5,090 per person (not including international flights), along with 4 nights in various camps spread across the Maliau conservation area, we would typically suggest that you divide (beginning and end) a total of 4 nights on the beaches near Kota Kinabalu, 1 night in Lahad Datu, 1 night at Sepilok and 2 nights on the Kinabatangan River.
How yours looks is up to you, our tailor-made specialists work with you to create your perfect journey.
Explore an untamed habitat concealing endangered animals, rare birds and plants with mysterious medicinal properties; all before steeling away for a remote island retreat.