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The Best Place To Go Scuba Diving is Borneo!

Ever wish to you could see exotic and unique fishes under the sea? To see the wonders of a world so different than ours, a land where creatures breath underwater.

The Mandarinfish or Mandarin dragonet (Synchiropus splendidus) are resident to the ocean near Sipadan Island in Borneo. It is the type of fish with beautiful patterns of orange, blue and yellow, mimicking the pattern of the coral.

Diving is a must for divers in Sipadan. Sipadan is consistently ranked among the best places to go scuba diving in the world. You should apply for a diving permit beforehand (they go fast) as they strictly limit the number of divers who can visit Sipadan every day. From Sandakan you can take a six-hour bus to Somporna, or fly from Kota Kinabalu to Tawau, to reach Sipadan. Depending on whether you want to take the bus to Sipadan or fly you may need to reorder your programs to get the best experience.

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Top 3 Best Ways to Travel to and Around Borneo

Borneo Island is made up of three nations –Malaysia , Indonesia, and Brunei, with a major part of the island occupied by Indonesia (Kalimantan). Because, Borneo is the world’s third largest island; it is clear that such a large period requires extensive preparation. Crossing the islands involves long distances, so flying by air on long journeys is in the tourist’s best interest. Otherwise, the Borneo transportation system is flexible enough to allow you to hire cars, hire taxis, or travel in buses, charters, boats, and ferries to move quickly.

Air Travel

Since Borneo is dominated by three countries and an incredibly large island, the comfort of an airplane is often a matter of necessity. In addition, the small islands surrounding Borneo are only accessible by helicopter or charter flights. The Malaysian Airlines (MAS) and AIR Asia are open to two major airports at Kuching (Sarawak) and Kota Kinabalu (Sabah). There are also airports in Miri, Sibu, Bintulu, Labuan and Lahad Datu. A few rural areas, which are not accessible by road, have airstrips for communication.

Road Travel

In all major cities across Indonesia, Malaysia , and Brunei, busses and taxis are the common means of transportation. While it is not very convenient, it gives the chance to make connections with the locals through local transport. Moreover, a thousand memories are worth the beautiful scenery you capture on the camera. Many overland journeys are long-distance journeys, but the taxi driver proves his determination is worth the tiring exploration. Car rental in major cities such as Kuching and Kota Kinabalu is another great option. Tourists can select the size of the car depending on the number of people traveling.

Boat & Ferry

Borneo is surrounded by several small islands including Sipadan, Pulau Tiga and Labuan which can only be reached via ferries and boats. Although some are official, others are not going to go beyond security checks. So, make sure that the boat is authorised for safety reasons. Ensure that all safety precautions such as life jacket, etc are taken by the operators. The boats are used in Sarawak to ferry passengers along the Rajang River to reach the inland longhouse communities. The ferry terminal at Muara is located on Brunei and provides frequent speedboat to Labuan Island off the Sabah coast. Dependant upon fuel, travelers are paid and the number of days used for the voyage.

These are the best three ways to travel to and around Borneo!

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BORNEO CULTURE & PEOPLES

The people of Malaysia Borneo are equally as diverse with nearly 200 local languages and dialects spoken from the coastal areas to the forested interiors. With only eighteen million inhabitants, the population density is low with many people still living in rural kampongs (villages). Once infamous for their headhunting tribes, the people of Borneo now live peacefully as a nation of mixed ethnic groups and religions. While predominately Muslim, Sabah has a large Christian population and Sarawak is majority Christian, both with small minorities of Buddhist and Hindu communities. A British colony for over a century, Malaysian Borneo has been a democratic constitutional monarchy since gaining independence in 1963.

The state capitals, Kuching in Sarawak and Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, are the largest urban centres with international airports and the widest range of hotel and restaurants. Street crime and begging is rare, but like anywhere, normal levels of caution should be exercised in cities. Most of our Sabah trips start or finish in Kota Kinabalu; a small sea-front city, KK as it locally known, has fantastic sunsets over the South China Sea and an array of activities from island hopping and diving in the nearby marine park, to white water rafting. The Sarawak capital, Kuching, is the start city for our Sarawak trips; spared from the World War Two bombing that other Borneo cities suffered, Kuching has some wonderful architecture, museums and shopping opportunities with the best handicraft selection in Borneo.

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Poring Canopy Walkway, the highest in Sabah

Poring Canopy Walkway is located in the same area of the National Park as Poring Hot Springs, a hot sulphur spring that’s believed to have therapeutic properties that will be focus of a future blog.

The Canopy Walkway actually consists of two walkways; the first was opened in May 1990 whilst the second opened around 2005/6 specifically for bird watchers to take advantage of the hundreds of species found in Kinabalu National Park.

This second walkway is slightly lower and is the walkway we’re enjoying today with the original walkway closed for maintenance.

The height of the walkways ranges from around 20 to over 40 metres above the rainforest floor and the walks are around 175 metres long. It’s about a 1km walk to the entrance, as you’d expect uphill most of the way and culminates in a lots of steps, slippery when wet so wear some good walking boots or shoes with lots of tread.

The walk to starting point will take about 30 minutes. Just relax and go slow. It will help if you wear comfortable hiking shoes and carry some water. You better bring your umbrella just in case it rains.

Focus on savouring the rare and privileged feeling of walking through the millions of years old rainforest and enjoying the same view that the birds and smaller mammals enjoy.

Some of the trees, including the ones securing the Canopy Walkway are simply huge with massive girths and include the Menggaris tree (Koompassia excelsa). The walk takes around 20 minutes to complete, may be longer as time passes so fast then it’s time to slowly descend back to the pathway back to the main Poring Hot Spring area.

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Lankayan Island

Lankayan Island, a practically virgin island in the Sulu Sea is located at just 1.5-hour boat ride from Sandakan. The island can be counted as one of the best tourist getaways. Situated within the Sea Turtle Corridor, the pristine blue waters of the island proffer an excellent chance to spot the Whale Shark, see the nestings of Hawksbill Turtle and gaze at the colourful fauna. Through the Lankayan Dive Resort, which arranges all the tours, one can avail the facility of getting close to the whale shark. During the period between June and September, one can also see new hatchlings of baby turtles being released. The island is also home to the famous Lankayan Wreck, a popular diving station for divers who visit Sabah.

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Why go to Borneo?

“The lungs of the Earth” or Borneo is an island off the coast of Malaysia shared by 3 countries, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. The island also houses one of the world’s oldest rainforests (140 million years old), making it the last few havens for endangered species like the Borneo orangutan.

Borneo is one of the few locations in its setting where you can encounter the Orangutans. The old rainforest attracts many wildlife experts and conservationists from all over the world to explore and study the rich ecosystem and unique wildlife that can only be experienced on this island. It’s a chance for ordinary travelers like us to experience exotic land and wildlife without going on an expedition while learning how important it is for humanity to preserve this last bit of Earth’s lungs.

The best thing about Malaysia is that everyone speaks English so it is very simple and convenient to travel around the city by bus. In big cities like Kuching, Uber or taxi are also another great options if you are willing to spend a little more. In Brunei, it is easiest to negotiate with a taxi to take you to the few landmarks that are not walkable from the center.

In between cities, night buses are widely available with different comfort level at the main bus stations. Keep in mind that Borneo doesn’t have a developed transport infrastructure due to its thick rainforests so traveling a seemingly small distance may take hours more than usual.

Mulu national park is very difficult to travel by land (requires boat, cars, and hiking) so going by plane from Miri or Kuching is the easiest.

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The Beautiful Semporna in the Island of Borneo, East Coast of Sabah

Semporna is the capital of the Semporna District in the Tawau Division of Sabah, Malaysia. Semporna is located at the tip of Semporna Peninsula around Lahad Datu Bay, and is visited by tourists as a base for scuba diving or snorkelling trips to Sipadan Island, some 36 kilometres southeast of town.

The majority of the population is Bajau, many of whom live in sprawling stilt villages over the water on the outskirts of town. Thousands of Bajau Laut (also known as Sea Gypsies or Pala’u) people live on the sea around Semporna. They are one of the few nomadic seaborne peoples of the world, and spend most of their lives on boats, making a livelihood from the coral reefs in the area.

The Kadazan people also live in Semporna. Sabah Malay Creole is the lingua franca in Semporna. Semporna is also home to the only Chavacano-speaking community in Malaysia. Marine products are still the mainstay of the local economy, as well as tourism. Pearl culturing is a major component of this industry.

Semporna is also known for the Regatta Lepa traditional boat races which occur annually in April. Semporna was also the location of the finish line of Eco-Challenge: Borneo, held in 2000. Off the coast is a marine park called Tun Sakaran Marine Park, also known as Semporna Islands Park. It was gazetted by Sabah Parks in 2004.

Semporna is the gateway to diving in world-renowned island paradises like Sipadan, Mabul, Kapalai, Mataking, Sibuan, Mantabuan, Siamil and Pom Pom among others. Visitors to Semporna are mainly sunseekers looking for relaxation or watersports activities such as scuba diving or snorkelling.

As Semporna is a coastal town, various fresh seafood are readily available, cheap, and delicious.

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Lubok Kasai Jungle Experience and Lodge for the city folks wanting a nature gateaway

Lubok Kasai is located a 30-45 minute longboat ride from Nanga Sumpa in what is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful areas of Sarawak. Journey time from the Batang Ai Lake to Lubok Kasai is approximately 2 hours depending on the water level of the river.

The camp is surrounding by rainforest in an area that is inhabited by a thriving population of wild orangutans. Staying at Lubok Kasai offers the chance to explore the numerous jungle trails; spot local wildlife; and enjoy the clear cooling waters of the adjacent Lalang River. The Enseluai waterfall is just a short boat ride away; and of course your Iban hosts are always on hand; cooking traditional food and ready to provide assistance when required.

Lubok Kasai is ideal if you want a more relaxed itinerary; or indeed a tailor-made programme suited entirely to your needs: whether it be trekking in search for orangutan or other wildlife; taking a boat ride further upriver to have a picnic on pebble beach; simply chilling out by the river; or treating yourself to periods of quiet solitude, insulated from the outside world.

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Discover the Charms of the Kinabatangan River, the Longest River in Sabah

The 560-kilometre Kinabatangan River is Sabah’s longest river, beginning in the Crocker Range in Southwest Sabah and ending at the Sulu Sea southeast of Sandakan. From the headwaters to its vast river mouth, the Kinabatangan passes through a diverse range of habitats, including dipterocarp forest, seasonally flooded riparian forest, oxbow lakes, nipah and mangroves. Whilst the upper reaches of the Kinabatangan River have been extensively logged, much of the lowland forest and mangroves have survived.

This vast floodplain forest contains a rich mix of vegetation that supports a remarkable diversity of wildlife; including proboscis monkeys, orangutan, gibbons, Bornean pygmy elephants, tarsiers, slow loris, macaque monkeys, crocodiles, freshwater sharks, Irrawaddy dolphins, hornbills and a variety of other birds.

In 2005 the Sabah government gazetted the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. This protected area essentially forms a narrow wildlife corridor that follows the river. Whilst the sanctuary now safeguards an area of 27,800 hectares, a range of conservation issues remain. A number of NGOs and researchers are active in the Kinabatangan, contributing to conservation projects and working to better understand the environment.

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Tabin Wildlife Reserve is the place to be to observe wildlife

In the eastern part of the island of Borneo lies Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sabah. It is known as the largest wildlife reserve in Malaysia with an area of approximately 300,000 acres in the north-east of Lahad Datu town, south of the Segama River and north of the Silabukan Forest Reserve.

Tabin Wildlife reserve was founded in 1984 and has been declared a Wildlife Reserve due to the large number of animals frolicking in the forests, to which some being endangered species.

The Borneo Pygmy Elephant, Sumatran Rhinoceros and Tembadau, which are the three largest mammals of Sabah, are all found within the reserve. There are nine species of primate and three species of cats in the forest, all of which are in the protected wildlife list.

There are 300 species of bird species coming from four different families recorded in the wildlife reserve. Tabin Wildlife Reserve has been listed as an Important Bird Area.

Another attraction point of Tabin Wildlife Reserve is the active and mineral-rich mud volcanoes, thus this very nature gift is the cause for wildlife and birds to visit for their mineral intake. This place becomes an ideal platform for people of all ages to participate in wildlife observation and bird watching.

For those who loves nature-based activities, they can go jungle-trekking, night safari, night walk, wildlife-spotting, birdwatching and involve themselves in rainforest education. 

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