BORNEO: SABAH, SARAWAK, AND BRUNEI
April 2-20, 2018
MON, APR 2 — DEPART LOS ANGELES
Our Borneo adventure begins late this evening as we check in for a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong.
TUE, APR 3 — EN ROUTE
The flight departs shortly after midnight, and a day is lost crossing the International Date Line.
WED, APR 4 — ARRIVE KUALA LUMPUR
We arrive in Hong Kong this morning and connect with a flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, arriving about noon. After transferring to our hotel with an amazing view of the 88-story Petronas Twin Towers, the afternoon is at leisure to rest before a welcome buffet dinner in the hotel restaurant.
Hotel Majestic (D)
THU, APR 5 — KUALA LUMPUR
Malaysia’s capital city is home to what used to be the tallest buildings in the world — the Petronas Towers (now only 7th at 1,483 feet each). Still, they’re dramatic and we photograph them today from different vantage points, including KLCC Park, Titiwangsa Lake Gardens, and the KL Tower’s Sky Deck. We explore Merdeka Square, ringed by heritage buildings from the British era, visit the beautiful onion-domed Masjid Jamek (Friday Mosque), and walk through Chinatown with stops at the Sza Ya Taoist Temple, Sri Maha Mariamman Temple (the oldest Hindu shrine in Malaysia), and the Chan See Shu Yuen clan hall. We visit the highly ornate Thean Hou Temple before returning to the hotel to relax before this evening’s dinner and cultural show at Saloma (there are also excellent night views of the Petronas Towers from here).
Hotel Majestic (BD)
FRI, APR 6 — KUALA LUMPUR-BRUNEI
The morning is at leisure before our midday flight to Brunei, a small sultanate sandwiched between Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo (third largest island in the world), its northern shore facing the South China Sea. This evening we enjoy a buffet dinner at Tarindak d’Seni on the waterfront.
Radisson Hotel (BD)
SAT, APR 7 — BRUNEI
Brunei has the largest oilfields in Southeast Asia and, because oil generates money, Brunei hasn’t turned its rainforests into palm plantations. This tranquil nation is the realization of a particular vision: a strict, socially controlled Islamic state where happiness is found in pious worship and mass consumption. Alcohol is banned, so citizens of the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan (called Bandar or BSB), turn to food and shopping. Kampung Ayer, a traditional Malay water village, consists of houses, shops, schools, and clinics perched on stilts in the Brunei River. The largest of its kind in the world (some 30,000 people live here), the village has been inhabited for more than 1,000 years. Opposite, in the center of town, are spectacular mosques — including the stunning Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, surrounded by an artificial lagoon that serves as a reflecting pool — and the world’s largest royal palace (1,788 rooms, 257 of them bathrooms). City sightseeing this morning, and in the afternoon we enjoy a boat ride to Kampung Ayer, stop at Taman Persiaran Damuan for a view of Istana Nurul Iman (the palace is not open to the public except for three days at the end of Ramadan), and finish at Pulau Ranggu, an island with a large colony of photogenic proboscis monkeys, found only on Borneo in riverine forests and coastal mangrove swamps.
Radisson Hotel (B)
SUN, APR 8 — BRUNEI-KOTA KINABALU
This morning we visit the Royal Regalia Museum, a collection of regal paraphernalia that serves as a massive paean to the sultan. Afterward, we’re off to the Empire Hotel & Country Club. This is no ordinary hotel. A personal project in the 1990s of Prince Jefri, the wayward and discredited former finance minister, the complex cost $1 billion to build and is jaw-dropping. Lunch here (on your own) and plenty of time to explore the public areas and grounds before an evening flight to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s capital city.
Le Meridien (B)
MON, APR 9 — KOTA KINABALU
Today we explore Kota Kinabalu (called KK locally), sandwiched between the Crocker Range and the South China Sea. This bustling boomtown is known for its pleasantly varied ethnic mix: Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Filipino residents as well as crowds of Asian tourists and an increasing population of Western expats. This morning we visit the fish market and State Mosque, then take a boat ride to see the stilt villages. Our hotel is located just steps from the Central Market sprawling along the waterfront, which you can explore on your own. Late this afternoon we visit Puh Toh Tze Buddhist temple and photograph the City Mosque on Likas Bay at sunset. The evening is free to visit the Night Market, one of the best markets in Southeast Asia, and the Filipino Market, good for souvenirs and the Filipino Barbeque area behind.
Le Meridien (B)
TUE, APR 10 — KOTA KINABALU-KINABATANGAN RIVER
This morning we fly to Sandakan in East Sabah. Southeast of Sandakan Bay, Sungai Kinabatangan, Sabah’s longest river at nearly 350 miles, ends its journey to the Sulu Sea. Intensive logging and development of oil-palm plantations nearby have left wildlife trapped on the flood plain along the final third of the river’s length, resulting in an astonishing array of species in a narrow strip of riverine forest, visible mainly while cruising the river’s muddy waters. We drive to Sukau, passing through many miles of oil-palm plantations, and transfer by boat to our lodge on the Kinabatangan, arriving in time for lunch. Late this afternoon we take our first river cruise.
Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge (BLD)
WED, APR 11 — KINABATANGAN RIVER
A unique feature of the river is the oxbow lakes set back from the main course, creating abundant habitats for the diverse flora and fauna. Much of this area has been designated as the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. Big-name wildlife here includes orangutans and proboscis monkeys in trees lining the riverbanks, plus flat-headed cats at night along Sungai Menungal, a tributary of the Kinabatangan. Inside the forest are marbled cats, samba deer, and giant squirrels. Long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques are plentiful. The big prize among mammals is the pygmy elephant, rare enough to be a treat but with decent odds of spotting success. Bird-watchers commonly spot all eight varieties of Borneo’s hornbills, plus several other species of birds. Crocodiles are also present, so no dangling your fingers in the water. Three cruises today: at dawn, in late afternoon, and after dark with flashlights.
Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge (BLD)
THU, APR 12 — KINABATANGAN RIVER-SANDAKAN
Another early-morning cruise, followed by breakfast and time to relax and explore. After lunch, we take a 2.5-hour boat ride down the lower reaches of the river to the Sulu Sea and Sandakan, where we transfer to our hotel overlooking the bay.
Four Points by Sheraton (BLD)
FRI, APR 13 — SANDAKAN / SEPILOK
We spend the morning at Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, created at the center of a mangrove swamp by an eco-friendly oil-palm plantation owner (which seems a bit of an oxymoron). Twice-daily feedings at two large observation platforms tempt the 60 or so proboscis monkeys that feed there daily, as well as silver leaf monkeys that come to scavenge the fruit left behind, and some fantastic birdlife. Named for the long, bulbous noses of the adults, proboscis monkeys are pot-bellied with white faces, and the males are constantly, unmistakably, aroused. Juveniles have cute little turned-up noses. After lunch in the highlands at the exquisitely restored English Tea House & Garden, we drive to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, arriving in time to witness the afternoon feeding. This evening we take a walk at the Rainforest Discovery Centre, its nature trails providing easy access into the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve where the orangutans live. A night walk offers a chance to see nocturnal wildlife, such as slow lorises, tarsiers, mouse deer, and civet cats.
MY Nature Resort (BLD)
SAT, APR 14 — SEPILOK
Orangutans — tailless, red-haired apes (their name means “man of the forest” in Malay) — can reach a height of over 5 feet and an age of over 30 years. Solitary but not aggressively territorial, these primates live a largely arboreal existence, eating fruit, leaves, bark, and the occasional insect. Most of the orangutans at Sepilok, established in 1964, are victims of deforestation; many were orphaned, injured, and traumatized in the process. Some have also been kept as pets (now illegal), which means their survival instincts remain undeveloped. The Centre trains the orangutans to fend for themselves in the wild. Although not always successful, the process has seen many animals reintroduced to their natural habitat. We visit the Centre for morning and afternoon feedings. In between, we visit the nearby Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre, currently home to 44 rescued sun bears. All bears at BSBCC are orphaned and/or ex-captive bears, often found in unnatural conditions, with inadequate diets and no stimulation. Expert researchers and rehabilitators help the bears develop the foraging, climbing, nest building, and self-defense skills necessary for independence in the forest.
MY Nature Resort (BD)
SUN, APR 15 — SEPILOK-KUCHING
This morning we fly to Sarawak, the largest of Malaysia’s 13 states and home to over 30 ethnic groups. Kuching, the capital, is one of Malaysia’s most charming and laidback cities, reveling in a picturesque setting on the Sarawak River with Mount Santubong looming on the western horizon. Its historical core remains appealingly sleepy and human in scale, its colonial architecture redolent of a bygone era. Our afternoon walking tour takes us from the Courthouse Complex (built in 1871), through Harmony Arch to Old Chinatown with its 19th-century shophouses and colorful temples, along the beautifully landscaped waterfront promenade, down busy India Street to Masjid Bandaraya (the State Mosque), and back to Merdeka Square. Later, we enjoy a leisurely sunset river cruise aboard the “MV Equatorial.”
Waterfront Hotel (B)
MON, APR 16 — KUCHING-BATANG AI
Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, set up in 1975, rehabilitates orangutans, honey bears, crocodiles, monkeys, hornbills, and porcupines, all of which were either orphaned due to hunting or rescued as illegal pets. Reintroducing orangutans to their natural habitat is the center’s primary aim. The program has been particularly successful, resulting in a thriving population of semi-wild orangutans in the surrounding forest reserve. Since the orangutans roam freely, spotting them is not guaranteed, but the best chance to see them is at feeding time. We visit Semenggoh this morning before continuing on to Batang Ai, about 100 miles southeast of Kuching. Tucked right up against the border with Kalimantan (Indonesia), Batang Ai is, despite its name (which means River Ai), actually a 92-square-mile reservoir and the only nature reserve on Borneo directly managed by indigenous people. The region’s rainforest features wildlife such as orangutans, gibbons, and hornbills, and there are several walking trails. Our hotel is reached by boat from a jetty on the reservoir.
Aiman Batang Ai Resort (BD)
TUE, APR 17 — BATANG AI
Located on the fringe of Batang Ai National Park, the resort — fashioned of native wood in the traditional Iban longhouse design — offers pristine nature surrounded by nearby tribal communities and wildlife that have made this area their home. Today we enjoy morning and afternoon longboat trips upriver to visit Iban longhouses and experience the traditional lifestyle. We also have an opportunity to walk among the treetops and discover the canopy layer of the rainforest on a 425-foot-long walkway, suspended 165 feet above the jungle floor. Plenty of time to relax, kick back, enjoy nature and the view.
Aiman Batang Ai Resort (BLD)
WED, APR 18 — BATANG AI-KUCHING
We depart for Kuching this morning, with a stop en route at Kampung Annah Rais. The Bidayuh are one of the largest indigenous Dayak groups in Sarawak and have traditionally been farmers and hunters. Their longhouses dot the slopes of Annah Rais near the mountains that straddle the border with Kalimantan. The Bidayuh are particularly skilled at bamboo-carving, basket-weaving, and beadwork. On arrival in Kuching, the remainder of the day is at leisure.
Waterfront Hotel (B)
THU, APR 19 — KUCHING-KUALA LUMPUR
Today we visit the Sarawak Cultural Village, an excellent living museum with examples of traditional dwellings built by different peoples of Sarawak — in this case Orang Ulu, Bidayuh, Iban, and Melanau — as well as Malay and Chinese houses. The dwellings are staffed by tribespeople who demonstrate local arts and crafts, including basketry and weaving, blowpipe shooting, sago processing, and production of bird’s nest goods. Many of the participants speak English well and can offer a wealth of information about Sarawak. A cultural show features traditional music and dancers of the various tribes in elaborate costumes. We have lunch at the village before heading for the airport and our return flight to Kuala Lumpur. Farewell buffet dinner this evening at the hotel.
Hotel Majestic (BLD)
FRI, APR 20 — KUALA LUMPUR-LOS ANGELES
Our amazing Borneo adventure comes to an end this morning as we transfer to the airport for our Cathay Pacific flight to Los Angeles via Hong Kong, recrossing the International Date Line and arriving the afternoon of the same day.
Note: Included meals are indicated by B, L, and D for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.