The wilds of Malaysia’s Borneo have been talked about for centuries. Three hundred years ago head hunters still ran rampant in the untamed wilderness, now it’s just a legend made stronger by the Monsopiad Cultural Village, where you can, in fact, see 27 of the 30 skulls that belonged to this renowned headhunter.
But that’s not all Borneo has to offer. Being the world’s third largest island, you can go for laid back and easy in Kota Kinabalu (also known as KK) or wild and untamed in the jungles that lay just beyond civilization.
Going for adventure first, not too many people visit Borneo without being aware of the most talked about animal in the area, the Orangutan. If you have ever watched Orangutans interact with one another you know how exciting it can be to see one in their own environment. Quite and shy by nature, this animal has about a 96.4 percent similarity to the human gene.
Borneo Adventures will be your place to begin a journey to the rare world of this creature, but along the way there are even more adventures to discover. Borneo is, in fact, home to at least 30 indigenous tribes, some still working the land and living in the famous longhouses. The tropical rainforest is here too and offers some of the oldest forest in the world with countless wildlife, some species you might have never heard of before you arrived.
Getting into the spirit of the adventure, you can trek into the jungle for days at a time with your guide and find yourself transported back in time. For those that want to add more adventure go for the climb up Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak between the Himalayas and New Guinea at 13,432 ft. The name Kinabalu, or Aki Nabalu, comes from a word in the Kadazandusun language, a group of people who live on the slopes of the mountain. Aki means ancestor and nabalu is the word for mountain. Thus, this is the resting-place of the sacred ancestors. As you climb to the summit you find the world becomes another reality high among the mist and swirling clouds – it does become easier to believe that you are walking among the forebears of this land.
The mountain journey will begin in Kota Kinabalu so why not take a few days to visit the city. While in KK you will find a number of five star properties from which to launch your adventure. At Sutera Harbor (1 Sutera Harbor Blvd., Sutera Harbor, 88100 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia) a few days of rest and relaxation will mean taking a 15-minute boat ride to Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. The entire park consists of five islands and you can find excellent scuba diving and snorkeling. If you want a night of real seclusion one of the islands even has bungalows you can rent – it’s the most restful night you will spend on your journey.
Of course the city of Kota Kinabalu is always bustling. Championship golf courses abound here and there’s always a street market or bazaar. The North Borneo Railway leaves from KK too, another good way to discover the inner-life of Borneo, albeit in a bit more comfort. The train is one of the last of the fleet of locomotives that have been used in Borneo since the early 1900s. While you’re aboard think British colonial as you are whisked away through tiny villages, paddy fields, mangrove jungles and amazing coastlines.
No two days in Borneo will be alike. From the thrill of the climb, to the spotting of the solitary Orangutan, to the endless shopping and negotiating in the thick of the city of Kota Kinabalu, enjoy the moment and treasure it while it lasts. Don’t forget to stop by the headhunter’s village too. It will remind you how wild Borneo still is, while also poetically subdued.
Rita Cook lives in Los Angeles and is the editor of Premier Bride magazine. She also has a romance novel coming out this winter called “Angel’s Destiny”.
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