Borneo: adventure, exotic, lush green, unique protected species, paradisiac beaches and responsible tourism… This is what Borneo means to me and any other person that has had the pleasure to visit this gem of West Malaysia
This experience is definitely a travel goal and has been on my bucket list since forever, I’m glad I signed up for one of the most complete and exciting journeys of my life!
You guys probably already know I have a thing for Malaysia, I mean, it’s well connected, has good food, represents an amazing cultural melting pot and genuinely friendly people!
Back home and talking to people I have met travelling the world, I have noticed that when it comes to Borneo they always say it is a must do life and travel experience but only kind of dream about it, as if we were talking about going on the moon because they don’t yet know how easy is to travel and organise a trip in Borneo.
Well guys, if you only think that Kula Lumpur is one of the most visited cities in the world and has one of the most well connected airports worldwide, you can directly understand that effectively it takes really little effort to reach the country from every corner of the globe, this is why (to begin with) it’s super easy to be reached; within a short time and an In-house flight you’ll be able to reach Kota Kinabalu and get your adventure started!
There would be a lot to see and visit in Borneo but today I’ll start sharing with you the perfect program for a week in Kota Kinabalu, guiding you form the hotel reservation to the must see to the must do tours and experiences around KK!
MARI MARI CULTURAL VILLAGE
I’m usually not a fan of organised toursF generally speaking, but this is not a simple tour this is a direct open window on the lives of those tribes (5 different ones in a unique Village), these people who are simply telling and showing you their culture at their best, making you feel you are a very welcomed guest since minute one and when you leave, you leave as a friend.
You leave knowing that the experience you just had is not forced, is not just because you have paid a ticket to be there but happened because they wanted to share it with you, they genuinely want to revive their own traditions and culture through showing it and sharing it with the rest of the world.
The pick-up time was at 9.00 o’clock in the morning, from there directly transported to the Mari Mari Cultural Village, where a guided tour takes place.
You’ll see traditional houses and learn about the history, bamboo cooking demonstration, fire making demonstration, blowpipe demonstration and traditional dances in a remote forest setting.
You’ll also get to participate in the light activities I’m going to tell you about later.
Once the tur is finished, included in the package there’s also a very nice and rich buffet served before the farewell of the villagers and then transported back to the hotel.
Mari Mari Cultural Village tour is located deep in the countryside away from the modern and developing Kota Kinabalu city. The village operates as a museum that preserves Borneo ethnic culture. It aims to share the knowledge, history, culture, and tradition of Borneo with you so that it is not forgotten.
The tour offers you the opportunity to see and experience the culture and lifestyle of how the indigenous ethnic groups of Borneo used to live in the past when electricity had not yet been introduced in their land.
The village features 5 different ethnic tribes in one village. They are the rice farmer Kadazan-Dusun, the longhouse resident Rungus, the hunters and fisherman Lundayeh, the cowboy and sea gypsey Bajau, and the famously feared headhunting tribe Murut.
Along with storytelling from your in-house guide, each tribe will also be showcasing and give demonstration of how they hunt, make fire and cooked in the old days.
These performers are the local natives that live nearby. This tour offers not only opportunity for them to preserve and showcase their ancestors’ tradition, culture, and history but also provide employment for them.
This is the kind of tours I really love, not only because they are really well done and authentic but because participating you are actually supporting those tribes and villagers and helping them to preserve their own traditions and help them pass it down from generation to generation so that it will never be forgotten.
This is an experience I absolutely suggest you to do if you want to truly taste and have a first-hand experience with the Original Sabah and its cultural traditions.
KLIAS PROBOSCIS MONKEY & FIREFLIES CRUISE whit ONLY IN BORNEO TOURS
I absolutely suggest you to go for this wonder if you want to truly taste and have a first-hand experience with the Original Sabah and its cultural traditions. One of the main attractions and one of the many things that makes of Borneo a unique and special place is that in here, you can find the famous Proboscis Monkeys while enjoying a comfortable and relaxing river cruise.
Included in the ticket there’s the pick-up, the return transfer back to your hotel, an English speaking guide, dinner, river cruise, conservation and entrance fees.How it works: I was picked up from my Hotel, the Klagan Regency in Kota Kinabalu at 13.30 to head towards the southern coast of Sabah. It’s approximately 2 hours journey through breath-taking scenery along the coastal bay.
The tour guide which was very friendly and funny people to be around, explained briefly to the Guests what the experience was going to be about and information about wetlands.
Once reached the destination, a very appreciated coffee and tea are served along with delicious cakes made by the locals… I must admit I really enjoyed it!!
After this welcome buffet, we all go on board a comfortable fiberglass boat for 2 hours in search of wildlife along the riverbank.
We actually spotted different species but what we all were looking toward to, was the nosed monkey..rare, unique and beautiful creatures!
During the tour was really delightful to have the chance to admire those majestic animals in total freedom, in their natural habitat and knowing that we were not bothering them.
Something I always recommend to keep in mind, is that being quiet is the key to ensure you a glimpse or even more near encounters of those beautiful animals.
The reason why this is very important is that by being quiet you don’t scare them and you make them curious and more interested in coming near and around you, giving them the chance to show themselves naturally.
If I have to be honest I have enjoyed this experience from the beginning to the end, not only when we spotted those beautiful and unique monkeys but the whole thing looked just special, effortless and magic.
This tour is supposed to finish at 6pm and once back Authentic Malaysian Buffet dinner will be served, giving you the chance to realise how precious the whole experience has been and simply enjoy the tasty buffet!
After dinner, we get a cruise down to the mangrove to witness the emergence of these night fireflies. Along your way back to the base, you will be accompanied by these beetles hovering the mangrove trees like glimmering lights and that’s the moment in which even if all of us were trying to be quiet and appreciate it to the max, some “OOOOOOH” of great astonishment arouse between all of us… We just couldn’t help it!
Once the fireflies tour ended, we all reached our mini vans and headed back home.
The journey home gave me the chance to realise what I had just experienced and how lucky I am to have witnessed this magic show!
The tours you can find at Only In Borneo really respect nature, it’s beautiful inhabitants and make you feel the authentic wild experience without having to sacrifice the animals wellbeing.
The places are always very clean and taken care of and you can see straight away that they are making huge efforts to involve the local community, offering them jobs and making them understand the importance of responsible tourism, to protect those beautiful and peaceful oases.
A huge Thumbs Up for this company and the work they are doing!!!
KINABALU PARK AND PORING HOT SPRONG TOUR with ONLY IN BORNEO
The rainforest of Kinabalu National Park is filled with variety of fauna and flora. One of the main attraction for the National Park is the variety of orchids which is definitely a beautiful, colourful botanical paradise and the variety of mammal’s species, birds (280+ recorded) and colourful butterflies (290+ recorded).
This package includes the tree-top canopy walk where you can experience a bird-view of the rainforest of Sabah, pick-up and return transfer, an English speaking guide, the main entrance fees and lunch.
How it works:
The pick up is at 8.15am from your KK hotel and transfer for 2 hours leisurely drive with a stop at Nabalu Market, where you can have the opportunity to check out local handicrafts and have some fresh exotic fruits.
Then proceeding to Kinabalu Park where there will be a guided walk at the Botanical Garden.
It was really delightful having such a prepared guide, who truly showed his passion for what he was doing and for the place.
He was so passionate about what he was saying that only by listening to what he was describing and lecturing us, I actually felt the same excitement about it!
We learned a lot of interesting things, observed plants and I think that I have never ever in my whole life, made so many questions as in those tours with OIB.
I mean, you get so much involved with what you’re seeing, experiencing that you kind of
get sucked in and you are seeking to know as much as possible about all those natural wonders around you weather about specific flowers, plants in general or animals!
Definitely one of the most characteristic things about this experience is the Canopy Walkway, an uphill walk through the Borneo tropical rainforest to the 37 meters high which brings you back to nature, where you can hear chirping calls of birds and insects that will surely relieve the stress of hectic city life you’re looking to forget in those amazing places.
The Canopy Walk, which I will never forget not only because of its beauty but especially because it’s the place where I learnt that the word “Orangutan”, is derived from the Malay and Indonesian words orang meaning “person” and hutan meaning “forest”, thus “person of the forest”.
Which is absolutely accurate, true and this simple word makes you understand how linked we are with those majestic animals and how special and precious they are.
I would have loved to meet those beautiful friendly fellas, but I guess they were just looking for some peace and quiet spot on that day!
Once this Canopy walk is over, the next stop is the Poring Hot Spring which is about 45 minutes away, passing through scenic countryside, vegetable farms, roadside stalls and smaller interior towns of Sabah, concluding with a beautiful lunch at a local restaurant.
In this tour, also depending on the availability and presence of those, you might want to visit the iconic Rafflesia Flowers by adding very small fee.
As the flower in not directly part of this tour and it’s taken care by the local community which has made a living thanks to this wonder, this small fee is separate from the tour one.
The cost of the fee (few bucks) is really ridiculous if you think that a whole community is keeping the entire area clean, well-kept and providing assistance to those precious but very fragile flowers who need a lot of attention.
They find those flowers, build the paths to reach those and keep the flowers safe from the “dangers” of the wild forest (such as animals),in order to share this unique wonder with the rest of the world!
The Rafflesia flowers, which look incredible and are the world’s biggest flowers are not only magic but really beautifully stunning and served as cherry on top of the whole experience!
I really couldn’t believe my eyes, genuinely kept smiling and watching those two twin Rafflesia flowers, which we were taught to recognize the gender, therefore we knew those were male and female… I was and still am speechless when thinking about it!!
Looks like dreaming with open eyes, feeling special, grateful and lucky to be able to witness the magic that nature does every day.
I’m actually looking forward to repeat the experience very soon and to bring my friends along because I can’t keep this only for me, this needs to be shared and seen at least once in a life time!!
MARI MARI SEPANGGAR ISLAND
This Island is an actual paradise on earth!
Being here, looking at this crystal clear water, enjoying the peace and this eloquent tranquillity, I couldn’t believe that just few years before this place looked nothing like it is now.
The reason is simple: the whole island was polluted, from the whole shore to the crystal coast.
It was an absolute nightmare since Valentine from the Mari Mari Agency decided to make the great effort to clean up the place by changing its fate and reviving the whole island.
It took something between 2-3 years of cleaning and great efforts trying to bring new species of marine inhabitants in the ecosystem.
I really admire the whole project, the staff and the people behind it…those are absolutely my favourite humans on earth!!!
If you guys could only see what this place was and what it looks now I guarantee that you could actually cry tears of joy and genuinely feel hope for humanity!
The shores, the sea, the coral reef have not only been cleaned form the beginning of the project but every day ever since.
It puts every day big strains on the whole team of course but if you ask them the answer is simple: “we love this place, we will always try to protect it and make our best to do so, to clean it up and find new solutions to attract new species to revive and populate the area again”.
Just to mention one of their projects, they are trying reproducing a favourable ecosystem for all the animals who live their seas by planting sea weed, which provides and feeds various ones (as sea turtles) who had abandoned the island form a long time.
Just to make you understand how exclusive this private island is, only about 200 people maximum per day are allowed to enjoy this magnificent experience;
this decision has been taken in order to protect and control the impact of a responsible tourism on the island and to offer the best services possible to those who have the same vision of friendly/responsible tourism.
Of course also very important to them, is being able to offer the best and most exclusive experience to who loves nature, respects it and understands the importance of this kind of reserves.
In this beautiful oasis you can swim with a great variety of colourful fishes, delight yourself with quality snorkelling, go for one of the most exciting experiences ever as Seawalking and enjoy those rich amazing buffets offered at lunch time when having the daily tours on the island.
The seawalking, as the name suggests is one of the most special and unique experiences a sae lover can have!
The process is simple, a large glass dome is placed over your head and, as you descend to the sea bed, air is fed via a tube;
that allows a person to enjoy the underwater world without the hassle of mastering scuba skills.
Sea walking allows you to admire the amazing marine life up close and personal!
It’s really safe and the staff will make sure to give you all information, do’s and don’ts about it.
For safety reasons only a limited number of people can go for a seawalk at the same time, to make sure everyone is followed and supervised as they should be.
There’s nothing really hard about it; you just wear that special “helmet”, go underwater and walk among some of the most beautiful and precious marine species of the whole world…it’s pure magic!!!
Between the activities offered you can find the Stand Up Paddleboard and Kayaks as well.
On the Island you’ll find always staff members ready to offer their help and assist you; there’s a big patio where food is served and a relatively small shop where to buy some snacks and souvenirs for your loved ones!
According to the season, you can also be able to book your stay on the island in one of the beautiful wooden lodges immersed in the nature.
I had the pleasure and luck to stay in one of those, such a wonder:
The lodge is really essential, very clean and has what needed to assure a pleasant stay.
The feeling that you get to have once there is absolutely inexplicable, you are surrounded by this beautiful wild nature having this forest with the trees on one side and this immense view on the sae on the other side.
Every single day I couldn’t wait to wake up there and enjoy the sunrise form my balcony, at the same way I liked to have my cup of coffee while admiring the sunrise.
I’ve never slept that well in my entire life!
Talking about sleeping, I must give you some advices about where to stay in Kota Kinabalu!
The following are the best options for several types of travellers, from the ones on a budget, to the medium high and up to the resort ones.
WHERE TO STAY IN KOTA KINABALU:
DOCK IN GUEST HOUSE
It’s a newly opened guest house which to be honest has the looks of a nice hotel but affordable private rooms or even several dormitory rooms.
Everything form the furniture to the style and concept of the place is new and I honestly enjoyed the atmosphere, the lovely staff and the common spaces which made me actually feel very productive and able to work a little bit and to chill when needed. The staff is really friendly and ready to help.
This is definitely the best option for travellers on a budget that are still looking for a nice place to stay in KK!
THE KLAGAN REGENCY
Klagan Regency, which is located in a strategic position at only 25-minute drive from the Kota Kinabalu International Airport, many tourist attractions and next to one of the biggest Hyper mall of the city, the 1Borneo.
It’s a definitely a nice Hotel and best option available on the market price and service wise!
What I like about this place is that it’s the best option for both travellers on a holyday or business ones (being in close proximity to many corporate and government offices).
Between the multitude of services available: restaurant, lounge bar, swimming pool, gym, the largest ballroom in KK, many meeting and function rooms of all sizes and needless to say one of the most remarkable services.
THE NEXUS RESORT
It’s the size of Italy’s small towns, looks like a peaceful oasis at about 20 min. distance from KK city centre, surrounded by lush green, infinite golf fields, several restaurants and bars, wonderful swimming pools, brand new rooms, a private 6 km beach and several shuttles every day going to the city, needless to say… totally a full package!!!
This isn’t just the place for me in this case but the right place for solo travellers, couples, honeymooners, families, really big families and any sort of person looking for the right resort who happens to look like a wonderland beach version at 5 stars! Nexus Resort has jut recently renewed all it’s rooms, having a very fresh look, well organised spaces and definitely what you expect to see in such a big, beautiful resort!