Two Borneo highlights

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First published 21st July, 2009

Borneo - the name alone conjures up images of uncharted wilderness and mysteries hidden deep within the jungle. Unlike most of mainland Southeast Asia which was colonised, populated, and developed over the last couple centuries, Borneo proved impenetrable to all but the hardiest tribes people and the most brazen explorers. Much of modern-day Borneo remains largely untouched and unpopulated, making it one of the world's few remaining truly "exotic" destinations. Nature-lovers flock to Borneo for its biodiversity, but the island's physical geography also offers plenty of physical challenges. Read on to get just a taste of what Borneo has to offer to the adventurous traveller.


Kinabalu National Park is home to hundreds of bird species, orangutans, carnivorous plants, and the largest flowers in the world (the stinky Rafflesia), but its crowning glory is Mt. Kinabalu -- the highest mountain in Malaysia. At only 4,093 metres it is less than half the height of Everest, but that doesn't stop tens of thousands of altitude junkies from ascending it each year. A large part of its popularity is its accessibility -- climbing Mt. Kinabalu is basically a long, long walk ... uphill ... and the only equipment needed to climb this mountain is a good pair of hiking boots and some warm clothes.

The ascent is usually done as a leisurely two day expedition -- most climbers depart in the morning, reaching the camp at Laban Rata (3,270 m) before it gets dark. There are resthouses here as well as free drinking water, hot showers, cooking facilities, and a restaurant. Most climbers wake up early the next day to scale the final 800 metres and reach the summit for sunrise. The descent can be made the same day.

Climbing Mt. Kinabalu has become a very popular attraction in recent years, driving up the prices and overcrowding the mountain. While it's not technically necessary to book a package if you want to climb the mountain, it's recommended to avoid disappointments due to shortage of accommodations.

How much does it cost?

Climbing any formidable mountain is not a budget travel activity. Shop around in Kota Kinabalu city for a budget climbing package -- paying separately for meals and a room on the mountain can really add up.

Park Entry Fee: 15 ringgit (adults), 10 ringgit (children)
Climbing Permit: 100 ringgit (adults), 40 ringgit (children)
Climbing Insurance: 7 ringgit
Guide: 40 to 120 ringgit (depending on the trail and group size)
Accommodation: Accommodation on the mountain is expensive and fills up fast. A spot in a six-bed heated dormitory costs 300 – 360 ringgit (depending on the time of year) inclusive of packaged meals. The unheated Laban Rata Resthouse has dorm beds starting from 70 ringgit per person and sleeping bags can be hired.

Kinabalu National Park


Home of the world's largest cave, Gunung Mulu is Borneo's most hyped national park as well as a UNESCO world heritage site. The park's spectacular caves, pinnacles and gorges are the result of rainwater seeping through the area's limestone mountains over millions of years. The landscape is other-worldly and an unforgettable example of the awesome power of nature.

Whether you're a caving newbie or an experienced spelunker, Gunung Mulu has caves suited for all experience levels. Collectively referred to as the "show caves", Clearwater, Deer, Lang, and Wind Caves are easily accessible (i.e. less than a three kilometre hike on a well-maintained trail) from the Park HQ and can be visited with a guide or on the official park tour.

Clearwater Cave is the longest underground passage (51 kilometres -- the longest in Southeast Asia), Lang Cave has the most bizarre stalactites and stalagmites, while Deer Cave is the hugest chamber and home to an equally huge colony of bats. Other than a flashlight and a pair of comfy shoes with good grip (the mixture of condensation and bat droppings make the cave floors pretty slippery) you won't need any equipment to explore these caves.

More adventurous travellers can sign up for a multi-day expedition to caves deeper within the park like the Sarawak Chamber which, at roughly 700m long, 400m wide, and 70m tall, holds the world record for size.

Somewhat fittingly, this amazing place is not easy to get to. Most visitors arrive at Mulu via a short flight from Miri or Kota Kinabalu while the less popular overland option involves a series of boats and buses and requires a full day.

How much is this going to cost me?

Park fee: 10 ringgit for adults, 5 ringgit for children

Accommodations: Budget accommodation can be booked through the Visitors Centre and range from 110 ringgit for a fan room with bathroom to 40 ringgit for a dorm bed (breakfast included). It's possible to camp in a tent or forest hut for 10 – 30 ringgit per night, per person. It's advisable to book in advance:
Transport: MASWings flies to Mulu twice each day from Miri (30 min., starting at 100 ringgit one way) and a daily flight from Kota Kinabalu (1 hr 50 min, from 150 RM one way). Attempting the bus/boat combination will cost just as much as the flight due to the high price of chartering a boat.
Guides: A guide is required to enter any of the caves. The park offers group guided tours to the show caves for a very reasonable 10 ringgit/person. Hiring a guide for an expedition deeper into the park ranges from 200 ringgit to 500 ringgit (Sarawak Chamber -- advanced spelunkers only). The guide price is the same for one to five people, so it's worthwhile to try to find a group.

About the author:
Tanya Procyshyn is a Singapore-based freelance writer and photographer. With a passion for unusual destinations, she has camped alongside Komodo dragons and shook hands with soldiers in North Korea. She blogs at

Read 1 comment(s)

  • Thank you for this. I plan to spend a fortnight in Sarawak on my own and appreciate shared experiences like this.

    Posted by Joanne on 4th June, 2010

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