Six months in Asia travel blog

Lotus flower

Rainforest flower

Trekking in Bako

Lintang trail, Bako

Tajor waterfall and pool, Bako

Macaque hunting for beach crabs, Bako

Borneo. I've been fascinated by this mysterious island ever since, as a boy collecting stamps, I discovered that the Sultanate of Brunei was not in the UAE as you might first think, but part of a land mass in South East Asia. The current Sultan is a mad filthy rich despot who's introduced sharia law so I won't be going anywhere near the place. The large bulk of Borneo belongs to Indonesia, but I am exploring the two Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah. One of the biggest draws is to see the orang-utans in their natural habitat. In Malay orang means people so orang-utan translates rather charmingly as people of the forest.

Sarawak, the capital of which is Kuching and my first port of call, has a curious history. It was ruled over from 1841 by an English adventurer, James Brooke, and his descendants, the so-called White Rajas. It didn't become a British colony until after the Japanese occupation during World War Two and then was only absorbed into the rest of Malaysia in 1963.

Rubber was the great trade then, and many Chinese immigrants crossed the South China Sea in search of work. Now, of course, the main industry is logging and palm oil production. But Borneo is also home to a wide variety of wildlife like the orang-utans, much of it under threat from palm oil. There are also rain forests and murky rivers.

Disappointingly, Kuching is a modern, clean but rather bland city that could be anywhere in Peninsular Malaysia. However, it's a good place to base yourself and take day trips out to the many parks surrounding it. It's astonishingly humid; just an early evening stroll along the river bank on my first day left me soaked with sweat, so you can imagine what it's like trekking in the forests. I was expecting to find many people out along the river front eating at buzzing food stalls, but Ramadan has just started, so things are eerily quiet.

After a day exploring the city, its museums and old Chinese shop fronts, I headed out to Semenggoh, an orang-utan sanctuary. Unfortunately, they have been so well rehabilitated that they failed to show up for feeding and a whole group of tourists and me left disappointed.

I had a day trekking to a waterfall in Kubah National Park and then spent two nights in Bako National Park. It's home to many macaque monkeys which are pretty common and hang around the visitors' centre and the more elusive proboscis monkey which I sadly didn't see. I did, however, see a snake, spiders, a centipede and fireflies during a fascinating night safari.

During the rest of my time there I walked some challenging trails, made even harder by the humidity. In places there are boardwalks, rotting in places and covered in moss, but mostly you have to pick your way through muddy trails covered in the roots of ancient trees. There is an incredible variety of nature: one moment you are in dark sunlight-deprived jungle, then cooling off in a natural pool near a waterfall or crossing an arid exposed plateau with great views of the South China Sea.

Back in Kuching for a night I had dinner at an amazing hawker place, situated improbably on the top of a multiple-storey car park. You wander past the different stalls, stop at one, choose from the dazzling array of fresh fish, prawns, sting ray, squid and lobster and then decide on how you want it cooked. Delicious and really inexpensive.

After a week in one place, I'm about to head on a river trip into the interior which will take several days and involve stopping over at several towns along the way. I'll eventually be crossing into Sabah where there is another orang-utan sanctuary. I know it's great that the rehabilitation process is working, but I rather selfishly hope that at least one is hungry enough to turn up for feeding.

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