I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited about visiting somewhere new as I was when I travelled to Sabah in the Malaysian part of Borneo.
The luscious jungle, majestic National Parks, diverse trekking, tropical islands and abundance of rare wildlife set it apart from the other places I’d been/was going to visit.
However, in Borneo, I found that my lack of planning before I arrived on the island really effected the amount of things I was able to squeeze in. You need a permit to climb Mount Kinabalu, permission to enter Danum Valley and a license to dive in Sipidan.
Therefore, the more organised you are before you arrive, the less stressed you’ll be when you arrive in Sabah.
Here’s my 2 week itinerary to exploring the jungle, wildlife and beaches of Borneo.
Gunung Mulu National Park – 2 nights
Gunung Mulu National Park is a rare wonder in the very North of Sarawak, Borneo. Boasting extravagant caves, mesmerising pinnacles and lush jungle, it’s a National Park like no other.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it down to the park as by the time I’d decided I had time to fit it in, the flights were extortionate. However, if you plan ahead you can get flights to Mulu from Kota Kinabalu for next to nothing.
The people I spoke to who went to the park said that 2/3 days was plenty of time to explore.
Kota Kinabalu aka. KK – 3 nights
Most people who are heading to Sabah tend to fly into its capital – Kota Kinabalu. A sleepy city on the west coast of the island, KK is definitely worth a few days stop over to uncover its diverse terrain.
Offering beautiful albeit, touristy islands just half an hour off of the coast, the best night food market I’ve ever been to and a ginormous National Park with the world-famous Mount Kinabalu at its centre, there’s plenty to keep you busy.
Depending on whether you choose to climb Mount Kinabalu or not will affect how long you’ll need at the park (the trek is 3 days/2 nights). If you choose not to (like I did), I’d recommend a day or two in the city centre and another day or so staying close to the park (it’s around a 1 1/2 hours bus ride from the city).
Sepilok/Sandakan – 2 nights
From the KK National Park you can catch a bus to Sepilok or Sandakan, which will take around 6 hours. Sepilok is where you’ll find the must see orangutan and sun bear rehabilitation centres whilst Sandakan, is a city around an hour and a half from Sepilok that has a lot more to offer in terms of shops, hostels and restaurants to keep you occupied.
Once you’ve spent a day admiring these playful creatures, it’s time to delve even deeper into Sabah’s wildlife…
Kinabatangan River – 2 nights
Cruising the Kinabatangan River was one of my favourite travel experiences to date (as you’ll know if you’ve read this post). A dense jungle encircling a tranquil river, the Kinabatangan region is renowned for its rich and diverse wildlife.
I camped on a peaceful riverbank owned by a wonderful Malaysian family and was lucky enough to watch elephants, monkeys, birds and crocodiles (to name a few) roam around in their natural environment.
This is a must in Sabah!!
Danum Valley – 2 nights
Danum Valley Field Centre is a conservation area in the East of Sabah, which is a melting pot for naturalists and scientists.
Known for having one of the world’s most complex ecosystems, this forest is home to endangered wildlife such as, orangutans, clouded leopards, elephants, proboscis monkeys as well as, the world’s largest flower.
To access the valley you must travel to Lahad Datu (around 3 hours South of the Kinabatangan River) and get a permit to access the area.
Due to the complexity of visiting Danum Valley, I was unable to do it. However, if you plan ahead and organise the trip with a tour or the field centre itself in advance, it should be easy enough to sort out.
Semporna/Mabul/Sipadan – 3 nights
Sipadan is a pristine, uninhabited island, which floats around an hour off of the East Coast of Sabah.
With its diverse selection of marine life including an exciting variety of sharks, turtles, schools of barracuda and manta rays, it’s no surprise that it’s been voted one of the best diving spots in the world.
As there is no accommodation on Sipadan, most divers stay on the nearby island of Mabul or in Semporna on the mainland and then travel to the different dive spots each day.
Be warned, diving in this area comes with a hefty price tag! However, if you’re an avid diver/snorkeller, Sipadan and its surrounding islands are a hard place to beat for marine life.