Day 1 Kuching
Selamat datang! Welcome to Malaysia. Kuching, meaning 'cat' in Malay, is arguably the most pleasant city in Malaysian Borneo. It was home to the infamous White Raja of Sarawak, whose mysterious rule in this remote corner of the world sparked the imagination of many people who dreamt of becoming royalty. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm, which you can find details about at the hotel’s reception. In any free time before the meeting, check out this cosmopolitan city rich in architecture, where the waterfront houses a wealth of curious shops and local vegetable, spice and fish markets. This city of skyscrapers sitting near lush green jungle is easily walked around, so maybe relish the mellow vibe and head out with your new travel companions to try some local dishes like Sarawak Laksa and Kolok mee.
Day 2 Bako National Park - Kuching
Hop in a private van to the fishing village of Kampung Bako (approximately 1 hour), then a local boat up the coast to Bako National Park (approximately 20 minutes). Bako is the oldest national park in Sarawak and features rainforest, abundant wildlife, jungle streams, waterfalls, interesting plant life, secluded beaches and trekking trails. Millions of years of erosion formed a coastline of steep cliffs, rocky headlands and stretches of white, sandy bays. Waves have carved the cliffs into fantastically shaped sea arches and sea-stacks, with coloured patterns formed by iron deposits. Weather permitting, you’ll take a leader-led walk to the beautiful beach at Teluk Pandan Kecil (5 kilometres, approximately 3 hours ). The trail climbs through the forest before emerging onto an open plateau covered in scrub, from where curious pitcher plants can sometimes be seen. It can be a hot, but always rewarding hike. For those looking for a longer (or shorter) hike, you are free to explore as many of the 18 different trails as you like. Whatever your plan, check with the ranger for the best time to spy the quirky proboscis monkeys up in the trees. Return to Kuching in the late afternoon and spend the evening in a hotel.
Day 3 Kuching
Head to the Semenggoh Orangutan Sanctuary – a government-funded rehabilitation centre set in lush surrounds. The centre was set up to help reintroduce these wonderful creatures back into the wild after a life of domestication or having been orphaned. Head into the jungle via a walkway, where from a viewing platform you can watch and photograph the orangutans as they swing into view and eat the supplementary diet of bananas and milk that is laid out for them twice a day. Take some time to savour the special moments in these animals’ company. Human contact must be kept to a minimum and it's essential that you follow your leader's instructions. Afterwards, return to Kuching and the hotel, where you can freshen up from the heat. This evening perhaps mosey down to the riverbank and watch tambang ferries glide by, visit Sarawak Museum (one of the most popular attractions here), or head out to one of the many Chinese-influenced hawker markets for dinner and experience the range of local seafood.
Day 4 Mulu National Park
Fly to Mulu, sending your large bag on to Limbang and packing a day bag with the essentials for the next four days. When you arrive in Mulu, head into the heart of one of the most spectacular national parks in Asia – Gunung Mulu National Park. Transfer the short distance to Mulu HQ (2 kilometres) where you’ll stay for the next 2 nights. Your leader will go through some of the options for your free time here. You can take to the some of the self-guided trails around the park, or to the treetops on the world’s longest tree based canopy walkway. Or maybe simply kick back with a book and enjoy the sounds of the nearby jungle. Later there is the chance of an optional night walk to search for some weird and wonderful insects and reptiles. Tonight you’ll stay in the park headquarters, which has its own restaurant and Information Centre. Accommodation is multishare rooms with private bathroom.
Day 5 Mulu National Park
Today you have a free morning to explore or have a sleep in. Spend the afternoon strolling the walkways of this 180-million-year-old rainforest, and then catch the sunset flight of the bats at Deer Cave. The World Heritage-listed park has absolutely spectacular limestone geology, with enormous caves, vast cave networks, rock pinnacles, cliffs and gorges. In fact, its system of caves is the largest known in the world, formed when surface water worked its way through the rock, carving gigantic passages through the bedrock. Deer Cave has one of the single largest cave passages in the world, 2.2 kilometres long and 220 metres tall at its highest point. Before it was part of the park the cave was a well-known hunting ground for deer, who were attracted to the pools of salty water running off the heaps of guano. The guano comes from the millions of bats who call the cave home, and at dusk there’s a mass exodus as they emerge for their nightly feeding, like a seemingly endless black plume of smoke twisting across the sky. In nearby Lang cave you can appreciate the work that the water does on the limestone, sculpting waves on the ceiling, drawing stalagmites, columns and stalactites.
Day 6 Mulu National Park
Leave Park HQ behind and head into the jungle. Take boats for around 30 minutes downriver to the amazing Clearwater and Wind caves, which contain Asia’s longest underwater river. The Clearwater cave system runs for 107 kilometres, 75 of which have been explored. The system gets its name from the bright jungle pool at the base of the steps that lead up to the cave mouth. Wind Cave draws a cooling breeze through its lengths and features some of Gunung Mulu’s best cave formations, while Clearwater is covered in a species of bright green plant that is unique to the park and offers a real opportunity to see the water at work on the rock. Afterwards, take a longboat downriver before disembarking to hike through undisturbed jungle to Camp 5, nestled at the end of Melinau Gorge (approximately 8.5 kilometres). During dry season, the boats may need to be pushed over certain sections of the river, so it is advisable to wear strap on sandals or shoes that can get wet. At Camp 5 you will sleep in these wonderful surrounds, on mats on raised open-air platforms in a mixed gender dormitory, with shared bathroom facilities and cold water showers. Bedding is not provided so bring your own sleeping sheet and a warm layer for cool nights. Mosquito nets are available to rent for a small charge. Please be aware that at certain times of the year there can be many bees around Camp 5.
Day 7 Headhunters Trail - Homestay
Today you’ll tackle the infamous Headhunters' Trail. Located in an isolated area of the Bornean jungle, this 11.3-kilometre (approximately 5-hour) trail takes its name from its historical role as the route taken by warring parties between the Tutoh and Limbang rivers. The trek is through dense jungle along a well-defined, mainly flat track, although the way can be muddy during the rainy season. You'll also have to cross some streams by rope bridges, wooden walkways, logs or by getting your feet wet as you wade through. You’ll be surrounded by stunningly diverse flora, massive bird-filled trees, and the magical sounds of the forest – a hornbill flapping its wings, the cries of monkeys, and the pulse of cicadas and crickets. Then you’ll take a boat from Kuala Terikan to Kuala Mendalam, a journey of around 4 hours. Depending on how much rainfall there’s been, you may be required to help push the boat over shallow parts of the river and there will be a stop at a ranger station for lunch along the way. It’s a long, challenging and rewarding day. Spend the evening at a homestay, a short walk from the river, where you’ll reunite with your luggage. Freshen up on arrival and enjoy dinner with the host family.
Day 8 Labuan Island
Farewell your hosts and depart the longhouse to travel by private vehicle to Limbang (approx. one hour). From here, catch a ferry to Labuan Island (approx. 2-2.5 hours) where you’ll have a free afternoon and evening at a beach resort. Relax and recover after yesterday’s trek, chilling out with a cold drink and a good book. Maybe head to Layang Layang Beach for a swim and the sunset.
Day 9 Kota Kinabalu
Labuan was occupied by Japanese forces during WWII and this morning you’ll have time to visit the Labuan War Memorial, where British, Australian, New Zealand, Indian, Malay and local soldiers are buried. This morning you’ll take a historical tour of Labuan. Learn about the coal mining days with a visit to the Coal Museum and Chimney. Then drive along the west coast to Peace Park, built in memory of all who died during the War. Next you’ll head to Surrender Point, where the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Forces on 10th September 1945. Continue the journey to the War Memorial and History Square. Head to Labuan Museum to learn more about the history of the Island. Then catch the afternoon ferry to Kota Kinabalu (approx. 2.5 to 3 hours), the capital of Sabah and a modern metropolis that rebounded from multiple bombings during WWII. Kota Kinabalu has interesting museums to explore (the Sabah State Museum is a great place to immerse yourself in its backstory), markets to browse, and the surrounding beaches and islands are perfect for swimming or snorkelling. Tonight, perhaps head out for a final meal with your group to celebrate your Borneo adventure – the night market is filled with fresh grilled seafood.
Day 10 Kota Kinabalu
Spend a free day in Kota Kinabalu. You could visit the Mari Mari Cultural Village, or perhaps explore the islands off Kota Kinabalu, excellent for swimming and snorkelling. There are plenty of ferries heading out and each island has a different vibe, many with small hikes and some with restaurants and resorts on them. As this is a combination trip, you may be joined today by new travellers, who will have a welcome meeting at 6 pm as you did on your first night.
Day 11 Dusun Village
Today, travel by minivan to a Dusun village, nestled amid picturesque hills in the shadow of imposing Mt Kinabalu – the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea (approximately 2 hours). The Dusun people, the ethnic group of our guides on Mt Kinabalu, are wonderfully warm and friendly people, and while here you'll have the opportunity to learn about their way of life and spend a night in a village. Depending on the weather, you will take a hike through the surrounding fruit and rubber plantations. Your leader can point you in the direction of the river for a great way to cool off afterwards! To ensure your share the business around the community, you will split up to stay in a couple of different family homes. All the homes are in waking distance from each other and you will usually have other group members with you at each home. Enjoy a cultural performance in the village tonight after dinner.
Day 12 Mt Kinabalu National Park
This morning say goodbye to your new friends from the village and travel into the unspoiled wilderness of the World Heritage-Listed Kinabalu National Park (approximately 1 hour). Take some time to enjoy the surroundings and prepare for the climb. There are nature trails through the lowland tropical forest and a Botanic Garden to explore. Otherwise, just relax this afternoon and take in the cooler climate. Your leader will provide a safety briefing about the climb and assist with any last minute questions. Stay overnight at Kinabalu Park in a lodge with shared bathrooms. Nestled among the lowland forests, this is the perfect place to chill-out before the climb
Day 13 Mt Kinabalu National Park
Rise early and take a quick drive back to the national park to begin the climb up Mt Kinabalu. It's not an easy trek as it is uphill all the way, and you’ll need to be prepared to tackle a trail made up of steep steps that vary considerably in size. You may get quite hot but remember that the top of the mountain can be deceptively cold. There's no rush, so take your time and enjoy the pristine environment – this is an area that boasts a remarkable variety of plant life, including some 1000 species of orchid and the extraordinary carnivorous pitcher plant. You will cover 6 kilometres on the first day (approximately 4-6 hours) and stop at a resthouse near Laban Rata (3272 metres) for the night. Tonight will be an early night, so you're ready for the final ascent early in the morning.
Day 14 Mt Kinabalu – Poring Hot Springs
Rise around 2 am in order to catch the sunrise at the summit of Mt Kinabalu (4095 metres). It's difficult walking, but you'll feel a huge sense of achievement once you make it. The view from the summit is incredible – the jungles of Borneo in one direction, the South China Sea in the other, making every inch of the climb worthwhile. Be warned though, the temperature can change very quickly up on the mountain, so bring clothes for all weather conditions. The climb from Laban Rata to the summit takes 2-4 hours and, due to the altitude, can be hard going even for the very fit. The first section from Laban Rata is along man made steps passing through vegetation. Once clear of the tree line, you will be walking up a series of wooden steps all the way to the final check point at Sayat Sayat. After witnessing the morning sunrise, return to Laban Rata for a well-earned breakfast, and then descend the mountain (approximately 3-6 hours) to enjoy a rewarding lunch at the bottom. Once everyone is down from the mountain you will continue on to Poring Hot Springs by bus (approximately 1 hour). Tonight you will stay at a hostel located right inside the springs complex itself, with a light and airy lounge room for you to relax in. The hostel has single bunk beds and the bathroom is shared.
Day 15 Poring Hot Springs
Poring Hot Springs is an ideal place to kick back for a day to recuperate after the mountain climb. These pools were developed by the Japanese during World War II, where warm sulphur water – believed to have healing properties for the skin – is piped into several open-air baths. Depending on the time of year it might be possible to see the Rafflesia flower nearby. Rafflesia’s are the world’s largest flower and can grow up to a metre in size! Today, there are also a number of optional activities to choose from. There are graded paths leading through rich lowland forest to mountain rivers, waterfalls and bat caves, with birds and other wildlife often seen along the trail. A walkway in the tree canopy provides magnificent views or there's a visit the enchanting butterfly farm. You can choose to trek to the lovely Laganan Falls or just laze about in the hot and cold pools.
Day 16 Kinabatangan River
Today, journey by private bus into the steamy rainforest to Bilit – a small village on the banks of the Kinabatangan River (approximately 5 hours). Take a short boat ride to the comfortable jungle lodge where you’ll spend the night. The lodge is located right on the riverbanks and is a good place to spot wildlife. In the early evening as the sun sets, head out by motorised boat in search of wildlife such as macaques, orangutan, proboscis monkeys and, if you’re lucky, even pygmy elephants! In the evening, take a night walk in search of the western tarsier. Rubber boots and leech socks are available to hire. The lodge tonight is comfortable with private bathrooms.
Day 17 Sandakan
This morning, take another early boat safari in search of wildlife – different species come out at different times of the day, so keep your eyes peeled. After breakfast, say goodbye to your jungle lodge and hit the road in a private minivan to the coastal city of Sandakan (approximately 3 hours). Arrive in the busy city of Sandakan and see the strong Cantonese influence, evident in the lively harbourside market, the many Chinese temples and the local cuisine. Here there is free time to catch up on laundry, internet and banking as well as to explore the city.
Day 18 Turtle Island
This morning, leave your large bags at the hotel and walk 15 minutes to a nearby jetty. Travel by speedboat, past small fishing villages and bamboo fish traps, to Turtle Island Marine Park (approximately 1 hour), where green turtles come ashore to lay their eggs every night of the year. In the afternoon, there's time for swimming, snorkelling or some quality time lazing about on the beach of this tropical island. Snorkelling gear is available for hire. In the evening, be touched by the sight of giant green turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs under the moonlight, and watch the researchers as they release protected hatchlings and guide them in their frantic dash to the ocean. It's a moving experience that makes you think more than twice about trying illegally traded turtle egg delicacies. Beware that this is a very delicate environment and you must follow instructions from your leader and the local rangers to ensure minimal impact on the turtles. You will spend the night on the island tonight.
Day 19 Sepilok
After breakfast, return to the mainland (approximately 1 hour), collect your bags, and continue by minibus to a guesthouse located near the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (approximately 45 minutes). The centre was set up to help reintroduce these wonderful creatures back into the wild after a life of domestication or having been orphaned. From the viewing platform, you can watch and photograph these charming creatures as they swing into view and eat the supplementary diet of bananas and milk that is laid out for them twice a day. Human contact must be kept to a minimum and it's essential that you follow the instructions of the park, as directed by your leader. Also included is a new nursery where you can view young orangutans as they learn how to climb on a specially constructed jungle gym. The viewing area is behind one-way glass so as to not disturb the animals. To see more of Borneo’s creatures, there’s the option to visit the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center. Here, rescued Sun Bears that have spent many years mistreated and locked away in cages are cared for, with hopes of rehabilitation and reintroduction into the wild. There’s also the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary where you can watch up close the amazing proboscis lazing and feeding – an experience that can only be found in Borneo. A 30-minute walk from your guesthouse is the Rainforest Discovery Centre, which also has a 147-metre long, 28-metre high canopy walkway with spectacular views of rainforest giants. Your accommodation is located about 10 minutes’ walk from the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.
Day 20 Kota Kinabalu
In the morning, gain an insight into the Sandakan's past at its War Memorial, built on the site of a Japanese Prisoners Of War camp. This site also marks the starting point of the tragic Sandakan Death Marches, on which 2400 POWs were forced to walk through the jungles of Borneo. By the end of the march, only six Australians survived, and only because they had escaped. Afterwards, you will transfer to Sandakan airport and fly to Kota Kinabalu (approximately 1 hour). The flight usually gets back in the afternoon, so the rest of the day is free for your own activities. Perhaps do some last-minute shopping at the large shopping centres or take a wander down to the night market to pick up something more local. There’s also the chance tonight to get your travel crew together for an optional dinner, making a toast to this Sabah Adventure.
Day 21 Kota Kinabalu
Your trip comes to an end today. There are no activities planned and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time. If you are staying in Kota Kinabalu longer, then there are some additional activities that your leader can assist with booking. It’s best to pre book these activities with your leader at the beginning of your trip. There’s a scuba diving trip from Manukan Island to see the wonderful underwater world of Borneo, or an optional fun, interactive and educational visit to Mari Mari Cultural Village to see how indigenous ethnic groups of Borneo used to live.