Borneo 2013 – Sabah & Brunei

Borneo is the wildlife capital of South-east Asia, home to a huge variety of rare and endemic species, including the Bornean pygmy elephant and Bornean clouded leopard, not to mention its most famous resident, the Bornean orang-utan.  The Malaysian state of Sabah, on the northern tip of the island of Borneo, offers the greatest density of wildlife on the island, as well as the best protected areas in which to see that wildlife in its natural setting.  As well as spending time in the rainforests of Danum Valley Conservation Area and Tabin Wildlife Reserve looking for a variety of wonderful mammals and birds, such as orang-utan, Bornean gibbon, maroon langur, bearded pig, and the spectacular argus and crested fireback pheasants, we also explore the Kinabatangan River system in search of the unique and endangered proboscis monkey and flat-headed cat, not to mention reticulated python, Bengal monitor lizard, and an array of kingfishers and waterbirds.

The tour ends with an extension to Brunei, the tiny oil-rich sultanate located on the northern coast of Borneo.  We stay in a spectacular hotel overlooking the ocean, and tour the capital city, Bandar Seri Bagawan.  One of the highlights of a visit to Brunei is the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque which features a golden dome and an interior of Italian marble, and is considered one of the world’s most beautiful mosques.  We also visit Kampong Ayer, a water village of houses on stilts which stretches for five miles along the Brunei River.  It is the largest water village in the world, with a population of 30,000.

Day 01,                                  May 1st

We arrive in Kota Kinabalu, capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah, and transfer to our hotel.  This evening we meet for our welcome dinner.

Day 02,                                  May 2nd

This morning we drive through rice paddy-fields and Dusum villages, over the Crocker Range and to the foothills of Mount Kinabalu at 5,000 feet.  Rising to 12,000 feet Mount Kinabalu is the highest point between the Himalayas and New Guinea, and its granite dome is a spectacular sight peaking through the clouds.  After checking into our hotel we explore the montane forest trails around the Mount Kinabalu National Park headquarters, looking for some of the more than 1,000 orchid species that make the mountain their home, not to mention some of the many squirrel species that are found here, including the strikingly patterned Prevost’s squirrel.  Birds are also abundant at this altitude, including laughing-thrushes, trogons and the glamorous short-tailed magpie.

Day 03,                                  May 3rd

After breakfast we drive down into the lowlands, to explore the lush tropical rainforest in this part of the Park at Poring.  Here we look for a different suite of animals and plants, taking to the tree-tops on a 100-foot high canopy walkway, and hoping to find a Rafflesia in flower.  This afternoon we continue our journey to the thriving port city of Sandakan, on the north-east coast of Borneo.

Day 04,                                  May 4th

This morning we visit Sepilok Forest Reserve, which is home to the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre.  The Centre was established in 1964 to provide a sanctuary and rehabilitation facilities for orphaned Bornean orang-utans.  Sadly, the Centre is busier today than ever, as the orang-utans’ forest home is cleared by logging companies to make way for oil palm plantations.  This morning we visit the feeding platform, and watch the orang-utans being fed bananas, sugar cane and milk.  The aim of the Centre is to make the orang-utans fully independent so that they can be returned to the wild, and so it is generally the young orang-utans, or mothers with babies, that come to the feeding platform.  After lunch we transfer by speed-boat along the Kinabatangan River to our home for the next three nights.  Our comfortable lodge is set on the bank of the river, and its gardens play host to silvered langurs and long-tailed macaques.  The Kinabatangan is Sabah’s longest river, and offers the opportunity to see wildlife in a variety of mangrove, wetland and rainforest habitats.  This afternoon we begin our explorations with a cruise along the narrow tributaries as the sun goes down.

Days 05 & 06,                      May 5th & 6th

We have two full days to explore the Lower Kinabatangan River, home to the greatest diversity of wildlife in the whole of Malaysia.  Our excursions are mainly by boat, exploring ox-bow lakes and narrow tributaries in our search for wild orang-utans, proboscis monkeys, pig-tailed macaques and bearded pigs, not to mention all 8 of Borneo’s hornbill species.  It is also one of the best areas to glimpse Bornean pygmy elephants.  We take cruises in the early morning and late afternoon, as well as at night when we look for flat-headed cat, buffy fish-owl and reticulated python, the world’s longest snake at over 30 feet.

Day 07,                                  May 7th

This morning we transfer to Sukau village, and board a vehicle to take us toward the coastal town of Lahad Datu.  En route we stop at Gomantong Caves, famed for the harvesting of swiftlet nests to make birds’ nest soup.  During the harvest season local people collect the nests of edible nest swiftlets from high on the cave walls, using only bamboo ladders and poles.  From Lahad Datu we continue to Tabin Wildlife Reserve, one of the largest but least known wildlife reserves in Malaysia.

Days 08 & 09,                      May 8th & 9th

Over the next two days we explore Tabin Wildlife Reserve, visiting Lipad’s Waterfall set deep in the lush forest, while we look for the region’s mammals and birds.  We also visit the Lipad mud volcano, a popular salt lick used by deer, wild boar, elephants and birds.  Tabin is known to be the only place where Bornean rhinoceros still exist on the whole island, though seeing them is pretty nigh impossible.

Day 10,                                  May 10th

Today we drive to Danum Valley Conservation Area, a protected area of rainforest set in the heart of the largest contiguous piece of rainforest left in South-east Asia.  Our lodge is set on the banks of the Danum River, surrounded by forest, and with a towering cliff to one side.  After settling into our lovely bungalows we can relax on the veranda and watch out for rhinoceros hornbills coming in to roost, or walk one of the many forest trails in search of Bornean gibbon or maroon langur.

Days 11 & 12,                      May 11th & 12th

Danum Valley is a wildlife-viewing paradise.  In the early morning we are awakened by the ethereal singing of family groups of Bornean gibbon.  After breakfast we take to the trails looking for long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques, and Sunda giant squirrel, among the 100 species of mammal recorded here.  We have a chance of encountering the endemic Bornean pygmy elephant along the road, and there are more than 300 bird species to look for, including great argus and crested fireback pheasants.  Danum Valley is home to a healthy population of orang-utans, and we hope to get prolonged views of these acrobatic primates.  Night brings the thrill of spot-lighting excursions, when we look for the fabled clouded leopard, marbled and leopard cats, different species of palm civet, as well as flying squirrels, slow loris and the bizarre colugo.  

Day 13,                                  May 13th

Today we leave Danum Valley, and drive back to Lahad Datu to catch our flight to Kota Kinabalu.  Our hotel is set on a beautiful beach, with views of the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park.

Day 14,                                  May 14th

After breakfast we say farewell to the island of Borneo, and transfer to the airport for our international flights home. 


Extension to Brunei:

Brunei is a fascinating country to visit, and is only a short flight from Kota Kinabalu.

Day 1,                                                May 14th

This morning we fly to Bandar Seri Bagwan, capital of the sultanate of Brunei, and transfer to our lovely hotel. 

Day 2,                                                May 15th

Today we explore some of Brunei, including taking a city tour of the capital, to visit sites including the spectacular Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, the Brunei Museum, and Hassani Bolkiah Mosque.  We have a photo stop outside the largest residential palace in the world, the Istana Nurul Iman, official residence of the Sultan of Brunei, and end with a visit to the water village of Kampong Ayer.  

Day 3,                                    May 16th

After breakfast we depart for the airport, and our international flights home.


  • All accommodation
  • All transfers and transportation, including transfers to and from the airport for the group flights at the start and end of the tour
  • All park entrance fees
  • All meals during the tour
  • Drinking water
  • Services of Holly Faithfull and local guides throughout
  • Tips for local guides, porters etc

Not included:

  • International air fare
  • Camera and video camera fees (where applicable)
  • Beverages, other than drinking water
  • Items of a personal nature, such as phone calls, laundry etc
  • Airport departure tax
  • Trip cancellation or interruption insurance

What is the trip like?

Malaysian Borneo and Brunei are easy places to travel, with just normal good health necessary.  Flexibility, sense of humour, and open-mindedness are always required.  Wildlife viewing takes place during nature walks on forest trails, in 4WD vehicles and by boat.  The walks cover a variety of terrain and are usually on well-marked trails, though we will be off trail on occasion.   Accommodations are diverse, including luxurious hotels and comfortable lodges, all with private bathrooms, electricity, hot/cold water.  We travel between locations by road and motor boat.


The temperature is tropical, and will be hot and humid in the lowlands.  Mount Kinabalu can be chilly in the mornings, but warms up during the day.  We are visiting an equatorial area and you can expect some rain at any time of the year.

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