Join us as we travel with Imaginative Traveller's graphic designer, Nathan, to Borneo on our Sabah Adventure tour...
After a 14 hour journey from the UK, I arrived into Kota Kinabalu (the capital of Malaysia's Sabah state, in the north of the island) at about 11pm and was efficiently transfered to my comfortable hotel, just outside of the city centre. I had booked an extra day before the trip started so I could explore the city myself before the group meeting at 6pm. The city is quite compact and can easily be explored on foot, although the heat and humidity can sometimes get to any intrepid explorer. The local version of Uber, Grab, can be downloaded and used around the city (which also has free wifi access across most of it).
The group met at 6pm and after a quick bite to eat we headed down to the waterfront area so we could all get to know each other over a few beers.
Getting to know the locals
Our first official day of the tour began with a homestay at Tanak Nabalu. The village is home to the Dusun people, who are wonderfully warm and inviting. Our group of 16 was split up into smaller groups and then allocated their hosts for the evening. I was in a group of five and placed with an amazing couple who treated us like members of their own family. They provided a feast for each meal and were more than accommodating for any dietary requirements within the group. During the evening we were treated to a cultural show and also learnt how the rice harvest works within the village.
Climbing Mount Kinabalu
Next we were off to climb Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea. We arrived a day before the climb to sort out our day-packs and to check any last minute details. An 8am start the next day meant that we could begin trekking with plenty of time to get to the rest lodge before the weather closed in. The ascent is all uphill with minimal flat sections, although no technical climbing experienced is required, I was glad I had my worn-in boots and energy snacks and drinks with me! The group soon began to split up into sections depending on pace but with a guide at the front and end there was no danger of anyone being left behind on the well signposted trail.
The lodge for the evening at Laban Rata is at 3,272 metres above sea level and although it's possible to experience altitude sickness at this height none of the group really had any symptoms so far. After a few card games and a buffet dinner we were all in bed by 6.30pm ready for our early start in the morning.
A tirade of phone alarms began to sound in our mixed-dorm room at about 1.30am, which meant it was time to begin our final ascent. We left what belongings we didn't need in the rooms and started our climb. Headtorches are a must as you climb in pitch-blackness and with some sections involving pulling yourself up with the help of ropes, it's vital to make sure your footing is sturdy.
The air begins to thin as you reach the 4,095 metre summit, the cold also increases along with the number of layers you're wearing! We reached the summit by 5.45am just in time to watch the sun burst through the horizon line. After the obligatory selfies and group shots we began our descent. It was a couple of hours to get back to Laban Rata for a quick breakfast before finishing the rest of the descent. Once again the group split up, some making it down in just over 5 hours in total and others 7-8 hours.
Soak away the aches and pains
Once the group had all descended we made our way to Poring Hot Springs, which is about an hour's drive away from the mountain. We arrived early evening, so after everyone had freshened up we all went for a celebratory dinner which included several bottles of local rice wine and a birthday cake for one of the group members.
The next day was free to explore the hot-springs at your leisure. These were not the sort of springs I was expecting as rather than lots of communal pools there were lots of individual "baths" that you could fill yourself with the hot water from the spring.
This was my favourite part of the tour, a jungle lodge in the middle of nowhere, surrrounded by the sights and sounds of nature. With two river boat excursions (one at sunset and then one again at sunrise), the amount of wildlife we saw was incredible, from numerous birds to crocodiles, monkeys, gibbons and a whole herd of pgymy elephants crossing the river in front of us. Sadly the orangutans kept themselves hidden from us, but we would have been super lucky to have seen them in the wild.
A quick stop in Sandakan (a budget version of Kota Kinabalu) meant that the next day we were leaving on a speed boat to Turtle Island. After an hour's crossing we were on the island and had the day free to relax on the beach, snorkel or explore at our leisure. In the evening it was a matter of waiting for the turtles to come ashore and start to lay their eggs. At about 9pm the bell sounded and it was time to head to the beach where we were shown to one of the turtles that had started to lay.
Turtles enter a trance-like state when they lay their eggs and so she was unaware of our presence, one of the workers at the sanctuary was collecting the eggs that were laid and then these would be placed in the nursery and protected from any poachers or island predators.
After a quick visit to the nursery we then moved to the other side of the island where we witnessed a batch of the latest turtle hatchlings be released into the ocean. It was a special moment to see these tiny animals make their way out into the expanse of the ocean, with hopefully some of the females returning to this very beach as adults so they can lay their very own eggs.
It was time for more wildlife as we made our way to Sepilok Orangutan Reserve, you get a day ticket included in the tour price and for this you can attend the two feeding times at the reserve. One at 10am and the other at 3pm (the quieter of the two).
You can see the baby orangutans at the nursery which is open before each feeding time. We then made our way to the platform where the food is laid out for the wild orangutans to come and help themselves. We had two orangutans visit at the 10am slot but some of the group returned at 3pm and they had a few more of these amazing creatures turn up for a free feed.
Time to say goodbye
The next day meant that it was time to return to Kota Kinabalu, a short 45 minute flight meant that we arrived mid-afternoon and allowed us to organise what we needed before it was time for our farewell meal, where we returned to the waterfront of KK, to reminisce about the trip and bid farewell to the group.
To see further details about the tour Nathan experienced....
GROUP TOUR from £1630 for 12 days
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