Borneo. The name of this island split between three countries immediately evokes images of jungle, white beaches, and adventure. Yet Kota Kinabalu, entry point of Sabah, the Malaysian province north of the island, is far from the laid back tropical city we had imagined. The city seems to have little to offer apart from it’s lively market and numerous outdoor restaurants that sprawl in front of the resting fishing boats. A short boat trip brings you to a few nearby islands where one can enjoy a cleaner water. We pick Manukan which turns out to be one of the less crowded beaches (which may be due to the entrance fee charged on arrival).
We had thought of climbing Mt Kinabalu, and heard that it was possible to by-pass the travel agencies by going directly to the park entrance and arranging a guide there. Unfortunately, we now only have a week in Borneo which limited our options. On the recommendation of a raw vegan traveller, we decide to head to Ranau, a small town near Mt Kinabalu, surrounded by rice fields and forest,under the majestic protection of the mountain. We enjoy a short walk in Mt Kinabalu park, have our feet thoroughly cleaned by hungry fishes, and wander around the local to discover new fruits and vegetables.
Further east, we join buses of tourists to watch the Orang-Outans being fed in the Sepilok sanctuary. The sanctuary was created to reintroduce Orang-Outans in the wild. After spending their early years in the nursery where they learn to climb trees and feed, the young are released into the forest. Twice daily, a feast of bananas is offered to them on a platform, attracting a handful of monkeys, and hundreds of humans. This simple diet is meant to bore them, creating an incentive to go gather their own food. Hence the fewer Orang-Outans come, the better indicator of success of the program. It also means more leftovers for other opportunistic monkeys and squirrels that clean up the platform once they have left.
I leave Borneo feeling that our visit was too short to really see what the island had to offer, and also with the impression that Sabah is not exactly made for independent travelers, especially when on a budget. Most attractions and remote area seem to be only accessible by organized tours, with limited do-it-yourself alternatives.