Borneo: forecast unknown

A juvenile orangutan in trees of the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

A juvenile orangutan in trees of the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Common wisdom holds that you should prepare for travel: do some research about your destination, read some travel guides, and speak to friends and family who have been there before you.

It gives you ideas on what to do and where to go but it also builds expectation. This becomes a problem when the actual travel experience differs from the expectations you have imagined.

We had very high expectations for our time in Sabah Borneo. The things I read and the people I spoke to made it sound fantastic: great diving, jungle and mountain trekking, orangutans, pigmy elephants and great food.

Unfortunately we couldn’t help but feeling a little disappointed when we left. Much of it had to do with bad timing. The fact that it pissed with rain nearly the entire time we were there meant that the jungle trek we had planned was cancelled due to flooding, the beach time was average and the diving visibility poor. The North Borneo Railway line being closed for renovations also didn’t help.

But also unavoidable was the fact that much of Sabah Borneo isn’t the undeveloped jungle paradise we had imagined. Massive tracks of jungle have been logged and replaced by palm plantations, which makes for morbidly monotonous bus trips

Many of the tourist highlights are either highly regulated or ridiculously expensive. While it was exciting to see orangutans feeding in the jungle at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, average punters only get a minute glimpse of the reserve from the confines of boardwalk not much more than a hundred metres long.

That being said, we did have some great times. The food was fantastic, climbing Mount Kinabalu was amazing and the Sandakan Memorial Park, which marks the site of an infamous WWII Japanese Prisoner of War Camp, was heart-wrenchingly fascinating. There were also some unexpected gems like when Amy’s fruit salad was served drowned in mayonnaise, or surviving an eight hour ride in the back of 4WD with nine adults and seven kids under the age of three.

I learnt a lot from our visit to Borneo. First and foremost, disregard your expectations. Secondly, if you want to fully appreciate the natural gems that Sabah Borneo has to offer (the diving at Sipadan or the unspoiled beauty of the Maliau Basin) take a wad of cash. And finally, if you are going to plan ahead for a journey to Borneo, start by planning a visit in the dry season.

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