Cruise the jungle via the Great Kahayan river
If there was an uber-destination award for wilderness travel, Borneo would be a top contender. The island’s biodiversity alone is worth going for, with over 350 new species discovered since the mid 1990s. Borneo’s legal and illegal deforestation, and the subsequent plight of its endangered orang-utan population, have been well-publicised. The forests are sadly still dwindling in some areas, but eco-tourism is a very positive way to encourage conservation. After all, palm plantations aren’t quite as attractive to travellers as a rainforest full of orang-utans, fruit bats and rhinoceros!
If you have visions of thrashing through the tropical undergrowth with a machete and wonder if it’s really for you, don’t worry. One of the easiest ways to see Borneo is by boat. River tours let you see the jungle, and its occupants, without disturbing them. Boats also let you cover much more ground, so to speak, taking you to several places of interest within a few days.
Most of us watch documentaries with lucky presenters cruising along jungle-fringed rivers and conclude that we’ll never get to see such wilderness ourselves. It’s certainly holiday-of-a-lifetime material, but it’s really not an unrealistic holiday option. Especially if it’s a special occasion. Many Asia honeymoons will take you to gorgeous palm-fringed beaches – but how about celebrating your relationship with a walk in the rainforest canopy, or turtle-spotting round the Bornean coast.
Forest-covered Kalimantan is Borneo’s Indonesian section, and takes up about 70% of the island. Through it, the Great Kahayan river flows from the northern mountains all the way – nearly 400 miles – out to the Java Sea. Central Kalimantan is still over 80% forest, much of which is swampy, with a hot tropical climate that ranges between 27 and 32°C. The forests are still populated by the Dayak tribes, who hunt, fish, cultivate rice and often live in traditional long houses.
The orang-utans live in these forests too, and many are re-released here after being rescued. A number of trips and treks will take you into orang-utan territory, although do make sure that you’re using a reputable company. You will also get the chance to see plenty of other wildlife, with monkeys, gibbons, squirrels and otters all making regular appearances.
Most of the travel options in Borneo’s interior are guided treks and tours, and for good reason. Unless you’re a Marine you wouldn’t get far by yourself without getting hopelessly lost. Your holiday doesn’t have to be one big long adventure though. Many treks only last a few days. If you’d like to combine jungle excitement with some time spent relaxing, head for the coast.
For real independence, seek out a car hire company in Kota Kinabalu City, major towns and at the airports. The most roads are in the North – Malaysian Borneo and Brunei – where you’ll also find excellent diving and the most developed urban areas. Don’t try to drive cross-country, though! The southern regions are more easily reached by aeroplane or boat.