Few islands in the world conjure up enticing images of wild animals, primordial rainforests and fascinating tribal communities living in remote locations often only accessible via long river journeys. The island of Borneo is home to the East Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah with their numerous natural attractions.

Sabah

The Kinabatangan: Primate Country

The Kinabatangan River is the longest in Sabah, and the village of Sukau provides access to one of the country’s best wildlife experiences.

Its tributary, the Menanggul River flows into the Kinabatangan and is a habitat for animals such as the Proboscis Monkey, Orang Utan, a multitude of bird species and the occasional Borneo Pygmy Elephant. The tributary is narrow and small boats full of eager tourists travel the river looking for wildlife.

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Above The spacious villa room at Sukau Rainforest Lodge.

The best way to travel to Sukau is on an organised tour departing from Sandakan. Most tours include accommodation, meals, guides and transfers.

Gomantong Caves and mangrove tours maybe included in packages that extend over two or three days.

Where to stay: Sukau Rainforest Lodge.

Kinabalu National Park: Malaysia’s Highest Peak

At 4,095m, Mount Kinabalu is Malaysia’s highest (Hkakabo Razi in Myanmar at 5,881m is the region’s highest). Reaching the summit of Mount Kinabalu has challenged climbers for years and takes most people two days with an overnight stop in good accommodation at Laban Rata.

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Above Stay at the Sutera Sanctuary Lodges when in Kinabalu National Park.

This ascent of Mount Kinabalu in this UNESCO World Heritage Site is no walk in the park and best done by those who exercise regularly.

The climbing and accommodation procedures are well organised but should be booked well in advance as the numbers of daily climbers are limited.

Where to stay: Sutera Sanctuary Lodges.

Tunku Abdul Rahman Park: Magical Islands

The park is located just offshore from the Sabah capital of Kota Kinabalu. There are just five islands in this small but valuable park – Gaya, Manukan. Mamutik, Sulug and Sapi. There is little development on any with Sapi being popular for day-visit swimmers and snorkellers from Kota Kinabalu.

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Gaya is home to two luxury resorts and a water village while park headquarters and Sutera Sanctuary Lodge and recreational facilities.

Diving is possible around some of the islands but it is never going to be as good as Sipadan Island off Sabah’s East Coast. 

Where to stay: Sutera Sanctuary Lodges.

Sarawak

Talang Satang National Park: Turtle Island

Talang Satang National Park is a haven for endangered Green and Hawksbill Turtles to lay their eggs in the soft sand. While an ecotourism initiative, the park has been established to protect the turtles and visitor comforts are secondary. Facilities are limited to simple accommodation and ranger headquarters.

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Above Turtle tracks in sand at Talang Satang National Park.

Visitor numbers are limited but the reward of seeing turtles, outweighs any slight discomfort. There is a hatchery and visitors get to release the latest clutch of hatchlings. Turtles mostly visit the islands between May to October. Visitors stay in basic park accommodation.

Gunung Mulu National Park: To the Bat Cave

Gunung (or Mount) Mulu National Park is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It lures visitors who appreciate natural serenity, mountains and some massive limestone caves. To get there take a flight to Miri and another smaller aircraft on to Mulu.

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Above Mulu Marriott Resort & Spa

The trails are well established, accommodation is very good and there are many well-informed guides. Visit the four main caves of Deer, Lang, Wind and Clearwater.

Unusually, Deer Cave is full of bats and watching millions of them streaming out at dusk is one of the more unusual sights in a park full of natural beauty.

Where to stay: Mulu Marriott Resort and Spa.

Batang Ai National Park

The main feature for this isolated park of 24,040ha near the border with Indonesia is a vast lake that was created when a hydroelectricity dam was built. Remote Iban longhouse communities live in the upper reaches of the dam and rivers and staying overnight in one is a highlight of a visit to the park.

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Most visitors travel here on a package with at least two nights recommended – one night in a longhouse and one in Aiman Resort. The resort organises a range of activities from walks to fishing and rainforest canopy adventure.

Where to stay: Aiman Batang Ai Resort and Retreat.