Adventure though called and I headed out of Kuching to the Bako National Park for an exciting day of jungle trekking. Just an hour's drive from Kuching, on a small peninsula sticking out into the South China Sea, Bako is only accessible by boat and has a huge variety of flora and fauna endemic to Borneo. I saw shy proboscis monkeys, cheeky silver leaf and long tailed macaques, snorting wild pigs and monitor lizards...but no snakes. I had warned my wonderful guide about my phobia and he steered me clear of any reptilian encounters. However, I wasn't able to wash off the heat and dust from the trek with a refreshing dip in the sea as jellyfish and huge estuarine crocodiles were lurking!
The adventure continued at Batang Ai Lake, about five hours inland from Kuching, with the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre at Semenggoh and colourful native markets to visit along the way. Racing up the Lemanak River in a longboat through dense rainforest to stay at a native Iban longhouse, learning how to hunt with a blow pipe, drinking rice wine and dancing with the local ladies...the whole experience was a real treat.
Next on my agenda was a 90-minute flight over the rainforest canopy of Sarawak to the spectacular Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia's first UNESCO World Heritage Site. With stunning caves of mind-boggling proportions, an incredible diversity of flora, high peaks to climb and wild rivers to ride, I was blown away by Mulu. And at sunset, I witnessed the unique spectacle of a million bats emerging from Deer Cave in a black spiral cloud to hunt down mosquitoes for their dinner.
Another scenic flight, this time over the 4,095 metre peak of Mt Kinabalu, then landed me in Sandakan and the gateway to the Kinabatangan River. After a quick feeding time visit to the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre at Sepilok, I set off on another thrilling two hour speedboat journey across Sandakan Bay and up Sabah’s longest river to Sukau Rainforest Lodge.
The guides at the lodge were incredible spotters and casually pointed out proboscis monkeys, orang utans, Borneo pygmy elephants, crocodiles, hornbills and a wide variety of other birds and crocodiles all living in perfect harmony together along the riverine forest. Without them, I doubt I'd have seen a thing! However, the main challenge here is to keep the palm oil plantations away from encroaching on this pristine, beautiful but fragile environment.
And finally to the ancient primary rainforests of the Danum Valley Conservation Area and the stunning Borneo Rainforest Lodge. From the lodge, a stiff 1,200 metre hike brings you to a view point with panoramic views of Mt Danum and the valleys below. Jurassic in scale with rainforest canopy stretching to the horizon in every direction, I really felt on top of the world...and at the end of the Earth!
But the best was yet to come. Later that same day, I was given a private audience by a young orang utan mother and her baby happily building their nest for the night high in the trees. It was the absolute icing on my Borneo cake!"
View our holidays to Borneo here.
Take a look at a video of Ayesha's trip>>