The Galapagos Islands, which fired Charles Darwin’s imagination and are forever linked to his theory of evolution, have become a travel hot spot (although there are still ways to dodge the crowds). But Borneo in Southeast Asia played just as crucial a role in the history of evolution: Alfred Russell Wallace independently formulated his theory of natural selection on the island, which lies on his eponymous Wallace line, dividing Asiatic and Australian flora and fauna. Nonetheless, Borneo has largely forgotten in popular imagination—an injustice of history, but a boon for travelers interested in eco-tourism.
Unlike other parts of Southeast Asia, like Thailand or Bali, Borneo isn’t on a typical tourist’s radar. Moreover, visitors here have a chance to view species like the proboscis monkey and Bornean pygmy elephant that live nowhere else in the world—all while knowing their support of the nascent tourism industry helps motivate conservation of these endangered species.
The Malaysian state of Sabah (once known as British North Borneo) is one of the safest and most biologically rich areas of the island to visit. Here’s how to experience the wildlife—without roughing it yourself.
To get a taste of the wildlife that awaits, stay at the Shangri-la's Rasa Ria Resort. Shangri-La operates several properties in Sabah, and its Tanjung Aru Resort is probably the most famous after the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stayed there on their tour of the island. Yet the Rasa Ria is just as luxurious, and is home to a 64-acre nature reserve that focuses on conservation and rehabilitation of Borneo’s most famous inhabitant: orangutans. Ocean view rooms at the Rasa Ria go for around $265 during high season, which is considered February and March. Visitors to the hotel can observe the orangutans at their daily feedings or strap on their boots for a canopy walk as high as 30 feet from the forest floor to see them in their element—and spot some of Borneo’s nearly 700 bird species.
Into the jungle: While rehabilitation centers play an important role in conservation, there’s no comparison to seeing animals in the wild. To do so, leave the city and head for one of the wilder regions of Sabah.
One option is the Danum Valley Conservation Area, the largest protected lowland rainforest in Sabah—home not only to orangutans and elephants, but also clouded leopards and the exceedingly rare Sumatran rhinoceros, only seven of which survive on the island.
The Borneo Rainforest Lodge is the only real accommodation in the area, but doesn’t lack amenities; upgrade to a deluxe room, which have private outdoor jacuzzis that overlook the surrounding wilderness. Two-night packages can cost close to $1,000 per person during the high season of early spring and summer, but include airport transfers, guides and permits.
Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Travel: Best of Borneo.