Friday, March 13, 2015

Exploring Malaysian Borneo from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu

We spent just over three weeks in February and March 2015 exploring the two Malaysian states, Sarawak and Sabah, that share the island of Borneo with Brunei and Indonesian Kalimantan.

It was a mysterious place that I really knew nothing about, which seemed a good enough reason to end our year of travel with one more adventure.

The island of Borneo straddles the equator, but our travels finally brought us back into the northern hemisphere.

Unlike Indonesia with its influence from the Dutch, Sarawak and Sabah have a strong British presence. 

The Sultan of Brunei was an Anglophile and he actually gifted the lands of Sarawak to James Brooke, a Brit whose family ruled as “the White Rajahs” until independence in the 1960s. 

Sabah was run by the British North Borneo Company, very much like the East India Company (or the Hudson’s Bay Company). 

Missionaries brought Christianity to local native groups and it was interesting to see churches on every corner with only the occasional mosque used by the Malay population who have come over from the peninsula.

The parts of Sarawak and Sabah we saw had an almost western infrastructure. 

Roads were wide and well paved, there were modern shops and products and only a few Asian type markets. 

Malaysia’s oil and gas industry started in Miri (just outside Kuching) in 1910.

The other major contribution to the economy is palm oil (35% of Sabah is under cultivation with palm oil and Indonesian Kalimantan is actually higher than that)


The itinerary for the first ten days included visiting three of the main national parks in Sarawak. 

Not all of them had the same level of infrastructure which I found surprising. 

Bako NP, a short drive from Kuching, was dishevelled, moldy, had limited food available and staff seemed uncaring about the message they were sending to tourists. 

On the other hand, Mulu NP which is only accessible by air, was clean, well developed and provided a variety of well maintained accommodation and choices of food as well as the option of Wifi.