The Lost Girls’ Adventures in Borneo
Back in 2006, when the 3 of us -- Jen, Holly, and Amanda -- left everything familiar behind for a year to travel the world together, we vowed to continue taking annual trips as a trio for the rest of our lives. While we’ve stayed true to our promise, it wasn't until our recent Borneo adventure that we’d traveled anywhere so far flung. After multiple plane, boat, and bus rides, we arrived in the Technicolor paradise. Borneo is the world’s third largest island and is divided by 3 countries -- Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia. Whether your vacation agenda includes a remote destination to reflect on your priorities, pushing your body with adventure activities, or recharging your soul by immersing yourself in nature, check out The Lost Girls’ picks for Borneo’s most unforgettable places.
Indigo sky, aquamarine water and shimmering white sand make for a paradise setting. Located off the coast of the Malaysian state of Sabah, sea gypsies have long drifted atop of the lonely ocean vista. But it’s what’s beneath the water that truly evokes wonder. Giant sea turtles swim alongside schools of sleek reef sharks, and vertical walls drop thousands of meters from the edge of powder-soft beaches into mysterious blue depths. The best-known snorkeling and dive islands are Mabul and Sipidan, located at the southern end of the archipelago. Stay at one of a handful of dive resorts in Mabul, since tourists are not allowed to sleep on the protected island of Sipidan (the government allows only 120 passes to the island a day, which you should secure in advance from a dive resort).
The Lost Girls recommend Borneo Divers, the original operators for the region who first introduced ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau to Sipidan,and catapulted the destination into the stuff of diving legend. Mabul offers some spectacular muck-diving around an old oil rig that’s been converted into an offshore hotel. However, Sipidan is what really attracts divers from across the globe, with famous dive sites such as Barracuda Point where you can literally swim in the eye of a tornado-shaped formation of circling barracuda.
Also located in the Malaysian state of Sabah, Mount Kinabalu rises 4,095 meters over the jungle-blanketed island. Making the grueling 2-day trek to the jagged granite peak in time for the sunrise is practically a right of passage for visitors to Borneo. It’s key to book your accommodations a few months in advance to ensure you get a spot on the mountain -- and the required permit to climb it in the first place.
The Lost Girls slept at the rustic-but-comfortable dorm-style lodge known as Laban Rata, which includes towels, showers and 3 very delicious meals. Though you’re near the equator and will be sweating at the start of the hike, bring warm clothing for the freezing temperatures that await you at the top of Low’s Peak. You’ll have to wake at roughly 2 a.m. for breakfast and then begin climbing with headlamps (occasionally pulling yourself up sheer rock faces via rope) to make it there by 6 a.m. -- just in time to catch the first golden rays of the sun explode over the rocky peaks. Your thighs will definitely be sore the next day, but it’s a small price to pay for witnessing the world light up from above pillow-shaped clouds on your majestic perch.
3. Hang Out with Rare Proboscis Monkeys
If you want to experience nature while still enjoying cosmopolitan creature comforts, head south to Malaysia’s largest state of Sarawak. The old Indochine city of Kuching is conveniently located only about an hour and a half away from Bako National Park, where you can spy the rare, long-nosed proboscis monkey on beaches and cliffs lapped by the South China Sea. Accommodations inside the park are sketchy, so make a day trip of it by trekking along the 5.25-kilometer-long Lintang Trail. Watch out for the long-tailed macaques: the naughty monkeys are notorious for grabbing tourists’ food, umbrellas and cameras. Kuching is a welcome urban oasis after a day of trekking in the steamy jungles.
For panoramic views of the city and to be within walking distance of top attractions -- such as the shops and restaurants on the promenade that runs along the Sarawak River -- check out the new Pullman Kuching hotel. And while spending time immersing yourself in nature is a surefire way to recharge, other options for recharging after a hard day of hiking include having a cocktail by the hotel’s pool or a Thai massage in one of the spa’s 7 treatment rooms.