Once the embodiment of primal wilderness, Borneo has changed. The world's third largest island now has its fair share of megamalls, coffee chains and upmarket hotels.
Despite development, Borneo's raw roots shine through in the shape of giant moths, enormous spiders, vipers, orangutans and living museums that display headhunter bric-a-brac. Despite human depredation, Borneo also still boasts splodges of dense jungle and rainforest. Learn about some fascinating attractions situated down south in Sarawak and east in Sabah (the third state squished between them – the kingdom of Brunei – is a world of its own).
Borneo's Top Five Attractions
Bako National Park
Like rival Bornean national park Mulu, Bako is a showstopper, only more compact. Bako packs masses into a little. Expect a profusion of weird, wonderful and alarming creatures: a wealth of bats, bees, birds and monkeys including the bizarre proboscis monkey. Commenting on Bako, a TravBuddy pundit says: "Nearly gave it a miss as I thought... oh, just another national park and the weather was pretty crappy. But honestly, when I got off the boat, trudged through the water and looked up at that cliff face, this amazing feeling came over me – it was awesome." Check. If you look up into the treetops through binoculars, you might well see a giant spider like something out of a B-horror movie but no hallucination.
Sabah headhunter village
This landmark just outside the airport town of Kota Kinabalu is politely known as "a cultural village". But the attractions are much more edgy than that polite term implies. Even the dance show that ends with a balloon-bursting blowpipe routine has a sense of danger. In the run-up, visitors get to eat grubs and explore a house with human skulls hanging from the rafters.
If extreme sports scare you to death, but you want to be able to say that you have climbed a mountain, Mount Kinabalu is the one to do. Seen by the ancients as the sacred home of the spirits, Mount Kinabalu has steps – you can reach the summit with little or no need for crampons or rope. If you want to spice things up a little, try negotiating the giant 'via ferrata' climbing frame super-glued to the mountain.
Kuching Cat Museum
One of Asia's oddest and most amusing detours, Kuching Cat Museum is curiously positioned – on the far side of the iconic waterfront that bisects the capital of the East Malaysian state of Sarawak. Inside the museum, cats are explored from every imaginable angle – postcards, figurines, cartoons, toys, poems, statues and more. Giant vibrant cat statues dominate the town, which is known as 'cat city' and even has feline emblems on its manhole covers.
The only oceanic island in Malaysia, Sipadan soars 600 metres from the bed of the Celebes Sea, off the coast of Sabah. Sipadan owes its existence to living corals growing atop an extinct volcanic cone that took thousands of years to knit together. Like Bako National Park, Sipadan offers staggering wildlife diversity. Only, most of the action operates underwater. Sipadan is a global diving hotspot, even a wonder of the world.