I'm in the final days of my second trip to Malaysia – the first one was in 2009 and only covered the Peninsula. This time I focused on Malaysian Borneo which is like a whole different country (2 countries even, Sarawak and Sabah – they even have border formalities). Sarawak is the nicest to travel around on your own, while Sabah has more wildlife but also more package tourism (with people only mildly interested in seeing wild animals).Itinerary
D1 - Arrival overland by bus / walk / train from Nakhon Sri Thammarat (Thailand) via Butterworth. Overnight George Town.
D2 – Visit all sights of George Town on foot. Overnight George Town.
D3 – Pick up a rental car and drive to Lenggong Valley WHS. Overnight George Town.
D4 – Flight to Kuching. Visit Semenggoh Orangutan Sanctuary. Saw 2 of them on the feeding platform and 2 by the side of the road. Overnight Kuching.
D5 – Day in Kuching. Heritage Walk. Borneo Cultures Museum. Overnight Kuching.
D6 – Daytrip by public bus to Bako NP. Overnight Kuching.
D7-9 – Flight to Mulu. Overnight Gunung Mulu WHS and activities for 4 days/3 nights.
D10 – Flight to Miri. Overnight Miri.
D11 – Visit Niah Caves TWHS by public transport. Overnight Miri.
D12 – Flight to Kota Kinabalu. Overnight KK.
D13 – Visit Kinabalu Park WHS. Overnight KK.
D14 – Sabah Museum. Overnight KK.
D15 – Flight to Sandakan. Explore town and waterfront. Overnight Sandakan.
D16-D17 – 3D/2N tour of Kinabatangan River. Plus Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center and Sun Bear Conservation Center.
D18-D19 – Rainforest Discovery Center (good for birds), and Sandakan War Memorial (to commemorate a gruesome death march of Australian and British PoW during the Japanese occupation of Sabah in WWII). Evening flight Sandakan – Kuala Lumpur. Overnight Kuala Lumpur.
D20-21 – Revisit Kuala Lumpur, the national museum. Sungai Buloh TWHS. Overnight Kuala Lumpur.Some observations and practicalities
* I found Malaysia very pleasant and easy to travel in. People are more extravert than in Thailand. It's also multi-cultural, so the food and the city attractions are more varied.
* I rented a car for a day to go to the Lenggong Valley from Penang. The driving was easy, but to use the tollways you have to have a Touch&Go card. If you have one, they are easy to top up. Buying a new one is another matter. The rental company gave me one, but it turned out to be expired! So at the first toll gate, I took the gate most to the left and eventually a human being appeared, looked at me the dumb foreigner and gave me a temporary card. You hand this one in at the end of the toll road and pay in cash. On the way back, the Lenggong guide and I tried at various shops to sell me a new card, but to no avail. In the end, she gave me her card and I managed to get back to George Town with that one.
* I had high expectations for my Kinabatangan River tour, it ended up being good but not great. From the 'Borneo Big 5' (Borneo pygmy elephant, Estuarine crocodile, Rhinoceros hornbill, Proboscis monkey, and Orangutan) we scored 4 out of 5, but unfortunately missed out on the wild orangutan. The stars of the show undeniably were the hornbills. I used Sukau Rainforest Lodge & Borneo Ecotours for this part of the trip. The cost for 3 days/2 nights inc. single supplement was 3700 ringgit/740 EUR (including 2.5h transfers by boat from and back to Sandakan) (for comparison, my 4d/3n trip to Uakari Lodge in the Brazilian Amazon cost about the same)
. The lodge was fine, but lacked a bit of soul (and the convivial atmosphere of Gunung Mulu) and the food was inspired too much by the Great British Colonial Cookbook. Activities here are almost fully river-based, so you can hardly go out on your own except for a boardwalk of about 300m in length.Malaysia's WHS
Malaysia to date has only 4 WHS, of which the Lenggong Valley is truly subpar (both in management and OUV) and should be replaced by the Niah Caves (2024 candidate).
A star site for Borneo's distinct wildlife is missing, and is also not present on the Indonesian side of the island (although it does still have an old TWHS in 'Betung Kerihun National Park'). I found Kinabatangan River too developed, plus it's secondary forest and there is also a need for corridors because of the many oil palm plantations around it. The Danum Valley has been a favourite for long but has succumbed to even more luxury and higher prices. Hardcore mammalwatchers now seem to go for Deramakot (which is open to selective logging, but delivers well on the sightings of rare mammals). A good alternative choice could be Tabin Wildlife Reserve in the far south which still has Bornean rhino.
P.S.: I visited Malaysia's National Museum today, where ample space is allocated to the Bujang Valley
(Malaysia's richest archaeological area). But: UNESCO made a report in 1987 endorsing the site. In 2014, some ruins of candi (temples) in Bujang were destroyed by an urban developer, causing an international outcry against attacks on cultural heritage. In 2017, the government of Malaysia announced that more research on the site is still needed, thus excluding it from the Malaysian tentative list.
Also, tin mining could be a future subject. I especially enjoyed the examples of tin animal money
At the museum, Lenggong has a much more prominent position than Niah - sites from the Peninsula seem to get more attention than those from Borneo.