BORNEO

PART 1, General Information

PART 2, Video

GENERAL INFORMATION

Borneo, the third largest island in the world, covered mostly with dense rainforests. (More than twice the size of Germany) The island consist of 3 countries, Malaysia (Sabah & Sarawak) Brunei and Indonesia. (Kalimatan)  With swampy coastal areas fringed with mangrove forests and a mountainous interior, much of the terrain was virtually impassable and unexplored. Head-hunters ruled the remote parts of the island until just 100 years ago. Unfortunately in the 80’s and 90’s lots of forest was levelled to supply the Western World with Furniture and paperpulp. During this time its forests were levelled at a rate unparalleled in human history. Today the forests of Borneo are but a shadow of those of legend and those that remain are rapidly being converted to industrial oil palm and timber plantations. Forests in the southern part of Borneo, an area belonging to Indonesia and known as Kalimantan, became the primary source for tropical timber. Later Oil palm is the most productive oil seed in the world. A single hectare of oil palm may yield 5,000 kilograms of crude oil, or nearly 6,000 liters of crude, making the crop remarkably profitable when grown in large plantations. As such, vast swathes of land are being converted for oil palm plantations. Oil palm cultivation has expanded in Indonesia from 600,000 hectares in 1985 to more than 8.6 million hectares by 2015 Politically, the island is divided between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Indonesian Borneo is known as Kalimantan, while Malaysian Borneo is known as East Malaysia. the island is divided by central highlands that run diagonally from Sabah state (Malaysia) in northeastern Borneo to southwestern Borneo, roughly forming the border between West and Central Kalimantan (Indonesia). The whole of Borneo has only a single extinct volcano — but does feature the highest mountain in Southeast Asia: Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, which reaches 4,095 meters (13,435 feet).

Many overlanders do not venture to this part of the world and until recently this was one of the least know parts of the world.

Borneo is the third largest island in the world after Greenland and New Guinea. Compared to the rest of Asia the island is sparsely populated. Around 70% live (16 million) in the Indonesian part (Kalimantan)  around 6 million live in Sarawak-Sabah (Malaysia) and 415000 in the Islamic sultanate of Brunei.

The island of Borneo is located around the Equator and is around 1400km long and around 1000km wide. Mostly mountainous and a great off-road destination with Rain forest, steep tracks, and lowlands which are mostly swampy. The highest mountain in Malaysia is Mt Kinabalu at 4101 meters high. The island has some great rivers such as the Kapuas, Mahakam, and the Rajang.

The average annual rainfall is about 3.8 meters hence great for those who like a challenge great driving on steep tracks in the mountains and rainforest. The rainforest is absolutely amazing and with a bit of luck you will see the monster flower. This flower is around 1 meter in diameter and can weigh more than 10 kg. lots of birdlife, and other mammals like the Borneo clouded leopard, proboscis monkey and elephants.

We were told the Sumatran rhinoceros is now extinct.  The Borneo rainforest is 130 million years old, making it one of the oldest rainforests in the world and 70 million years older than the Amazon rainforest. Borneo is extraordinarily rich in biodiversity compared to many other areas. There are about 15,000 species of flowering plants with 3,000 species of trees, 221 species of mammals and 420 species of birds. We did not notice it, but we are also told that the area in Kalimantan is subject to mass deforestation, 

SARAWAK.

The largest state in Malaysia has over 45 dialects and just under 30 ethnic groups. You are still able to meet people from the Iban tribe (head-hunters) They have long since ceased headhunting, but they still maintain their rich customs, art, practices, and language. Other interesting tribes are the Orang Ulu from upriver. Known for their music. The local communities have a vibrant living culture with a fascinating history. The typical dwelling for these communities is the longhouse: a village under one roof usually built adjacent to the river.  Rivers still provide the main access in the rainforest of Sarawak (and Borneo) and when you are lucky you can join them in their outboard powered longboats through and around rapids and rocks.

KALIMANTAN

The borders of West Kalimantan roughly trace the mountain ranges surrounding the watershed of the Kapuas River. West Kalimantan is an area that could be dubbed “The Province of a Thousand Rivers”. The nickname is aligned with the geographical conditions that have hundreds of large and small rivers that which can be and often are navigable. Several major rivers are still the main route for freight to the hinterland, despite road infrastructure now reaching most districts. West Kalimantan is currently the only province in Indonesia that has a road allowing you to overland visit a neighbouring country. Lubok Antu is in Malaysia. It borders on Indonesia and a Malaysian border crossing checkpoint is located here. The checkpoint on the Indonesian side is called the Nanga Badau Border Crossing Checkpoint located in the village of Badau, West Kalimantan.

At the time of our visit, we followed for a part the Kalimantan Toll road (Dirt road and work in progress) this road when finished will connect Pontianak in West Kalimantan with Tanjung Selor in North Kalimantan

THE INDEPENDENT ISLAMIC SULTANATE BRUNEI

Brunei’s lush-green tropical rainforests make up more than 70% of the country more important most has been kept out of peoples reach. With many national parks, lots of refreshing waterfalls, great views from Damuan Recreational Park and Tasek Lama Park with great views of the water village.  

After Singapore it has the highest per capita income in Asia Brunei’s economy is almost totally dependent on the exploitation of its vast reserves of petroleum and gas. However, it also means it is dependent on just one commodity which is subject to fluctuations. Brunei relies for nearly all other products on import. 

The population centres in the country are linked by a network of 2,800 kilometres of bitumen road. The 135-kilometre highway from Muara Town to Kuala Belait is a super double lane highway. To sum it up the country’s road network is well developed. With one private car for every 2 people, Brunei has one of the highest car ownership rates in the world. This has been attributed to the absence of a comprehensive transport system, low import tax, and incredibly low petrol prices.

78 % of the population is Sunni Muslim.

SABAH

Sabah, which was known as North Borneo before it joined the Malaysian Federation in 1963, was part of the Sultanate of Brunei in the 16th century. the Crocker Range National park. The Kinabatangan River is the second longest river in Malaysia and runs through Sabah, and Mount Kinabalu is the highest point of Sabah as well as Malaysia. The major towns in Sabah are Kota Kinabalu, Tawau and Sandakan.

Around the capital Kota Kinabalu you find beaches, loads of tourist and 5-star hotels. By far the most Touristy part of Borneo with lots of tourist it is predominantly focused on mass tourism.

Sandakan gateway to Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, the world-famous Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary near Sandakan is home to orphaned or captured orang utans where they are slowly readapted to the jungle environment.

Tawau third-largest city and main entry point from Indonesia; surrounded by vast cocoa and oil palm plantations; gateway to the Maliau Basin Conservation Area.

Ranau the largest town in the vicinity of Mount Kinabalu; also, near the Poring Hot Springs, Sabah Tea Plantation and Kundasang War Memorial; notable for its links to the 1944 ‘Death March’ undertaken by Allied Prisoners of War.

Kudat northernmost major town; heartland of the longhouse-dwelling Rungus people and home to one of the oldest Hakka Chinese-speaking communities in Sabah; famed for its secluded beaches, coconut and peanut-planting industries and proximity to the northernmost tip of Borneo at Simpang Mengayau and Tenom small interior town famed for its coffee plantations, especially those run by the Yit Foh and Fatt Choi companies; heartland of the Murut tribe; home to the Sabah Agricultural Park; The Rafflesia flowers – The world’s largest flowers, nearly 1m in diameter, can be seen in the Crocker Range when in bloom. Last but not the least the beautiful Kiulu Valley where people live by the river.

The only place where one can travel overland into Sabah is from Sarawak through the border crossing at Merapok. The road between Sarawak and Kota Kinabalu is sealed all the way and in generally good condition. If you are planning to do the overland trail from Brunei to Kota Kinabalu this is easy and done within one day. (A2) In for a challenge you can drive from Sabah to Indonesia (North Kalimantan) driving through an extremely remote and thickly forested interior region of Borneo.

Even if not crossing the border into Indonesia this is an adventure and should be part of your overland adventure if you spend money on after market gear for your vehicle. Sabah’s road network is not as developed as that in Peninsular Malaysia and there are large areas of the interior, such as the Kinabatangan River basin, which are not connected by road but only remote tracks. Great tracks can be driven with your 4WD in and around the Rundum Highlands bush camping at nearby small communities.

PART 2, VIDEO