The island of Borneo is a tropical paradise full of lush green jungles, a wide variety of wildlife, friendly local people and is one of the last remaining refuges of the critically endangered Bornean Orangutan. This is the reason it is my favourite place on Earth.Being able to travel to Borneo and volunteer with orangutans was a dream come true, as Orangutans have always been my favourite animal. So to be able to book a three week voluntour working with orangutans and exploring the jungles of Bornean Malaysia was something truly special and an incredibly exciting opportunity.
Arriving in Kuching, the capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, I was expecting to find the hustle and bustle of a busy, densely populated Asian city. However I was pleasantly surprised to find that the culture was fairly laid back and easy going and that there was much more of an “island-time” type vibe going on. Another thing I was happy to find was that Sarawak has largely still yet to be “discovered” and so isn’t awash with tourists and the beauty of the area is relatively unspoilt.
The tour began at the Matang Wildlife Centre which is a rescue and rehabilitation centre for injured and orphaned wildlife located inside the beautiful Kubah National Park. The centre houses animals such as orangutans, sun bears, clouded leopards, hornbills and siamang gibbons, amongst others. Being able to volunteer at the sanctuary preparing food and providing enrichment for the animals was an amazing experience that has created memories I will cherish for a lifetime. In our downtime we got to explore the gorgeous Kubah national park which, although lacking in its wildlife viewing capacity more than makes up for it with its lush tropical scenery. Dipterocarp forest covers most of the park and there are multiple streams and waterfalls to cool off in.
Bako National park with its sheer limestone cliffs, that rise out of the sea to meet you, was our next destination. Every imaginable type of vegetation, from Mangrove forests, to swampland to mighty dipterocarps to carnivorous pitcher plants, can be found within this park. The animal life too is exotic and unique, silver tailed and Proboscis monkeys climb in the trees right outside the park accommodation, macaques frolic on the beaches and try to steal your food at the restaurant and Bornean bearded pigs stroll around by the beachside. Trekking around this park is easy and offers amazing views, it is definitely somewhere that I would recommend to anyone travelling to Sarawak.
Leaving Bako was sad however our next stop to the Sarawak Cultural Village was well worth the trip. The village consisted of eight houses each one representing one of the ethnic groups that make up Sarawak. It was incredibly interesting to see how each of the groups lived and how these ways of life continue in many of the rural villages.
The village of Biduyah was our next stop, a village trying to bring back the old ways of life whilst the rest of the state ploughs ahead in “progress” towards a more westernised lifestyle. Biduyah was a very pretty village with a mix of colourful modern houses and traditional longhouses. It was nice to see that some of the old ways of life, like living in a longhouse and farming communally, could co-exist along with the more modern westernised lifestyle.
The final stop on our tour was Batang Ai National Park. Batang Ai is stunning, towering dipterocarp forest cover hillsides that are separated by a large and imposing river and it is one of the only places to house a viable population of Bornean orangutans. Being largely only accessible by boat, it is not as touristy as Kubah or Bako and therefore provides the perfect place for the orangutans last stand. It is also home to an Iban tribe whose longhouses and farms are dotted around the park. These locals are incredibly friendly and welcoming and are only too happy to extend their hospitality to anyone who comes their way. Trekking around Batang Ai we sadly did not see any wild orangutans but the experience was still well worth it to see the beautiful landscapes and how the locals live in harmony with the land.
All too soon my adventure was over and it was time to return to the city. Being able to have this experience and to have met all the amazing people I met on this tour will be something I will always have and cherish. Sarawak is definitely somewhere I want to go back to and volunteering abroad is definitely something I want to do again, because it allows you to give back whilst also enriching your own life. So now I am left looking for my next adventure and opportunity to give back.
- Jemma Harnett
- : Conservation and Ecology graduate who loves nature and the outdoors. Passionate about orangutans and other primates.
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