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Trip Report Trip Report: Malaysian Borneo and Singapore

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Mr frogoutofwater and I just got back from a wonderful, 50th birthday trip to Malaysian Borneo and Singapore. I don't plan to write a detailed trip report, but I thought Fodorites might be interested in a few aspects of our trip:

1) itinerary;
2) photography; and
3) clothes and gear.

First, if you're interested in photos (mostly of animals) from the trip, you can find them on my Smugmug site. Scroll down on the homepage to see highlights of the trip. Click on any photo in the highlights section and you'll go to the full gallery.

1) Itinerary. We were lucky enough to secure 3 weeks (plus a day) for this vacation, as it was a special occasion (our 50th birthdays). I started planning the trip for 2013, but we postponed it to 2014 because we got kittens in 2012 and wanted them to be a little older before we went away for such a long period.

I found it very hard to contact some of the lodges (Lankayan Island, Borneo Rainforest Lodge, etc) on my own, so I ended up using Borneo Eco Tours to book Sukau Rainforest Lodge and Lankayan Island. They were great - superb service, always friendly, very timely in responding to queries, and excellent service on the ground in Borneo. I worked with Nasatia and she was excellent.

Flights: I used United Airlines miles and booked 1st class tickets Washington (Dulles) to Singapore, and business class tickets on Asiana (Singapore-Seoul-JFK) for the return trip. The connecting flight from NYC to Washington would have required us to get up at 4 am and there was always the risk of missing a flight in winter weather, so we took the train from NYC to Washington, DC the night before, after the end of the working day. I booked SilkAir (a Singapore Airlines sub) to fly from Singapore to Kota Kinabalu and from Kuching to Singapore. I booked business class for the SIN-KK flight because that meant we would have lounge access at a stage when we were staggeringly tired after the long trip from NYC but booked Economy for the short Kuching-SIN flight. Within Borneo, we flew on Malaysia Airlines.

We arrived in Kota Kinabalu around mid-day (on a Friday) and stayed for 2 nights at the Meridien. This gave us a chance to recover from jet lag and do a little exploring.

We flew to Sandakan early on the Sunday morning, were met by the Borneo Eco Tours guide, taken to Sepilok for the morning feeding, and then took a boat to Sukau Rainforest Lodge in the afternoon after lunch. We stayed for 3 nights at Sukau and loved it.

(I considered Borneo Rainforest Lodge but Sukau combined better with our plan to dive at Lankayan Island.)

On our return from Sukau, we stayed overnight at the Four Points Sheraton and then transferred to Lankayan Island for 4 nights. We also loved our stay here. The diving was good (but not spectacular). I think non-divers might be happy with a 3 night stay, but 4 nights is a good length of stay for divers.

On our return from Lankayan, we decided to spend another night in Sandakan, in part so we didn't have to rush with getting to the airport and in part because we wanted the opportunity to go back to certain places (e.g., Sepilok) if we felt we didn't get enough of wildlife viewing. I think there is enough in and around Sandakan to keep you busy for a few spare mornings and afternoons. We visited the War Memorial, the Rainforest Discovery Centre, Sepilok, and walked around a water village, among other activities.

The next day we flew from Sandakan to Kuching via Kota Kinabalu, arriving mid-afternoon. We stayed at the Hilton for 3 nights - as a Diamond member, we were upgraded to a suite on one of the executive floors. We quite enjoyed our stay there - lounge staff were very friendly and helpful with various arrangements.

Kuching is definitely worth a few days and for those who can only afford to spend 4-5 days in Borneo, I would even recommend that they base themselves in Kuching (with a night in Bako National Park), since Kuching provides relatively easy access to wilderness (e.g., Bako), a great orangutan reserve (Semenggoh), culture (some very interesting museums, the orchid garden), and good food.

We flew out of Kuching in mid-evening and continued to Singapore, where we spent 4 nights/4 days based at the Conrad (used points for this stay). I have friends (and a branch of my office) in Singapore, so we allocated a little more time than some might to Singapore. We're glad we had 4 days, though, because it rained fairly frequently and we ended up having to adjust planned activities to work around the downpours.

Would I change anything in the itinerary? Probably not. Kota Kinabalu was probably the least interesting part of our stay, but because of the risk of misconnections on the long trip to Borneo, it seemed prudent to stay there for at least 2 nights before the pre-paid tour (Sukau etc) part of our trip started. Maybe the only change I'd make would be to spend 2 nights in Kuching and one night in Bako National Park (or add one day to the trip so we could spend a night in Bako). To get the most out of the wildlife viewing opportunities there, I think it would be best to stay overnight so that you can get into the forest early in the morning and late in the afternoon, and that works best if you stay overnight.

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