Updated: Sep 28, 2017
"Turtles turtles, come on out!". This is what I sang to a nest of turtles that was set to hatch the next day. And just then, in front of my very eyes, 55 turtles broke out of their eggs. 20 minutes later they swam in the sea.
Content by Sienna Juul Nyegaard / Written by Mathilde Moyell Juul
TripsByKids. Even though I was only 3, I will always remember Borneo. The first time I saw an orangutang and a nosemonkey in the wild, crocodiles and snakes in the river and walked on top op cockroaches and below a thousand bats! We saw small elephants in the jungle and a leopard-cat at night and stayed in four different places from a isolate island to a hut on the river. Get ready for a tripbyme to Malaysia!
My family, grandmother and I travelled in Borneo for 9 days, and actually getting there and around was the toughter part of the trip. As my grandmother was with us, and Philip and I were only three and five at the time, my parents had organised the trip with the travel agent, Amazing Borneo. We booked our own flights, but they made sure we got buses from A to B and had booked the hotels along the way. Ahead of this, we had decided to go Sabah, the Malaysian part of Borneo and to get there, we flew from Singapore to Kota Kinabalu and then a domestic flight to Sandakan. From Sandakan we got a fast (but fun!) boat for 1,5 hours out to Lankayan, our first stop.
Stop 1: The mini-paradise - Lankayan
"Turtles, turtles" were the first words I remember saying when arriving to Lankayan Island. Giant Hawksbill turtles were swimming just under the nose of our boat, lying there as if they were just waiting for us.
The island looked like something I'd seen on "Jake the Pirate" on Disney Junior - or as my grandmother called it - "Robinson Crusoe's island" - the first time I'd heard about him!
The island has 23 huts and the main tourists are divers - most families go to the more crowded Turtle Island close by, and as it wasn't diving season, we had most of the island more or less to ourselves.
One of the first things I noticed were the turtle hatches. Each of them had a date on them, indicating when they were planned to hatch. The staff knew this, because they had digged up the eggs themselves at night,immedately after the turtle mum had dropped them and left the island (!. The staff do this to protect the eggs, so they don't get eaten and destroyed by other animals later on.
We had walked past the hatches quite a few times and every time, I sang to the turtles: "Turtles, turtles come on out, turtles turtles, come on out".
We knew it would be another 24 hours before the next turtlebaby would crack its shell, but I thougth I'd sing to them anyway. And then, right there before me and my family - one egg suddenly cracked! And then, another! We couldn't believe it, even though the staff said that sometimes one or two would be impatient and come early, they also said that we shouldn't count on more. But minutes after the staff had left, another 53 baby turtles cracked their little shells, right in front of our very eyes. And of course, I was the one, who was allowed to hold the bucket of turtles to the beach and stand next to them, when they staff set them free into the water:
We got very lucky, and our parents, even more so. As the turtle mothers ususally nest at night, we had put a sign on our door to show the staff that we would like them to knock on our door if turtles were getting ready to nest. I was a sleep, Philip was a sleep and I think mum and dad felt Lankayan was safe enough to leave us in the huts, while they walked through bushes and wilderness to the other beach. There, they watched a mother turtle for two hours, 122 eggs being laid, carefully buried in the sand, and then, off she went, into the water, leaving her babies behind. Immediately, the staff carefully collected the eggs and buried them safely in the sheltered hatching area on the island.
As if this wasn't exciting enough, our journey had only just begun. The next day we went swimming, I tried looking through a snorkel mask, but think I was a bit too little at the time.
Philip had a go, and saw some fish - and mum snorkeled with the big turtles for half an hour! There weren't any activities specifically for children at Lankayan - but we just had fun sitting at the back of dad's kayak or creating transformers out of the clothes-pegs.
Stop 2 - Jungle by water and bats on land
The next stop was quite the contast to our little turtle island! First we stopped at the Sepilok Orangutan Centre and saw orangutan's in wild, but contained environmnet and also the abandoned monkey babies, who were raished in an 'orphanage':
We carried on south, and stayed at the Bilit Rainforest Lodge and went on a 3-4 guided morning and evening trips paddling down the Kimbatang River. Sometimes it was a bit early and the hours inbetween the trips a bit long at Bilit with not much to do - perhaps some children friendly teaching about the wildlife would have been useful, in order to kill time and know more about what we saw.
Because there was a lot to see!
Maca monkeys (on right), nose monkeys and orangutangs, a looot of birds, some watersnakes and wait for it... crocodiles! When our guide approaced it in the boat, it decided to swim fast towards our boat and go, SNAP, with its big jaw, sharp teeth and only 1 meter away from us...
We looked for pygmy elephants withough any luck, instead more scarry, or probaby more - CREEPY animals were yet to come. We drove for 4,5 hours to the Gomantong caves where we were equipped with hard hats before going in (?). Looking back, I have to say, I didn't understand much of what went on, before I had left the caves. I think it's safe to say that it wasn't a bad thing to be 3 years-old and not 6, like now. We were walking on cockroaches, couldn't touch the handlebars because of spiders - and above us, were thousands of bats as well as their droppings below (aah - why the hard hat!). But all I remember being three, is that it was really beautiful!
Stop 3 - the secret of the rainforest
We got lucky on our way out of the caves, also because of our observant guide.
"Look", he whispered, and looking up, two orangutangs were playing 'catch' in the treetops. Two seconds later he said: 'careful' - and a snake withered up around the treebark.
It was so exciting to see all this - in the wild! And it didn't stop there, we were about to enter the real jungle, we just had to drive on for a couple of hours, now in 4WD.
And here, in Danum Valley opened up a complete fatamorgana of a place. Borneo Rainforest Lodge is located in the middle of the jungle, but is total luxury with beautiful cabins, outdoor designerbath and wi-fi! We loved the food and hanging out in the lobby, playing boardgames.
And we didn't mind if mum and dad went up the hill for a couple of hours to see the jungle and view from there. Us children did some small trips closer to the hotel and went 'tubing' down the river in these hilarious rubber-rings - such good fun!
We also walked across canopys up high (and watched our terrified parents tremble across), but the best was the night safari, where the guide with a torch spotted a lot of animals, including the leopard cat, which is very rare!
We loved it in Danum Valley and the people were so nice and designed all the trips just for our family, so it wouldn't be too tough for Philip and I. We were quite gutted not to see the pygme elephant throughout this journey though, but then...as we drove away in our car, an hour away from the lodge, our driver suddenly shouted: "elephants, elephants" - we saw them rush from the road into the jungle, and I'm afraid, the only picture my mum got, was a shaky elephant bum! It was still the perfect "end" to our stay on the East Coast of Sabah and only 7 days into our trip, but with so much adventure in our memory backpack, we were heading back east.
Stop 4 - kids finale
And here was a surprise awaiting for us kids. It was only 15 min. from the airport taking us back to Singapore, and yet our parents had decided to spoil us for 36 hours at the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort in Kota Kinabalu. This hotel was a dream come true for Philip and I: waterslides, waterbaloonstation, six pools for babies, children, children-adults and just adults, kids club for several agegroups and all the activities you could wish for. A nice finale - also for my parents and grandmother, who could relax while we played, and enjoy the sunset with (probably) the happiest kids in Malaysia. But. Three years on, when our parents ask Philip and I what was the most memorable from Borneo - we always say: the turtles, the orangutangs and seeing all of this together as three generations.
TRANSPORT: Flight from Singapore to Kota Kinabalu + Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan. Boat (1,5 hour) to Lankayan Island and minibus via Sepilok to Kinabatangan and again to Danum Valley.
REASON: An old dream come true for the adults and an opportunity to expose the kids to a different Asia and amazing wildlife.
ITINEARY: Singapore-Kota Kinabalu / Kota Kinabalu-Sandakan by plane. Then by land with stops to Danum and flight back to Kota Kinabalu and Singapore. 9 days, in October 2014.
PRICE: For 3 adult and 2 kids - Singapore dollars: 10.000 excl. flights. Check Amazing Borneo or below websites for present price range.
STRETCH: 8 nights, 2 nights at each location.
Stop 1: Lankayan Island Resort: lankayan-island.com
Stop 2: Kinabatangan River: bilitrainforestlodge.com
Stop 3: Danum Valley - Borneo Rainforest Lodge: borneonaturetours.com
Stop 4: Kota Kinabalu: Shangri-La Tangung Aru Resort: shangri-la.com/kotakinabalutanjungaruresort
For Danish readers who would like to read the published article on our Borneo trip in Børsen, click here: http://borsen.dk/nyheder/avisen/artikel/11/103665/artikel.html
To read other Malaysia TripsByKids - click here: https://www.tripsbykids.com/malaysia