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Danum Valley, a protected area since 1995 in East Sabah, combines wildlife and biodiversity in a rainforest undisturbed by logging and deforestation. The 438 square-kilometre conservation area consists of 130-million-year-old dipterocarp forest and houses thousands of flora and fauna, including orangutans. Visitors can stay overnight in an on-site hostel or comfortable bungalows and take part in jungle treks, canopy walks and night safaris. Few things beat waking up in the heart of the jungle more than two hours from the nearest settlement to the sound of nature. Danum Valley leads the way with the most beautiful places in Borneo for the rainforest experience.
Mount Kinabalu holds many titles in Sabah, including Malaysia’s and Borneo’s tallest peak at 4,095 metres (13,345 feet). In fact, Mount Kinabalu is the highest between Papua New Guinea and the Himalayas. But Kinabalu, which features on the state emblem, also combines rich flora and fauna, stunning vistas and has strong cultural links to the indigenous Kadazan-Dusun tribes. Climbing takes two days and tourists need to book months in advance to secure a spot.
Picture a desert island covered in palm trees. Now combine this image with white beaches, dense jungle and hardly anyone else around. That’s Pulau Tiga, or Three Islands, off the coast of Sabah near Kota Kinabalu. The 158-square kilometre island once hosted the first series of popular TV show Survivor, where 16 contestants stayed on the island for 39 days. Today, it offers some of Borneo’s most exclusive accommodation and the ultimate desert island experience.
Sipadan Island lies approximately one hour off the coast, in the Celebes Sea in East Sabah near Semporna. The small protected oceanic island consists of a sandy atoll with a jungle core. Apart from giving the appearance of a desert island, Sipadan offers some of the best diving in Borneo. Expect an unspoilt appearance and colourful marine life. Just be aware only 120 diving permits are available each day.
A small mountainous island formed after an ancient volcanic eruption sits in the Celebes Sea, approximately 23 kilometres (14.3 miles) from Semporna in East Sabah. Belonging to the Tun Sakaran Marine Park, only a small channel separates arguably the most beautiful place in Borneo from Bodgaya Island. Visitors marvel at the white beaches and jungles housing some rare species of plants and flowers. But the biggest appeal of Bohey Dulang is scaling its peak at 353 metres (1,158 feet) for a paranoiac view of the sapphire-blue lagoon below. Other highlights include waterfalls, streams, rock pools and snapping photographs of the Bajau Laut, or Sea Nomads, living in their floating wooden villages.
For a luxurious island retreat like the Maldives in Borneo, head to Lankyan Island, located 90 minutes by boat from Sandakan. The remote island in the Sulu Sea is part of a protected marine park with just one resort: Lankayan Island Dive Resort. Visitors can stay in beach-side chalets overlooking the soft sand and gentle sea. According to guests, this is the most beautiful place in Borneo if not all of Malaysia. Turtles nest and hatch nearby between June and September too.
Sarawak’s Tusan Cliff sits approximately 39 kilometres (24.2 miles) south of Miri on Borneo’s stretch of the South China Sea. Apart from the stunning views of the coastline and rock formations including the famous ‘horses head’, which resembles a horse drinking from the sea, the beach also hosts a rare natural event. Occasionally, when the conditions are just right, small dinoflagellates accumulate in the shallow waters. When agitated, they release a glowing light transforming the sea into a neon-blue. Known locally as the ‘Blue Tears’, lucky visitors who catch a glimpse find it mesmerising. Just picture the last orange-yellow glows on the horizon after the sunset while the darkness surrounds the glowing blue water along the shore.
Bako National Park is among the most beautiful places in Borneo, combining a jungle experience with deserted beaches and islands. Located approximately one hour north of Sarawak’s capital Kuching, the relatively small national park offers a lot for its tiny size. Visitors can hike through the jungle and stand on cliffs overlooking the rocky shore, relax on empty beaches, cruise through the eerie mangroves and go wildlife spotting. Proboscis monkeys, named after their unusually long nose, also live inside Bako National Park.
Sarawak is known for its limestone caves popular among outdoor enthusiasts, cavers and adventurous tourists. Some of the state’s caves lie deep in the heart of the jungle, making access challenging. But Niah Caves at just 85 kilometres (53 miles) from Miri makes a favourite day trip. Visitors can explore the Great Cave, Moon Cave and see ancient rock art in the Painted Cave or hike along jungle trails. Other activities include visiting archaeological sites, learning how local tribesmen get the regional bird’s nest delicacy from the cliffs and embrace the eerie environment.
The Derawan Archipelago consists of 31 islands in the Sulawesi Sea off the coast of East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Apart from being among the most beautiful places in Borneo for beaches, the islands act as a hotspot for wildlife spotting, diving and snorkelling. Palm tree fringe the coastline as jungle covers the interior. More than 460 species of coral live on the seabed while thousands of colourful fish swim in the warm shallow sea. Derawan, Maratua atoll, Sangalaki, and Kakaban are the most accessible islands in the archipelago.