Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam… there are so many fabulous destinations fighting for attention in Southeast Asia that Borneo often gets overlooked. If you want a destination that is extraordinarily rich in wildlife however, and offers everything from white sand beaches to dense rainforest, mountain vistas to vibrant towns, encounters with indigenous communities to fabulous eco lodges, Borneo definitely should be top of the list. Here are five things that we think you ought to know.
1 — Borneo is the Largest Island in Asia
Borneo is just to the south of the South China Sea, and as well as being Asia’s largest island, it is also the third largest island in the world. Different parts of the island are administered by different countries - Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei - so they have unique cultural identities as well as physical differences.
2 — The Rainforest is one of the Oldest in the World
It is estimated that Borneo’s rainforest is 140 million years old, which makes it more than twice the age of the Amazon. Consequently, it is the evolutionary centre for a huge number of endemic species - both animals and plants - and extraordinarily biodiverse. The majority of the island is covered by lowland rainforest, but if you climb up above 1,000 m then it is possible to find montane rainforests (cloud forests) as well.
3 — It's a Biodiversity Hotspot
The first person to get incredibly excited about the wildlife in Borneo was Alfred Russell Wallace, the English naturalist who conceived a theory of evolution by natural selection independently to Charles Darwin. Wallace travelled throughout the Malay archipelago in the 1850s and ‘60s, collecting some 126,000 specimens as he went.
No one knows exactly how many species there are in Borneo, as new ones are constantly being found. It is estimated, however, that there are some 15,000 species of plants here, plus 1,400 different kinds of mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and amphibians. You might even discover a new one on your trip, especially if you visit Kinabalu Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
4 — The Rajah of Sarawak was British
In the 1840s, adventurer James Brooke was appointed as Governor of Sarawak by the Sultan of Brunei, who also awarded him the title “Rajah”. Brooke made Kuching his capital, and it was later ruled by his nephew, Charles Brooke, too.
The Brookes were responsible for much of the colonial architecture you see in Kuching today. These include the impressive Fort Margherita and the Astana Palace, as well as the prison and hospital. It wasn’t until 1946 that Sir Charles Vyner Brooke - the third Rajah of Sarawak - actually ceded Kuching to the British Crown.
5 — Traditional Culture Still Thrives
Borneo’s ethnic and cultural diversity is incredibly rich on account of the island’s geographical location and trading history. There are indigenous communities who have hung on to their identity, however, and the Iban people of Sarawak are particularly keen to share their traditions with visitors. This enables them to be more widely appreciated and to survive.
The Iban were once headhunters and were renowned as fearsome warriors. Today however, they offer guests a very warm welcome, especially at festival time. It is possible to stay in a traditional Iban longhouse, meet members of the community and to learn firsthand about their way of life. It’s a fascinating experience which we highly recommend as it will definitely enrich your stay.
If you are considering a trip to Borneo, call and speak to one of our Journeysmiths on 01604 637332.