The Daily Explorer

July 31, 2010

Borneo Uncovered (Part One)

Borneo, Malaysia: July 2010

MOZZIE BYTE (Editor): A warm welcome back to all our Daily Explorer readers and greetings to those of you who are joining us for the first time. For new readers, Ray has been living nomadically for over four and a half years since he left England in November 2005 and has visited or lived in 16 countries. We have been publishing news and stories about his journey throughout that period. You can find all of these in our Previous Issues archive. Our aim at The Daily Explorer is to create a great publication for you to enjoy, so please keep sending us your comments and suggestions as to how we can improve what we are doing. You can use the comments box on this site, or email Ray (, ‘Mozzie’ or any of our correspondents at

Our latest issue has been put together by Po Scard, our cultural correspondent (above), who has been following Ray as he explores the island of Borneo. Shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, Ray begins his exploration of the island in the East Malaysian province of Sabah. We have highlights from his visit to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok, the Kinabatangan River and his memorable two-day trek to the summit of Mount Kinabalu, which is Borneo’s highest peak.

In case you missed our last issue, Ivana Getachek marked the completion of Ray’s global “Calling All Angels” Fundraising Campaign, which she has been managing since its launch in July 2009. The campaign, which inspired Ray to run the New York Marathon in November 2009, has to date raised over $15,000 for worthy causes. Ivana followed Ray as he returned to the Namaste Childrens House in Pokhara, Nepal, to work out the most sustainable way of investing the money raised and procure the resulting facilities and equipment. You can read it now at: The Angels Come Home

Above: In our last issue, Ray returned to the Namaste Childrens House in Pokhara, Nepal, to work out the most sustainable way of investing the money raised from his campaign and procure the resulting facilities and equipment. If you missed it, you can read the full story at: The Angels Come Home

Borneo is the third largest island in the world, located north of Australia, at the geographic centre of Maritime Southeast Asia. Politically, the island is divided among three countries: Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. Approximately 73% of the island is Indonesian territory. The Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah (East Malaysia), in the north occupy about 26% of the island. The sovereign state of Brunei, located on the north coast, comprises about 1% of Borneo’s land mass. Surrounded by the South China Sea to the north and northwest, the Sulu Sea to the northeast, the Celebes Sea and the Makassar Strait to the east and the Java Sea and Karimata Strait to the south, it has an area of 743,330 square kilometres (287,000 square miles). To the west of Borneo are the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra. To the south is Java. To the east is the island of Sulawesi (Celebes). To the north-east is the Philippines.

Borneo’s highest point is Mount Kinabalu in Sabah (see map below), with an elevation of 4,095 m (13,435 ft) above sea level. This makes it the world’s third highest island. Borneo is also known for its extensive cave systems. Clearwater Cave has one of the world’s longest underground rivers. Deer Cave, thought to be the largest cave passage in the world, is home to over three million bats, with guano accumulated to over 100 metres (330 feet) high. (Editors Note: These caves will be featured in a future issue of The Daily Explorer)

Above: Map showing location of Malaysia, which is split into two parts – the Peninsula (above Singapore) and the upper section of the island of Borneo

Below: This map shows more detail as to how Borneo is divided politically.  Ray’s arrival point on the island was at Kota Kinabalu, in the north-east (see top right)

I caught up with Ray as he touched down in Kuala Lumpur (from Kathmandu) to find out how he was planning for his visit to the island. “Well Po, as I have been to KL before, I will only stay here a couple of days to do a bit of shopping and see one or two things I missed last time” he told me. Then, I am taking a short flight over to Kota Kinabalu to finalise my plans for the next few weeks.  With my fundraising programme now complete, I am feeling a sense of relief and am looking forward to being an anonymous tourist again for a while. And I am very lucky that I am acclimatised to high altitude from being in Nepal as climbing Mt. Kinabalu (over 4,000 metres), which is one of the highlights, will be considerably easier for me” added Ray.

Above and below: Ray’s short stopover in Kuala Lumpur on the Malaysian Peninsular included another visit to the world-famous Petronas Twin Towers (left) and the National Mosque, requiring him to wear this rather sombre looking robe (right). Kuala Lumpur is well-known as a shopping mecca, with this mall at Low Yat Plaza (left) being very popular with people looking to acquire the latest in technology products – “The store on the right (below) is much more my cup of tea” joked our traveller

Above: “Is this Heaven?” asks Ray to one of the ground staff. “No, it’s Kota Kinabalu” replies the somewhat mystified chap – “The flight from KL takes about one hour and is very cheap” added Ray

According to the Kota Kinabalu Tourism web site, this is one of the ‘most fantastic cities you could ever go to’. “I am not sure that I agree with that assessment” said Ray. “It is definitely a modern capital, with warm hospitality that you would not find in many places around the world” he told me. “But it is small and apart from shopping and eating, has very little to offer. However, the food is exceptional, with a variety that only a state with 30 ethnic groups can offer. I loved eating the fresh fish, cooked right in front of you at the dockside, and there were many other options at the hawker’s stalls in the night market, as well as plenty of western offerings” said Ray.  “I must say that the Tourism Information office in town was really helpful to me with my planning and I was able to get some great advice on several places, as well as the information I needed on transport and accommodation options” recalled our global nomad. “Once my research was complete, it was fairly obvious that the place to head for first was the mighty Mount Kinabalu, which is only 90 minutes away by bus” added our well planned traveller.

Above: The Kota Kinabalu skyline (Photo: Wikipedia)

Below: Ray tries the ever so tasty fresh fish at the dockside – “Yummy!” said our gourmet traveller

Above: The Kota Kinabalu boardwalk at dusk

Below: Our global traveller takes a well earned rest in a massage chair after a couple of hours walking round the town centre – “I was searching for some waterproof gear for the trip to Mount Kinabalu and it took me ages to find something”  said our weary shopper

Above: Kota Kinabalu has a thriving fishing industry (left) and in the monsoon season, can see inches of rainfall in a few hours as Ray witnessed at this bar in the town centre, which cleared in seconds when it started pouring down (right)

Above: All set and ready to go. Our intrepid explorer boards the bus for the one and a half hour ride to Mount Kinabalu – “The bus was full, which meant having to take a seat on the floor at the front, which I didn’t mind at all” said Ray. “I have had far worse in four and a half years of budget travel!” he added

Mount Kinabalu towers at 4,095 metres (13,435 feet) above sea level. It is the highest mountain between the mighty snow-capped Himalayas and Wilhelmina (4509 metres / 14,793 feet) in Irian Jaya. It is also one of the most accessible and spectacular mountains in the world. Because of the earth movement, it is still growing with the rate of 5 mm (1/4 inch) per year. Ever changing, it has a combination of tropical rainforest, colourful blossoms and golden sunsets, as well as some dark and violent storms. “Legend has it that at times, a ghostly mist shrouds the mountain and it is easy to believe the local Kadazandusun’s claim that it is the homeland of their spirit world” Ray told me.

In 1964 Kinabalu Park was established to protect Mount Kinabalu and its plant and animal life. More than one million visitors have enjoyed the park since it opened. In the year 2000, UNESCO declared Mount Kinabalu a World Heritage Site. Its 754 square kilometre (291 square mile) terrain stretches upward from lowland rain forest to montane forest, cloud forest and sub alpine meadow, before finally reaching a crown of bare granite. “Apparently, it is the only mountain in the world where you eat breakfast in a lowland rainforest, have lunch in a cloud forest, and enjoy dinner in a subalpine meadow!” joked Ray. The trail to the highest peak winds along the southern side of the mountain. It is a strenuous 8.5 kilometre (5.25 mile) trek to the top. For most people, the journey takes two days. “I would say it could be done by anyone who is a reasonably fit person” said Ray. “The ascent is more of a steep trek than a climb, but there are a couple of tricky bits. It’s around four or five hours from the starting point (the Timpohon Gate) to the Laban Rata hut, which is a compulsory overnight stop. Most people then set off at between 2am-3am for the ascent to Low’s Peak, intending to arrive to see the sun rise. The last two kilometres of the trail are steep and a bit slippery (with ice), especially in the dark. I was told that it’s not unusual for cloud cover to obscure the incredible view” he added.

Above: Mount Kinabalu, at 4,095 metres is the highest peak in Borneo and a considerable challenge for any able trekker. For geology buffs, Mount Kinabalu is essentially a massive granodiorite which is intrusive into sedimentary and ultrabasic rocks, and forms the central part, or core, of the Kinabalu massif. The granodiorite is intrusive into strongly folded strata, probably of Eocene to Miocene age, and associated ultrabasic and basic igneous rocks. It was pushed up from the earth’s crust as molten rock millions of years ago. In geological terms, it is a very young mountain as the granodiorite cooled and hardened only about 10 million years ago

Below: Ray’s Canadian friend, Michele Mancuso (left, black top) makes her way up 6 kilometres of very steep terrain to get to the overnight lodge – “It is as tough as being on a ‘stairmaster’ at the gym for five hours” she said. At 3,000 metres, getting to the lodge is a bit of an effort for some people as the altitude makes it more difficult to breathe – “Luckily for me, my recent climb to Everest Base Camp meant that I did not have any altitude problems, whilst Michele did suffer slightly” he said. At the lodge, Ray takes a well earned rest and studies the map for the last part of the ascent the following day

Above: The view of the sunset over Borneo from the Laba Ratan lodge on the evening before Ray’s ascent to the summit

Below: The lodge at Laba Ratan (left) – “We were in groups of four in small dormitories and the place was packed out” said Ray. “This is a very popular activity indeed and usually requires advanced planning. After an early night, Ray was awake again at 2am for some light breakfast (right), before re-joining his guide for the 2.7 kilometre ascent in the dark

Above: At around 4.30 am, Ray joined the (estimated) 20,000 other people who have reached the summit at Low’s Peak on Mount Kinabalu – It was not as tough as I thought it might be” said our experienced mountain trekker, “but pretty cold in the high winds at the top” he added

Below: Having reached the summit, there was nothing else to do except witness this beautiful sunrise and herald the beginning of another brand new day – “I am very lucky to have the chance to do these sorts of things” Ray told me

Above: Ray appears to be headed towards the edge of a giant precipice as he heads down the mountain, above the clouds, after his ascent

Below: “Which is the way down?” jokes our traveller (left) before returning to the rather more serious business of getting back to the lodge safely (right)

As well as great trekking opportunities, Borneo offers visitors a great chance to explore nature and wildlife in its many different forms. “I had heard about The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and was very keen to go” said Ray. “Like many species, these animals are in danger of extinction as the rainforests in which they live continue to disappear. And this is happening at a rapid rate in Borneo as the government attempt to make better commercial use of their land by planting enormous palm oil tree plantations (by removing rainforest)” observed Ray. “The Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre was established in 1964 to return orphaned apes back to the wild. The centre was being administered by the wildlife section of the Forestry Department which in 1988 was upgraded as a department under the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Development. All administration and management was given to the new Wildlife Department of Sabah” he told me.

The objectives of the project have expanded in recent years. While Orangutan rehabilita­tion is stilt the primary goal at Sepilok, present aims include public education on conservation, research and assistance to other endangered species such as captive breeding of the rare and endangered rhinoceros. This centre is now under the supervision of more than 37 staff, including a Wildlife Officer who is also officer-in-charge of the centre, a veterinary doctor, wildlife rangers and general workers. The centre has a reception centre, information centre, offices for wildlife staff, an animal clinic, quarantine area and enclosures for various animals such as the rhinoceros. Sepilok, renowned for its orangutan rehabilitation project, has stimulated a greater local and international awareness of the protection laws for endangered species, and the Centre has resulted in an increase in detection and confiscation of illegally held captive animals.

 Above: Close to the Sepilok Centre is the delightful Pagnakan Dii Guest House – “It was one of the places which the Lonely Planet had recommended and they really got it right this time” said Ray. “The atmosphere was great and the only disappointing experience was watching England draw against Algeria in the World Cup at 2.30am in the morning” recalled our soccer fan. Ray stayed in this very clean and unusual ‘long house’ style dormitory for six pounds a night

Above: The entrance to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation CentreThe rehabilitation process starts right af­ter an orangutan has been admitted to the centre. The majority of animals arriving at Sepilok have been taken from people keeping them (illegally) in captivity, often after having taken them away from their mothers while still babies, to become household pets. Others include adults that have sustained injury or sickness and require medical treatment before being returned to the wild

Above: Ray managed to capture this wonderful close up shot of one of the older males at Sepilok as he came out at feeding time – “They are very shy indeed” observed Ray “and we had to be very quiet and patient in order to see some at close quarters”

Below: “These creatures are a delight to watch. The only time I have seen an Orangutan before is in a zoo – never in a natural habitat like this” said our traveller

Above: “We were dead lucky to see this mother, with her baby clinging to her, come out of the trees after about half an hour or so” recalled Ray

Below: During the first year of their lives, young orangutan learn all the skills necessary for survival from their mothers. Captive orangutans, deprived of their mothers, are unable to find food, build nests, or even climb properly. It is these skills which wildlife rangers encourage the rehabilitants to develop.  The “nursery” phase is where young orangutans (1 – 3 years) undergo a period of “pre­school ” training to give them skills essen­tial to life in the jungle, such as the ability to climb trees and explore the use of their limbs. For those which are ready for it, there is then a period of ‘Outward Bound School’ where their dependence on the food and emotional support given by the reha­bilitation centre is gradually reduced. Here, orangutans are given increasing freedom and at the same time encour­aged to learn to fend for themselves. At platform A, their natural forest diet is supplemented with milk, added minerals and vitamins, and fruits twice a day. Since the Centre was estab­lished, more than 100 orangutans have been successfully released

Above: Ray reminds us, in evolutionary terms at least, that there is very little separating us from the apes!

The Kinabatangan River is the second longest river in Malaysia, with a length of 560 kilometres from its headwaters in the mountains of southwest Sabah, to its outlet at the Sulu Sea, east of Sandakan. “I was drawn to this area by the prospect of being able to get really close to a lot of the wildlife in the rainforest and along the river, as I have never been exposed to it before” explained Ray. “Kinabatangan is well-known for its dryland dipterocarp forests, riverine forest, freshwater swamp forest, oxbow lakes and salty mangrove swamps near the coast.  Michele and I arranged to join a small group of seven people and spend a couple of days at a lodge on the river, where we could get access to some of these things” he told me. “Although the conditions at the camp where we stayed were poor, we did get to see some incredible animals, insects and fauna” recalled our global nomad. The lower basin of the river itself is the largest forest covered floodplain in Malaysia and has the largest concentration of wildlife in the South East Asian region. Other than being home to Borneo’s indigenous orangutan and proboscis monkey, the surrounding forest is also one of only two known places in the world where 10 species of primates are found. All the eight species of hornbill found in Borneo make the area their home.

Above: The Kinabatangan River Basin

Above: View of the Kinabatangan River from the lodge where Ray was staying

Below: “There were some great photo opportunities if you were patient” said Ray. This amazing picture of two dragon flies mating was taken by his friend Michele. Lookout National Geographic!

Above: The Rhinoceros Hornbill (left) and the Great Egret (right) are commonly found in this territory

Below: “Some of the plants out here in  the jungle are quite magical” observed Ray. This one actually closes its leaves immediately when you touch it to protect itself” said our fascinated traveller

Above: Leeches, like this one here, are the bain of all trekkers and there are many of them out here – “It is particularly bad when it is wet” said Ray. “Luckily for me, I have never been beset with them since I started travelling but I know some people who have and it is quite unpleasant. They stick to you and can take enough blood to increase to the size of your thumb before dropping off” he told me (Photo: Rob Down)

Below: “We were up early each morning to get on the boat and spot wildlife and at that time of day, the river has an almost mystical quality” observed Ray

Above: Look very closely at the picture of this male proboscis monkey spotted by Ray and friends and you will notice that he seemed very excited indeed to see everyone turn up in his patch! (Photo: Rob Down)

Editors Note: Our thanks to Po Scard for the first part of this wonderful feature on Ray’s first ever visit to Borneo. As this territory is very remote, it has  been proving difficult for us to receive updated photographs and information from Ray across the Internet, as he is often in places where there is no access. Even when an Internet connection it is available, it is often subject to very restricted bandwidth which means that it takes a long time for Ray to upload all of his photographs to us. This can make compilation of The Daily Explorer impractical and restricts our ability to keep you posted in a timely manner. Despite these setbacks, we are doing our best and hope to have the second part of our ‘Borneo Uncovered’ feature online in a few days time. Our aim at The Daily Explorer is to create a great publication for you to enjoy, so please keep sending us your comments and suggestions as to how we can improve what we are doing. You can use the comments box on this site, or email Ray (, ‘Mozzie’ or any of our correspondents at

Above: Ray is currently taking a short break from travelling Malaysia for a few days. He is staying on a very remote beach in Cherating on the East coast of the Malaysian Peninsula, where he will celebrate his fiftieth birthday on 1st August – “I am happy to be celebrating this moment in my life doing something I truly love” he told me. “I would also like to thank everyone who has helped me over the years as well as those wonderful people who still take care of me now” added Ray. We wish him well!




  1. Happy fiftieth birthday Ray! You make ‘ordinary’ tourism interesting – great to find out about this part of the world. Keep up your spirit of adventure and of enquiry into the next decade.

    Love, Jane

    Comment by Jane Harries — July 31, 2010 @ 4:16 pm

  2. Happy 50th Ray! You are looking good on your travels.
    Thanks for the great pics x

    Comment by Steve Shellabear — August 2, 2010 @ 8:33 pm

  3. 50 years young and looking great on it! Because you are doing what you love…. all through your life. Respect! Love your blog and pics. Amazing to see you where you go. Thanks xxx

    Comment by charlotte — August 10, 2010 @ 7:56 pm

  4. Great to have the time to catch up with your travels Ray! All looks like another exciting adventure… LOVED the Orang-utans of course… and great to be back in South East Asia after Europe.

    Comment by Susie Moberly — August 13, 2010 @ 8:08 pm

  5. I love the scene on top of Mount Kinabalu. It looks like a Wonderland!!!

    Comment by Elisha Christopher — October 4, 2010 @ 3:36 pm

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