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10 things you never knew about Borneo

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Filled with incredible landscapes and wildlife, Borneo is a nature lover’s dream.

This diverse island has everything from beaches and coral reefs, to mountains and rainforests – so it’s hardly surprising that Borneo is becoming an increasingly popular holiday destination. But how much do you actually know about it?

If you’re considering an adventurous holiday, read on to discover 10 things you never knew about Borneo.

1. Borneo is not a country

Contrary to popular belief, Borneo is not a country. The Asian isle is shared between three countries – Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Indonesian Borneo, called Kalimantan, accounts for three quarters of the island. The remaining quarter, belonging to Malaysia, is split into the states of Sabah and Sarawak. And the pint-sized country of Brunei accounts for less than one per cent of the island’s area.

2. It’s the world’s third-biggest island

Covering just over 288,000 square miles, Borneo is the third-biggest island on the planet. Only Greenland and New Guinea are larger.

To give you some idea of scale, the UK could fit inside Borneo three times – and there’d still be room to spare.

3. Borneo has 100 endemic species

It’s no secret that Borneo has a wealth of wildlife. But what you might not know is that, incredibly, there are 100 species which you won’t find them anywhere else on Earth.

The Bornean orangutan is undoubtedly Borneo’s most famous creature. If you’re a David Attenborough fan, you’ve probably also heard of proboscis monkeys and the Bornean clouded leopard. Other lesser-known endemic species include Hose’s langur monkey, the bay cat, and the Bornean flat-headed frog. There’s also the critically endangered Eastern Sumatran rhino – there are only about 30 left in the wild.

4. The rainforest is the oldest in the world

Borneo is famous for its rich jungle – but did you know that it’s actually twice as old as the Amazon rainforest? Dating back 130 million years, it’s the oldest rainforest on the planet.

Sadly, these ancient ‘lungs of the Earth’ are at risk. Logging and palm oil plantations have meant that 30 per cent of Borneo’s rainforest has been lost since the Seventies. If you want to find out about the efforts being made to save the forest, Danum Valley Conservation Area is well worth a visit.

5. Borneo has one of Southeast Asia’s highest peaks

In the Malaysian state of Sabah, Mount Kinabalu is one of Southeast Asia’s highest mountains, standing tall at 4,095 metres. But the mountain’s hiking trail is fairly straightforward. There’s a clear path and no actual climbing involved, but you’ll still need a good level of fitness to get to the top.

If you want to hike to the summit, we’d suggest setting aside at least two days. On the first day, hike to Panalaban – 3,273 metres up – and stay overnight, before continuing to the summit the next day. If you get up really early, you might even catch the sunrise.

6. Dozens of languages are spoken here

Since the island is shared by three countries, it’s no surprise that around 200 languages are spoken across Borneo. Malay is the official language of Malaysian Borneo, while Indonesian is the official language of Indonesian Borneo – but you’ll hear Chinese, Tamil and English too.

The island also has around 170 indigenous languages, including Bajau, Kadazan-Dusun and Murut.

7. Kota Kinabalu is smaller than Manchester

Kota Kinabalu – affectionately nicknamed ‘KK’ – in Sabah is undoubtedly Borneo’s most well-known city. For most travellers, it’s the gateway to Borneo, as rainforest, beaches and mountains are all within easy reach. But, with its relatively small population of 460,000 people, KK is only the sixth-largest city on the island. Samarinda, in Indonesian Borneo, is actually Borneo’s biggest city, with a population of 720,000. 

8. You can see orphaned orangutans

If you don’t manage to see Borneo’s orangutans in the wild, there are plenty of rehabilitation centres and sanctuaries you can visit. Our pick of the bunch is Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. The largest of its kind in the world, this 43-square-kilometre sanctuary rescues and rehabilitates orangutans that have been orphaned, injured or illegally captured. The primates are taught how to survive in the wild, before being released back into their natural habitat.

Try to visit Sepilok in the morning, if you can – this is feeding time, when the flame-haired residents come down from the trees for some grub. 

9. You can see the world's biggest flower

Borneo is home to the world’s biggest, and smelliest, flower. Rafflesia Arnoldii – also known as the ‘corpse flower’ – gives off a strong scent of rotting flesh, in order to attract insects.

It might smell horrific, but the flower itself is certainly impressive to see. This enormous rust-coloured plant can grow up to a metre wide.

10. The snorkelling is fantastic

The sprawling rainforest might be Borneo’s most famous ecosystem, but this island also has some fantastic snorkelling sites. If you want to go for a dip in the bath-warm waters and see tropical fish, we’d recommend a day trip to Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. Just a short boat trip from Kota Kinabalu, the park is made up of five islands – Gaya, Mamutik, Manukan, Sapi and Sulug – and has more than 25 dive sites.

Sapi and Manukan boast the best reefs for snorkelling, while Gaya has 20 kilometres of hiking trails. If you fancy a stroll, keep your eyes peeled for proboscis monkeys, monitor lizards and long-tailed macaques as you go.


Take a closer look at our holidays to Borneo, or check out our Borneo tours

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