Aug 25

Jungles, Beaches, Monkeys, and My Epic Trip to Borneo

My epic trip to Borneo

It’s midnight. Eighteen long hours of travel and I’ve finally arrived, sweaty and exhausted, at the hostel in Borneo. We have five hours until we have to be back to the airport to catch our morning flight. I expect some hugs and giggles when I see my friends, some chatting and catching up before getting a little rest for the morning. Silly me.


The girls come running in, drinks in hand, shouting giddily, “Kaleeeeeeena!! You’re here! Ok, we’ve got some 18 year old Malaysian boys waiting for us outside, they’re going to drive us to a sketchy bar with cheap beer and old men. Let’s go!” I glance out the window at the mini cooper with a Union Jack flag monogrammed on the roof and young looking boys standing next to it, and laugh. This should be interesting,  I think.  Here we go…

Kinabatangan River in Borneo


Now, one week back into “regular” life and my trip to Malaysia seems like only a dream. Yet the hundreds of tiny jellyfish stings still speckled all over my body remind me that it was indeed real, and that only two weeks ago I was traipsing through jungles in purple rubber water shoes and swimming through glittering bioluminescence under a starry night sky.


The trip is not something I can explain in a day. I’m not sure I’ve even processed it all yet, and memories are still surfacing like hundreds of tiny bubbles making their way to the top of the ocean. There are so many stories, where do I even begin?!

Free diving in Borneo


There were the mud fights in the jungle; singing the night away with the locals; spotting baby crocodiles as we sputter up the river in an overloaded fishing boat; a sketchy backyard deal to buy some illegal rum; scuba diving with sharks and turtles and a scary equipment failure; climbing up rickety stairs into immense caves; getting stranded on a tiny island in a monsoon; a crunched car bathed in blood stains, and an overturned fruit truck spilling durian in every direction, blocking the only road south; popping bottles of expensive champagne with a sultan; a local family kindly driving me back to my hostel when they saw that I was stuck in a rainstorm; watching an orangutan steal a woman’s cardigan and try to put it on.


Orangutan Sepilok Sanctuary Borneo

Mabul Island, BorneoSwamp at Uncle Tan's in Borneo

Overturned fruit truck in BorneoScuba Diving in Borneo

Kinabatangan River Borneo

Singing at Uncle Tan's BorneoCrocodile in the Kinabatangan River Borneo

Swinging from a tree


It was a whirlwind experience, with only one or two nights in each place. I took seven flights, dozens of buses and cabs, and hardly slept. I can count the number of showers I took on one hand, and I reached a point where bathing in cold freshwater felt like luxury. There were rats. There were bugs. There were jellyfish. There were so many monkeys that I never need to see another one of those evil little grey creatures again. But there were also jaw dropping sunsets. Incredible jungle vistas. Beaches straight out of a postcard. There were so many delicious noodles, and friendly people at every turn who demonstrated their kindness again and again. It was challenging and exhilarating, and everything I had hoped for and more.

Beautiful Sunset in Kota Kinabalu Borneo

Uncle Tan's Mabul Island BorneoTraditional Malaysian Dancers River Cruise Kuching BorneoTree Frog at night in jungle BorneoBako National Park BorneoUncle Tan's Mabul Island BorneoCommon monkey in BorneoSea gypsies Mabul Island BorneoJungle walk in BorneoOrangutan Sepilok Sanctuary BorneoScuba Diving in Sipadan BorneoSapi Island Kota Kinabalu Borneo
Mushroom mee noodles Malaysia BorneoHouses on stilts in ocean Semporna BorneoSnorkeling Sapi Island Kota Kinabalu Borneo
I’ll post several stories and pictures in the coming weeks about the individual places I visited. For now, I’m back in dreary Korea, but memories of Borneo will stay close to my heart.

Beach on Mabul Island Borneo

Sipadan Island Borneo