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“Do you fancy joining me on a trip to Borneo?,” I asked my grown-up daughter Isabella.“Obviously,” came the reply within a nanosecond.  I felt relieved - as I was unsure that my 24-year-old would find it remotely fun to hang out with her middle-aged mum and a group of strangers for nearly a fortnight.
But it turned out to be an enriching travel adventure for both of us to one of the world’s most exotic and mysterious tropical islands. And also a fabulous re-bonding experience. Although, I couldn’t quite give up my mothering instincts – having to gently remind her to drink plenty of water due to the heat and ensuring – not always successfully – that she wore enough sun cream or the right kind of clothing.  She took it well.  Not a cross word was exchanged.
It was all far too exciting to waste time rubbing each other up the wrong way. Each day brought new and vivid experiences. From exploring markets piled up with colourful fruits, foods and spices we had never encountered before, to walking in the shadow of the spectacular mist-shrouded peaks of Mount Kinabalu that dominates the western side of the island’s Sabah state.

When we stepped on to a swaying canopy walk 43 metres up amongst tangled jungle treetops, my heart nearly leapt out of my chest when Isabella, a few yards ahead, let out a yelp.  Thankfully, it was only because she had let her brand new designer sunglasses slip off her head and into the undergrowth below.  She made light of it. ‘Well, if a monkey appears out of the undergrowth wearing my sunglasses I hope someone takes a photo and it makes it into National Geographic magazine.

We certainly were keen to encounter monkeys, as well as the other wildlife and botanical riches of the island famed for its tropical rainforest.  The list is long: the mysterious human-like orang-utans (the name means ‘people of the jungle’ in Malay), sun bears (the smallest in the world), crocodiles, glorious tropical birds, exotic flora (including the rare Rafflesia arnoldii - the largest flower bloom on the planet) and lots more.  We weren’t disappointed. 
Within moments of setting out on a boat from our wonderfully authentic riverside jungle lodge in the east of Sabah (our home for two nights) we encountered a group of proboscis monkeys – adorable, quirky looking beasts known for their humanlike seating postures and curious noses. The males sport long, pendulous snouts and the females small snub versions. 

 
Sally Hamilton

On another cruise on same serene waters of the Kinabatangan River our highly knowledgeable and eagle-eyed guides, Andrea and Alvin, excitedly pointed out an orang-utan swinging gracefully in the ancient trees.  I grabbed my binoculars to get a close up view of this magnificent red-furred beast.

The eventful days – that ran like clockwork thanks to the guides - gave Isabella and I loads to chat and laugh about over tasty suppers, including dishes with both Chinese and Indian influences, before heading to bed.  
We and our fellow travellers couldn’t ignore the fact that many of the wild creatures we came to see are under threat.  Economic pressure on Borneo means that swathes of its ancient rainforest have in recent years been cut down and replaced by palm oil plantations – and we saw plenty of those. We learnt that these do not make a suitable habitat for the likes of orang-utans. But we took heart from Alvin’s optimism that the country is working hard on protecting the remaining rainforest and its wonderful wild inhabitants.

The Bornean people we met on our escorted tour were such warm and friendly hosts – and almost all spoke English.  We were welcomed like royalty. At one hotel, smiling staff in national costume presented us with handmade necklaces, then serenaded us over lunch and encouraged Isabella and me (both giggling) to join in a traditional dance.  At our final destination, the glorious beachside Shangri-La Rasa Ria in Kota Kinabalu, employees gathered to sing a delightful farewell song on our last day, with lyrics that invited us back soon. 
No wonder we were so sad to leave

This blog post was written by Sally Hamilton, freelance writer for the Mail on Sunday. You can follow Sally @sallymhamilton via Twitter.


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Article published on: 20th March, 2020

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Ting

Ting has a serious case of wanderlust. Having travelled to over 40 countries, it’s her mission in life to make her way through her ever-growing list. Her two young sons have also caught the travel bug, and recent trips have seen them making snow angels in Iceland while watching the Northern Lights, as well as walking alongside elephants in South Africa.


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