“Any unconventional travel ideas for an 11-year-old boy?” a friend of mine blasted on her Instagram Stories, seeking travel plans for her son over the impending March school holidays.
For many women, there’s little time to spare — they work out, have a hectic career and academic life, and have social and family time all squeezed into a day. Wringing out extra hours to research, call friends and acquaintances up, just to come up with a vacation itinerary is out of the question. What’s more, we expect more of our every trip — it’s got to be exciting, relaxing, scenic, educational, and eco-friendly. How do we plan a trip like that?
For her, I shot an email to Jess Tang and Riki Ueda, travel designers from the luxury travel planners, Jacada Travel, asking for a personalised itinerary. They replied with a pretty unexpected suggestion: Borneo.
Borneo is an island that’s located in East Malaysia. A flight to the northernmost tip of the island, Sandakan Airport in the Malaysian state of Sabah, takes an average of two hours on Air Asia and Malaysian Airlines.
“The island is home to many incredible but endangered species like the orangutan, pygmy elephant, Malayan sun bear, proboscis monkey and Borneo rhino,” the duo adds. It’s a place for nature lovers.
Upon arrival, check into the Sepilok Nature Resort located by the Sepilok Forest Reserve district of Sabah, a 45-minute car ride from the Sandakan Airport. There, travellers are ushered to their own traditional Malaysian huts perched around a lake in the rainforest. Nature lovers, especially with curious young children, will enjoy the plethora of wildlife stopping by their patios for a visit — from butterflies, reptiles, to fishes and insects.
The highlight attractions of the Sepilok district are, however, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and its adjacent Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. While local guides take visitors on an observational walk around the premises, they largely discourage travellers from touching the orangutans and sun bears for fear of disturbances and transmission of any human diseases. At these centres, the animals are slowly nursed to independence before they are encouraged to return to their original habitats — the wild.
Two days later, pack up and move southeast to the Kinabatangan Wetlands Resort, located an hour’s ferry ride away, in the Lower Kinabatangan-Segama Wetlands District. The resort’s solar-powered longhouses, cabins, and chalets are all nestled in the dense rainforest, where proboscis monkeys, orangutans, tree snakes, and birds hang out. For the adventurous, hop on one of the resort’s river cruise and jungle walks in search of mangrove forests, pygmy elephants, and hornbills.
Otherwise, make a trip to the Sukau Village, where you’ll catch a glimpse of local life and even more elephants bathing by the river shoulder. For the food aficionados, there is, too, a Sandakan Market where local fishermen display their hauls of the day, and where locals shop for fresh produce.
When you’re ready to go, hop on a 50-minute flight to the western end of Borneo, Kota Kinabalu. A 20-minute speedboat ride will take you to the pristine beaches lining the villas of Gayana Eco Resort, located on Gaya Island. From the individual villas’ patios, you get to literally walk down the stairs into the South China Sea for a swim into the emerald waters and the golden sunset — a relaxing way to round up the trip.
If all that travelling sounds too troublesome for you, Tang and Ueda have you covered. From private car transfers, standby cars, travel documents and itineraries, they have it all prepared and are just a text or call away. They have a ground support team “looking after you every step of the way and jumping in to resolve any mid-trip issues before you even know they’ve come up,” says the duo. “For example, on a recent family booking to New Zealand, we were aware that a lot of time was spent driving from one place to another. So our teams on the ground made sure that the kids had plenty to do on the road from one stop to the next.”
At the end of the day, they are in the business of fulfilling dreams. “Sometimes our clients feel that the journey is far from their reach.” But with these seasoned travel designers’ experience, everything is possible. “One of our travel designers helped a 70-year-old man live out a childhood dream to ride horses with the cowboys of Argentina.” It seems, with Tang and Ueda, every journey is possible.
Jacada Travel’s personalised 6-day Borneo trip is priced approximately at S$3,135.