Backpacking in Borneo-8: Climbing Mt Kinabalu

Our guide Younus

‘Younus! How do you think we managed the climb?’

Long silence…..

‘Hmmm… okay’, muttered our guide. More silence…..

‘Hmmm…. you guys took a lot of time’, he added.

‘Aaarghh! No, you are not supposed to speak like that in our video’, I told our honest guide!

A video for self glorification was being shot at the top of Mt Kinabalu at a height of 13400ft. What the guide just told in front of the camera was not exactly what we wanted the world to know.

Continue reading

Backpacking in Borneo-7: Expenses & tips to keep it low

“How much  did the Borneo trip cost you?”

“How did you keep your expenses low?”

These are two questions many of my friends had asked me. This post is an attempt to answer these questions. I hope you find it useful too.

The 11 day trip (from Aug 27 evening flight to Sept 6 evening flight) cost me INR 52018.5 including the visa application, insurance and other expenses that I incurred even before starting the trip. You can download an excel sheet containing the entire list of expenses here.

Most of the planning was done by Adarsh Raju, my good friend. It was indeed his effort that really helped in keeping costs low at the same time not skipping on the good things that Borneo has to offer. So, all credit to him!

At first thought, it might appear not so cheap, but considering the number of things that we did, I think we did fairly well to keep things tight.

  • 8 flights, 2 of which were international
  • Kuala Lumpur (transit), Sandakan, Kota Kinabalu, Miri (transit) and Mulu covered
  • Food, accommodation for all days including stay at places like Sutera lodge atop Mt Kinabalu,  Gunung Mulu national park,  Unce Tan adventures, etc
  • climbing Mt Kinabalu, guide fee, permit
  • 4 boat safaris
  • 3 forest treks
  • 4 cave explorations
  • 1 canopy walk
  • connecting travel (taxi, boat and bus rides)
  • visa, travel insurance, trip related purchases

The flight expenses were INR 23992 and non-flight expenses were INR 28026.

The average cost of acquisition of a Malaysian Ringitt to me was 15.3 INR. Every MYR expense was converted to INR by multiplying by 15.3.

Going on a trip and looking for a wide angle lens? Visit
Lens rental in Bangalore

Given below are a few reports that indicate the expenditure trend. Since the flight expenses are much higher than anything else and skew the report (one bar will be much higher than all of the rest), I have excluded the flight expenses.

Continue reading

Backpacking in Borneo-6: Photography gear to carry

What photography equipment should I carry on my visit to Borneo?

Is the humidity there a problem for camera gear? Should I carry a tripod? Do I need to carry my laptop too? Air Asia has a 7 Kg limit for cabin baggage, right?

These are just few of the umpteen questions a traveler to Borneo would have.

Here’s my attempt at answering a few of those questions. I will split my answer into 4 parts.

  1. must carry list
  2. specialized gear for specific places (must carry for certain places and not of much use elsewhere)
  3. optional gear (nice to have, but can do without it)
  4. points to remember

Continue reading

Backpacking in Borneo-5: Cave & canopy magic

“Wow! What a beautiful place!!!”, I thought looking through the window of the low flying small sized MA Swings plane.

Mulu from the plane
The thought only strengthened when I landed at the Mulu airport – the smallest and the most beautiful of any I had seen!!!

The cute little Mulu airport

Once inside the airport, Adarsh and I looked for the conveyor belt to pick our baggage… only to find a large table on which all our bags had been thrown. No conveyor belt! From that moment on, Mulu was full of pleasant surprises for the next 3 days!

Tucked away in the distant rain forests of Borneo, wrapped by mountains all around with the Pinnacles standing guard, peppered by rivulets, gifted with the World’s biggest caves and canopies that house a wide variety of wildlife and of course, that brilliant canopy walk-way (longest in the world), Mulu is a jaw-dropping place! Easily, one of the most diverse and the most beautiful places on Earth!!!

If you were to celebrate a birthday for the rocks of Mulu, the cake should be large enough to accommodate anywhere between 40-90 million candles!!! No wonder it is a UNESCO heritage site.

At the Gunung Mulu national park office, after a rickety taxi ride from the airport, we claimed our booking. We also enrolled for a few activities – cave exploration, a night trek and a canopy walk! (Unfortunately due to time constraints, we couldn’t do the Pinnacles trek).

At Gunung Mulu national park

The next 3 days were blissful! The itinerary below.

Continue reading

Backpacking in Borneo-4: The teksi scare!

Sitting helplessly in a shady taxi, plying through dark and shady streets in the night, in an unknown city, in a foreign country… I was scared of being mugged / kidnapped!


Earlier in the day, Adarsh and I had flown into Kota Kinabalu, late by 30 minutes due to flight delay.

We had to reach the Mt Kinabalu national park head quarters before nightfall, as we were supposed to start our ascent of Mt Kinabalu, the highest peak in S.E.Asia (13,400 feet), early in the morning next day. We knew little about the place, let alone transport options.The one thing we knew was that it took 1.5 hours in a taxi to the HQ.

After a few enquiries, we decided to go to the Mosque area and take a shared-taxi from there to the HQ. The time was 5.30pm. The taxi from the airport to the mosque area took us 15 minutes and cost us MYR 30.

Upon reaching the place, we were told that the last shared-taxi to Mt Kinabalu had already left! The other option was to hire a private taxi at a cost of 160MYR, which we didn’t want. Like abandoned puppies, we went in all directions and enquired about cheap options to reach Mt Kinabalu. All in vain! Our English was of no use with many locals and with the few it worked, answers were not forthcoming!

Frustrated and anxious, we checked the time. It read 6.15 pm.

The ‘Teksi

Just then, a white taxi screeched to a halt near us! A middle aged man in a white shirt sprang out and walked towards us. He came straight to me and spoke in Malay, apparently, stammering a lot. Stammer or not, I did not understand a word of it.

He seemed to indicate that he was willing to take us to some place. He also pointed to his watch and seemed to indicate 7, 8, 9..

Continue reading

Backpacking in Borneo-3: Wild Wild South-East!

Turn the boat’s engine off, lets just drift”, I told Tong, our guide from Uncle Tan’s wildlife adventures.

It had started raining dinosaurs and elephants and the other two boats (carrying European travelers mostly) were returning back. Adarsh and I were in no mood to go back, for we were on the beautiful Kinabatangan river, with no one else to share it with for miles…. in heavy rain!!! What more could you ask for?

On the Kinabatangan river

With the engine turned off, the boat took its own course following the current of the river, drifting like a vagabond with much ado about nothing! We floated and drifted for the next 2 hours! Life was never this beautiful!!!

Continue reading

Backpacking in Borneo-2: A sneak preview

After 10 days in Borneo, the oldest rainforests of the world, am back!

It was an out-of-the-world and overwhelming experience to say the least and I need to take time to allow things to sink-in. I am bewitched by S.E.Asia! Perhaps, this is just the beginning.

(Please visit my flickr stream to see  the large size version)

A climber going down Mt Kinabalu

I intend to blog in detail about the trip (including how we planned, expenses, cheap travel options, etc). For now, this post is just a sneak preview of what we did.

Continue reading

Backpacking in Borneo-1: Prologue

Its travel time! In less than 12 hours from now!

Backpacking to Borneo this time!

Oldest rain forests on Earth, largest caves in the world, tall peaks such as Mt Kinabalu, amazing flora and fauna… Borneo has it all!

As I had tweeted earlier, my Leh-Ladakh trip went to the dogs courtesy the rain gods and the unfortunate devastation there. I had to quickly make alternative plans. I was thinking of either of these

  • Dharamshala
  • Valley of flowers
  • cycling in Nilgiris in rain (again.. never get tired of it)
  • Some other place in Western ghats

However, Adarsh had other plans. Borneo! Initially I didn’t give it much thought, especially because I wasn’t interested in an expensive trip. But when he said he had applied for a visa, I started thinking about it seriously. The airfare on Air Asia for both domestic and international was surprisingly cheap. The fact that I could do this 10 day trip in less than 40-45K (INR) was another alluring carrot dangling in front of me. I gave in! Tickets were booked!

Borneo is the old name for the island comprising East Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. We are visiting only the Malaysian portion of it.

View Larger Map

Here is my 10 day trip itinerary:

  • Aug 27: Bangalore – Kuala Lumpur Air Asia flight
  • Aug 28: KL – Sandakan flight early in the morning (Air Asia)
  • Aug 28, 29, 30: Uncle Tan’s wildlife adventures near the Kinabatangan river (2 nights/3 days)
  • Aug 30:  Sandakan ->Kota Kinabalu -> Miri flights. If possible, roam around Kota Kinabalu as the Miri flight is at 9pm. Sleep in Miri for the night
  • Aug 31: Miri to Mulu 9.30am flight  (Malaysian Airlines)
  • Aug 31, Sept 1 and 2  in Gunung Mulu national park exploring caves and rain forests (2 nights / 3 days)
  • Sept 2: Mulu to Kota Kinabalu flight in the noon (Air Asia). Take a bus from Kota Kinabalu to Mt Kinabalu / Kinabalu park and sleep there for the night
  • Sept 3 & 4: Climb Mt Kinabalu
  • Sept 5: Kota Kinabalu to Kuala Lumpur (Air Asia)
  • Sept 6: KL – Bangalore (Air Asia)

And just in case if you are interested, a total of 8 flights cost me 23.4K INR! Air Asia prices are awesome! I only hope the service is decent too. I hope to keep the expenses below 40k (backpacking, staying in dorms, sleeping for a night in the airport, eating cheap stuff, .. you get the picture), but at the same time, not compromise on things that could make for a good trip.

My backpack is packed. Almost all of it is camera equipment. The clothes don’t weigh as much as my lenses! I am carrying my 70-300, 10-24 and 105 VR micro lenses. Along with the SB600 flash and Gitzo tripod/Arca swiss ball head. Climbing Mt. Kinabalu with all this weight is going to be fun… will come back and tell you if I made it or not :-).

My internet access in the next few days is limited. Whenever possible, I might upload a picture or two and post an article maybe. For now… please allow me to drift into dreamland!

Wish me a good trip!!!

Update: Want to know how my trip went? Read the posts below.

The entire Borneo backpacking series is listed below.