I came to Borneo not really knowing anything about the island. Next to nothing about the political divisions on the island, the history, the people, and very little about the natural features of the island.
Most of the people I meet on the road are usually on vacation. They are usually traveling for 2-3 weeks have put a lot of thought into their itinerary. They’ve surfed the web, purchased the guidebooks, and know down to the day exactly what they are going to be doing and where they will be. This is usually their “big” trip and so they take it seriously.
I, however, don’t travel that way. I really can’t. When I came to Borneo I knew there were three countries on the island, two World Heritage sites, and that was about it. So when I go to a new place, it is really a learning experience. What can I say I know about Indonesia? I know a fair amount of their post WWII history, I know vaguely about their colonization by the Dutch, I know in a general sense of the big things I want to visit while I’m there and I know that the most popular tourist destination by a wide margin in Bali.
I don’t use guidebooks. I have used one guidebook since I’ve started my trip, and that was Moon’s South Pacific Handbook. I purchased that back in the US and carried that around for the first several months of my trip. It was heavy, it was expensive, and the information was often out of date. (especially flight information). Given the cost of guidebook and their weight, I just decided not to buy them anymore. I’ve done fine without them. You can get all the information you need online, and all the travel tips and knowledge you need you can get from local tourism groups and other travelers. Once you get the skill of traveling down (and it is a skill), guidebooks are superfluous.
I also don’t like Lonely Planet.
The flip side to not knowing much when you arrive somewhere is leaving somewhere wanting to do more. Almost every country I’ve been to I’ve left with a list of things I’d like to do if I ever returned. Example:
- Japan: Visit Hokkido, see a Japanese baseball game, visit Shirakawa-go and Gokayama
- Marshall Islands: Visit Bikini
- Micronesia: Dive in Chuuk lagoon and visit Yap
- Vanuatu: visit Tanna Island and visit the John Frum cults and watch mount erupt.
- South Korea: almost everything I didn’t get to do because of weather
- Palau: dive more, sea kayak
- Hawaii: visit the islands I haven’t been to
- Philippines: visit islands that are not Luzon
You get the idea. (The only places I don’t have a list of things undone is Guam and Samoa, and even then I’d go back to Samoa to visit Tokelau and just because it is a nice place)
The biggest list of things left undone, by far, is going to be in Borneo.
I was really blown away by Borneo. The amount of ….stuff… here is amazing. There are quotes on many of the tourism banners here citing Borneo as the “World’s Greatest Tourist Attraction”. I’m not in a position judge if that is right or wrong, but Borneo would certainly be on the list.
I did not see any orangutans. I did not see any probiscus monkeys. I did not see any hornbills.
I did not see any wild pitcher plants. I did not get to see a blooming rafflesia. Most orchids were not in bloom. I only saw giant insects in a museum (save for a moth I saw last night that was the size of a small bird). I didn’t get to Kuching. I didn’t get to Kalamantan…..which makes up most of Borneo. I didn’t get to climb Mt. Kinabalu.
What the hell did I do, you ask? Quite a lot actually. Explored caves, climbed in the rainforest canopy, bathed in hot springs, saw a million bats go out for a night of hunting. It isn’t as if I was doing nothing.
Looking at the map, I’m sure I’ll end up saying the same thing about Indonesia.
Borneo does get a fair amount of tourism, but nothing like other places. It is still sort of secret. If you want to see the rainforest, most people would go to Costa Rica or Brazil. If you want megafauna, you go to Africa.
The tourism industry here is pretty well developed. Mulu and Kinabalu are very well run and professional national parks. The facilities were good and staff seemed to know their stuff. The infrastructure I found in Malaysia was surprisingly good. Communication was not a problem and for the most part, things are cheap. My room in Kota Kinabalu was US$17.25 a night for a single. I could have had a dorm for about $6.50 a night. The BBQ place just outside as great grilled squid for about $1.
I hope that I can one day return to Borneo.