In September 08 I embarked on the Trails of Borneo trip with mixed feelings after doing lot's of research on climbing Kinabalu, leeches, etc
If you are looking at this trip and aren't sure about what the grade 'challenging' means. Take it literally!! If you don't currently do regular excercise you will struggle. Most of the day walks are no more than 8km which is managable for even the fair weather walker or occasional gym goer. However, don't underestimate Mount Kinabalu. I thought I was pretty fit but Kinabalu proved to be the hardest thing I have done. Not so much aerobically as that is all dependant on if you suffer from the altitude but the strain on the leg muscles and knees is tough - going down is the worst part and I relied on my trust walking pole to help me with the thousands of large steps. I wasn't the fastest, nor was I the slowest in our group in getting to Laban Rata Resthouse and it took me a good 4.5 hours. By which point it was almost dark and I was physically exhausted and felt a little sick. There are lot's of rest stops on the way up and the scenery is incredible. It was all worthwhile when I walked into the resthouse to be greeted by my fab fellow travellers, with a cheer. Obviously every group varies massively but I think I can safely say that although our ages and experiences in life varied massively we were a good group and I have made a couple of lifelong friends.
Ok I'll try and list some essentials:
Walking pole for coming down mountain, you can buy these at base of mountain. 1 is probably better than 2 so you have a hand free.
Camelbak or bladder 1.5 - 2 litres. Really handy so you have hands free for the masses of photo opportunities. Investing in a decent camera is worthwhile. Look out for butterflies in the undergrowth behind camp 5.
Insect repllant (50% deet rather than 100% to avoid skin irritation, it's strong stuff!) I took 3 bottles and used almost all of it. Always have one at the ready to spray leeches. I only encountered 1 but others on the trip had lot's!
Thermals and warm clothes for night in mountain hut. You will sleep in bunk beds, to a room and none of us got any more than an hour or so's sleep due to the cold. You might also want an extra layer at camp 5 as it got a little cold at night.
Blow up travel pillow
gaiters or leech socks mainly for eco camp where the bug life increases.
Head torch and hand held torch are a must
notebook or diary. Useful when sorting out photos and trying to remember when you did what, how long you stayed for etc.
Don't expect too much from Sepilok orangutan centre. You won't be walking through the forest with the monkeys and orangs walking next to you. They will come pretty close but expect hundreds of tourists taking photos. This part was a disappointment for me as it felt like I was in a zoo not viewing semi wild orangs and monkeys. Also, the shop is small and over priced.
If you meet Martin at the eco camp have a good chat to him about the MESCOT project as it highlights some un publicised points. Everyone focuses on helping the orangs but there are other projects that need funding and support.
All of the accommodation and food on the trip was better than i had thought and Henry our trip leader was outstanding. The hard work he put in behind the scenes to ensure we had a smooth running trip didn't go un noticed. He has an immense knowledge of the areas visited, places to eat, local customs, places not to go etc. He also has a great sense of humour and will take time out to make sure everyone is ok. The daily briefings are really handy in letting you know the next days plans so you know what you need to wear, pack, money needed etc. Also a good opportunity to ask questions about cashpoints etc.
steer clear of the sweet and sour fish and take some Immodium tablets or equivalent. Although food and water supplies are good, the change in diet and climate means those with a slightly sensitive stomach will probably get a jelly belly at some point. Re-hydration sachets and energy powder or tablets are also an essential.
There are a few opportunities to exhange money. I took R1000 (the maximum allowed) on the trip and spent all of, the last R50 at the airport. If you are into buying lot's of souvenirs you may need a little more. This worked out at £170 at the time.
The feeling at the top of Kinabalu is like no other, my achievement has only hit me properly as I look back on my photos. The wildlife around the eco camp is incredible. Monkeys and birds galore! The people are so warm and friendly. Mulu NP is stunning and the noise of the jungle and the rain storms, unforgettable.
Although a tough trip it was honestly the best experience of my life and I recommend you go and do it. Exodus were brilliant and again, Henry our tour guide got top marks from all of us. I still struggle to put into words how great this trip was and for me it has been life changing.
Happy to answer questions as I know I had loads! firstname.lastname@example.org