Hot Springs and Jungle Trekking in Borneo

The husband and I were in deepest Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo, travelling from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan.

Following our exertions on Mount Kinabalu  we were in need of a rest.  As luck would have it, just 25 miles away, there was a perfect place to recuperate.  

The gardens at Poring Hot Springs

Poring Hot Springs

Poring Hot Springs was our stop after climbing Kinabalu.  The onsen style baths were made by the Japanese during WW2 and today are a popular draw for locals and tourists alike.  There are several other things to do nearby, including a canopy walkway, an orchid garden, butterfly enclosure, trekking to waterfalls and hunting for the rafflesia plants which occasionally bloom in the area.  Easily reached from Mt Kinabalu by public transport, Poring Hot Springs is where many climbers head after their efforts.  I definitely needed it as my legs were so sore after the climb.  I couldn’t wait to soak in the luxury of hot sulphurous water.

As we descended the mountain the fresher, cooler air gave way to heat and humidity, and the flora took on much more of a tropical jungle feel.  We stayed in a hostel just opposite the park entrance.  On our first morning we were told that a giant rafflesia was blooming nearby so I dragged the husband to view it.  You can read more about read more about giant rafflesia here.

We then headed into the park and stretched our legs by walking through some pretty gardens and the butterfly enclosure.  There were some beautiful specimens here, alas, my photos don’t do them justice.

The husband then suggested we try the canopy walkway.  I was dismayed to find that it was a good km away, uphill (naturally) on trails similar to those on Mt Kinabalu.  The canopy walkway was great fun and worth the agonising walk.  We had some lovely views out over the park although we were too late in the day to see any monkeys or other animals in the treetops. Don’t miss this if you visit.

That afternoon we thought we’d better try out the springs, and so we didn’t manage to reach the waterfalls in the park.  We selected a covered bath and filled it with hot water. This took some time.  The baths themselves were not quite as nice as I was hoping for.  Perhaps my expectations were unrealistic, but they were rather old, didn’t seem particularly clean, and it being the tropics, there were quite a lot of bugs floating about.  The husband thought it was great though, bugs clearly don’t bother him as much…

The Jungle

No doubt there would be more bugs in the jungle by the Kinabatangan river, which was our next destination.  The Kinabatangan area is one of the small areas of forest left in Sabah as much of it has been cut down to make way for palm oil plantations.  It now enjoys a protected status although the palm plantations can be seen on the other side of the river in some places.

Reaching our lodge by boat, we were delighted with the charming little huts that we were to sleep in. They were very basic with just a pitched roof over latticed walls, mattresses and a mosquito net. The main building of the lodge was next to a beautiful lake, and the whole place was so peaceful.  All you could hear was the noise of the jungle.

We really felt able to relax and get back to nature here.  There were no mod cons at the lodge, so no electricity or running water.  The showers were just buckets of water and scoops – great fun and the cool water was so refreshing.

Back at the huts, we needed to store our bags in locked boxes as the monkeys that swung around in the trees were accomplished thieves.  They soon came to investigate who was staying and to watch out for any sloppiness when storing our things; it was obvious that they would quickly ransack anything they could the instant our backs were turned.

As we sat by the lake and dangled our feet in the water some little fish came up to nibble the dead skin on our toes – the same ones that are used in those foot spa tanks you used to see in shopping centres – so those who could bear the tickling got a free pedicure.

After dinner that evening we went for a jungle walk hoping to spot some creatures, and perhaps the elusive pygmy elephants who live in the forest.  We saw some insects (including some rather large spiders, shudder) but nothing much bigger, as is usually the way with jungle walks.

Returning to our huts, we crept under mosquito nets and watched a lightning storm a few miles away.  We heard what we suspected to be some pygmy elephants crashing through the jungle close to our huts but despite our best efforts we couldn’t see them from our raised huts.  It would not have been a good idea to go tip-toeing about after them.


The view downriver

Rising early the next morning we took a trip downriver, hoping to see some of the local fauna.  The sun was rising as we set off and wisps of mist still covered the river. It was stunningly beautiful.  I would have been happy with the boat ride even if we hadn’t seen any animals.

We were lucky enough to catch glimpses of crocodiles and kingfishers by the river banks.  There were monkeys playing in bushes close to the river and proboscis monkeys high in the trees.  I lamented the limitations of our point and shoot camera, as others took much better pictures with their longer lenses.  When we retuned to the camp, there was time for another walk through the jungle before departing for Sandakan.

As we left the jungle we asked our guide about the impact of the palm oil plantations on the local wildlife.  He was positive, saying that the animals could still live in the plantations and eat the nuts from the trees. We were not convinced that a habitat comprised of just one plant is as good at supporting a variety of animal species as the jungle we had just left.  But palm oil is found in so many of our products and provides such a lucrative business opportunity to the Malaysians that one can hardly blame them for growing the stuff.   Perhaps the tourism to the jungle can help it to keep its protected status.  I certainly hope so.

Read about the next part of our Borneo adventure in Sandakan here.

10 thoughts on “Hot Springs and Jungle Trekking in Borneo

    • kidsandcompass says:

      Thank you! I’m sorry, I don’t know the name of our lodge. I was on a tour with Intrepid and nobody ever mentioned it! I’ve checked their site but it seems that they now stay somewhere else as they mentioned ensuites… I think that there are quite a few lodges in Kinabatangan though, ranging from comfortable to rustic.
      We were really lucky with the rafflesia as it was still perfect and hadn’t started to die back.

  1. Amber Hill says:

    Hi there, I’m starting to knuckle down with some Borneo planning for September. We will realistically only have 7-9 days on the ground. Do you think this is enough to explore one area? Many thanks! Amber

    • Emily Cole says:

      Hi Amber, I think that you’d have plenty of time to visit Kota Kinabalu, Mt Kinabalu Park and the hot springs at Poring if you had 9 days. We did take an internal flight in Borneo to get to Turtle Island and Sepilok so you probably wouldn’t be able to see them too. It’s a great country though, and well worth going to!

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