MESSAGE: Borneo *Video*

Borneo, the 3rd largest island in the world, is a place unto itself – a magical spot full of amazing wildlife and nature and constant discovery.

The island is home to 16 million people and comprises 3 countries: portions of Malaysia (26% of the island), the entire country of Brunei (1%) and portions of Indonesia (73%). While it offers 7 distinct eco-systems, including alpine shrubland, peat swamp forests, mangroves, most of the land is covered by lowland rainforests. This rainforest is one of the oldest in the world (along with Australia Daintree and the Amazon).

Check out all the fun to be had with my 7 highlights of Borneo:

MEET (Cool Meet Ups) – Full Moon Wedding. While on tiny island of Mabul, I attended a wedding. In fact, everyone on the island did. The wedding, held during the auspicious time of the full moon, was a public event, with the ceremony held in the central square of the village.

It was a Muslim wedding, but at first I didn’t think so because the couple was wearing “Sultan Dress.” For the bride, this meant glittering sequined, see-through fabric that hugged her body = quite the outfit! The groom wore a traditional Malaysia hat called a songkok and a tunic.

Here’s a video of the couple sitting on their thrones and their attendants performing a “money dance,” where well-wishers make a gift in celebration of the marriage:

Can’t see the video? Click on this link: Mabul Wedding Money Dance

EAT (Tasty Eats) – Tuak. Tuak is a local rice wine made of fermented rice, yeast and sugar; the darker the color, the more mature and richer the wine. It was first introduced to me by my friends Rizwan and Angelina in Kuala Lumpur. Many families make their own. (Although this is not “home brew” and I was scolded when I suggested it might be!) Mabul offers a coconut version of tuak that’s quite tasty (if a bit sweet).

SEE (Must-see Sights) – Wildlife! Borneo is home to the Asian elephant, the Bornean orangutan, the Sumatran Rhinoceros…just to name a few exotic species! In fact, scientists have discovered more than 360 new animal and plant species in Borneo since 1996!

I highly suggest going on a jungle safari to see the orangutans in the wild – so fabulous! In case you missed them, here’re my two posts on:

SHOP (Gotta Have) – Plam Oil. (or not have!) Palm oil is an edible plant oil that is used in cooking and food stuffs, including cookies, crackers, popcorn, frozen dinners, and candy. It accounts for a whopping 30% of all edible oils and fats produced around the world and Malaysia dominates with 45% of the market share. Palm oil is also an ingredient in most beauty products, including soap, shampoo and cosmetics.

Palm oil is attracting concern from environmentalists since plantations are rapidly encroaching on the last remnants of primary rainforest in Borneo and destroying the habitat of its indigenous species, including the orangutan. Some activists are calling for a boycott, which is difficult given its use in so many products.

Nevertheless, here’s a list of some of the most popular brands so you can be aware of their use of palm oil. One option is to ask that these manufacturers make corporate donations to help preserve the remaining rainforests in Borneo.

  • Food List: Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, McDonald’s, Girl Scout cookies, Clif Bars & Luna Bars and Power Bars. You can see a complete list here:
  • Personal Products: Bumble & Bumble, Avon, Dial, Cover Girl, Neutrogena, Kiss My Face, Lacome, and Sephora. For the full list, visit:

ACTIVITY (Gotta Do) – Climb Kota Kinabalu. Borneo’s highest point is Mount Kinabalu in the state of Sabah. Standing at 4,095 meters (13,435 ft) above sea level, it is the third highest peak in Southeast Asia.

I didn’t climb Kota Kinabalu during this past trip to Borneo because I climbed it during my first trip – about 20 years ago! At the time, I climbed it in 1 day, instead of the normal two-day trip up – here’s why I was rushed: Climbing with Ralph Lauren.

GIVE (Greatest Need) – Reforestation. Over the past few decades much of Borneo’s lowland forest has been cleared for timber and to create plantations for palm oil and paper. In fact, between 1980 and 2000, it’s estimated that more timber was harvested from Borneo than was exported from the Amazon and Congo basins combined.

The World Wildlife Fund’s Heart of Borneo campaign is working to conserve a huge central area of rainforest on the island. As part of this international campaign, all 3 of the island’s governments (Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia) committed to protect, manage and restore 220,000km2 of forests. That’s an area almost the size of the UK.

The WWF campaign is also asking companies that buy timber and palm oil from Borneo to only buy goods that are from sustainable sources. And the initiative had started working with local communities to help them find alternative sources of income, to reduce the pressure they put on the forest.

For more information about this historic effort, check out: WWF – Heart of Borneo campaign.

ENJOY (Extra Fun) – Scuba Diving. I couldn’t write about Borneo highlights without mentioning scuba diving. Not only is it home to the famous dive spot Sipadan, but also numerous other great diving adventures.

I went on 9 dives during my week on the islands off the Borneo mainland and saw so many amazing and HUGE sea creatures like sharks and turtles, as well as massive schools of fish. (I saw a turtle the size of a dining room table!).

If you like to dive, you’ll like it on Borneo. The one caveat is the trash that is starting to choke the beaches and ocean floor. Hopefully the tourism industry will start to deal with it before it gets any worse. One scuba outfit that regularly performs beach clean ups is Scuba Junkie ( on the island of Mabul. They enlist the help of divers and school kids alike to pick up trash one day a week. The day I participated, there was about 10 divers and about 20 kids. It’s a start!

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This entry was posted on Saturday, June 23rd, 2012 and is filed under Asia Pacific, Messages by Country.

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