Travel insider: Malaysian Borneo

Thai wine importer JW Sam shares his top picks for what to see and do on tropical Borneo.

An orangutan at the Semenggoh Nature Reserve near Kuching in the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo. Photo / 123RF
An orangutan at the Semenggoh Nature Reserve near Kuching in the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo. Photo / 123RF

What's your favourite thing about Borneo?

Without doubt, its food. The cuisine reflects the rich multi-cultural backgrounds that come together in absolute harmony.

Why is it a good place for a holiday?

Borneo is the perfect getaway to clear your mind from the hustle and bustle of city life. It's full of adventure with exciting activities to do such as exploring the largest caves in the world, snorkelling in idyllic waters as well as being culturally rich with heritage that combines both East and West.

What are the locals like?

They are very welcoming and friendly. The locals always have their traditional dances and tuak (local wine) ready to welcome visitors and to make new friends.

When is a good time of year to visit?

June/July. The weather is perfect for viewing ocean sunsets. Also the famous Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak happens mid July. It's a three-day world music festival that attracts a great crowd from all around the world.

If we had to choose between visiting the regions of Sabah and Sarawak, which would you recommend and why?
Each has its own charm. Sabah has the beaches, diving spots and water-based activities, whereas Sarawak is home to rainforest, mountains and exotic flora and fauna. To compare the two would be unfair as they both have unique qualities that together make up Borneo's magical charm.

What's the best place to be based?

Kuching, better known as "Cat City." My favourite place to stay is the Ranee Boutique Suites situated along the Sarawak River.

What's the easiest way to get around?

By car. Rent one or use Uber (available in parts of Borneo).

Where are some of the best beaches?

In Sarawak, it would be Bako and Sematan. In Sabah, it's Manukan Island Beach and Sapi Island Beach.

What is your favourite city in Borneo, and what are some of its highlights?

Kuching would have to be my favourite. Some of its highlights include China House, an arts centre that also has great places to eat and The Sampan Ride across the Sarawak River that connects Kuching North and South. It's a must-try, and only costs NZ20c. The food is delicious, especially local dishes such as wild boar, and midin (wild ferns). You should also check out Borneo Highlands, a resort and 18-hole golf course situated high in the mountains at the border of Sarawak and Indonesia.

Where should people go to see orangutans?

Semenggoh Wildlife Centre is an orangutan sanctuary where travellers get the opportunity to see these beautiful creatures from a viewing pad. We all need to be reminded that these creatures are still highly endangered and as such should be treated with respect and care.

What other wildlife should we look out for?

The Proboscis Monkey (monkeys with unique noses) at Bako National Park, and the Rafflesia flower - the world's biggest flower - at Gading Mountain.

What are your tips for visiting the rainforest?

Bring water to stay hydrated, as well as salt. The rainforests are mostly harmless with a few leeches that may latch on to you along your adventures. Sprinkling some salt on them makes them detach themselves and wearing the appropriate clothing allows you to see them.

What is your favourite thing to eat in Borneo, and where's a good place to get it?

It definitely has to be Sarawak Laksa. There are a few places to get it, but my favourite is at Chong Choon Cafe in Kuching. Just make sure you go early as it usually sells out by 9.30am.

What are some of the best museums to visit?

Cultural Village is my top pick. It's a living museum of all the different homes and cultures in Borneo. You can even stay at the museum to fully immerse yourself.

Are there any great places for shopping?

Main Bazaar St in Kuching is wonderful for spices, arts and crafts. We also have more commercialised malls such as Spring, VivaCity and Imago shopping mall which are worth dropping by.

Where's a good venue for cocktails?

The Junk Bar and Restaurant in Kuching is a cluster of restaurants and bars divided over two floors, full of antiques. Each part of this restaurant bar has its own unique character.

Any good rooftop bars with amazing views?

Sky Blu Bar at Hotel Grandis in Kota Kinabalu or Singgahsana Rooftop Bar in Kuching.

What are three things Kiwis should pack in their suitcases?

Mosquito repellent, sunscreen and adventurous tastebuds.

JW Sam works with luxury hotel chains and imports Thai wines to NZ through his company A-LLURE wines, which he manages with his cousin Anong Klinyoo.

- Spy.co.nz

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