Recently I was asked to go and inspect a relatively new product in Sabah called Orou Sapulot to assess its potential of becoming a new Amazing Borneo tour destination. Until this point I had never even heard of this location and was unsure as to what I should expect. Little did I know that I was about to discover one of my favourite destinations in Sabah!
Located close to the world-renowned conservation area of Maliau Basin, a trip to Sapulot will bring you even closer to the Sabah-Kalimantan (Malaysia-Indonesia) border, in an area that appears time forgotten. The region remains the final frontier for the native Murut tribes with their traditional way of life and communal living, transporting you back in time to when things were simpler, and communities were more in tune with Mother Nature and her elements. There are many reasons why this tour is a must-do for adventure seekers, so I wanted to share the top 5 reasons I would recommend this tour.
- The Pungiton Caves
The first trip of the tour will bring you to Pungiton Eco Camp. This camp is quite basic but has a real charm in its design. Its open air, communal style living in a longhouse-inspired accommodation where you will be provided with stretcher beds equipped with mosquito nets.
A 5 to 10-minute hike through the jungle brings you to the caves with each guest typically being assigned a personal guide to accompany them. Entering the cave is like entering another world. It is one of the most interesting cave walks I have done as you actually have to walk in the middle of the small river with cold, fresh water flowing and actively shaping the form of the cave walls.
Of course, it is very dark without the presence of sunlight, so make sure you invest in either a good quality headlamp or waterproof torchlight if you want to see the true beauty of this magical cave system. There are a number of creepy critters which can be seen dwelling inside the crevices and along the walls as well as birds and bats clinging to the ceiling.
After exiting the first cave, we continued to another cave system. This second cave is fascinating in that it is much bigger and contains a number of stalactites and stalagmites, however I personally enjoyed the first cave more as trekking through the river creates quite a unique experience while keeping you cool and the cave free of the strong-smelling guano.
After the caves, it’s back to the camp for a shower or, if you’re keen, a quick swim in the main river out the front of the camp to cool off after the walk.
- Climbing Batu Punggul
On the second day of the tour you will be transported again by boat to an immense looking limestone outcrop named Batu Punggul which can be seen clearly towering above the ancient jungle. The sight of this structure gave me a feeling of being in a lost world as the tall, skinny rock with jagged edges seemingly appears out of nowhere and looks prehistoric. You will need to make another short jungle trek to arrive at the base of Batu Punggul before beginning your assent to the peak. I would highly recommend you pack some gloves if you are planning to make the climb as the rocks can be quite sharp and hot depending on the time of day.
Batu Punggul is sacred to the local Murut tribes so it’s important to treat it with respect. The climb is not long but can be quite challenging and scary at times, therefore it’s important to pace yourself and pay attention to the guides. The view from the top however, is well worth the struggle, giving you a breathtaking perspective from hundreds of metres above the jungle’s canopy. After climbing back down, you will be able to cool off and recharge with a nice, cool swim in the river and fresh, local dishes for lunch.
- Bathe at the Hidden Waterfalls
If you decide not to swim at the river below Batu Punggul you will have another opportunity shortly after at your next destination, the hidden waterfalls. Transport to this location is done via 4x4 and then, yes you guessed it, another hike through the jungle and across a stream before you arrive at the camp.
The accommodation provided here are simple tents that have been elevated from the ground on wooden platforms. This is actually a really good thing because it was at this place that I saw the most leeches, so being elevated from the ground helps keep your tent free of the nasty little suckers. It would be a good idea to invest in some leech socks for this part of the journey.
There are three different pools you can swim at, each being a short hiking distance from each other up a steep hill. The walk to the top is definitely worth the effort as you get to see the full scale of the falls and you can have fun sliding down the natural rock slide.
- Riding the Rapids across the Indonesian Border
Next up is an exhilarating boat ride that begins at the Salung Jetty and brings you across the Kalimantan border. It can feel quite unnerving getting into the skinny wooden boat with twin engines as you stare out at the raging river, but it helps to keep in mind the skill and experience of your captains who navigate the river on a daily basis with great precision. Once you strap on your life jacket and get on your way, you will instantly feel a rush as the boat powers down the river and weaves in and out of rapids.
For me, this was one the best boat rides I have experienced. At times the trip is so smooth and scenic as you fly down long stretches of the river and pass isolated villages, often where the majority of the villagers are living together under one roof in traditional long houses. Then all of a sudden, it is as though you are on an extreme rollercoaster as the boat rapidly begins to weave ferociously through the invisible path under the white water.
Another highlight of this part of the journey is the lunch location. After crossing the border and taking photos at the Indonesian monument, you will be transported to a secret little tributary river where the water is cold and crystal clear. Here, you can relax on the riverbank under the shade of the dense jungle canopy while enjoying yet another selection of fresh, tasty local foods. I would definitely recommend having a swim here as not only is it rejuvenating and refreshing after an intense boat ride under the hot sun, it is also the last chance you will get on this tour.
- Relax at the Romol Eco Village
After an intense 3 days of cave exploring, jungle trekking, river cruising, chasing waterfalls, and mountain climbing, the Romol Eco Village is the best place to retreat, lay back, and relax. You will be accommodated in a timber house on the local family estate of the tour providers. The bedrooms are upstairs which are quite hot during the day, however the downstairs living area is designed well. Being spacious with a high ceiling, it creates the perfect spot to layback and chill while enjoying the cool breeze.
At night you will be invited to the family home which is a modern take design of the traditional long house, where you will be given the opportunity to experience the local rice wine and be entertained by the traditional dances of the Murut tribe. The dancers are local villagers adorned in their traditional, native costumes. It is an experience many travellers crave for, to be so immersed into a local culture while staying right in the local village itself.
Finally, on the last day you can take a tour around the farm to see the incredible efforts being made to create sustainable, eco-friendly crops that can assist the communities in becoming less dependent on palm oil and rubber plantations and steer away from the destructive slash and burn methods commonly used. Certainly, an encouraging way to end the tour by recognising the efforts of people trying to preserve their precious homeland.
Orou Sapulot provides an adventure that will fulfil your travel cravings and leave you feeling exhausted in an extremely satisfying way. Booking through Amazing Borneo is the best way to get the full experience from this tour. Being the largest land tour operator in Sabah, Amazing Borneo has all the experience, transport, resources and highly qualified friendly staff to guarantee you get the most of your tour with the least amount of hassle. Watch our videos about this location or the many other choice places in Sabah to learn more and start planning your next adventure with Amazing Borneo!
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