Borneo’s Sabah off the permit path
For something a bit less strenuous, the entrance area of Mount Kinabalu park is beautiful and features some easy walking trails that showcase alpine Borneo flora and fauna. Hiking will only costs you the 15 Malaysian ringgit park entrance fee.
Getting to Mount Kinabalu via public transportation is also easy; any bus going between Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan, Sabah’s two largest cities, drives by the park entrance (you can flag buses down here as well). The fare is around 15 Malaysian ringgit.
The Maliau Basin may be one of the most primeval destinations in Sabah: a bowl-shaped jungle depression surrounded by unscalable jungle mountains that was unexplored until World War II, when it was spotted from the air by an Allied pilot. Today, this is the place to see actual primary tropical rainforest – trees that have never been felled by human hands. Organising a tour into the basin can run into thousands of dollars. However, it is possible to visit independently by renting a car to visit the basin (there is no public transportation to this remote corner of Sabah).
A visit to the Maliau is potentially rewarding. Do not expect lots of wildlife because the forest is untouched and there is a lot of space for animals to hide. Instead, the reward is seeing one of the last corners of the planet unsullied by civilization. For information on vehicle rental, talk to the folks at GoGo Sabah in Kota Kinabalu, who can help you contact the park directly so you can visit independently. You will sleep in dorm-style accommodation and have to hire a ranger guide, with the combined costs coming close to 1,000 Malaysian ringgit, but that is less than half the cost of arriving via a package tour.