To Borneo with Grandchildren

Setting off on an overseas tour with your own children, while exciting, can also take a fair bit of planning, involve a certain amount of risk and be fraught with unpredictability. None of these aspects, however, deterred Margaret and Ian Graham when they made the somewhat unconventional decision to take their young grandchildren on a 10 day tour of Borneo in 2013.

As it turned out the grandchildren in question, William and Emily Freeman (ages 10 and 8 at the time), encountered such wild things as pesky proboscis monkeys, mighty giant flowers and pygmy elephants and lived to tell many great tales on their return. Thankfully, Margaret and Ian also survived, and are testament to the idea that including grandchildren in travel adventures can be rewarding, educational and enjoyable for all involved.

Margaret, Ian and granddaughter Emily on a suspension bridge in????

Margaret, Ian and granddaughter Emily on a suspension bridge in one of Borneo’s beautiful nature reserves.

As family adventure destinations go, Borneo offers plenty of spectacular scenery, distinctive world famous wildlife and an opportunity to experience an Asian culture rich in its authenticity. It’s the third largest island in the world and politically divided by three countries – the small sovereign State of Brunai, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

The Malaysian state of Sabah to the north of the island plays host to dreamy white sand washed coastlines, impressive mountain ranges, and pristine rainforests. In recent years vast areas of deforestation have also occurred as the palm oil industry takes hold. As a direct result, animals who rely on these rainforests for survival, in particular Orangutans, have depleted to dangerously low levels. Margaret and Ian were keen to show William and Emily this beautiful part of the world, and give them the opportunity to see the unique, now endangered Orangutans in the flesh.

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A welcome drink of coconut milk at Rungus Longhouse.

To plan the trip Margaret (the official family co-ordinator and instigator of the whole affair) also took a number of other factors into account when she decided on Sabah as a suitable destination:

  1. It was close:  Located to the south east of the Malay Peninsula its relatively short distance from Australia make flight times more desirable (especially when there’s children involved). A number of airlines fly from Australia’s capital cities to Kota Kinabalu (the capital of Sabah).
  2. It was cheap:  The Australian foreign currency exchange with the Malaysian Ringgit makes food, accommodation and travel expenses relatively affordable.
  3. It was accessible:  For Margaret and Ian, Peregrine Tours were offering a well-priced, well timed, small group tour of the area. “The type of trip I was looking at was a family orientated trip,” Margaret explains. “Peregrine promoted their tour as a family tour with a maximum of 12 and it worked out there was just us and one other family of 4.” This worked well for Emily and William too as they had peers to enjoy time with.
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Remembering the Australian soldiers who died during the Death March of 1945.

What the Borneo tour also offered was an opportunity to see the spectacular Sabah rainforests from the air, cruise the renowned Kinabatangan River, view the Rafflesia – the largest flower in the world, sleep in a Long House at Rungus village, salute the lost Australian soldiers at Kundasang War Memorial, and visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

For two young children these experiences opened up a world far removed from their own lives on a cotton farm in Southern Queensland. It also highlighted the brilliant, varied, but fragile nature of life on this planet. And above all it gave them precious time with their grandparents. For Margaret and Ian this time also gave them the opportunity to combine two of their greatest loves – travel and family.

The Longhouse at Rungus village.

The Longhouse at Rungus village.

Sleeping conditions in the Longhouse.

Sleeping conditions in the Longhouse.

A local village devoted to making gongs. Gongs come in all different shapes and sizes and are used for religious ceremonies, music, and festivals.

A local village devoted to making gongs. Gongs come in all different shapes and sizes and are used for religious ceremonies, music, and festivals.

William and Emily practicing their gong beating skills.

William and Emily practicing their gong beating skills.

A pesky proboscis monkey.

A pesky proboscis monkey.

Watching the orang-utans at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

Watching the orang-utans at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

Waiting for the plane at Kuala Lumpar airport.

Waiting for the plane at Kuala Lumpur airport.

Thankyou very much to Margaret and Ian Graham, and William and Emily Freeman for sharing your story with us.

Words: Rachel Walker  Images: Margaret Graham

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