The Diane von Furstenberg Files: Borneo

Jill Krueger

For Memorial Day this year, I traveled to the island of Borneo. This mythical place, with stories of head-hunting tribesmen and explorers, is rich in diversity—from the people to the landscape to the flora (there are more than 15,000 species of plants on the island). It belongs to three regions: Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. We spent most of our time in the north of Borneo, also known as East Malaysia, visiting Sabah and its capital city, Kota Kinabalu, as well as the island of Pulau Tiga and the Maliau Basin. Here, it’s about the jungle, the animals, and the vegetation. It felt like a lost world…one that I was lucky to have had the chance to find.

Three Excursions

Jungle Bob

Bob Hartley, or Jungle Bob, is a great guide to take you through the wild.

Crocker Range Park

This is Sabah’s largest park, and we took a very hard hike through the jungle. Beware of leeches!

Pulau Tiga

After landing in Kota Kinabalu, we went to Pulau Tiga. We swam in the South China Sea and walked in a forest that led to a natural bubbling mud bath; I made myself a mask.

Gunung Mulu National Park

The forests bordering this park are inhabited by the Penan community, known for its amazing bracelets. They’re crafted from rattan, a palm found in Borneo’s rainforests, and the designs are burned on using a stick fashioned from the rib of a palm leaf.

DVF’s Day Trip to Brunei

Since we were close by (or at least closer than we would be again), we decided to visit Brunei. The first thing that comes to mind when you think of this part of Borneo is the famous sultan, Haji Hassanal Bolkiah. But it is also a country—or rather an independent state—rich in heritage and nature…and it’s a wonderful place to travel to by boat.

Where to Stay

The Empire Hotel and Country Club is a supergrand hotel built by Prince Jefri Bolkiah, the brother of Brunei’s sultan, and excellent for afternoon tea. Its shop, Crimson Square, is full of great Asian objects.

What to Do

Take a cruise to Kampong Ayer. It’s like Venice, an entire village built over water with houses set up on stilts. After that, boat through the mangrove channels, full of monkeys hanging from trees.