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Borneo & Philippines

Community + Teaching + Expedition

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Discover Borneo & Philippines

The jewel in the crown.

Trust us when we say Borneo is the jewel in Malaysia’s crown. It is an island steeped in history, culture, tropical islands and let’s not forget the exotic rainforests which home our furry orange friends and finger pointing proboscis monkey. It gets ‘the leap’ vote for sure.

But it doesn't stop there – look right, on the map, and you’ll find the glorious Philippines, a country made up of 1000’s of tiny islands – 7000 to be precise. Here you will bed into the kindest Filipino culture and island hop across a few of the remotest which offer great opportunities for adventure and exploration.

Venture out to Borneo and the Philippines to explore, contribute, trek and safari whilst being immersed in their ancient culture and landscape.


Program Itinerary

Overall this program has an ‘expedition’ feel to it as you travel, explore and contribute as a tight team moving across Sabah to Manila and beyond, stepping way off the backpacker trail and into traditional, indigenous communities. Think longhouses, hammocks, orangutans, reforestation, teaching and snorkeling with tropical fish. Frankly it doesn’t get much better.

The following is a sample itinerary.

Overview

Borneo

Welcome to the eastern state of Sabah

You will land in Tawau, right in the centre of this amazing state of Borneo. Once covered in towering tropical rainforest, much of the lowland forest was cleared in the 70's and 80’s for palm oil plantations, although some high-value areas were preserved as national parks and wildlife reserves, providing great places for adventure and exploration.

The western part of Sabah is generally mountainous, containing the three highest mountains in Malaysia. At a height of 4095m, Mount Kinabalu is the tallest of the lot and sits within the Kinabalu National Park - named a World Heritage Site in 2000 because of its richness in plant diversity combined with its unique geological, topographical, and climatic conditions. Definitely one to visit.

Wk 1

Tawau Pygmy Elephants + Teaching

Pygmy Elephants and Reforestation

Your first stop will be at Tawau Hills National Park where you will spend a couple of days acclimatising, whilst heading out on safari to find the pygmy elephants deep in the forest and helping the park with their reforestation project which aims to create a new forest corridor for wildlife.

Plantation Village School

Next up is a fantastic community phase at the Plantation Village School, run by Borneo Child Aid (BCA). This NGO was set up 10 years ago to provide education to the thousands of children born inside the palm oil plantations who are not entitled to state education – it's an inspirational story of what can be achieved with few resources.

Here you’ll have the chance to assist the teaching community with everyday work within the school as well as helping improve the infrastructure around and within it. There will be opportunities to assist with the cooking and to teach English to the preschool kids.

Accommodation

Simple guest house.

Food

3 meals a day provided.

Wk 2

Kinabatangan Safari Community + Reforestation​

Along the banks of the river

After your heart-warming time with BCA, you’ll make a 4-hour road trip across East Sabah to the Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp, on the banks of the longest river in Malaysia, the Kinabatangan.

Here you’ll get involved with the Rainforest Carbon Offset Project. On the first day you’ll learn what the project is all about, visit the site and then head out on an afternoon wildlife river cruise – an opportunity to spot much of Borneo’s famous wildlife including proboscis monkeys, macaques, gibbons, beautiful birds and, if you’re lucky, orangutans and pygmy elephants.

The next morning the tree planting will begin - planting up tropical seedlings around the camp as well as along the river forest in degraded areas over the next 6 days. In order to plant the trees you will also help with the removal of the rattan which is crowding the habitat for the seedlings. This is a hot and sweaty project but extremely worthwhile.

During your stay you will visit the nearby villages in the Bukit Garam area engaging the students at the school with games and traditional activities and in the evening enjoying home cooked dinner with them.

Each day will have a wildlife safari by boat or foot looking for Borneo’s elusive wildlife.

Accommodation

You’ll be staying at the Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp which is a simple camp with mattress and mosquito nets, cold water showers only.

Food

3 meals a day cooked at the camp kitchen.

Wk 3

Lupa Masa Jungle Trek + Orangutans

Jungle Survival

Whilst you're still in Sabah, it’s time to crack out the antiperspirant and ‘rumble in the jungle’ at the Lupa Masa jungle camp near Poring Hot Springs. Here you will spend a couple of nights in the camp learning survival skills before heading off with your hammocks for a trek in the surrounding forests.

With your local guides you'll learn just how comfortable you can make yourself in the jungle with almost nothing; it's camping at its most wild.

Meet the Orangutans at Sepilok

Next up you’ll make a 4-hour road trip to Sepilok, home to the world-famous orangutan rehabilitation centre, a fabulous forest retreat, where you can visit the orangutans, sun bears and the Rainforest Discovery Centre.

Accommodation

Sepilok: forest lodge.
Jungle trek: hammocks and tents.

Food

3 meals a day provided.

Wk 4

Kudat Rungus Village Beach Beach Conservation

Help Conserve the Village Beach

After the jungle, life at the beach will feel great... Kudat is the new must-see destination in Sabah, with its empty beaches and perfect snorkelling. Kudat is our favourite of these beaches and home to our small community project, learning how to make traditional handicrafts and jewellery and helping with regular community beach projects and clean-ups.

Here you can also go fishing, hiking until sundown on the hilltops and, with luck, experience some exceptional marine bioluminescence on certain nights of the month.

Accommodation

Rungus tribal styled longhouse or tents on the beach.

Food

3 meals a day provided.

Overview

Phillippines

Only 7000 Islands...

As you fly over marooned slicks of sand in the middle of the ocean your initial feeling would be this is a beach bum's paradise but look a little closer and you’ll dip into sprawling mega-islands, pounding with music and islands ready to serve up lashings of adrenaline – surfing, white water rafting, wakeboarding, fishing, trekking and zip lines to test the bravest – so get ready.

You’ll spend four weeks here, exploring several of the islands, living with local families to experience Filipino life firsthand and helping local and international NGO’s with their development projects, which include reforestation, refurbishing community buildings and teaching English.

Wks 5 - 6

Bulusan Cultural Exchange

Cultural Exchange and Development

You’ll fly into the capital of Manila, before catching a 1-hour domestic flight onto Legazpi City. Here you will spend a couple of days acclimatising to your new surroundings and will have time to explore the nearby islands of Bacacay before trekking up Manaet Peak.

You’ll then travel out to reach the small town of Bulusan in the Sorsogon Province, dominated by the active Bulusan Volcano. Bulusan’s slopes are covered in virgin rainforest, crystal clear crater lakes, waterfalls, hot springs and rare, endemic animal species. Simply stunning.

The local NGO here, run by people in the community, is called The Aggrupation of Advocates for Environmental Protection Bulusan (AGAP). Because of AGAP, the development in Bulusan is one of the most community and environment focused developments in the Philippines and will be responsible for managing your projects, which will be focused around:

  • Rice is a main food item in the Philippines and there are 2 planting and harvesting seasons in a year. Here you will help the farmers with the planting or harvesting depending on the season.
  • There are several local industries being supported in Bulusan helping provide livelihood to the local community. Depending on the ongoing product orders, you will help with the making of these local handicrafts (e.g. native mats).
  • In the past years, Bulusan has been building on ecotourism – creating more activities and improving those that already exist. You will help with these tourism projects, the work will vary depending on which project is on the go but it could be anything from painting wooden kayaks to clearing trekking trails and beaches.
  • Of course your visit to Bulusan will not be complete if you don’t get to meet the next generation. For those here during term time (Feb and Oct departures) you will have at least one day at the school to read books to children. During the school’s summer holiday (May departure) you may help with Brigada Eskwela school refurbishment.

Before leaving Bulusan, you will have 2 days R&R around Sorsogon where you can swim, trek, have local cooking lessons, and learn more about the history of the area.

Accommodation

Local homestay.

Food

3 meals a day provided.

Wk 7

Ticao Island Community Development

Community Development

Next stop - Ticao Island, an island community in the Masbate province. Approximately 1-hour by traditional motorized boat from the mainland.

The people of Ticao have learned to survive based on what the land and ocean can provide. Very little government support comes to this area and the main developments on the island are a result of donations and strategies from Ticao Island Resort.

On your time off, you’re perfectly placed to island hop around the islets of Ticao; around San Miguel and Udoc, which are rich in soft coral gardens, fish life, and macro critters. In the past 10 years, Ticao Island has been gaining popularity in the scuba diving community because of Manta Bowl, a dive site which is the highway for large marine creatures like manta rays, whale and thresher sharks.

Here you will help Ticao Island Resort with their development projects focused on the livelihood and education of the local community. Ticao Island is also home to a marine research stations of NGO LAMAVE (Large Marine Vertebrates). Depending on the amount of data processing work that needs to be done, you may be asked to assist at the marine research station.

Projects will include:

  • Helping the fishermen with their day-to-day activities.
  • School development (for example making tables and chairs, paving the walkway, painting the school building, cleaning the grounds, etc).
  • Helping with ongoing training for the community-based tourism projects to assist in providing alternative livelihood to the community.
  • Data processing with LAMAVE.
  • Talking to resort guests and gathering pictures for data collection.
Accommodation

3 nights village homestay then you will move into twin rooms at the dive school, on the beach

Food

3 meals a day provided.

Wk 8

Sorsogon Cultural Development

Cultural Revival

Sorsogon City is the capital of the Sorsogon Province, which includes Bulusan. The Sorsogon Province is relatively large and diverse and the two areas make for a very different experience. The local government are keen for Leapers to help with their ongoing development projects with the Sorsogon Provincial Tourism Office.

Your projects will vary depending on what the local government needs doing at the time, but they will be based around their assessment of potential tourism destinations and the revival of museums and cultural/heritage centers.

Accommodation

You will stay in a local hostel.

Food

You will stay in a local hostel.

Program Details & Costs

We have three departures for Borneo and The Philippines throughout year: January, April and September where you can go for either 4 or 8 weeks. The most popular is the all singing and dancing 8-week option where you can “do it all” but of course you can go for less time to accommodate your dates and budget. Just get in touch to discuss your options.

Depart Jan, Apr & Sept

2019: 3 Jan, 4 Apr, 5 Sep

Costs

8 weeks
Borneo + Philippines
2019: £4287

Depart July

Costs

4 weeks
Sabah only
2019: £TBC

Social Life

Guaranteed. You will be part of a tight team of like minded volunteers, who will be on your journey from start to finish.

Cultural Exchange

Through living and working beside remote communities who will welcome you into their society.

Contrast

An expedition feel as you travel with your team across the jungles and beaches of Sabah, Sarawak and into the Philippines.

Physical Challenge

A journey which mixes long house living with jungle trekking and beach recouperation.

Program Days

Expect to carry out project work 5 days a week for 6-8 hours per day however each phase will vary depending on the work ethic and culture of the community.

Free Days

Free days will be interspersed throughout the itinerary when you are free to explore.

Backpacker favourites:

  • Climbing Mount Kinabalu
  • Paragliding and parasailing
  • Banana boating
  • Snorkeling and scuba diving
  • Wildlife tours.

Both Borneo and the Philippines are very well-connected to other countries like Indonesia and Singapore – all great add-ons if you plan to extend your stay in the region.

One of the Most Adventurous

Borneo and the Philippines requires an in-depth knowledge of Sabah and The Philippines as it's a big journey of exploration, adventure and contribution. Luckily, back in 2015 we met Tom Hewitt who had set up an expedition company called Adventure Alternative Borneo with his local business partner Danny Voon and so our plans became reality.

Tom first came to Borneo fourteen years ago as an expedition leader to explore the deepest backwaters. Through this he gained the trust of some amazing communities and partners including Donsol Eco Tours who manage the Philippines phase.

He has been the influential force in setting up the Lupa Masa eco jungle camp on the slopes of Mount Kinabalu and later the Lupa Masa Beach which organises traditional longhouse and camping options 5 minutes from a deserted beach near the tip of Borneo. Both Lupa Masa jungle camp and Lupa Masa Beach employ local staff and help to fund community driven projects.

Through his contacts you have access to "off the grid" communities where cultural exchange is just the tip of the iceberg. The feeling of being an intrepid explorer certainly stands true here.

Leaper's Highlights

Have a read of what our volunteers have been getting up to...

Living the Island Life in Ticao Ellie Walton

The current destination is rich in landscape and spectacular views. Ticao Island is providing us with great insight into local life and treating us with great customer experience within the resort.

The first few nights were spent in homestays with local families where we were immersed in the community by partaking in cooking meals, mending fishing nets with the fisherman and a celebratory dinner party for one of the hosts birthday. We certainly got a feel for island life throughout our stay in the village!

During our stay on Ticao, in addition to the excursions and relaxation time, we also took part in two projects. They consisted of a clean-up of the school before the commencement of term, followed by the making of a connection path that was safe for motorcyclists to use to cross the island. Luckily we had done similar projects in Borneo prior to this island visit, so we were ready to get stuck in!

Day to day structures would vary from working in the morning to taking a dip in the afternoon. Three members of our group were keen to take advantage of the surroundings and facilities at Ticao, as they dived on every opportunity that arose! The rest of us were able to snorkel around a few islands when we went island hopping, as this was Hannah's and Sacha's last day, we wanted to make the most of their remaining time in the Philippines. The water was so clear, we were lucky enough to see some black tip sharks roam around the coral. After one of my favourite days of the trip, the day arrived where we had to bid farewell to another two members of our Leap family, they'll both be missed greatly by the rest of the group!

Our little pocket of paradise Sadie Traylor

Melvin and his sister Madalyn – members of our new host family – stood to greet us as our boat slid up to shore on Ticao Island. He then took those of us staying with him down the beach a little way to his village. Along the way we picked up several children, all anxious to see what we were up to. They seemed to know only one English phrase: What’s your name? And they used it plenty!

This village sits right on the sea. Dinky fishing boats bob up-and-down in the water while anchored to shore; pigs oink from inside make-shift kennels; the men and older boys play pick-up games of basketball in the village square; women sell dried fish on the paths. The central location of our homestay allowed us to experience village life in its entirety.

We spent a few days at the local school taking on our latest construction project: paving a pathway into the entrance of the school. We’ve mastered cement mixing and laying by now, so everyone around was impressed by how quickly and skilfully we got the job done. But that’s not to say it wasn’t hard work. As always, mixing the cement – perfecting the ratio of concrete to sand to water – in the heat too, is no easy task. The prospect of giving the kids the ability to walk to school without having to stomp through mud is what kept us going.

The second portion of our time on Ticao Island had me wondering whether I’m taking a gap year or on vacation — or maybe dreaming. Having moved from our homestay into the resort with the beach in our front yard, hammocks hung between palm trees, mango smoothies ready to order — we were in for a treat.

The highlight of this time was a day-long snorkelling adventure. Yanking at the elastic on our mask to haul it over our heads and positioning our snorkel in our mouths, we couldn’t wait to see what sea life buzzed beneath us. Turns out there was lots: sea stars, urchins, sea snakes, clown fish, sea turtles, puffer fish, and even a few black-tip reef sharks.

Over our final meal on Ticao Island we brainstormed schemes that would allow us to stay. Needless to say, we’re going to miss it here…

Salt water crocs and cheeky monkeys Chloe Ring

After 3 buses and a short boat trip we arrived at Kinabatangan River. As soon as we got there we were taken off on a boat safari. We weren’t sure what to expect or how much we’d see but other than birds the first thing spotted was a salt water crocodile! As we continued we saw some monkeys high up in the trees, however the most beautiful aspect to this particular tour was the amazing sunset, the first we’d seen since arriving in Borneo!

We stayed in a group of lodges with a really quirky setup. They would sound the dong for meal times and whenever we needed to be ready. Everyone staying there would then come to the eating area to all have meals together which made the camp have a really nice atmosphere.

We then had the early morning boat safaris at 6am, it was very wet and foggy but this didn’t dampen our mood! Unfortunately, not many animals were out but we made up for this in the evening safari as we saw monkeys less than two metres away from us. There was even a baby clinging to its mother. We couldn’t believe how close we were to the wild animals! We also took a day hike through the forest on a nature walk.

The next day we had a couple of hours coach ride to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. We stayed in a longhouse with very cool hammocks to chill in. The following day we went to the orangutan centre and saw the baby orphans feeding time in the nursery who were so cute and funny to watch!

In the afternoon, we visited the rainforest centre where we walked along a canopy skywalk, saw the botanical gardens and learnt more about the animals here in the discovery exhibition. Following this we saw the next feeding for the orangutan and even saw two parents with their baby. It was amazing to see these animals from just ten metres away, feeding on fruit as they would in the wild. It is the sanctuary’s aim to make the orangutan independent enough to be released back into the wild soon. Salt water crocs on safari and cheeky monkeys in the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

10 days in Mentu Naomi Hughes

Two weeks into my trip to Borneo and already I know I will be sorry when it ends. The group and I have just returned to Kuching after 10 days in a small, remote village called Mentu. There we were immersed in the local culture which was quite a shock for most of us. Conditions there are very basic but the people there were amazingly friendly and always had a smile on their faces.

While in Mentu we undertook the construction of part of Auntie Sendi’s house. Both she and her husband are 78 and her husband has such severe asthma that he only leaves the house to go to their local clinic for check-ups and medication. The house was dusty and their wooden walls were barely standing. Our mission was to build proper concrete walls in replace of the old wooden ones. In addition, we levelled ground and cemented a drain so their small garden patch doesn’t get waterlogged during their frequent downpours. It was hard work. The cement we mixed by hand. Work in the heat for the first day was difficult but by the second or third day we had acclimatized and were cement mixing machines. Although it was hard work, it was rewarding. The thought that Auntie Sendi and Lungko couldn’t have done it without us makes me feel like I’ve truly touched someone’s life.

In our down time, we were able to swim in the river and one day we walked to have a BBQ picnic by a waterfall. The scenery was breath-taking but be prepared to get a bit muddy.

While I enjoyed my time in the village I am ready to get on the flight tomorrow to see the amazing Gunung Mulu national park and all of its beauty!

Until next time!

Watch our videos

Borneo & Philippines

September 2016. Credit to Chloe Ring

Borneo & Philippines

January 2016. Credit to Lowri Jones

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