Where We Travel: Borneo, Laura McKenna

We’re in Asia – why not take advantage of it! In this profile series we highlight some of the most fabulous places we’ve traveled, in the hopes that maybe you get to go there as well while you’re here. We’re giving out all our little tips on where to stay, what to do, etc. – and don’t be afraid to talk to any of the gals we feature when you see them at the next event!

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Hi Laura! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What brought you out to Shanghai?

Hey. I’m from Solihull, England. My husband’s company relocated us, almost 3 years ago and I LOVE Shanghai. Since we’ve arrived I’ve been travelling around Asia, setting up my own business, rescuing dogs in Shanghai, doing lots of yoga, and studying Economics and Mandarin. Last year (after 15 years together), I finally got married and had a baby, although not in that order!

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This vacation you took to Borneo looks amazing – can you tell us a little more about why you chose to go there?

It’s been a dream of mine to see Borneo for many, many years. I’ve been to some wonderful places in the world, each offering their own unique experience but Borneo has something very special to offer. The biggest draw for me was the opportunity to see Asia’s largest primate, the Orangutans in their natural habitat, the Pygmy Elephants and of course being surrounded by some incredible back drops; lush rain forests and beautiful idyllic beaches. Heaven!

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Where did you stay? Did you like it?

We stayed off the mainland on a very small, quiet island called Gaya Island. Occupying the entire stretch of the island is a stunning rainforest and our accommodation (a tree top house) was actually built around hundred year old trees-which I loved! The location was intimate, quiet and the Rainforest was surrounded by white beaches, mangroves and crystal waters. The only real Island inhabitants (apart from us) were various species of monkeys, reptiles and snakes. Also, there is gang of wild Boar that live next to the beach! This ever growing Boar family, co-exist peacefully with the islands visitors, sunbathing side by side on the beach and waiting for scraps after lunch! There is also a Turtle rescue center on the island, run by a Marine Biologist. He offers a safe haven for Turtles that have been orphaned, hurt or accidentally caught by local fishermen, he rehabilitates them before releasing them back into the wild. We were lucky enough to see an orphaned Turtle being released back into his home during our stay, which was quite emotional!

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What sort of activities did you and your family do? What was your favorite?

I spent a lot of time playing on the beach with my daughter as well as snorkeling, trekking through the rainforest, yoga, paddle boarding and kayaking around the mangroves. We headed back to the mainland to try and catch some Orangutans. We were also very happy to hang around snoozing in the hammocks and we drank a lot of coconut water!

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Was Borneo easy to get to? How long would you recommend making a trip for?

It depends what sort of trip you want. It would be easy to visit Borneo for a few days if you don’t have much time and want to retreat to the beach to relax. It’s 5 hours direct from PVG. There is also a popular trail, travelers can take over 2 weeks which begins trekking through the rainforest on the East Coast and then finishing on the West Coast to relax on the beach. As I mentioned, our accommodation was very intimate, which suited us. If you’re looking for somewhere to cater for your every whim there are also large resorts, golf courses and other touristy locations mainland. Just be aware, you’ll potentially be sharing the space with hundreds of other tourists.

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What was your favorite part of your trip?

For us, it more than a relaxing vacation. Borneo is a gift that can offer much more than other vacations in Asia. I loved being surrounded by nature and that there are still, so many diverse tribes living on and off the mainland. It was a privilege to meet members of the local water tribes, who live in huts on stilts on the water shore and show great humility to the environment around them, but it is incredibly sad to hear that their lineage is threatened by the pressures of an outside world forcing itself onto Borneo’s traditions and culture. We absolutely plan on returning in the very near future and exploring the East side of the island, which is less touristy and offers a more authentic experience. Whilst we fell in love with this incredible Island, it’s impossible not to be aware of the other side life in Borneo. I am so pained to see Borneo’s ecosystem is greatly under threat with the forest fires that are out of control. My husband jokes about my hippy vibes, but even he couldn’t deny that you can feel this incredible energy pulsing through the rain forests of Borneo, it’s actually quite overwhelming and uplifting. In a polluted city like Shanghai that is overpopulated by consumerism, Borneo offers depth and simplicity, which is extremely humbling.

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