Category Archives: Malaysian Borneo

Swimming in Shark Infested Waters

Swimming in Shark Infested Waters – SCUBA Diving with sharks, no cage

I went swimming in shark infested waters – and lived to tell about it!

We went SCUBA diving in the Semporna Archipelago, and sharks were everywhere!  This was only my second time seeing whitetip reef sharks while SCUBA diving so I was still getting comfortable with the idea of it. Eventually I got really excited to see (and photograph sharks – we saw a dozens of sharks per dive!

I’ve received tons of questions about diving with sharks, so I’ll tell you about it here. I’ll also attempt to dispel some myths about sharks.

Whitetip Reef shark - notice the white on the tip of his fin. Swimming in shark infested waters
Whitetip Reef Sharks get their name from the tips of their fin – see the dorsal fin in this photo. I was this close in Borneo!

Aren’t sharks dangerous??

This is the most common question I get when people hear my excitement about swimming with sharks.  The short answer: No. We’ve all seen the movie Jaws, but not all sharks are the same. The overwhelming majority of sharks are not dangerous (unless provoked).  These were reef sharks – people commonly refer to them as “vegetarian” sharks!  They’re just as scared of us, as we’re the same size as them. Whitetip Reef sharks are curious and will swim right up to you, but aren’t often aggressive unless provoked.

Are there dangerous sharks in Borneo?

The places where I went are safe when diving safely.  Sipadan and the Semporna Archipelago also has a reputation for having Hammer Head Sharks, but the divers I met said they hadn’t seen them in a long time.

[Note – unlike what my dive master told me, whitetip sharks are not actually “vegetarians” – their diet is explained below]

Reef Shark in Semporna Archipelago Borneo Diving

Whitetip Reef Sharks

Whitetip Reef Sharks get their name from their fins, both of which are white tipped.  Whitetip Reef Sharks can be found swimming alongside us and the other fish. They also like to hang out near the ocean floor and in caves.

holy sh*t! that's a shark!  Up close with a whitetip reef shark in Borneo. I went swimming in shark infested waters, and lived to tell about it!
Up close with a white tip reef shark in Borneo

“Wait, you went diving with sharks and weren’t even protected in a cage??”

Do you need a cage to dive with sharks?  

Nope. I live dangerously. Seriously, with a few precautions, not all sharks are aggressive and a cage isn’t necessary for Borneo and in many other regions of the world, assuming you’re not deliberately doing stupid things (listed below). If you treat them with respect and are smart, they’re not the vicious predators you see in movies like “Jaws.”

“I would do anything … but I won’t do that” –

Are all shark species safe to go diving without a cage?

No! I wouldn’t seek out Bull Sharks or Tiger Sharks, or the Great White, the “most feared predator on earth,” to dive with.  There are people that do (including some in the comments below), and SCUBA diving tourism is souring, but it’s all about comfort level and education. I would never want to deliberately confuse a shark as to their food – I wouldn’t dive with a group that deliberately throws dead fish and blood in the water (called “chum” – more on “chumming” from wikipedia here), and I don’t recommend you do either.  I wouldn’t go spear fishing, as they’ll try to steal catches. Some say they also hear the sound of a spear gun and respond in seconds. I also wouldn’t recommend that you make physical contact with a shark, tease a shark, or otherwise mess with their environment. All three of these are messing with the shark’s environment, and leads to accidents. Why increase your risk and make it dangerous?  Perhaps these things will change over time, but as of now this is where my comfort level is. I was just swimming and photographing in their world, and loving it!

This was my first shark sighting of the day. I'd see many more and much closer.
This was my first shark sighting of the day. I’d see many more and much closer.

What do whitetip reef sharks eat?

If they don’t eat people…what do whitetip reef sharks eat? Whitetip Sharks hunt at night, and like to eat octopus, crabs, and lobsters, and hang out on the ocean floor near potential meals. They have a blunt snout so when they’re getting into caves, they can still snatch some lunch. They also mix into their diet some bony fish, including eels, squirrelfishes, snappers, surgeonfishes, triggerfish, damselfishes, parrotfishes, and goatfishes.

Whitetip Reef Sharks like to hang out on the ocean floor near potential meals
Whitetip Reef Sharks like to hang out on the ocean floor near potential meals

Even after seeing dozens of reef sharks in the Semporna Archipelago, it was still exciting!

Reef Sharks come in 3 varieties –

  • Whitetip Reef Shark, Triaenodon obesus (sometimes written as White Tipped Reef Sharks or White Tip Reef Shark)
  • Gray Reef Shark, Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos (also called Grey Reef Sharks)
  • Blackfin Reef Shark, Carcharhinus melanopterus (also called Blacktip Reef Sharks)
The Whitetip Reef Shark has a similar name as Oceanic Whitetip Sharks, but these are VERY different.

reef shark!

How big are baby sharks?

Baby Whitetip Reef Sharks are 20-24 inches, after a 5-month pregnancy.

Are Whitetip Reef Sharks an endangered species?

No, but their conservation status is “near threatened.” Fisherman hunt them for their fins, to make “shark fin soup.”

Visibility was poor, but I was still able to see this shark right in front of me
Visibility was poor, but I was still able to see this shark right in front of me
when I finished clearing my mask, look what appeared
when I finished clearing my mask, look what appeared

Where were these photos from? 

Sipadan is easily my favorite SCUBA dive site yet! Sipadan is located in the Semporna Archipelago in Borneo. I was momentarily terrified when I found myself eye-to-eye with a shark during my SCUBA Diving open water test, in Bali Indonesia, but by the time I got to Malaysian Borneo I was seeking them out. I found plenty!  The Semporna Archipelago is known for having tons of whitetip reef sharks and it didn’t disappoint.

More on Whitetip Reef Sharks on Wikipedia.

Discovery Channel’s Shark Week typically premieres in August in the United States – check listings.

Check out my upcoming post on Snorkeling with Whale Sharks in the Philippines – awesome!

I saw these whitetip reef sharks in Borneo, while diving in Sipadan in the Semporna Archipelago. I also saw sharks in Bali, and sharks in Thailand.

What has your experience been? Have you ever gone swimming in shark infested waters, without a cage?

Sharks, Sea Turtles, Barracudas, & more!

SCUBA Diving in Sipadan in the Semporna Archipelago in Malaysian Borneo — It was my first time swimming with sharks – they were everywhere, and didn’t seem to care much about us swimming a few feet away. Sipadan dive photos below, including sharks, sea turtles, harlequin sweetlips, school of jackfish, surgeonfish, purple antihas, big eye emperors, yellow mask angelfish, triggerfish, butterfly fish, parrotfish, unicorn fish, and more!

Whitetip Reef Shark
surprise visitors during our dive – sharks!

school of Jackfish

1st underwater SCUBA Diving photo of me
1st underwater SCUBA Diving photo of me

?

Harlequinn Sweetlips

A graceful Sea Turtle swims next to us during our SCUBA dive

A graceful Sea Turtle swims next to us during our SCUBA dive

(Press SL for Slideshow, FS for Full Screen):

[flagallery gid=12]

Taking (good) photos underwater is really challenging!  You’re aiming at a moving target in less than optimal lighting conditions. At this point I’m still very much a beginner diving, still getting comfortable equalizing and improving my buoyancy, so I couldn’t really focus on the photography as much as I would have liked.

See the full Sipadan slideshow of my Semporna Archipelago diving experience in Borneo (Malaysia), including more photos of white tipped reef sharks and sea turtles, as well underwater photography of Yellowtail Barracudas, Harlequinn Sweetlips, Sea Turtles, Lionfish, Jackfish, Parrotfish, Yellowmask Angelfish, Vlaming’s Unicornfish, Big Eyed Emperors, Triggerfish, and more. I loved diving in Sipadan!

Below is the slide show with captions on the fish:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Baby Monkeys in Borneo!

Baby monkeys – Long-tailed macaques

What’s the only thing more exciting than seeing animals in the wild?  Baby animals in the wild! Check out these photos of baby monkeys – baby long-tailed macaques:

Baby monkeys - baby long-tailed macaque hanging on to the mother long-tailed macaque in Borneo | Baby monkey in Bako National Park, Sarawak region of Malaysia, Asia

I saw these Long-tailed Macaques in Bako National Park, in Malaysian Borneo. This below photo reminds me of the photos of monkeys in Bali.

Baby monkey - Photo of a baby long-tailed macaque hanging on to the mother long-tailed macaque in Borneo | Baby monkey in Bako National Park, Sarawak region of Malaysia, Asia
notice baby monkey’s little hands and feet grabbing on

These baby monkeys were so adorable that we almost forgot that they’re wild animals.

Baby Monkeys in Borneo - crawling

Long-tailed macaques are the most commonly seen type of monkey in southeast Asia; I saw them all over, from Indonesia to Cambodia to the Philippines. Male members leave the group when they reach puberty, according to Wikipedia.  Long-tailed macaques are also referred to as crab-eating macaques

They are opportunistic omnivores and have been documented using tools to obtain food, according to the American Journal of Primatology.

Baby Monkey protected by the parent in Borneo - Baby long-tailed macaques in Borneo, Bako, Malaysia

Baby Monkeys in Borneo - Baby long-tailed macaques in Borneo, Bako, Malaysia

These baby monkeys in Borneo were cute, but there’s competition for cutest baby wildlife from my Asia trip.  My southeast Asia trip has already produced opportunities to see baby elephants in Borneo, baby monkeys (macaques) in Indonesia, and baby apes (baby orangutans). Which set of baby wildlife photos did you like best?

Carrying her baby monkey in Borneo - Baby long-tailed macaques in Borneo, Bako, Malaysia

I also saw other types of animals up close as well – tarsiersmacaquesproboscis monkeyssharkspythons, camels, and more!

Asian Elephants in the wild

Facts and photos of Asian Elephants

Asian Elephants are incredible. So primitive, so old, and the baby elephants are so cute! We were on a river safari in Borneo when we saw a whole family of Asian Elephants (aka Asiatic Elephants or Elephas maximus).  After seeing them in the wild, I was really curious and learned some interesting Asian elephant facts. My photography is below, also with  Asian Elephant facts that I found interesting are below:

  • Elephants are the largest land animals living today. They’re massive!
  • If you thought human pregnancy was challenging – check this out. Asian Elephant pregnancies last 22 months, baby elephants can weight 260 pounds at birth.
  • At full size, male Asian Elephants can weigh up to 12,000 pounds (5400 kg)! Females weigh up to 9000 pounds.
  • Elephants typically live for 60 years in the wild (80 years in captivity).
  • Asian Elephants can be up to 10 feet tall at the shoulder. They’re much smaller than African Elephants in mass, but are taller.
  • They have up to 20 pairs of ribs and 34 caudal vertebrae (bones that make up their tails).
  • Asian Elephants have 100,000 muscles in their trunk!
    Asian Elephants have 100,000 muscles in their trunk!
  • Trunks are the single most important feature of an elephant, with 100,000 muscles in their trunk. It’s used for feeding, watering, smelling, breathing, drinking, touching, sound/communication, washing, and also for grabbing things.
  • Asian elephants have a fingerlike feature on the end of their trunk that they can use to grab small items (African elephants have two).
  • I noticed they don’t have the same number of nails on each foot so I looked it up. Asian Elephants have five nail-like structures on each forefoot, and four on each hind foot.
Baby Asian Elephants at Sungai Kinabatgangan in Malaysian Borneo
I didn’t realize it was a baby elephant until the adult elephants came up behind

Super smart! Elephants have incredible memories and, like many primates, have very large neocortexes and are thought to be very intelligent.

Hungry Hungry Elephants? Elephants eat roots, grasses, fruit, and bark. An adult elephant can consume up to 300 pounds (136 kg) of food in a single day!

  • Endangered: Since 1986, Elephas maximus (scientific name for Asian Elephants) has been listed as endangered as the population has declined by at least 50% over the last three generations. In 2003, the wild population was estimated at between 41,410 and 52,345.
  • Top predator: humans. That’s right, they’d be doing fine if not for poaching and deforestation.
Did you know: Asian elephants are known to be right or left tusked.
Did you know: Asian elephants are known to be right or left tusked. Elephant trivia

Did you know?   Elephants can be a “righty” or a “lefty”

  • Ivory tusks are used to dig for water  and rocks, to debark trees, as levers for maneuvering fallen trees and branches, for marking trees, as weapon for offense and defense, and as protection for the trunk.
  • Asian elephants are known to be right or left tusked. [this surprised me]

Close-up of an Asian Elephant in Malaysian Borneo in Sabah - Sungai Kinabatgangan - Visit50.com

Adorable Baby Asian Elephant in the wild in Sabah Malaysia/Borneo! Visit50.com
I never thought I’d find Baby Elephants to be adorable but look at it!
we were THAT close to the Asian Elephants
We were THAT close to the elephants on the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, eastern Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. It is the second longest river in Malaysia,
Baby Asian Elephant close-up, taken at along the Kinabatangan River (Sungai Kinabatangan) in Sabah, eastern Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. It is the second longest river in Malaysia, in Sabah, eastern Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. It is the second longest river in Malaysia - Visit50.com
Baby Elephant close-up – loved having my D-SLR lens to zoom in to snap this photo

I photographed the Asian Elephants on this page on The Kinabatangan River, located in Sabah, eastern Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. It is the second longest river in Malaysia. 

If you’re visiting, and are interested in the same adventure – I booked mine through Nature Lodge Kinabatangan. Note, they said seeing elephants is rare and unexpected. They typically spot crocodiles, monkeys, lots of rare birds, and occasionally an orangutan (but all the way up in the trees).

Additional resources: Trip AdvisorLonely Planet, Wonderful Malaysia.

I’ve often been asked, which camera should I buy to get photos like these?  I’ve been putting together a post to answer that here.

Slideshow – elephants (and baby elephants) in the wild! [flagallery gid=6 name=”Gallery”]

It wasn’t the first time seeing baby wildlife in my trip – the baby orangutans and baby monkeys in Borneo were adorable!  I also saw other types of animals – tarsiers, macaquesproboscis monkeys, sharks, camelspythons, and more! Thanks to Nat Geo, Wikipedia.

Meet the Macaques

Malaysian Borneo – The monkey I saw most often on my trip through Asia was the macaque. Long-tailed macaques are not shy (although sometimes aggressive; be careful!) and that made for some wonderful closeup photos like this one (below) from Bako National Park, an island in Malaysian Borneo.

Macaque monkey in Bako in Borneo - some readers suggested this pic as a cover photo for the next Lonely Planet
Cover photo for the next Lonely Planet Malaysian Borneo?

Another travel photographer said this wildlife shot of a long-tailed macaque (the monkey in the above photo) should be the next cover of Lonely Planet Borneo (Travel Guide). Perhaps! I’m really flattered by the compliment, but I need to thank the photogenic monkeys that were so kind to pose for me.

Getting this photo:  Shots like this are challenging, because this monkey didn’t pose for me, and macro shots aren’t compatible with motion and you can’t predict eye contact from wildlife. You need to be in the right focus to have the monkey crisp with the background blurred so it pops. In contrast, I love the composition of the lower photo, but I had to use my zoom so the depth of field is much more flat.

Macaque monkey in Malaysian Borneo on Bako Island
Surprised, or hungry?

Pronunciation – yes, the correct pronunciation for this monkey is actually Muh-kok. [Giggle giggle]

I saw plenty more long-tailed macaques on the cliffs of Ulu Watu, in Indonesia. Check out the photos here.

It wasn’t the first time seeing wildlife in my trip – the baby orangutans, baby elephants, and baby monkeys (macaques) in Borneo were adorable!  I also saw other types of animals up close – camelstarsiersproboscis monkeyssharkspythons, and more!

Wildlife section of my travel blog.

Lonely Planet Borneo (Travel Guide)

Proboscis Monkeys: Up close

Borneo’s Proboscis Monkeys

I was fascinated by Borneo’s Proboscis Monkeys! It was a rare chance to observe and photograph an endangered species in the wild. Proboscis Monkeys seem so human-like!  Imagine a monkey with a distinctive huge nose and a pot belly. They often walk upright (rare for mammals) and sit like humans sit.

The proboscis monkey name, Nasalis larvatus, literally translates to “long nose,” and you can see why (below):

Rare Proboscis Monkey - relaxing on a low branch  | Bako National Park in Borneo, Malaysia
Rare Proboscis Monkey – relaxing on a low branch, in Borneo, Malaysia

A male proboscis monkey’s nose can reach up to 7 inches in length!

Sometimes Proboscis Monkeys seem so human-like!  This proboscis monkey was frantically eating as if he hadn’t eaten for days! Take a look in this video clip from my time in Malaysian Borneo:

Bako National Park also has bearded pigs, which greeted us upon entering the island. When we heard a typical pig sound later in the day, we were surprised to hear these honking sounds coming from proboscis monkeys.

Proboscis monkeys live on a special diet of leaves, flowers and seeds of vegetation found only in rivers, mangroves, and peat swamps
Proboscis monkeys live on a special diet of leaves, flowers and seeds of vegetation found only in rivers, mangroves, and peat swamps
Female proboscis monkeys have much smaller noses - Borneo, Sarawak, Malaysia
Female proboscis monkeys have much smaller noses – Borneo, Sarawak, Malaysia

Orangutans are much more closely related to humans, but the mannerisms of proboscis monkeys made me stop in my tracks and want to observe them all day. I did.

Proboscis monkeys are proficient swimmers, using the webbing between their fingers to move quietly (so as not to attract predators, like crocodiles) using a form of dog paddle, and seem to like the mangrove swamps.
Proboscis monkeys are proficient swimmers, using the webbing between their fingers to move quietly (so as not to attract predators, like crocodiles) using a form of dog paddle, and seem to like the mangrove swamps.

I’ve added Proboscis Monkey facts throughout this page. Enjoy!

Habitat:

  • Proboscis Monkeys live almost exclusively in mangrove forests like the one in the above photo from Bako. They can also be found in lowland rainforests.
  • Proboscis monkeys are dependent on habitats with rivers and streams.
  • Proboscis monkeys sleep in trees. They prefer thick branches growing over water to protect themselves from predators.

    Proboscis Monkey eating leaves, in Borneo, Sarawak, Malaysia
    Proboscis Monkey eating leaves
  • Size: Male Proboscis Monkeys can be twice the weight of females. Males can be up to 50 pounds. Females are up to 25 pounds.
  • Protecting — proboscis monkeys only live in Borneo. It’s the only place they can survive.

From National Geographic:

The monkeys of the world are divided into two groups: the Old World monkeys of Africa and Asia and the New World monkeys of Central and South America. Geography isn’t their only difference however. Many Old World monkeys, like the proboscis, have long thick tails that help them balance while capering, crashing, and careening around the forest. In fact, the names of several monkeys in this family describe their distinctive appendages: stumptailed, pigtailed, and lion-tailed monkeys. In contrast, many New World monkeys, like the familiar spider monkey, have prehensile tails, used like hands and feet to help them grasp limbs, swing through the treetops, and even dangle upside down while eating.

I generally like National Geographic’s wildlife pages, but based on my experiences in Bako National Park, I disagree with Nat Geo in one key area on proboscis monkeys.

Common Name: Monyet Belanda
Genus: Nasalis
Species:
larvatus

Proboscis Monkeys are only found in Borneo, adding to the excitement.

Video clip closeups from my first encounter with Proboscis Monkeys in the wild from my time in Malaysian Borneo:

Here’s a video clip of Proboscis Monkeys strolling through mangroves:

Find more of my proboscis monkey photography from my time in Borneo here.

There’s more info on the rare Proboscis Monkey on Wikipedia. You can also read more on National Geographic‘s proboscis monkey site.

“Killing Where A Game Was!”

Chinese New Year is a time for family, similar to Thanksgiving in America. For some reason I (ignorantly) had assumed it would be a party holiday, so I made great efforts to get out of a jungle and into a “major” city. Thus, part two of our Chinese New Year’s experience was in the city of Kota Kinabalu.

After walking the city, we found exactly one bar with more patrons than bar staff.  There was a cover band there, but we quickly noticed they were consistently singing the wrong lyrics to nearly every song; not just the obscure verses but also the chorus as well.  The crowd didn’t seem to notice and even started singing along with what the singer was singing.  When the lead singer noticed us at the bar, he suddenly  looked visibly nervous, and would slur the words he was less confident on under his breath. Then in between songs he stopped by and asked us if we wanted to sing!

This isn’t karaoke and neither Cameron nor I are singers, but he insisted.  The next song was the Rage Against the Machine song, Killing in the Name of. But he was all over the place, singing just about anything you could think of that rhymes with it the words. For a moment we even thought it was deliberate. Imagine the band rocking out and belting the lyrics “Killing Where A Game Was” (huh?). I thought I just heard him wrong but then he did the hand motions to show different sports games.

As he handed the mic to us, we were faced with a question. Do you sing the correct lyrics, the lyrics he was singing, or get even more creative? Nobody seemed to notice either way.  Hmm…

Accidental Karaoke in Kota Kinabalu
Accidental Karaoke in Kota Kinabalu

The song ends with “F*ck You I won’t do what you tell me!” – but in their version, it was a bit more submissive. “F U ok I’ll do what you told me!” Very obedient. The rest of the evening repeated this pattern, adding a fun curiosity to what they’d actually sing for each song, and what we’d sing as guest rock stars for the evening!

Here’s the actual lyrics to Killing in the Name

 

The Baby Rockstars of Mabul Island

This experience reminds me of what I love about travel…

Do you remember the first time you saw a photo of yourself?  Digital cameras are amazing but it’s something some people in the world will never experience. I’ll never forget my first such encounter with a group of kids on an island off the coast of Malaysian Borneo.

Wandering onto the end of the island where the locals lived, I stumbled upon some really interesting homes, and people, including this group of children. I crouched down to get to eye level and introduced myself to a few kids. I politely asked if I could take their picture, showing my SLR camera. Silence.

I scanned the group one by one, stopping at the shy boy on the far right. 1st Boy: “No!” I almost left at that point, but decided to be patient.

The Baby Rockstars of Mabul Island - Malaysian Borneo
The Baby Rockstars of Mabul Island – Malaysian Borneo

The middle one, a girl, just shook her head (4th photo down on this post). It was looking doubtful at this point. The third one just gave me a blank stare, so at that point I either wasn’t communicating, or wasn’t welcome. After the longest five seconds, I started to get up when the third boy nodded. It’s important to note that basic mannerisms are different in every country, so you always need to learn what they mean in that country, island, or village, or at least be aware that they don’t mean the same as in yours. In this case I didn’t know, but I ran with it.

I quickly flipped my setting for a closeup portrait in that lighting, lifted the camera to confirm buy-in from the boy, and this brave boy seemed on board, despite disapproving looks from the the others faces. I aimed, and snapped the photo.

Beautiful Sunset at Mabul Island - Borneo - Malaysia
Here’s a beautiful sunset from the their remote island, Mabul in Borneo in Malaysia
Here’s the part that makes it all worth it…

I slowly turned the camera to share the image. The boy’s facial expression suddenly went from stolid to elated!  He lit up with joy. The other kids had a look of shock at his reaction so they squeezed in next to him to see the image. He started pointing at the camera, then pointing to his chest, then pointing to the camera, and then to himself. He seemed shocked at what just happened.

I asked the girl if I could take her picture and this time she was ready. She imitated the first boys pose, as if that’s how you have your picture taken. Genuine excitement. At this point two other kids noticed the commotion and joined in. I took one of each of the other kids, and group photos. They tried different poses, and after seeing them on my little screen they’d jump up and down. Each photo produced more excitement! Original Baby Rockstar perfects a new pose - Mabul Island - Malaysian BorneoThey kept coming up with different poses – it was a photo-shoot and they were rockstars!

The Baby Rockstars try new poses
The girl couldn’t quite get her fingers to do what the boy was doing. We did maybe 11 takes. It was so adorable watching the little boy trying to teach the little girl how do it!
The Longhouse

I was on that part of the island to find lodging during my SCUBA diving trip, and ended up staying in the little village in what everyone calls the “longhouse” (pictured below). These are basically homes built on top of an extended dock that keeps getting extended farther into the water to add extra lodging to rent out, a little at a time.  I visited a few and found one to stay in. I stopped in the longhouse’s “hotel lobby” – which doubles as the living room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom for the family of eight’s.  All eight live in that same room. I was surprised to find that I didn’t see any mirrors. None!  There’s no way of knowing, but if this is true, my encounter with the children could

quite possibly be the first time these kids saw themselves besides just a reflection in water.

After living amongst them for a couple of nights I got to know a few of them – such good kids, living in such a different world. They were so shy at first, but by my last day, they’d spot me and run over with more and more friends, asking for me to take their picture and even come up with their own poses.   Boats on Mabul Island - Malaysian BorneoI love photographing wildlife, food, and architecture, but as this story demonstrates, nothing is more satisfying than capturing the human element. I love meeting and photographing people in little villages, and letting them see the photos. They don’t always speak any English, which adds to the challenge of communicating, but it’s worth it.

I enjoy capturing how people live, but it’s important to keep a healthy balance of taking photos from afar so what I capture is genuine and not posed, and requesting permission followed by a portrait. Photos with apparent poverty can be powerful, but you never want them to feel exploited. I’m even more careful when it comes to children.

Longhouse on the Island of Mabul - homes are built on top of extended docks.
They live in Longhouse homes – built on top of extended docks.

I was inspired by a documentary I saw on a photographer named Joey L, who strongly believes in the importance of going back to these little villages and giving copies of his photography back to them. Since it was unlikely I’d be back in the next few years, at the end of the trip I made a little slideshow of photos of them – and they all gathered around my little netbook to see it. I would have loved to leave it with them, but they don’t have computers and even if they did, they don’t exactly do email. If I go back I’m planning to print them out and bring them.

Here’s a final shot of our favorite rockstars in Mabul Island, in Malaysian Borneo:

Baby Rockstars enjoy their photoshoot
Baby Rockstars enjoy their photoshoot

Great experience! It was one of the highlights of my trip. This is why I travel.  – Todd

At sunset, the monkeys take over

I just love this photo of a silhouetted macaque (monkey) on the dock of the island of Bako as the sun sets over the mountains in Borneo (Sarawak, Malaysia). It capped a wonderful day of wildlife photography.

At sunset, the monkeys take over. Bako National Park, Borneo, Malaysia

I’m always very critical of my work so I can improve. This isn’t a great technical photo (above) – the lighting and focus aren’t quite how I’d like them, but I just love it. Maybe you will too


Photos of these silhouetted macaque monkeys were from Malaysian Borneo, in the impressive Bako National Park.

Photos: Impressive Borneo Sunsets

After a full day of hiking and wildlife photography, I paused to appreciate the impressive Malaysian Borneo sunset, which kept getting better each time I looked.

The Borneo sun sets over the Red Sky - gorgeous panoramic vista - Sunset in Bako National Park, Malaysia

The sunsets from the island in Bako National Park in Malaysian Borneo was one of my new favorite from the trip. It was even better than the ones I saw in Mabul, and on the same level as the stunning views from the Dead Sea (and from the Dead Sea highway just after visiting) and the desert of Wadi Rum (both in Jordan). My favorite photos of sunsets from my trip will be found at this sunsets link.

Wow. Gorgeous. Like many photos, it was even better in person. After a day of hiking and photographing wildlife, I had just put down my camera to relax, but this view got more impressive every 5min, starting with about this point. I wanna go back!

What a View! Borneo Sunset in Bako National Park, Malaysia
I could look at that view all day

Beautiful sky in Borneo Sunset in Bako National Park, Malaysia

Panoramic Vista in Borneo Sunset in Bako National Park, MalaysiaBorneo Sunset in Bako National Park, Malaysia