Planning a Trek to Malaysia’s Bohey Dulang

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When it comes to day trips I’ve veered on the side of over-ambitious, ever since the commentary I heard from an Australian girl I met in Morocco in 2011. “Nobody goes on adventures anymore,” she lamented, as we made our way from Marrakech toward the coastal city of Essaouira as her friends flagellated in their hostel near Djema Al-Fnaa (spelling?) Square. “I refuse to be like that.”

On the other hand, my decision to make a day trip from Kota Kinabalu to the remote island of Bohey Dulang was significantly outside the bounds of a standard “adventure”—some might say it was crazy. I was crazy to think I could’ve been successful executing it, at least the way I approached it. Here’s how you can avoid fucking it up.

Step 1: Don’t Do It in a Day

Times have changed since I was an adventure-shy travel novice on a bus in Morocco—I’ve taken a lot of very short (but very epic) trips. My hike up Indonesia’s blue-fire volcano Kawah Ijen, for example, started literally minutes after I disembarked a train from Yogyakarta.

Unfortunately, while it’s possible to fly to Tawau (the nearest airport to Bohey Dulang) from Kota Kinabalu and back in just one day, it’s not advisable, contrary to the advice you might see on other travel blogs. That’s because, when you factor in the taxi ride from Tawau to Semporna, the port from which you take the boat to Bohey Dulang, you end up arriving after the shared boats depart for the day, which means your only option is hiring your own boat, which costs around 500 MYR, or 100 USD.

Step 2: Plan (Slightly) in Advance

That—a private boat—is what I did, because I had more money than time. Unfortunately, my boat captain revealed a devastating caveat to me as we disembarked Semporna. “Due to recent rains,” he said, “the hiking trail up to the viewpoint over Bohey Dulang is closed.

“You can ask the guard, when we arrive, if he can make an exception and let you go anyway,” he continued. “But in my opinion, your chances aren’t great.”

Had I managed to contact someone who owns a boat in advance (which admittedly would’ve been difficult—Semporna is a pretty ramshackle place), they could’ve told me about this beforehand and saved me the trip. On the other hand, I only had one day to devote to Bohey Dulang anyway, so I’d have been screwed regardless. This is another reason to give yourself more than a day to see Bohey Dulang.

Step 3: Temper Your Expectations

My captain was right to temper my expectations. The guard gave a resounding “no” before I even asked whether I could hike up to Bohey Dulang’s viewpoint, which provides the panorama for which the island is famous—arguably, the one thing that sets it apart from any other island in Malaysia.

On the other hand, I fully enjoyed my daylong boat trip through the islands of the Tun Sakaran Marine Park archipelago, as you’ll see scrolling through my photos above. While I didn’t get the “money shot” I sought, I ended up enjoying the trip a lot more than I imagined I would, in spite of it.

The Bottom Line

In practice, it was a mistake to attempt doing Bohey Dulang on a day trip, even though it’s technically possible. Both the timing of the first flight’s arrival into nearby Tawau (which necessitates the pricey hiring of your own boat and captain) and the region’s variable weather (which means there’s a chance you won’t be able to hike) underlie this truth. If you want to enjoy the viewpoint over Bohey Dulang, devote at least two days and do more planning in advance than I did.

Robert Schrader
Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who's been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as "CNNGo" and "Shanghaiist" along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.
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