Walking in Sungai Kun-Kun

River and Forest Bathing at Kun-Kun River

To live happily, we need food for our body, love for our soul, and money for our security. However, one ingredient is always not listed in our source of happiness, though it’s a desire rooted in human genes for 7 million years. In 1984, Edward O. Wilson coined the term Biophilia, which suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other life forms (not Wifi and phone!). Therefore, living without “Vitamin N(ature)” is unhealthy to our mind and body. That may explain why we feel happy after an outdoor activity in greenery. The worrying trend is the increasing “Nature deprivation” when 68% of the world population projected to live in urban areas by 2050.

Group photo
My travel buddies driven by Biophilia

Camping at Kun-Kun Campsite

Now I know Biophilia makes me wanting to own a villa next to a river with beautiful scenery. I can’t afford to buy one, but Sabah has plenty of natural attractions open to public. Let’s check out Kun-Kun River, which scores high as the location of my dream villa.

Morning view of Deramakot forest and Kun-Kun River
A study conducted by psychologists found that creative problem solving can be drastically improved by both disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature.

Just kidding. Kun-Kun River (Sungai Kun-Kun) is situated deep inside of Deramakot Forest (in Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia) and has no electricity supply. I travelled there with group of friends by 4-wheel drive (and chased by an elephant) and camped at the river side for a 100% nature experience.

Swimming in Kun-Kun River
?Nothing makes you feel more childlike than being outdoors.? – Dr. Pamela Peeke, author of Fit to Live.

The jade-color river is so clean and pristine. Even though Deramakot Forest is a logged forest, they practice Reduced Impact Logging, which minimize the negative impact to the environment. For example, they only harvest the forest partially, give logged forest many years to regenerate and have reforestation projects in place.

Enjoying the clean river
Biophilia makes Sabahans “itchy” if we are away from nature for too long.

Otherwise, logging will pollute the river and the water turns murky, because the land loses its natural green carpet to filter soil and debris from washing into the river. After some time, the river will become shallower and flood would happen after heavy rain.

Jumping into Kun-Kun River
Spending more time in nature can greatly benefit our psychological and physical well-being.

The amenities there are very basic. All we got is a camping grassland next to the river, with fire pit, toilet and benches. As this is a protected forest, the nearest village is over 30 Kilometres away, so secluded that some elephants left their dungs here.

Tour package to Kinabalu Park
4-Wheel drive parked at Kun-Kun
Parking our 4-Wheel drive at Kun-Kun

The day was really warm and the crystal clear water is so inviting. In no time everyone went swimming and frolicking like kids.

Natural Jacuzzi in Kun-Kun River
Natural Jacuzzi in Kun-Kun River

On another end of the camp is a shallow rapid, where we could sit in the water and enjoy the natural Jacuzzi.

pretending to eat the rock
A funny flat rock that looks like a big biscuit. Found near the river.

After dinner, without Internet, everyone slept early under the stars and got fully recharged over the night. Disconnect with technology allows us to reconnect with nature to find inner peace and energy.

Sleeping under camping canopy
Everyone seems to sleep well
Sleeping in hanging hammock
Sleeping next to Kun-Kun River

When we were packing to leave in next morning, we did a silly thing out of curiosity. We burnt some elephant dungs to see if it can work as a fuel like cow dung, and it does. One of our guys was freak out and almost screamed out hey dude what the heck are you doing. Locals believe this would attract elephant. The elusive Bornean pygmy elephant is not famous to be friendly. Anyway, no elephant showed up.

Burning elephant dung
Elephant dung burns quite well in fire

When I’m back to civilization with 4G, my phone kept vibrating and tons of messages came in. Looking at the “999+ Unread” WhatsApp messages, guess what, I ignored them all, except a few from someone close. Our world is just full of meaningless words and it’s safe to disregard most of them.

Misty morning of Kun-Kun River
Misty morning of Kun-Kun River

To enter Deramakot, you must apply the permit for both passengers and vehicle from Sabah Forestry Department in advance, no walk-in allowed. Or you can get travel agent to arrange the trip for you (permits, transportation, camp, meals).

Fire pit at the river side
Burning all the rubbish before we leave

Forest Bathing, or Shinrin-yoku

You may wonder why our DNA programs us to connect to nature. Dr Qing Li, a Japanese Forest Medicine expert and author of the book The Art and Science of Forest Bathing, has the answer. Japanese has been practicing an activity called forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku. Shinrin in Japanese means “forest”, and yoku means “bath”. Forest Bathing can lower our blood pressure, strengthen our immune system, prevent cancer and depression.

Kun-Kun River of Deramakot
Forest Bathing unlocks the healing power of the forest.

Then how to do forest bathing? Bury ourselves under the leaves and wood, or take a shower in the jungle? No. It’s not even an exercise. It is simply being in nature, use our five senses (i.e. sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch) to feel and connect with the nature.

Kun-Kun River (Sungai Kun-Kun)
Kun-Kun is an ideal place for forest bathing

Just spend 30 to 40 minutes to explore around forest or nature park casually, aimlessly and slowly. Open all your senses. Look, listen, sniff, touch, and taste the surrounding. Relax your minds and let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands and feet, for example, listen to cicada singing, look at flowing water, smell the flowers, lay down to breathe in fresh air, dip your toes in a stream, looking at the swaying trees.

Kun-Kun River (Sungai Kun-Kun)
Forest Bathing can reduce the stress hormone cortisol and increase your immune defense system.

Do inhale more fresh air of forest, which contains Phytoncide, an aromatic compounds emitted by plants & trees that can boost your natural killer immune cells to reduce cancer risk.

Brushing teeth at the river
Phytoncides released by plant can reduce cancer risk

To make the experience more powerful, you can do more things that connect to your happy memory or childhood. For me, it’s listening to rustling leaves, because this was what I liked to do outdoor when I was a kid.

Natural Jacuzzi in river
Enjoy the moment without having our eyes glued to the phone

In Japan, they even has the certification program to register a “Forest Therapy Base” and over 62 sites have been registered across Japan. Since over half of Sabah is forest, a qualified Forest Therapy Base is probably just a stone’s throw away from your home.

Photos taken in Deramakot, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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