Why Travel To Borneo

Hear the word “Borneo” and your mind transports to a mystical island of adventure, with dense jungles, untouched beaches and a deeply unique culture. The Malaysian half of Asia’s largest island is home to Mount Kinabalu, one of Asia’s tallest and most sacred mountains: a true highlight for any adventurous traveller. Kinabalu gets all the attention, but other natural wonders, such as Mount Mulu, Bako National Park and Selingan Island are equally as breathtaking.

Back to civilisation, the vibrant cities of Kuching, Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan offer a laidback alternative to the bigger cities of the Malaysian peninsula, but the same cultural diversity for which the country is so famous. Tuck into delicious Indian, Chinese and Malay food suitable for all budgets, just like you would in any other part of Malaysia.

An unchartered and mysterious side to the island is the indigenous Dayak people, who have practiced animism for centuries, even though many have converted to Islam or Christianity on the surface. The beliefs and practices of these fascinating people are reflective of the beautiful exoticism of the entire island.

Tall mountains 

Home to Kinabalu, one of Southeast Asia’s tallest and most beautiful mountains.

Unique wildlife

Unique wildlife including the friendly funny Orangutans.

Fascinating culture

A fascinating culture with deep-rooted magic and mysticism.

Inspiring Trip Ideas

Recommended Places & Senses

Map

Borneo Travel Guide

AT A GLANCE
Borneo is best known across the world for its orang-utans, that remarkable human like primate. But there is so much more to the third largest island on Earth than monkey business. Book a Borneo holiday and discover some of the oldest undisturbed rainforest on the planet, rare wildlife around every corner and one of the most diverse cultures in South East Asia.
You can expect to travel by traditional longtail boat, stay in tribal longhouses and jungle lodges, hike nature trails rich in flora and fauna, observe pygmy elephants, proboscis monkeys and rhinos in their natural habitat, enjoy lazy days on idyllic beaches, dive the spectacular South China Sea and spend time with indigenous tribes getting to know their ancient cultures. And that is before you have even caught a glimpse of Pongo pygmaeus, better known as the orang-utan, Malay for “man of the forest” and the star attraction of any Borneo holiday.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
  • During January and February, Borneo sees some of its highest rainfall for the year; particulary in Sarawak. Sabah will most likely receive less rain at this time, but storms and high winds can make sea travel and reaching the more rural areas difficult. The poor weather also means that much of the wildlife remains hidden from view as animals shelter in the dense forest.
  • From March to April are two of the best months to visit Borneo, as dry weather dominates. It also has some of the best conditions for trekking, and you will have a good chance of seeing some orangutans.
  • During May and June, Borneo should have good weather all round, making it a perfect time to visit before high season prices set in. Orangutans are out in full force, making jungle treks extremely rewarding. This is also a good time to visit the beaches as their white sands are basked in sunshine.
  • July  to September is perhaps the most popular time to travel to Borneo as it experiences near perfect conditions throughout. Turtles continue to enthrall visitors, and orangutans are still active amongst the fruit trees. You should expect greater crowds and high season prices during this time of year.
  • October is a great month to catch the last of the good weather prior to the rains setting in. Shoulder season prices take effect, and orangutans can still be seen in the wild. This is also a prime time for diving at Sipadan.
  • Thunderstorms and rainfall during November and December can hinder access to parts of Borneo and means that wildlife sightings are not as common.
PEOPLE, HISTORY AND CULTURE
Islam is the official religion in both Malaysia and Brunei. Proper dress and manners should be adhered to at all times. It is customary to remove shoes before entering a mosque as well as homes. In places of worship, visitors should remove their shoes and women should ensure that their head, knees and arms are covered. They should not pass in front of people at prayer and should not touch the Quran. Nude sunbathing is not allowed and is very much frowned upon. Avoid pointing your index finger at others, or to beckon someone with fingers and palm facing upwards as this is considered rude in the local custom. Instead the whole hand should be waved with palm facing downwards. Gifts, particularly food, are passed with the right hand.
 
GEOGRAPHY
The South-East Asian island of Borneo sits just south of the South China Sea, with the Sulu Sea, Celebes Sea, Makassar Strait, Java Sea and Karimata Strait also surrounding the island. Split up between three countries (Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia), the regions most visited by tourists (Sabah and Sarawak) belong to Malaysia.
Home to the oldest rainforest in the world, large cave and river systems and mountains, Borneo has an incredible range of biodiversity with hundreds of species of birds, bats, plants, flowers and insects living in this ecologically precious part of the world. Sitting 4,095 m above sea level, Sabah's Mount Kinabalu is the third highest mountain in South-East Asia and a popular trekking spot for active travellers looking for a challenge.
TRANSPORTATIONS
Half the fun of experiencing a new country is getting there, and getting around once you are! Where possible, you can use local transport options and traditional modes of transport, which usually carry less of an environmental impact, support small local operators and are heaps more fun.
epending on which trip you are on while in Borneo, you may find yourself travelling by:
  1. Speedboat: Get out on the water and experience the thrill of a zippy speedboat ride on Borneo's pristine coastline.
  2. Local Bus: Rub shoulders with locals and practise your Bahasa language skills when travelling on a humble bus in Borneo
  3. Longtail boat: A ride on the aquatic transportation icon of South-East Asia is a must when travelling on the coast of Borneo.
ACCOMMODATIONS
  1. National Park Lodge. Enjoy the comfort and convenience of staying in a lodge located within one of Borneo's national parks. Staying close to the action is a beautiful bonus.
  2. Longhouse Homestay. Spend a memorable night with the Iban people of Borneo, sleeping in a traditional longhouse.
  3. Jungle Camp. Get back to nature and camp in the wilds of Borneo. Whatever is missing in modern conveniences is made up for in wildlife encounters, serenity and natural beauty.
EATING AND DRINKING
One of the best ways to experience a country is by eating! Whether you're sampling street food, savouring a cheap meal or indulging in a banquet, there are endless options no matter where you are from. Borneo's cuisine has a distinctive Chinese/Malay influence, and with many night markets around the country, finding freshly prepared, low cost food is simple.
Things To Try in Borneo:
  1. Fresh Fruit. Take the chance to try fruits endemic to the region like rambutan, banana, jackfruit, salak, durian and mango.
  2. Sarawak Laksa. While laksa is available all over Borneo, a spicy Sarawak laksa filled with chicken, prawns, chilli, coriander, coconut, rice noodles and lime is a filling and tasty meal to remember.
  3. Seafood Crab. Prawns and whole fish are popular, particularly on the coast. Try whole steamed fish or 'otak' (fish wrapped in banana leaves and grilled over coals).
  4. Tuak. This locally brewed rice wine is popular in small villages around Borneo. Try it if you dare!
SENSES'S PICKED DESTINATION
  1. Mount Kinabalu - Seeing sunrise from the top of Mount Kinabalu is a fine payoff for making it to the top. The climb, while strenuous, is filled with beautiful flora, interesting animals and beautiful vistas, making this majestic mountain a true natural highlight of Borneo.
  2. Poring Hot Springs - Located within the Kinabalu National Park, these steaming hot pools of water provide a relaxing place to unwind after trekking Mount Kinabalu. Sliding into the open air baths is a therapeutic way to soothe your muscles, a nice outdoor reward for completing such a climb!
  3. Bako National Park - The oldest national park in Sarawak may be small, but with isolated beaches, jungles, waterfalls, rock formations and walking trails, visitors will be delighted in the perfect panoramas to photograph and range of wildlife viewing opportunities on offer.
  4. Kinabatangan - This district of Sabah is known for its incredible array of wildlife and diversity of habitat, with limestone caves, swamps, rivers, lakes, forests and mountains all contributing to the ecological diversity of the area. It is home to such rare species as the Asian elephant, the proboscis monkey and the Sumatran rhinoceros, so a visit to the jungle here will guarantee some wildlife viewing thrills.
  5. Headhunters' Trail - Walking in the footsteps of one of the world's most mysterious, feared and intriguing people may not be for everyone, but walking along the famed Headhunter's Trail reveals a little bit of local history as well as many wondrous natural sights.
  6. Mulu National Park - Visitors should overlook Mulu National Park at their own peril. Not visiting this World Heritage listed area would mean missing out on canopy walks and treks that reveal exotic creatures, spectacular caves and stunning limestone karst formations.
  7. Gaya Island - Get away from it all and revel in the seclusion of Gaya Island, located just off the coast of Kota Kinabalu. See tropical fish swimming through colourful reefs, learn to scuba dive, laze on the uncrowded beaches or grab a kayak and go exploring this slice of tropical beauty.
HEALTH and SAFETY
  1. Borneo is generally very safe for travellers of both sexes, but in villages and logging camps things can get dodgy when alcohol enters the picture.
  2. Saltwater crocodiles are a very real danger in waterways, especially in muddy estuaries. Exercise caution when swimming in rivers, and never swim near river mouths.
  3. In Kalimantan, transport standards on land, water and air are dodgy, with roads and bridges frequently washed out; many drivers, particularly scooters, are a menace to themselves and other road users.
  4. The Indonesian part of the island isn't anywhere near as dangerous as many Malaysians think, but keep your wits about you, especially in the cities.
FESTIVAL CALENDAR
  1. Rainforest World Music Festival - This popular three-day music festival held in Kuching features a diverse range of world music performances, traditional music workshops, food and art. Growing larger each year, this relaxed festival allows festival-goers to interact with performers and be a part of the fun.
  2. Borneo Jazz - International jazz acts and fans travel to Sarawak to celebrate their love of jazz grooves at this annual festival - considered one of Asia's best music events.
  3. Borneo International Kite Festival - See the blue skies of Sarawak be transformed into colourful animation when thousands of kites take to the air. Fish, angels, snakes, demons and cats fly alongside surreal kaleidoscopic optical delights in this festival that kids and adults will delight in.
DOS & DON'TS
Do’s:
  1. Dress Correctly. Comfortable attire is a must. Sometimes, you have to walk on uneven terrain, so wearing jeans or such makes it harder to walk. You need to wear clothes that cover your legs in case of some shrubs or thatches that can cause small injury and insect bites. The jungle is also the home of leeches, so cover your legs and wear socks to prevent yourself from donating your much needed blood.
  2. Travel Light. Pack the bare essential needed such as water and food. Bringing extra necessities will only burden you. It is a good idea to carry protective gear such as sunscreen, hats, raincoats and a small Swiss army knife as you do not know what will happen. However, always keep the important documents, like passport, visa, insurance details and currency on you. You can carry travel size personal hygiene products and a small torchlight.
  3. Photography. Do make beautiful memories. Capture your experience in the form of pictures, as it is worth a thousand words.
Don’ts
  1. No Littering. The jungle is a sacred place for animals and plants. Imagine an uninvited guest visiting your house and treat your house as their own, then leave rubbish scattered all over your house. Then, you can imagine how the locals feel when you are littering their environment.
  2. Ignorance Hinders. Ignorance is bliss. In the jungle, this is a wrong assumption. Make sure to have at least some amount of know how about the traditions and culture of the place you are visiting. Make sure you think before you speak. Do not insult any of the traditions the locals endorse.
  3. Do not make bonfires. Do not associate your adventure with bonfires. Leave things as they are. Fire is a good servant but a bad master, and bonfires can get out of control, causing considerable damage both to the forest and peoples livelihoods.
  4. Do not wander alone.
Malaysia Journey Planner

I am from a small town in the middle of the Borneo Island. To me, that place is simply special and filled with great people. In the same way, I believe Malaysia is a beautiful country to visit, both Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia, it gives you the chance to meet, know and understand the Malaysian

[…]
Asia Journey Planner

My motto is “Don’t be a tourist, be a traveler”. Ever since I graduated in Travel Administration, I’ve been working first as tour guide and then in the office planning tours logistics. After 12 years of working in the industry, I now realize that my passion for travelling will never end. For this reason I

[…]
Journey Planner

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page” – St. Augustine. People read the book in different ways, some only glance at the cover; some skim through the pages; and some read between the lines to find hidden meanings… My personal thought, “read the book” then use senses

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Our Journey Planers and Local Experts know the destination inside out, they’ve either lived in or regularly visited the places they sell. Our excellent local relationships, built over 20 years of experience, enable us to enrich your experiences and negotiate many extras for your holiday.

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