Hands down one of our favourite adventure destinations on the planet is Malaysian Borneo.
The Legendary Rainforests of Borneo bring to mind images of towering trees, abundant wildlife and a wild foreboding rain forests filled with raging rivers.
Only great explorers would dare to go there, it was home to the Headhunter after all. This Borneo travel guide will help you plan your next vacation.
- Borneo power voltage is 230/240 V 50 Hz; Power sockets G.
- The island itself is divided among three countries: Malaysia and Brunei in the north, and Indonesia to the south.
- The Borneo currency is the Malaysian Ringett (MYR) and is around 4 MYR to 1 USD. In Brunei the Brunei Dollar and Singapore Dollar (notes only) are readily accepted. In the south the currency is the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) and is around 13,000 IDR for 1 USD.
- Air-conditioned express buses are the economical way to travel long distances within, and sometimes between, Borneo’s different states
- Borneo is home to one of the oldest rainforests in the world – around 130 million years old.
- Brunei is a ‘dry’ country – alcohol cannot be purchased, however you are allowed an alcohol allowance to be brought in for personal consumption.
Budget: You can stay at budget hotels in Borneo for as low as $10 US per night. They may include free Wi-Fi, private bathrooms, and have air conditioning.
Mid Range: There are mid-range hotels available in Borneo for around $30 US. They often include complimentary breakfast, are found in the city center, and have laundry service.
High End: High-end hotels in Borneo start around $60 per night. They may include family suites, indoor and outdoor pools, and offer airport transfers.
Here are some of the foods you may find in Borneo:
Hinava – A common dish found in Sabah with mackerel, spices, lime, and onion.
Clay pot soup – A soup with a variety of ingredients including tofu, prawns, squid, noodles, and vegetables that are cooked over a high temperature.
Pinasakan sada – A flavorful dish commonly found at restaurants with fruit, fish, salt, and turmeric.
Getting to Borneo: There are no direct flights from Borneo from Europe or North America, so you'll have to connect at an Asian city such as Singapore or Hong Kong.
You can check for the best flights to Borneo on Skyscanner.
Buses: You can take buses within the city as well as across the country starting at B$18.
Taxis: Taxis are found in the major cities, but you'll always want to confirm if the driver is using the meter or not so you know the price in advance.
Car Rental: Car rentals in Borneo begin at B$60 a day.
Borneo is hot and humid with a typically tropical climate. Sarawak receives an abundance of rainfall during the monsoon season which falls between November and February of each year, whereas the dry season generally occurs from May to October.
Heavy rains may cause cancellation of flights and riverboat trips into remote regions, so the dry season is best for activities.
- The protection basics – Travellers should stock up on the essentials: sun block, mosquito/insect repellant containing DEET or a pyrethroid insecticide, sunglasses and a hat. If you will be spending time in national parks or upriver areas (e.g. Batang Ai & Nanga Sumpa), make sure to bring a strong mosquito repellent that contains 30-50% DEET. Use this in the jungle and interior and bring it from home as it might be hard to find in Borneo.
- Pack for Humidity – for humid weather it is best to pack fabrics that breathe as much as possible and natural fabrics, like cotton, linen or rayon (avoiding silk, wool and polyester). Clothing should be loose and comfortable to encourage the flow of air and allow moisture to evaporate.
- Sarongs – From protecting yourself from the hot island sun, covering up at religious sites or keeping warm on a cool night, sarongs are a must-have.
- Raincoat / Jacket – rain gear is always a good idea, as is a light jacket for the cooler temperatures at Mt Kinabalu.
- Water bottle – Water is not potable in Borneo – do not drink or even brush your teeth with tap water.
When to Go:
March through October is the best time to visit Borneo, as this is when the weather is the most pleasant and driest. You also have the best chance of seeing wildlife during these months.
Things to do
- Hike Mount Kinabalu – This 4095 metre mammoth is a 2-hour bus ride from Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo’s northern province.
- Trek the Pinnacles of Gunung Mulu – a stone forest of white and grey limestone, jutting 45 metres out of the earth in razor sharp formations.
- Go on a Jungle Safari – Take a boat up the The Sungai (river) Kinabatangan right into the heart of the jungle of Borneo, and stay in a rustic camp for a few days with Uncle Tan Wildlife Adventures.
- Visit the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre – They are orangutans that have either been injured, rescued or orphaned that have been nursed back to health and let back into the jungle. To make their transition easier, they can come back any time they want for a feast.
Places to Stay
Seven Boutique Hotel – This hotel is a great choice to stay at when you're in Putatan. It's only 3 miles away from the airport and the hotel offers a free airport shuttle service. They also are a few minute's walk away from restaurants, bars, and a grocery store.
The Pacific Sutera Hotel – This beautiful hotel in Sabah has stunning views of the water while being close to shopping, so there's something everyone can enjoy. They also offer a pool, fitness center, and a private balcony.
Shangri-La's Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa – This resort is a great place to relax when you're in Sabah. You have access to the beach, diving, and babysitters.
Whenever we travel to Asia we make sure to start with these companies. We have tried a lot of different ones over the years and all of these have consistently proven to be the best when it comes to offering great prices as well as great customer service.
We have used every one of these personally and continue to do so.
Booking.com: This is our go site to when comparing prices for accommodation. It is usually the has the cheapest prices and we love their interface. Not to mention you get free cancellation and you are guaranteed the best price.
Trip Advisor: What we like about Trip Advisor is that we can look at all the reviews and then book our accommodation. TripAdvisor is where we go when we want to compare prices with multiple accommodation providers.
Air BnB: Airbnb is the main search engine we use when we are looking for a home or apartment rental. It can sometimes be cheaper than hotels and it is the best way to stay in areas that offer a more local feel.
Skyscanner: This is the first place we check for flights. It consistently comes back with the cheapest and best options. It allows us to compare a lot of airlines to get the best price.
Hostelworld: With one of the largest databases of hostels in the world, Hostelworld is the go-to site when you are looking for budget accommodation.
Rome 2 Rio: If you want to see how to get somewhere by plane, train, bus, ferry or car Rome2Rio lays it all out for you as well as related costs. I love how they show it all to you on a Google Map and it works offline.
Get Your Guide: For all your day trip and city guide needs, we use Get Your Guide. It has the world's largest collection of things to do with more than 30,000 activities in 7500 destinations.
World Nomads Insurance: When traveling to Borneo you should always have travel insurance. We have found the best bang for your buck is by far World Nomads.