Great Things to do in Borneo – Malaysia’s Wild Jungle Island

Written By: The Planet D

The Legendary Borneo Rainforests bring to mind images of towering trees, abundant wildlife and wild foreboding rainforests filled with raging rivers. Only great explorers would dare to go there, it was home to the Headhunter after all. These are the best things to do in Malaysian Borneo. 

Things to do in Borneo

things to do in borneo |  mount kinabalu
Mount Kinabalu, Sabah Borneo

The Malaysian Borneo of today is a very different one from 50 years ago. During the 70’s to 90’s the rainforest was cut down at an alarming rate becoming garden furniture and chopsticks. Much of its jungle and habitat was wiped out.

Sadly, forests are still being clear-cut in Borneo to make room for Oil Palm Plantations and poaching of endangered species such as the Orangutan and the Clouded Leopard is on the rise; but there is a glimmer of hope. We flew to Borneo from Singapore and spent one month exploring these wild and glorious lands.

Orangutans of Borneo

orangutan trees
The endangered orangutan

Conservation and reforestation methods are being introduced and 16% of Sabah’s forested area is protected. And there are heavy penalties for poaching.  So, now is the time to get yourself to Borneo and see this magical land before it is too late.

Plus if there is one thing that I have learned in my travels, if people can make some money off of tourists coming to see their wildlife and nature, well, they will just work that much harder to protect it.

Part 1 – Things to do in Sabah

Malaysian Borneo is broken up into two provinces. Sabah and Sarawak. Each destination can be a trip in itself, but we want to share our top things for both provinces.

1. Climbing Mount Kinabalu

Southeast Asia’s highest peak at 4095 meters in a magnificent climb over 2 days.  A two-hour bus ride from Kota Kinabalu will take you to the park’s gate where you can book the climb, your guide, accommodations, and climb.

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Dave and Deb at Mount Kinablu Borneo

It is recommended that you secure your permits in Kota Kinabalu before you go, but being Dave and Deb, we of course, bought them on sight right after the bus let us off at the park. Not a problem though, we secured a climb for the next day with dorm accommodations at Laban Rata at 3500 meters.

2. Orangutan Sanctuary

things to do in Malaysia Borneo

By far one of the most heartwarming moments of my life was visiting our next destination in Borneo.

2. Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

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Hanging out

The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is a must-visit in Borneo. Lodging right beside the park, we stayed at the Sepilok Jungle Resort. A lodge right in the middle of the jungle with boardwalks and canopy walks twisting through the grounds. It is a short walk to the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre where we were treated to a video explaining the centre and what it has accomplished.

malaysian borneo things to do

Very interesting indeed, but the piéce de resistance is definitely all about the Orangutans. After walking along the jungle path with monkeys playing in the trees, we come out to the feeding platform. Every day, the orangutans can choose to come back for a hearty meal of fruit and vitamin milk during their feeding time.

They are orangutans that have either been injured, rescued or orphaned that have been nursed back to health and let back into the jungle. 

borneo orangutan
Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sarawak

To make their transition easier, they can come back any time they want for a feast. We loved it our time at Sepilok in Sabah province so much that when we went to Borneo’s other Province Sarawak to see the orangutans again.

3. Semenggok Rehabilitation Centre

orangutan rehabilitation centre borneo

Semenggok Rehabilitation Centre is a far less visited rehab facility, but just as effective and more fulfilling I must say. It was just Dave, Myself and another couple watching the Orangutans munch on their banana’s. Seeing the Orangutans here was a very touching experience.

4. Wildlife SafariKinabatangan River

wildlife trekking borneo

Uncle Tans Jungle Safari is a Borneo Institution.

This lodge in Sabah was one of the coolest trips I have ever taken. Take a boat up The Sungai (river) Kinabatangan right into the heart of the jungle of Borneo, and stay in this rustic camp for a few days.  Your meals and wildlife safaris are included, but if you want some alcohol, bring it with you.  It won’t be needed though because the days are packed. 

Wildlife of Borneo

malaysian borneo hornbill

We saw some really incredible wildlife on our safaris. It was the best place we ever spotted the hornbill birds. Seeing them in the wild was striking. Birds with giant hornbill beaks flew through the air effortlessly. Other amazing wildlife of Borneo that we saw are:

  • Pygmy Elephants
  • Proboscis Monkeys
  • Scorpions
  • Crocodiles
  • Civet Cats
  • Clouded leopards
  • Monitor Lizards

5. Jungle Trekking

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Last Day at Uncle Tans, Sabah Borneo

Borneo is famous for its wild jungles. Even today intrepid explorers set out to explore uncharted territories. We had some amazing treks into the rainforest in search of wildlife.

  • Morning Safari: You can get up at 6:00 am for a morning safari on the boat to check out the life on the river. Morning is a great time to see the Proboscis Monkey. 
  • Mid Morning Safari: Another trek will take you into the jungle by foot where you will learn about plant life and smaller amphibians like the smallest frog in the world.
  • Afternoon Safari: There is another afternoon safari where you will see a ton of wildlife such as monitor lizards, wild orangutans, Proboscis monkeys, and civet cats.
  • Night Safari: Then it is off again after dinner for a night safari where you will look for crocodiles.

6. Dive Sipadan

Borneo is known to have some of the best diving sites on earth and Sipadan Island is the tops. Read all about the best places to dive in Borneo here Sabah Diving Guide

7. Kota Kinabalu

things to do in borneo kota kinabalu

After you’ve spent some time in the jungle, end your Sabah adventure in the metropolis of Kota Kinabalu. It’s a great place to recover after climbing Mount Kinabalu and to freshen up after spending some time on the river or in the rainforest.

  • Hang out on Gaya Street for drinks and nightlife.
  • The floating mosque of Lika’s Bay is a must-see as it has the illusion that it is floating in the water.
  • And don’t forget to enjoy some time at the beach!

Things to do in Sarawak

things to do in borneo sarawak

There was so much to do at Gunung Mulu National park in Sarawak Borneo, that it must not be missed. Fly into it on a twin-engine plane and you already feel that you are in the middle of nowhere.

We immediately booked our trek to the Pinnalces, the star attraction of the park and settled in for the night.  The next day started with a boat ride, stopping at various caves along the way until we reached the entrance to our trail.

8. Trek to The Pinnacles

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Pinnacles of Gunung Mulu

We were let off on the shore and proceeded to hike 8 km in the jungle, with two river crossing in the process. We eventually found our way to camp 5 in the middle of the jungle once again where we stayed overnight resting for our climb to the pinnacles.

First thing in the morning, our guide took us up a rigorous climb. At first, we were climbing in a slippery and steep jungle, but 3/4 of the way up, we came to the first of seventeen aluminum ladders. This is where it gets fun.  Climbing on ropes and ladders over crevasses and drops.

borneo pinnacles
Dave at the Pinnacles Lookout

It can be a little hair raising, but the payoff is worth it. Once we emerge around a rock, we are treated to a view of dozens of jagged limestone layers reaching forty metres high. Magnificent.

9. Deer Cave

deer cave sarawak borneo malaysia

Once we were back at Gunung Mulu Park Headquarters, we made our way out to Deer Cave. It is the largest cave chamber in the world and here we were treated to a view of 2 million bats flying out at dusk to feed on the insects.

things to do in borneo bats
Bats at Deer Cave in Malaysian Borneo

It was one of the most extraordinary sights I have ever seen in my life. A giant black cloud snaked through the sky performing and arial ballet in front of our eyes.

10. Bako National Park

things to do in borneo beach
Bako National Park Entrance in Sarawak

And that takes us to the end of our Malaysian Borneo adventure, where we finally got to see the Proboscis Monkey up close and personal at Bako National Park. Bako National Park, Sarawak Borneo houses the elusive Proboscis Monkey.

11. Proboscis Monkey

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Proboscis Monkey, in Bako NP

Native only to the Island of Borneo, these peculiar monkeys are an intriguing sight.  Golden brown in color with a potbelly and a snout nose, the Proboscis Monkey can be found all over Bako.  Walk quietly through the trails, stop to listen for a while and soon you will find yourself amongst a family playing and feeding above. 

Proboscis Monkeys in a tree

At first, we couldn’t find a single one, that is until we realised that they were everywhere above us.  We just weren’t standing still long enough to notice.

12. Stay over at Bako National Park

bako national park borneo monkey and baby

Getting to Bako is half of the fun. Permits and accommodation be arranged in Kuching, Sarawak’s Capital City and then you hop on a bus to catch a boat to Bako. The boat is small and we enjoy the ride, but it is at the approach that it gets fun. Riding the tide into the shore, we almost capsize in the waves, we make it fine though and spend the night chilling out at the headquarters.

13. Hiking the Headhunters Trail

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Crossing another river in Borneo

Once upon a time the tribes of Borneo were rivals and they did indeed keep the heads of their enemies. When traveling in Borneo, you may see old skulls hanging over a smoking fire paying tribute to the warriors. We trekked to the Pinnacles along the Headhunters Trail without a guide, but many tour companies offer guided tours along the 11km route. It’s the adventure of a lifetime!

14. Sarawak Caves

We explored many amazing and remote caves of Sarawak. By far, Deer Cave was the best in one of the most remote parts of Borneo. Some of the largest caves in the world are located in Borneo and here, you’ll be touring authentic untouched caverns that go deep into the earth.

15. Stay in a Long House

what to do in borneo longhouse

To get a sense of what it was truly like for the rainforest tribes of Borneo, spend a night in a long house with traditional villagers. It is the best way to immerse in Borneo culture and to get deep into the Borneo Jungle.

16. Sarawak Cultural Village

borneo things to do cultural centre

If you don’t have time to stay in a longhouse, a visit to the Sarawak Cultural Village will let you see a glimpse into the life of the locals. There is a longhouse set up as it would be traditionally and you can learn of farming, hunting and even blow a dart to test your skills.

17. Kuching

things to do in borneo kuching

When you are all done in the rainforest, jungles, and river cruises of Sarawak, relax in the City of Cats. Yes, you heard me. When strolling around Kuching, you will see many a statue of cats in the city.

There are so many amazing things to do in Borneo, that you need months to fit it all in.

It is truly is one of the great adventure destinations on the planet. Let’s just hope that the Malaysian government starts taking care of it so that Borneo will be there to enjoy for years to come.

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

16 thoughts on “Great Things to do in Borneo – Malaysia’s Wild Jungle Island”

  1. My family are staying at NBOWH – North Borneo Oldest Wooden House in Penampang, Sabah. As Borneon indigenous and a world travellers, I enjoyed reading your writing on amazing Borneo. If you happen to visit Sabah Borneo again, take sometimes to stop by at NBOWH. It’s located by the Moyog River and just beside the Monsopiad Cultural Village (the house of skulls), less than 10 minutes drive from Kota Kinabalu International Airport. Probably you like to write something related to our village and the culture or perhaps the Borneo Head Hunters?

  2. We’re going to Borneo in December, I cannot wait. Just trying to piece together the best way to make the most of our time there, thank you for sharing your experience.

    • What a bummer. That climb was a great one. Even after climbing Kili and EBC, Kinabalu is still very memorable. It’s only two days, but it’s steep and tough and absolutely beautiful. I’m sure that you’ll get back if you want to any time soon.

  3. Great post! We are heading to the Malaysian Borneo next week and have just started researching (typical me!). Uncle Tans Jungle Safari sounds amazing and right up our alley, will bookmark this for further reading. Cheers!!

    • Have a great time! You are not alone, we do our research at the last minute a lot these days. Make sure to climb Kinabalu, it’s so beautiful and such an amazing feat.

  4. I am bookmarking this for our trip at the end of the year. We knew we wanted to see the Orangutans but its seeing great posts like that are sometimes so motivational and can give information on other things we wanted to do. SO weird that you guys tweeted this and I read it just now, and we are headed there soon. Thank you so much for sharing. I am so excited about this trip. You guys rock!

    • Hi Mica, We must have been reading your mind! We decided to tweet some old stuff that didn’t have much of an audience when we first started blogging, but is still great information for people traveling to a certain destination. Borneo still is one of our top places to visit in teh world.

  5. wow! stunning pictures ๐Ÿ˜€ you may also want to visit my country the philippiines some time in the future. more power to you ๐Ÿ˜€

  6. This is a wonderful post and it makes me so very proud that a couple of Cannuks are doing it…Hip Hip Hooray…!
    You are such a wonderful couple and part of the joy I get is watching you both enjoy this adventure together and sharing it with us…Yes, Virginia, It can be done
    When I was in Singapore, they used to host a have breakfast with the Orangutan morning for like 10 bucks or so at the Singapore Zoo…don’t know if they still have it…
    Anyways…keep well and travel safe…. Cheers to you both

  7. Wow! What an amazing experience! I feel so bad being that Malaysia is my neighboring country especially for me since I lived in the South, but we only crossed the border to shop. ๐Ÿ˜› I will have to add this on my side-trip during Thailand visit trip.

  8. This is a great list! I’d also add scuba diving at Sipadan, for those who are dive buffs. (Great snorkeling too.) We had a blast in Borneo last November. What a spectacular place!