It’s about a month ago I returned from an amazing adventure trip to Borneo with my family and I’ve finally had the time to bring together this post. Borneo took me by storm and surprised me positively in so many ways. We had two weeks on the island and during the time I became more and more fond of the destination that has so much to offer. I can highly recommend a trip to Borneo, which by the way is a great alternative to more touristy destinations in Asia such as Bali, Thailand and Vietnam.
Borneo is a large island placed in South East Asia. It’s divided into a Malaysian, an Indonesian and a Bruneian part where this post will focus on the Sabah Province in the Malaysian part. Hectic city life, lush rainforests and beautiful beaches are combined and make Borneo a dream destination for adventure seekers, nature-lovers and hedonists.
The island brings together different ethnicities, cultures, religions and cuisines that are particularly prominent in the Sabah Province’s capital, Kota Kinabalu. Moreover, Borneo has some of the oldest and most undamaged rainforests that provide great conditions for the many animals such as orang-utans, proboscis monkeys and pygmy elephants. However, not only the Bornean rainforests are full of wildlife. The sea along the Sabah Province is packed with marine life providing some of the best snorkeling and diving conditions in the world.
Where to go
Kota Kinabalu: The capital of the Sabah region and a melting pot of different cultures. It’s a busy city where new and modern meets old and historic like most bigger cities in Asia. However, Kota Kinabalu isn’t very charming, but the city has some great markets, beautiful sunsets, delicious food and friendly locals. In addition, the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine National Park is only a short boat ride from the city center. The park consists of five islands and the surrounding sea. I wasn’t excited about the snorkeling here. However, the water village on the biggest island, Gaya Island, is definitely worth a visit.
Kinabalu National Park: From Kota Kinabalu, you can sometimes see the majestic Mount Kinabalu. The mountain is without a doubt the main attraction in Kinabalu National Park. To the majority of the Bornean people, the mountain has a special and mysterious meaning and many Malays climb the mountain each day. However, the mountain is open to everyone and I can highly recommend booking a climb to the summit of the 4000-meter high mountain. The Kinabalu National Park offers more than just mountain climbing. There are heaps of walking trails, waterfalls and a botanical garden. In addition, Kinabalu National Park is one of the few places where you can see the Rafflesia, the biggest flower in the world. Not far from the park, you can also find hot springs, canopy walks and tea plantations.
Danum Valley: Referred to as the real Borneo, Danum Valley is a conservation area where the rainforest stretches as far as the eye can see. The nature is completely untouched, which provide the perfect conditions for wildlife. Orang-utans, pygmy elephants, clouded leopards and slow lorises are just a few of the animals living in Danum Valley. I can highly recommend booking a three-day package at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge that is placed in the middle of the valley to get the full rainforest experience.
The Kinabatangan River: At the Kinabatangan River it’s all about boat safaris. Along the river, the rainforest is full of animals and the river is one of the only places where you can see the funny looking proboscis monkey. However, the river is home to many other animals. You might be lucky and see orang-utans, pygmy elephants, several monkeys and reptiles etc.
Sandakan: There might be several reasons to visit Sandakan, however, one should be to visit Sepilok. Sepilok is an orang-utan rehabilitation center not far from Sandakan city center where primarily orphan orang-utans are in rehabilitation. The center provides great conditions for the human-like apes. This means that wild orang-utans also come to take advantage of the semi-wild orang-utans’ privileges. I was a bit skeptical before we went to Sepilok because we had already seen orang-utans in the wild, but after our visit, I was glad we went. Make sure to visit the center during feeding time at 10 am and 3 pm daily. In addition, Sepilok also has a sun bear rehabilitation that is worth a visit.
Tuaran: I can highly recommend booking a few relaxing days at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort that is placed close to the small town Tuaran at the end of your holiday. The resort offers beautifully decorated rooms, several bars and restaurants, an amazing spa and golf course, a great pool area and a nice beach with the warmest water I’ve ever bathed in. In addition, the resort offers several day trips and activities if relaxing by the pool gets a bit boring.
Best time to visit
Borneo has two seasons, a wet season running from October to February and a dry season running from March to September. However, the seasons shouldn’t be firm indicators for when to go as rain can occur every day. High season runs from July to September. Temperatures in Borneo are around 30 degrees all year round during the day. Because of the subtropical climate, the humidity is high and varies between 85-95%.
Getting there and getting around
The easiest way to get to Borneo is by air and Momondo (affiliate link) is my preferred site. Air Asia and Malaysian Airlines have direct flights from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to the main city Kota Kinabalu. There are different options to get around in Borneo where car, boat and plane are usually the best options. Be aware that like most Asian countries, the traffic specifically in and around the cities is hectic. However, the Bornean roads are great and unite every part of the region. The Bornean people drive nicely and you don’t hear constant honks as you do in many other Asian areas.
Time: +8 GMT.
Currency: Malaysian Ringgit (MYR) (1 USD ≈ 4.2 MYR)
Visa: For most countries, visas up to 90 days aren’t required before arrival. However, make sure that your passport is valid for at least six months before leaving Malaysia and that there are a few blank pages for entry stamps. Check this site for complete information about visa requirements.
Safety rating: 29/163 on the Global Peace Index.
One-week itinerary option:
2 days in Kinabalu National Park
3 days in Danum Valley
2 days at the Kinabatangan River
Two-week itinerary option:
1 day in Kota Kinabalu
2 days in Kinabalu National Park
3 days in Danum Valley
3 days at the Kinabatangan River
1 day in Sandakan
4 days in Tuaran