Straddling the equator and dominated by luxuriant rainforest, Borneo is a unique destination that delivers a visual feast at every turn. The exotic Malaysian portion is comprised of two states, Sabah and Sarawak, which abound with extraordinary landscapes, a rich indigenous culture, age-old traditions and a prolific array of astonishing wildlife.
For many, it is the wildlife which is Borneo’s real draw and with good reason. The islands’ tropical climate and diverse eco regions have created habitats that house thousands of unique and endangered species, such as the flame-haired orang-utan, Bornean pygmy elephant and Sumatran rhino. It’s also a natural habitat for proboscis monkeys, elusive Bornean clouded leopards, shy sun bears, wide-eyed western tarsiers and so much more.
Borneo’s dazzling abundance of flora is also bound to catch your eye, including an extensive and diverse collection of orchids and the unique Rafflesia armoldii, known for its unpleasant odour and as the world’s largest flower.
If soft adventure is your thing, then Borneo will keep you on your toes. From jungle treks that lead to stunning waterfalls to the challenge of climbing mighty Mount Kinabalu, and longtail boat trips along the Kinabatangan River, there is something for everyone.
Borneo also brings together an astonishing array of cultures and languages, with many cities populated by a variety of ethnicities. In the depths of the rainforest, many indigenous tribes continue to live in traditional longhouse communities. Overnight stays which offer a window into their world of ancient customs and ceremonies (although thankfully headhunting has stopped!) are highly recommended.
While it’s unlikely you’ll visit Borneo just to explore a city, they do offer up a contrast to the natural attractions. Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah and bustles with fishing boats, street stalls and gleaming shopping malls. Historic Sandakan has religious relics, colonial mansions and haunting mementoes of WWII dotted across the city. Sarawak’s capital, Kuching features colonial buildings, incense-filled Chinese temples, the stately Istana Palace and impressive Sarawak Museum.
Once touring is complete, Sabah and Sarawak’s powder-soft sandy beaches are a simply heavenly place to unwind and reflect on Borneo’s bountiful treasures.
GMT + 8 hours
Borneo is approximately 16 hours (via Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or Hong Kong) from the UK.
Borneo has a tropical climate where temperatures and humidity are high. March to October are considered the best months for travel, as November to February can bring more rain. However, rainforest areas can be unpredictable so rain can occur at any time, even if just a short sharp downpour.
On this three hour city experience, learn about the history of Sarawak and see many aspects of the different cultures of Kuching, including Malay, Indian and Chinese. Highlights include the Gambier spice streets, India Street, the Chinese History Museum, and the Old State Mosque. Finally, there's a stop at the Kuching Waterfront with its view of the Astana, the former "White Rajah Palace" and other colonial buildings.
This half day tour begins with a transfer to the Semenggoh Nature Reserve, which acts as a sanctuary for orang utans rescued from captivity and young orphaned primates. The animals have been trained or re-trained to survive in their natural habitat, and some have been returned to the surrounding area. There are daily scheduled feeding times when you can observe these great animals moving up in the trees or enjoying their meals of fruit.
This half day tour beings with a visit to the Sabah Museum which has a fine collection of artefacts on natural history, ceramics, native handicrafts and costumes. Next, a photo stop at the picturesque City Mosque which is surrounded by reflecting pools and a colourful Chinese temple, then onwards to the Menera Tun Mustapha (Sabah Foundation Building).
A half day bike tour through the Malay kampongs lining the Sarawak River. These villages are the hidden gems of Kuching! See how the kampong people live and visit a traditional Malay wooden stilt house. Later, explore the vibrant and exotic open-air market of Kubiah Ria where you can shop for local handicrafts and jungle produce.
This morning tour offers a fascinating insight to the historic part of town. Start by browsing the hundreds of stalls at the Handicraft Market then stroll to the spice bazaar. Continue on foot to see the padang Merdeka, Atkinson Clock Tower and Australia Place before walking down Gaya Street and enjoying lunch at a local restaurant.
From £55 (inc lunch)
Spend the day on a tropical island where you can laze on white sandy beaches, cool off in the translucent waters and snorkel over the coral gardens.
From £65 (inc packed lunch or BBQ lunch)
Depart by boat for Gaya Island, the biggest in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. On arrival set off on an hour long hike through the lush tropical rainforest with its towering trees, climbing rattans, and unique cycad trees. Walk through the mangrove forest on a boardwalk watching for native birdlife including the southern pied hornbill. Travel by boat on to a neighbouring island where you can swim, snorkel and laze on the white sand beach whilst enjoying a picnic lunch
Morning departure for a 45 minute scenic drive to Tinopikon Village, where on arrival you start a trail through the village and into lush tropical lowland rainforest. Rubber trees are abundant and villagers still earn a small income from rubber tapping. Back at the village, test your skills and compete with slingshots and blowpipes. Enjoy ethnic cuisine during a simple lunch served 'village style' before trying traditional dancing or learning how to play the gongs!
From £69 (inc lunch)
Afternoon departure for a two hour journey to the Klias Wetlands and Mangrove Forest Reserve in southern Sabah. After light refreshments, embark on a river cruise in search of wildlife, such as the long nose proboscis monkeys, long tail macaque, silver leaf monkeys and numerous birds. As the sun sets, look out for the glittering lights in the trees, which are fireflies congregating on the tree canopies. Savour a local Malaysian dinner at a riverside restaurant before returning to your hotel.
Begin this full day tour at Kinabalu Park with a short walk through the Mountain Garden with its collection of orchids and unique plants. Continue to Poring Hot Springs and after lunch at a local restaurant, start the jungle trail and venture onto the canopy walkway for spectacular views of the Borneo Rainforest. If time permits, take a dip in the therapeutic sulphur baths.
This half day trip includes a cruise to the mouth of the Santubong River and along the mangrove forest of the Kuching Wetlands National Park. Watch for wildlife such as Proboscis monkeys as well as the Irrawaddy dolphins. If the weather permits, enjoy a breathtaking sunset over this unique environment and after dark continue to cruise through the mangroves in search of estuarine crocodiles which are often seen during low tide. Another phenomenon to look out for are the fireflies that congregate in the mangrove trees and appear to shine like Christmas tree lights.
A must-do full day tour experience for nature and adventure lovers! Transfer to Bengoh where, after receiving safety instructions and collecting your kayak, you'll start your paddling! Journey down a small shaded stream with overhanging trees and steep banks, before reaching the Sarawak Kiri River. About halfway down the river a stop is made at a delightful Bidayuh village for a traditional lunch. Continue kayaking along the river taking in the ever changing views of limestone hills. The last part of the adventure is to navigate an exciting class 1 to 2 (depending on water volume and flow) rapid!
This full day tour starts with an early flight from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan and transfer to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. Take a guided walk to the feeding platform where the animals are fed twice a day. After lunch there's a Sandakan city tour before the return flight back to Kota Kinabalu.