Borneo is the third largest island in the world and Asia’s largest, it is a rugged jungle filled island located in south east Asia’s Malay Archipelago. The island is split into three, one part of the island is Malaysian and has two states which are Sabah and Sarawak, the other part is Indonesian which is known as Kalimantan, then there is the tiny nation of Brunei. Kota Kinabalu is the capital of the Sabah state and Kuching is the capital of Sarawak in the Malaysian states of Borneo.
Borneo is known for its ancient biodiverse rainforests which is home to a huge array of wildlife from orangutans, proboscis monkeys, irrawaddy dolphins, clouded leopards, pygmy elephants and saltwater crocodiles to name a few.
The island is a naturally stunning, but as well as having amazing wildlife and topography, its also a melting pot of culture and home to many ancient indigenous tribes. Borneo used to have headhunting tribes, today the tribes no longer headhunt but still continue with ancient customs and traditions to keep their culture alive. Borneo is home to a variety of cultural groups with lots of Chinese communities, Malays, indigenous groups and many more.
Whatever you’re into Borneo has something for everyone from nature enthusiasts to beach lovers to adventure seekers you name it Borneo has it all!
Sights & Activities
Kinabalu Park is part of the UNESCO world heritage sites and is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. It’s ecosystem plays a vital role in the area and is home to a huge variety of plants, trees, birds, animals and insects. Kinabalu Park is situated approximately 2 hours drive from Kota Kinabalu.
This unique natural park has so much to offer it’s visitors with stunning views of Mount Kinabalu, botanical gardens, hot springs and lots of treks and trails to explore. This is the perfect day trip out for nature lovers. If your lucky you might be able to see the world’s biggest flower the Rafflesia. It is a rare and exotic parasitic flowering plant and can take up to 15 months to bud and only bloom for up to 7 days.
We had a Kinabalu Park tour booked through Amazing Borneo, but I went down with a 24 hour sickness bug and started feeling unwell on the bus on the route there. The tour company was kind enough to stop and organise our transport back to our accommodation. They also went the extra mile and called our accommodation to make sure we got back ok and if they could assist with anything further e.g. hospital etc. They also sent someone to give us a full cash refund of the tour! You can’t get much better service than that. I was absolutely gutted to miss this tour and lose a full day of our Borneo trip but it is somewhere I definitely will return to in the future.
Labuk Bay Proboscis Sanctuary
Entrance Fee: 60 MYR
Labuk Bay Proboscis Sanctuary is a great observation spot to go and see these weird looking indigenous monkeys, the sanctuary is privately owned and located in the middle of a mangrove forest. The owner who originally planned on developing the site for palm oil plantations nearby realised the monkey’s predicament and decided not to develop their habitat into plantations, and instead opted to make it a sanctuary where they can live freely. The sanctuary has created two viewing platforms on the land where they put food out daily for the monkeys so that visitors can view them and how they interact with each other.
This sanctuary is a great place to get up close to the monkeys especially if your short on time and don’t have the time to venture into the deepest rainforest to view them. We visited the sanctuary after going to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre which we booked the full day as a tour and took an internal flight to reach Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu.
Kg Pukat Fisherman Village
Kg Pukat Fisherman Village is a village built on stilts over the sea in Sandakan, and the village is full of local fisherman living there with their families. If you like seafood this is a great place to come as there are small restaurants and stalls where the locals selling the fresh catch of the day. There is also dried seafood which you can purchase to take away with you too. We didn’t eat at the village but had a look around as its interesting to see these quirky huts built over the water and seeing the local villagers going about their day to day lives. If you’re in Sandakan this place is a great place to stop off at to get an insight into local life. We went there towards the end of the day before heading back to the airport for our domestic flight back to Kota Kinabalu. Our tour guide recommended the place and even though we didn’t spend long there, we were really glad we got to see this peaceful sea village.
Pulau Tiga (Survivor Island)
Pulau Tiga is part of a small group of uninhabited islands located in Kimanis Bay off the western coast of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo. The island is also referred to as Survivor Island, as it was the location for a reality tv series filmed there. The island has plenty to offer adventurous travellers from snorkelling, scuba diving, trekking, mud bathing and best of all true escape from modern life, with limited WIFI its the perfect place for a digital detox and enjoy a much slower pace.
Pulau Tiga has several forest trails but the most popular one being the trail to the islands mud volcanoes, with its mineral rich mud bubbling away. Pulau Tiga has some great snorkelling and scuba diving spots with vibrant coral and diverse array of marine life. The island has lots of wildlife species with a variety of eagles and hornbills, macaque monkeys, monitor lizards as well as other snakes, reptiles and insects that all call the island home.
You can visit Pulau Tiga on a day trip from Sabah, however, I would recommend that staying overnight on the island. We stayed at the Pulau Tiga Resort for one night and loved the place, the island was so quiet and relaxing. We had the beach to ourselves which was absolute bliss, and even when we went through the jungle on a trek we hardly saw anyone. If you want a break from modern day life then this is the place to come!
Read more about Pulau Tiga: An Overnight Stay On Borneo’s Survivor Island – Pulau Tiga
Puu Jih Shih Temple
Puu Jih Shih Temple is a Buddhist temple and the largest Chinese temple in Sandakan and located just outside of town overlooking Sandakan Bay on top of the hilltop of Tanah Merah. The temple was built back in 1987 and provides amazing views of the town and its coast. The temple is bright and colourful with plenty of gold detailing and incense filling the air of the temple. This temple is a must when in Sandakan town!
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
Entrance Fee: 30 MYR
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is an amazing place conducting incredible work into rehabilitating orphaned orangutans. Orangutans are native to Malaysia and Indonesia however they are currently only found in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. They used to inhabit many places all over south east Asia and south China, but due to the destruction of their natural habitats, they are now critically endangered. Orangutans are icons which are most associated with Borneo. What these intelligent and beautiful primates are going through is utterly heartbreaking, but thankfully places like Sepilok are at hand to give these apes a helping hand and to try and get their numbers back up in the wild.
The rehabilitation centre was founded back in 1964, and the site is situated in the Malaysian Sabah District of North Borneo and on a large protected plot of land on the edge of Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve. Today approximately 70 orangutans are living free in the reserve. There are also about 25 young orphaned orangutans that are housed in the nurseries being taught and shown how to live and survive as an orangutan in the forests.
Recently rehabilitated individuals have their diet supplemented by daily feedings. The food supplied by the centre is purposefully designed to be repetitive and boring, so it encourages the orangutans to start to forage for themselves. Visitors can see them on viewing platforms from a distance and measures are put in place to ensure people stay quiet as not to disturb them. Visitors are restricted to walkways and are not allowed to approach or handle the apes either.
The facility provides medical care for orphaned and confiscated orangutans as well as other wildlife species. Some of the other animals which have been treated at the centre include sun bears, gibbons and elephants.
When visiting Sabah this should be top of your must do list as not only is it an amazing once in a lifetime experience. Sepilok is considered a useful educational centre and you will learn so much there about these apes. This was the highlight of our trip and a real pinch me moment when we saw the apes climbing through trees above, it was quite emotional and overwhelming too, the whole thing was just incredible and just a once in a lifetime experience.
Food & Drink
English Tea House & Restaurant
English Tea House & Restaurant is probably the most random place to stop at for lunch and isn’t typically Bornean. However North Borneo used to be part of the British colony until 1962, and this quaint English tea house is located next to the Agnes Keith House in Sandakan. It is a museum dedicated to an American author known for her three autobiographies about life in British North Borneo.
The tea house is a great spot to come for lunch as the gardens are so peaceful, and sat on top of a hill with great views over Sandakan Bay and the surrounding town. The restaurant has both traditional English dishes such as fish and chips and afternoon tea, but also serves up Malay dishes too. We normally opt to eat at more authentic places but came here for lunch while in Sandakan as it’s a bit of a novelty.
Masada Bed & Breakfast
Masada Bed & Breakfast is a small hostel and bed and breakfast situated in Kota Kinabalu and is in a central location within walking distance of all nearby attractions, malls and restaurants etc. We based ourselves at Masada and booked into a private room with a shared bathroom, they offer all guests a complimentary breakfast which is basic but enough to fill you up for the morning. There are dorm rooms available as well which is a great option if your travelling solo.
It’s a spotlessly clean and the staff were really helpful and friendly, and it’s great value for money it only cost us about £15 per night for both of us. We didn’t really want to spend much on accommodation in Borneo as we were planning on being out most of the day exploring, apart from the one day I got sick and had to spend a whole day in our room running backwards and forwards past the reception desk to the shared bathrooms (not one of my finest moments in life)! The staff were great though and kept checking on me to see how I was doing.
Honestly can’t recommend this bed and breakfast enough it’s a great place to base yourself and meet other travellers from all around the world. We met some really lovely other travellers, the whole place just has a really friendly vibe, and you will get chatting to everyone staying there over breakfast or sat chilling in the lounge area.
Transport & Getting Around
We based ourselves in Kota Kinabalu as it’s a small city and everywhere can be reached by walking, so walk everywhere as much as possible around the city as you get to see so much more! However there are minibuses which circulate the city and go to the airport looking for passengers and are really cheap too. There are also taxis available but can cost quite a bit even to go a short distance. There are also opportunities to hire cars and scooters, just be careful as some of the roads outside of the city can be quite rough.
We walked everywhere around the city and then booked all our tours through Amazing Borneo. I cannot recommend them enough, they are the BEST tour company I have ever used! We booked our Pulau Tiga island experience with them as well as the Sepilok Orangutan tour, and we just booked our flights from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan through Malaysian airlines and they had a guide meet us at the other end.
I would suggest when visiting Borneo to book yourself a base and then book day tours and overnight excursions through Amazing Borneo as all the entrance fees and transport costs are all covered under one price. Tours in Borneo aren’t the cheapest, but you get what you pay for and the knowledge of a local guide and everything included. If you’re going into the rainforests then you will need someone who knows and understands the areas and the risks so that you are kept safe, and also not damaging any of the local wildlife and plants.
4 Day Itinerary
- Head To Pulau Tiga island in the morning on your first day for an overnight stay and spend both days exploring the island and enjoy some serenity. (suggested – Amazing Borneo Tour)
- On your third day start the day early and take an internal flight to Sandakan and visit Labuk Bay Proboscis Sanctuary, Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, English Tea House & Restaurant, Puu Jih Shih Temple and Kg Pukat Fisherman Village before catching a flight back to Kota Kinabalu. (suggested – Amazing Borneo Tour)
- Visit Kinabalu Park where you can see stunning views of Mount Kinabalu, hot sprints and botanical gardens. (suggested – Amazing Borneo Tour)
Borneo is extremely hot and humid so wear light and comfortable clothing but also be mindful Borneo is a predominately Muslim country so try to cover shoulders and knees and dress modestly when out and about. Make sure to pack some light walking boots or trainers for good grip when venturing out into the wilderness.
If it’s your first time going to Borneo I would suggest starting in the state of Sabah it’s got everything from wildlife and pristine beaches and the terrain is much easier to navigate compared to Sarawak which is normally recommended to more seasoned travellers as its slightly more off the beaten track.
- Language: Bahasa Malaysia
- Currency: Malaysian Ringgit
- Exchange Rate
- Laws & Customs
- Safety & Security
- Visa Requirement
Thanks for reading, I hope you found this blog helpful if so give it a share or pin it for later. Tula ♡ xx