Since the time I was a small child I remember watching National Geographic documentaries on Borneo, and wanting to go there. This past summer I finally made that dream come true, and spent two months exploring this mystic land. It’s no secret that our earth is changing and development is quickly altering the chance of survival of numerous species around the globe. Unsustainable demand for palm oil production and increased agricultural lands are becoming the excuse to chop down thousand-year-old forests, and Borneo is no exception to this fate. The time to support these parks and use your dollars to vote for the environment is now; use your voice to speak up for increased conservation measures.
If wildlife, natural beauty, rainforests, trees, and culture is what lights a spark in your travel style, then Borneo may be a great destination for you. Read on to see if this green land could be next on your travel list. Here’s the breakdown:
Where is Borneo?
Borneo is the name of an island shared by the countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Indonesia has the largest portion of land, followed by Malaysia to the north, and then the small country of Brunei sits near the top.
If one is visiting Borneo, it is common to say something along the lines of, “I was visiting Indonesia, Borneo” or “I was visiting the Malaysia side of Borneo.”
Why go to Borneo, Malaysia?
Borneo is the land of ancients. Some patches (not many) date back 130 million years (um, yep, that's old). Each locale of Borneo is different, so where you go depends on what you want to see. Malaysia, Borneo is broken down into states, Sarawak and Sabah. Sabah is a semi-autonomous state of Malaysia, so if you go there you will get an additional stamp in your passport just to say when you entered or left the Sabah region. Very broadly speaking, I would say:
Sarawak Malaysia Borneo is if you want: cultural things, a bunch of fairly easily-reached parks with smaller animals, and amazing insect, reptile, flora/fauna opportunities.
Sabah Malaysia Borneo is if you want: better chance of seeing larger mammals like orangutans in the wild, pygmy elephants, or scuba diving.
We loved each part, and they each offered a different vibe and feeling. I would recommend both equally.
What you can see:
There are plenty of places we would still love to explore in Borneo, Malaysia. However, during our two months there we were able to cover a lot of ground, and spend time in a lot of different parks and reserves.
Here are some highlight locations, and what we saw in some of our favorite places:
Niah Caves – Niah has caves, the first one where it is believed a human skull was found in Asia, actually. But, the real surprise of Niah is- if you have time and like adventure hikes- there is a hike with ropes and ladders to a lookout rock. Make sure to plan a full day.
Mulu National Park – You need to fly in or hike 3 days into the park, and has amazing caves and a 2-night hike to Pinnacles.
Rainforest Discovery Center in Sepilok – There is an almost guaranteed chance of seeing flying squirrel (book to go on night hike), lots of birds, and a chance of wild orangutan (take note, this is not common at this location, however there is an orangutan rehabilitation center nearby where you can see them).
Kinabatang River Area – There is a chance of seeing pygmy elephants (if they are in the area), lots of good monkey sightings, and other wildlife sightings.
Best time of year to go:
We were there in July and August, as that is a great time of year for wildlife viewings. There was little to no rain, and our sightings were excellent.
The only part where it wasn’t the best time of year, is if you want to dive off the southern part of Sabah. Sipadan is a famous diving site there, and we were told the best time of year for that is April.
Budget-traveler cost estimate:
I travel as a pair (this July my husband and I are celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary!), so our budgets are reflective of two people. If you would like to see what we spent, please look for a full breakdown of July’s budget here and August’s budget here.
In general, these budgets are reflective of low-cost, private rooms (usually with private bathroom), local meals, bus transport, park fees, and any other expenses incurred while living on the road.
How to reduce your impact while traveling in Borneo:
Despite being such an incredibly rich and eco diverse area on this planet, you will unfortunately see a lot of trash and wasted resources in Borneo. Here are a few simple steps that any traveler can do to reduce your impact while traveling in Borneo:
Always carry a reusable bag like this one. They can fit in your pocket or in your day bag. With these we almost never needed to get plastic bags.
If there is a water refill station; use it. We used any water refill stations that we saw here (and in Thailand), and never had any trouble with them. They are often on the side of the street, and you put a coin in for a liter of water. Plus, it helps with the budget!
Never throw your trash on the ground. I realize it can feel like such an uphill battle that it just doesn’t matter, so why not throw your trash out the window like everyone else too? But, please don’t. Our actions matter, and we never know who is watching us. Lead by example and put energy towards making things better, not worse.
Our time in Borneo, Malaysia was like a dreamy and sweaty (get ready because it’s humid) bubble. During the month of July, we spent 26 of the 31 days in a park or natural space somewhere. If wildlife and nature is your thing, I hope you too can experience the wonders of Borneo.
After her first year at university, Tiffany moved to Wyoming in the spur of the moment decision to live on the floor next to a washer and dryer and has never looked back. For over a decade, with her husband Chris, she has traveled to over 35 countries while hiking into remote jungles, looking for endangered wildlife and seeking adventures. Find out more at www.vagabondway.net.