Travel in Borneo: An introduction
The world’s largest island and a destination that never disappoints. Borneo has it all; wildlife, adventure, culture and some of the finest beaches in Asia
Much of present day Borneo was actually ruled by Brunei, between the 15th and 17th centuries, a time when the infamous headhunter tribes resided across much of the island. Inter-tribal warfare was common and there was little infrastructure to speak of. It was a wild land, impenetrable to all but the hardiest travellers thanks to its shield dense rainforest and unwelcoming locals!
More recently (19th Century) much of North Borneo and current day Sabah came under the control of the British North Borneo Company, whilst a large percentage of present day Sarawak was under the ‘guidance’ of James Brooke. Both Sabah and Sarawak became part of Malaysia in 1962/63.
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Today Borneo is a totally unique travel destination; travel in Borneo is like travelling in no other destination on earth. Home to a truly staggering abundance of flora and fauna that can be found nowhere else, Borneo is also a culturally rich island, with visitors easily gaining access and insight into the islands tribal past and present day heritage.
As if this wasn’t enough, you’ll also explore record breaking caves, trek through pristine rainforests, and enjoy superb coastal regions, with world-class diving and deserted beaches. With an excellent infrastructure, it is easy to travel in Borneo by either road or by using short flights.
Where to travel in Borneo?
Your first decision must be whether to travel in both Sarawak and Sabah or focus your time on just one state. Presuming that you will travel through both you should start in Sarawak, the theory being the beaches are better in Sabah so for many it is preferable to finish there. Flying into Kuching, and having spent at least a day exploring it's colonial past and modern-day attractions, many will travel straight onto the Batang Ai Reservoir to trek with the Iban people, learning about their unique way of life. Stay in an Iban longhouse or at the nearby Hilton Resort (or both) before returning to Kuching. Other options in close vicinity of Kuching include Bako National Park and Damai Beach.
At this stage you will need to fly east, either into Sabah or via the Mulu Caves, located within the impressive Gunung Mulu National Park. The record breaking caves and the surrounding countryside will require two days and the oil rich town of Miri is also worth a consideration. You are now as far east in Sarawak as you can be so your next stop will be Sabah, most likely Sandakan. The town itself is not likely to be a highlight of your holiday however their is a wealth of wonders in the immediate vicinity. Start with the Sepilok Orang-utan Sanctuary, where you can spend the night if required (at the Sepilok Resort rather than in with the orang-utans!), before you take your pick of islands - either Selingan to witness turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs at night, or Lankayan with its world class diving and fantastic beaches.
Return to Sandakan and head inland to the Kinabatangan River Basin, a highlight of any holiday in Borneo. Whilst you can stay in the Kinabatangan River for just one night we suggest two. From here many will return to Sandakan for their flight to Kota Kinabalu, however there is also the the option of heading further west to the Danum Valley, with its canopy walk, great trekking and a wide variety of flora and fauna, or south to the islands of Sipadan, Kapalai and Mabul for some of the finest diving to be found anywhere on the planet.
This leaves just Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah. There are a number of fantastic beaches within 30-minutes drive of the city as well as a host of light adventure activities such as hiking and white water-rafting. Just two hours drive to the south is the Kinabalu National Park and Poring Hot Springs which you can visit in a day or break into two, spending a night in the park at the foot of Mount Kinabalu.