Borneo family holidays
Family holidays in Malay Borneo let you live your own adventure story. Even young kids will feel like intrepid jungle explorers, with rainforest canopy walkways, eye-popping wildlife watching, winding river-boat trips, and snorkelling around tropical islands.
Kids will always remember seeing iconic rainforest wildlife burst from their imaginations into reality, whether watching orang-utans feed just a few metres away, or swimming over weird and wonderful sea creatures.
Even during essential downtime, the sounds, sights and rhythms of the jungle create constant wonder. Whether you’re with ready-for-anything teens, or toddlers taking it all in, no-one’s going to get bored!
Highlights of a family holiday in Borneo
- Get within breath-holding distance of orang-utans protected by inspiring conservation projects
- Splash and snorkel in the shallows around Sabah’s west coast
- Cruise through the Kinabatangan River’s rainforest wonderland
- Render Batman fans speechless watching millions of bats leave the Mulu Caves at sunset
- Experience life with local families in a rainforest longhouse
With a UK based team of Destination Specialists with offices and partners across Asia, ensuring we focus on staying really local in our approach. Our specialists have travelled extensively in Borneo and throughout Asia, many having also lived in the region.
Along with enjoying great travels, the team regularly inspect the best hotels, seek out new activities and design new routes – for inspiration we’d suggest taking a look through some of their Favourite Journeys. The weather during any of the kids' holidays is always an important consideration and we have that covered with our best time to visit Borneo section.
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How to spend your time...
Three of our favourite family-friendly itineraries in Borneo
...and where to rest your head
Three of our favourite family-friendly hotels in Borneo
Borneo with kids: what to expect?
Borneo’s unique wildlife is a massive part of the island’s appeal. Your family holiday will be peppered with extraordinary creature encounters - both planned and spontaneous - from creepy crawlies crossing your path, to iconic mammals glimpsed through the trees.
Young naturalists-in-training will love orangutan spotting at Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre, or catching glimpses of these instantly recognisable primates from a Kinabatangan riverboat. Watch little eyes light up as they spy colourful birds, familiar primates and even pygmy elephants along the banks.
Getting involved with ethical wildlife projects is a top priority for any aspiring Attenborough. The Danum Valley and Tabin Wildlife Reserve are both inspirational settings where kids can get hands on with real-world conservation. Sway along treetop walkways at the renowned Rainforest Lodge to viewing platforms nestled in the canopy. Hear gibbons calling through the trees, see deer padding softly over the ground, and embark on thrilling night safaris.
Intrepid kids, keen to push those adventure boundaries a bit further, can head even deeper into the jungle to make bamboo rafts, build shelters and try some wild cooking. Trek to Gunung Mulu’s immense caves where the topside and underground worlds collide, and watch your brood make friends with local children in a tribal longhouse community homestay.
If you’re craving a few chilled-out days after the intensity of the rainforest, head to Borneo’s beautiful west coast. Shangri-La’s Risa Ria resort on Kota Kinabalu’s Pantai Dalit beach is a top spot for stress-free family time. Alternatively, the Gaya Island Resort offers the full tropical paradise experience. Snorkel over reefs teeming with life, learn about turtle conservation, and spend precious moments relaxing together on the sand.
Things you’ll all love in Borneo
What to do in Borneo: Discover more with our hand-picked experiences & highlights
Glide through Kinabatangan’s backwaters to the sound of hooting gibbons and exotic birds, keeping a look-out for rare pygmy elephants on the tangled banks. The Kinabatangan River is the second longest river in Malaysia, winding its way through 560km of stunning scenery, spectacular limestone caves, placid oxbow lakes and mangrove swamps.
These majestic animals fascinate us - perhaps due to their high intelligence, uncannily familiar mannerisms, & inspiring relationship with the rainforest. Much of this habitat has disappeared, but conservation efforts are underway to protect these incredible creatures. Responsible eco-tourism is a crucial aspect of this process, and gives you the opportunity to marvel at the magnificence of orang-utans in their natural surroundings.
Loved for its fantastic snorkelling and swimming, Pulau Gaya is special amongst Borneo’s islands in that it also boasts several accessible wildlife trails through the rainforest, and a small canopy walk. Just 15 minutes off the west coast of Sabah, Gaya is a beautifully balanced blend of jungle adventure and tranquil island retreat.
Borneo Rainforest Lodge is set deep in the heart of Danum Valley, a large rainforest conservation area two hours drive from Lahad Datu in Sabah's south east. Here you’ll have the privilege of experiencing something very few people ever will – immersion in one of Borneo's pristine rainforests, 130 million years old and with a staggering 200 plant species per hectare.
Responsible Travel in Borneo
There's precious little left of Borneo's rainforest, with much of it now removed to make way for oil palm and other crops. What remains is generally protected, and home to tribes who've lived there for millennia, along with endangered species — the orang-utan, of course, the most famous of these.
The island's biodiversity is the stuff of legend, and there's no exaggeration — one rainforest dipterocarp tree supports up to 1,000 species, and 40% of the island's 15,000 plant species can be found nowhere else on the planet. It's not limited to the rainforest, either — Borneo sits in the 'Sea Turtle Corridor', a protected area of ocean recognised as vital to marine life, with several turtle species laying eggs on Borneo’s offshore islands.
For first-time visitors, we like to combine a stay in the rainforest (including a few short treks accompanied by expert trackers) with a visit to an ethical orang-utan rehabilitation centre, a wildlife-spotting boat trip along a jungle-clad river, and a few days at an island resort with a sound conservation policy. Participating in these activities and through your stay in our carefully selected, conservation focused lodges and resorts helps to ensure that part of your holiday spend makes it back to the wildlife, environment and communities that needs it the most.
Our Borneo Specialists' top tips for families
With quite a few parents among our well-travelled Destination Specialists, we know how important it is to get the finer details sorted before travelling with kids, and we always go the extra mile to make sure they are. We want everyone to enjoy each moment without sweating the small stuff.
- Book early!
Book early! Those extraordinary rainforest lodges are the only way to stay deep in the Borneo jungle, and there are only a handful of them, so they tend to get booked up quickly.
- Where should you do your stopover?
Consider turning your flight change destination into a proper 2-day stopover. A couple of nights in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore can be a great way to include some city experiences in your family holiday, before hitting the rainforest wilderness. It lets kids ease gently into a different time zone too.
- Should you go all-inclusive?
Be open to the idea of all-inclusive resorts, even if they’re not usually your cup of tea. The rainforest resorts are all-in, because the nearest shops and restaurants are a jungle away! On the coast, there are several luxurious resorts which really do have everything onsite to make your family holiday stress-free, without feeling like a cruise ship.
- When is the best time of year for a family holiday to Borneo?
Unsurprisingly, being a rainforest destination, Borneo’s weather is localised and complex, and most regions experience rainy days all year round. Happily, however, the high season falls between May and September, fitting perfectly around major school holidays, and visits during earlier spring will benefit from both good weather and lower visitor numbers too.
- Is Borneo safe for families?
We send many families to Borneo every year, as it’s such a fantastic destination, and the feedback we get is that they feel welcomed, reassured and supported throughout their trip. It’s definitely a more adventurous destination than some, and you’ll be a good few miles from city life, so many things will be different from what you’re used to. If at any time you’re unsure of anything, our fantastic guides are always on hand to help.
- What vaccinations do I need for Borneo?
When planning a trip to Asia, it’s important to consider the possible requirement for vaccinations and immunisations. Most importantly, we stress that you should contact your doctor or medical practitioner well before you depart to get their advice on any vaccinations you may need for your trip. If you’ve travelled recently and believe that you are already up-to-date, it is still worth checking as vaccinations have a varying life span. Much of Cambodia has been designated low risk for malaria on the NHS Fit For Travel map, and the NHS Travel Vaccinations site has lots of up-to-date information on travel vaccinations too.
- Do I need a visa to go to Malay Borneo?
Citizens of the UK, most EU countries, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States do not require a visa to visit Malaysia or Malay Borneo for a stay of up to three months. Notable exceptions are citizens from Greece & Portugal who can stay visa-free for up to one month only. All other nationalities should check with the Malaysian Embassy in their country of residence for the most up-to-date information. In the event of a visa being required, arrangements should be made with the Malaysian Embassy in advance of your departure to Malay Borneo.
- Do I need leech socks for Borneo?
You’ll need leech socks when walking through the rainforest to prevent any unwanted guests tagging along for a free ride! Getting them in advance can be a bonus, as you can choose the type you prefer. You can purchase the socks in most good camping and outdoor pursuit shops, or through some charitable organisations whose profits go towards rainforest conservation. If you're visiting the Borneo Rainforest Lodge, you may find they're a lot cheaper there than in the UK.
- What should I pack for a trip to Borneo?
Prudent packing for a family holiday in Borneo is key, as getting hold of extra bits once you’re there might be a bit of a hassle - you’ll be a long way from most shops! Light, long sleeved shirts, long trousers or skirts, and perhaps a light scarf, will provide valuable protection against strong sunlight and mosquitoes, and mean that you’re prepared for any modest dress code needs too. We’d recommend bringing your own supplies of essentials, such as nappies, formula etc. as well as your preferred brand of sunscreen, leech socks (if you want to get them in advance) and a decent insect repellent. If you’re travelling with tinies, think about taking a really good baby carrier, as you’ll be doing a lot of walking.
- What’s the best currency to take to Malay Borneo?
There is no need to obtain Ringgit in advance of your arrival, although it is possible to do so. ATM machines are available in Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, Tawau, Lahad Datu and Sandakan (and also at some airports) which usually offer as good (if not better) rates of exchange than currency exchange bureaus or hotels. The symbol used for Ringgit in many shops and restaurants is $, and card payments are usually accepted.
Stories from Borneo
26th April 2018
Borneo wildlife: looking beyond the orang-utan
The critically endangered orang-utan has become the poster-child for vulnerable species in Borneo, but when asked to explain why its habitat should be protected, many people struggle for logical reasons. We looked to some of Borneo's other species for the answers...