Insider Secrets: The hidden corners of Borneo

Dominic Hall has been running tours to Borneo for ten years and is Tripbod’s man-in-the-know there. Here's his top 10 must-see sights for the first-time visitor

5 mins

1. Jungle mountain biking

The most eco-friendly and close-up way to see Borneo’s jungle villages, where you will be swamped by people wanting to practise their English. The terrain varies from easy-going dirt roads to off-road jungle adventures – and you will totally avoid all the tourists.

2. Eat a durian

Creamy fruit that has a taste and smell that’s... er, unlike any other. Many different varieties to choose from but be aware that hotels, buses and planes won’t let you carry durian in your luggage!

3.  Rock climbing on a remote beach

Just off Sandakan, Berhala island used to be a leper colony before it was turned into a POW camp by the Japanese during WW2. Now, its huge sandstone cliffs offer a wonderful opportunity to climb in this unique place – and, carefully bolted by British climbers, they’re pretty safe; plus there are guides with gear if you’re a novice. Best of all, it’s only a ten-minute boat-ride from Sandakan town, where you can enjoy a wonderful game of croquet at the English Tea House.

4. Via Ferrata at the top of Kinabalu

Everyone wants to climb 4095m-high Mount Kinabalu, but they don’t all know about the world’s highest Via Ferrata (literally ‘iron road’, basically a thin cable fixed to the vertical granite of the mountain). It’s safe enough; just don’t look down...

5. Trek Sabah’s second highest mountain

For a real jungle adventure, Mount Trusmadi is hard to beat. Known as the explorer’s mountain, it takes a day longer to ascend than Mount Kinabalu and is coated in thick jungle. Clambering over roots in the cloud forest, with pitcher plants and orchids all around, you can’t help but feel that you should maybe be wearing a pith helmet.

6. Maliau Basin

Otherwise known as ‘The Lost World’, this is the world’s oldest primary rainforest in pristine condition. Despite that, it’s extremely well-appointed, with camps and clear trails, from which you can view unmolested wildlife and the unique species of plants and insects that have evolved in this strange natural basin. It’s not easy trekking but well worth the effort – and very few people make it.

7. Kinabatangan River

The most popular tourist destination in Sabah, but for good reason: there are plenty of animals and it’s very accessible. There are locally-run lodges and homestays if you want to avoid the bigger tour lodges, and you should stay for a couple of nights or longer if you really do want to see an orangutan in the wild, while crocs and the amazing proboscis monkeys are everywhere.

8. Tip of Borneo

Slowly catching on with tourists but still relatively undeveloped, the tip of Borneo has tons of empty beaches, great surf, cheap accommodation and wonderful local people – in short an ideal getaway for time-rich backpackers. You can hire a motorbike in KK very cheaply, and ride up to the Kudat area and camp on the beach or stay in one of several beachside hostels. Sort of like visiting Thailand 30 years ago.

9. Semporna islands

Home to arguably some of the world’s best dive spots, although you don’t have to be a serious diver to feel what this place is all about. Just put on a mask and snorkel and you may well find yourself face-down for hours on end gazing at sharks, turtles, fish of inconceivable shapes and soft coral in colours that you could never have dreamed of. And afterwards there are cool cocktails served at the bar.

10. Mantanani island

A 40-minute boat ride from the mainland, this island has a pace that is even slower than the rest of Borneo. Great accommodation options too, and some lovely diving and snorkeling. Barefoot heaven for beach lovers.

Dominic Hall helps run the expeditions and adventures website and is just one of thousands of local experts Tripbod has scattered around the world. For local knowledge there’s no better place to start than

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