Borneo


Overview

Borneo travel guide, including map of Borneo, Borneo travel advice and when to go to Borneo, plus guide to Borneo wildlife and trekking

Straddling the equator and dominated by luxuriant rain forests, Borneo is the world’s third-biggest island. Its territory is apportioned unevenly between the countries of Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia.

 

The two East Malaysian states Sabah and Sarawak, lie in the north, surrounding the rich Islamic Sultanate of Brunei, while the Indonesian state of Kalimantan occupies most of central and southern Borneo.

The island boasts remote jungle beauty, tropical adventure and tribal cultures, and is home to half of all known plant and animal species in the world. This wildlife wonderland has orang-utans, the Sumatran rhino, the Bornean pygmy elephant and thousands of unique flowering species. A colourful paradise combining relaxation and adventure with its idyllic beaches, scenic mountains and rich culture.    

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Visit the historic temples and harbourside market in stunning Sandakan
  2. Go trekking through the lush rain-forests and experience walking among orang-utans in Kalimantan
  3. Head to Lankayan for a truly unique sight and see where the Green Turtles come to lay eggs all year round
  4. Explore the caves of Sarawak by longboat and take a dip in the shaded pool near Clearwater Cave

Wanderlust tips

Hawker markets offer opportunities to try a variety of dishes from the numerous stalls ranged around a central eating area; order enticing-looking treats from any stalls, take them to your table and tuck in. Only eat with your right hand.

The thumb or whole hand should be used to indicate something, or to wave down a taxi.

Especially outside urban areas, and more so in the conservative Muslim north, women should dress respectfully by covering shoulders and legs. The ideal is baggy clothing; loose trousers with a modest long-sleeved tunic or baggy shirt is fine.

Further Reading

Travel in Borneo: vital statistics

  • Capital of Borneo: Brunei - Bandar Seri Begawan. Kalimantan - Banjarmasin (South), Palangka Raya (Central), Pontianak (West), Samarinda (East). Sabah and Sarawak -  Kota Kinabalu (Sabah), Kuching (Sarawak)
  • Population of Borneo: Brunei - 389,000, Kalimantan - 12 million, Sabah and Sarawak - 5 million
  • Languages in Borneo: Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia. English is widely spoken
  • Time in Borneo: GMT+8
  • International dialling code of Borneo: Brunei - +673, Kalimantan - +62, Sabah and Sarawak - +60
  • Voltage in Borneo: 220-240V 50Hz AC
  • Visas for Borneo: Borneo visas Visas are required to cross into some regions of Borneo. 
  • Money in Borneo: Currency is the Malaysian ringgit (RM). Most outlets take major credit cards and ATMs are widely available. Tipping isn’t obligatory, but appreciated by porters, waiters and taxi drivers.
  • Borneo travel advice: Foreign & Commonwealth Office - Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia.

When to go to Borneo

Borneo is hot and humid with a typically tropical climate. Sarawak receives an abundance of rainfall during the monsoon between November and February each year, whereas the dry season generally occurs from May to October.

The monsoon period should not deter visitors to the region as it brings respite from the tropical heat, though the wet season can be more encumbering for active and adventure holidays.

Heavy rains may cause cancellation of flights and riverboat trips into remote regions, so the dry season is best for activities.

International airports

Kota Kinabalu International Airport – Sabah, Kuching International Airport – Sarawak, Sepinggan International Airport - Balikpapan, Syamsudin Noor Airport – Barjarmasin, Supadio Airport – Pontianak

Getting around in Borneo

Domestic flights link all the regions of Borneo including Sabah, Sarawak, Balikpapan, Bajarmasin and Pontianak.

MASWings, AirAsia and Batavia Air provide regular services between the different areas of Borneo.

Air-conditioned express buses are the economical way to travel long distances within, and sometimes between, Borneo’s different states. Ferry links between Labuan Island, Brunei, KK, Limbang and East Kalimantan are also an efficient way of exploring the Borneo states.

Use the public express boats for fascinating journeys to coastal and inland towns such as along Rejang River or from Kuching East to Sibu.

Borneo accommodation

Borneo has a full range of accommodation, from treetop lodges, budget hostels and small guesthouses to luxury on-the-beach hotels.

More intriguing options include Borneo’s ecolodge stays with the chance to see as many as nine primate species including crocodiles, butterflies and rare birds such as the Storms stork. It is advised that accommodation should be booked prior to travel. 

Borneo food & drink

Borneon food comprises of three world-class dishes; Malay, Chinese and Indian, and has a hugely varied national menu. Even within each ethnic cuisine, there is a vast choice.

Indian influences can be divided into two schools; North Indian dishes are subtly spiced using more meat and served with a range of breads. South Indian dishes use fiery spices, emphasise vegetables and are served with rice. The most popular North Indian food is tandoori, which is served with delicious naan bread or roti (chapatti).

The Kadazan – the largest ethnic group in Sabah tend to use mango in their Sabahan food, which can be on the sour side.

Malay food is rich and creamy due to use of coconut milk. Malay curries are flavoursome with the use of herbs and spices including chilli, ginger, tumeric, Coriander, lemongrass, cloves, cumin and cinnamon. The best Malay food is usually found at stalls in hawker centres.

The Chinese cuisine in Borneo consists mainly of seafood, chicken, rice and noodles. Good Chinese food is available in restaurants and coffee shops. Regional dishes like Hainanese chicken rice and dim sum are mouth-watering. 

Soft drinks, mineral water, and freshly squeezed juices are widely available. Malaysian brewed guinness and tiger beers are very popular. One of the most interesting cultural refinements of the Indian Muslim community is the Mamak man, who is framed for the Tarik (pulled tea), which is thrown across the distance of about a metre, from one cup to another, with no spillages.

Health & safety in Borneo

Consult your GP or a travel health clinic for advice on inoculations and anti-malarial prophylaxis. Various biting bugs, leeches, parasites and venomous snakes are found in Borneo – particularly the jungles of Borneo – so wear insect repellent, don’t walk barefoot and take sensible precautions to avoid bites and stings.

Food hygiene is generally good and crime levels relatively low, but do take do take the usual common-sense precautions.