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Most people who head to Malaysia start in Kuala Lumpur and continue their journey on the mainland. They head to Cameron Highlands or Melaka or maybe even visit some of the islands. But did you know Borneo is part of Malaysia as well?
We loved this part of Malaysia because it’s so different from what we saw on the mainland. That’s why we’ve created the perfect itinerary for Borneo. You’ll visit both Sarawak and Sabah and enjoy the wildlife Borneo has to offer.
Depending on how much time you have you can extend your stay if you would like or just pick one of two of the highlights. Getting around Borneo is easy, though the distances can rack up. But flights are pretty inexpensive. So let’s take a look at the perfect itinerary for Borneo!
Start in Kuching and take at least two days to explore both the town and one of the national parks that are close by. Kuching is the biggest town in Sarawak and has about 600.000 inhabitants. There are a lot of Chinese influences because there is a huge Chinese population.
There is a lot to see and do in Kuching. Try to spot as many cat statues as you can. Kuching means cats in Indonesian, and the other part of Borneo is part of Indonesia. There is even a cat museum.
But there is a lot of history in this town as well. We visited the Sarawak Museum where we learned a lot about the history of Borneo. They showed how people used to live and have replicas of the longhouses. Imagine living in one of those. Near the water, you’ll find a fort that was built in 1879.
The two national parks that are close by are Kubah National Park and Bako National Park. The first one is great for hiking and visiting a waterfall and the second one has the proboscis monkeys.
Mulu National Park
Mulu National Park is one of the highlights of our visit to Borneo. We spent 4 days in this park and this was perfect to try out all the different activities and tours. There are daily flights to Mulu National Park from Kuching, Miri, and Kota Kinabalu. We spend a day in Miri before flying to Mulu National Park, but there isn’t a lot to do in Miri.
To spend time in a rainforest in something special. We loved that all you see around you are just plants and more plants. Take a tour of one or two of the caves, walk high above the rainforest via the canopy walk, watch the bat exodus or learn more about the nightlife.
Be prepared to be hot and take raingear with you at all times. One morning we woke up and the park was flooded because of the amount of rain they had that night. But most days were an adventure and something we wouldn’t want to have missed!
Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sarawak and has about 315.000 inhabitants. Because this is another state we had to go to customs again and collected a lot of stamps in our passports for Malaysia. Most people travel to Kota Kinabalu to climb Mount Kinabalu or go trekking.
But one of the best things to do in Kota Kinabalu is a proboscis monkey & firefly tour. There are a lot of tour operators and all of them offer something that looks similar but they go to different areas or take bigger or smaller groups. Do some research and look at reviews of people who took the tour. We took a tour to the Weston Wetlands with Only in Borneo Tours.
Of course, with wildlife tours, you have to get lucky and we did. We saw a lot of proboscis monkeys and the fireflies at night lit up the sky like it was Christmas. The tour guide had a special flashlight to lure the fireflies to the boat and they set down on the boat and our hands and arms!
From Kota Kinabalu, we took a bus to Sandakan, which is about a 6-hour ride. This was cheaper than flying and the time was doable. The first part of the trip goes through National Park Kinabalu and you might spot Mount Kinabalu on a clear day. There is a stop to grab a bite to eat as well.
The reason we are traveling all the way to Sandakan, which is almost on the other side of Borneo, is the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Orphaned, injured, or displaced orangutans have been taken care of in Sepilok since 1964 with the aim of returning them to the wild. The park is about 43 square kilometers in size and is part of the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve. About 75 semi-wild orangutans are roaming freely in the reserve.
The nice thing about the shelter is that you can encounter orangutans everywhere. After all, they are being trained to go back to nature. When you’re walking around the park they might just pass you by when you’re not paying attention. (Yes, that happened to me because I was looking at another orangutan and one walked right by me).
How long should you stay in Borneo?
It all depends on how much time you have and if you’re just visiting Borneo or combining the mainland & Borneo. Luckily, Malaysia allows most travelers to stay up to 90 days. We spent 2.5 weeks in Borneo and we stayed in Mulu National Park the longest.
If you don’t want to be rushed a minimum of 10 days is a must for the perfect itinerary for Borneo. This would mean 2 days in Kuching, 4 days in Mulu National Park, 2 days in Kota Kinabalu, and 2 days in Sandakan.
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Things to keep in mind
Do some research for accommodations for Mulu National Park on time. There is limited space and you want to make sure you’re able to go. This is the only thing we booked in advance, all the other activities were pretty easy to arrange on the fly.
Download Grab before you head to Borneo. We used it on numerous occasions because we couldn’t find a bus or just because it was a lot cheaper. We tried Uber as well but there were almost no cars and when we did find one he was lost forever.
You get to see a lot of wildlife in Borneo. Be respectful and listen to the instructions of the caretakers. Bring a good camera because the monkeys and orangutans are usually up high and your phone might struggle to take a decent picture.
The perfect itinerary for Borneo in a nutshell
We absolutely loved Borneo and wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Because we travel at a slow pace we spend 18 days exploring all that Borneo has to offer. It was interesting to notice that Sarawak and Sabah are so different and it feels like you’re actually crossing a border.
If you’re heading to Malaysia, add Borneo to your itinerary. Spend at least 10 days enjoying the perfect itinerary for Borneo and soak it all in. But if you have less time, pick your favorites and just head to those. As we said, flights are pretty inexpensive and the distances are short.
Have you been to Malaysia’s Borneo? What did you like the most? Or what are you looking forward to most after reading the perfect itinerary for Borneo? Let us know in the comments!
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