"The lungs of the Earth" or Borneo is an island off the coast of Malaysia shared by 3 countries, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. The island also contains one of the oldest rainforests in the world (140 million years old), hence making it the last few refuges for endangered species such as the Borneo orangutan.
In this guide, we will explore the wonderful nature and the wildlife the island has to offer from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu. Let's begin shall we?
Borneo Itinerary Map
Borneo Travel Video
Why go to Borneo?
Borneo is one of the few places you can experience the orangutans in its habitat. The old rainforest attracts many Wildlife experts and conservationists from around the world to explore and study the rich ecosystem and unique wildlife that can only be experienced on this island. It is a chance for normal travelers like us to experience the exotic land and the wildlife without going on an expedition while learning how important it is for humanity to conserve this last bit of Earth's lungs.
When To Visit Borneo and Brunei
May to September is considered high season but due to the average temperature of 32°C with 80% humidity all year round, it is best not to stress yourself out when it comes to when. I was there in June and the weather was a mix of rain and sun, but almost always humid as expected.
How to Get to Borneo and Brunei
Browse through Skyscanner or Momondo to find a cheap flight from where you live to Kuala Lumpur and from Kuala Lumpur, you can fly to Kuching via AirAsia. To find a cheap flight, I would recommend you browse through Skyscanner or Momondo before to compare prices so you will get the cheapest one possible.
Looking for a complete guide to Kuala Lumpur? Top 10 Things To Do In Kuala Lumpur.
How To Get Around Borneo and Brunei
The best thing about Malaysia is that everyone speaks english so traveling around the city via buses are very easy and convenient. In big cities like Kuching, Uber or taxi are also another great options if you are willing to spend a little more. In Brunei, it is easiest to negotiate with a taxi to take you to the few landmarks that are not walkable from the center.
In between cities, night buses are widely available with different comfort level at the main bus stations. Keep in mind that Borneo doesn’t have a developed transport infrastructure due to its thick rainforests so traveling a seemingly small distance may take hours more than usual. Also traveling from Brunei to Kinabalu requires you to go through 4 - 6 immigrations (I lost count after a while) due to complex immigration and border crossings so don't expect to sleep on that route.
Note: Mulu national park is very difficult to travel by land (requires boat, cars, and hiking) so going by plane from Miri or Kuching is the easiest. MASWings serves this route regularly for around 30 USD one way.
Where to Stay in Borneo and Brunei
Kuching - Gibbon Hostel - 7 USD/Night (John is hilarious. Beds with curtains. Free cookies and coffees all day. Centrally located.)
Bako National Park - Government provided hostel - 4 USD/Night
Mulu National Park - Mulu Village - 12 USD/Night
Brunei - Pusat Belia Youth Hostel - 10 USD/Night (Not the best place to be honest by the cheapest)
Kota Kinabalu - Masada Backpacker - 8.42 USD/Night
Internet in Borneo and Brunei
The internet in the Malaysian side of Borneo is excellent with cheap price, lots of data and well covered throughout the island. I used Maxis sim card and I haven't had any issues while traveling there.
Brunei, on the other hand, is a different question. Since we will be there for around 3 days, I don't think it is economical to buy a sim card so we will have to rely on the WIFI available. The problem is the accommodation I listed above doesn't have WIFI so I ended up having to rely on a restaurant nearby. Drop by De Royalle Cafe for some snack and unlimited WIFI.
This place is quite cheap compare to all the other countries in the world. If you are planning a trip here, you can expect to pay around 25 - 45 USD per day per person and that should include accommodation and 3 meals.
Keep in mind that this is just a suggested daily budget based on my style of traveling, which is leaning more toward the budget side of things. If you want to stick to this budget, expect to sleep in dorms, eat out only a few times, and be comfortable using the cheapest and most convenient way of transportation, which often times involves walking.
If you are looking for a travel insurance to go along with your trip to Malaysia, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for a travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure. They have a simple and flexible search system that allowed me to find the right insurance for the right amount of time at an affordable price in seconds. If you need a travel insurance, give WorldNomads.com a try.
Two Weeks Itinerary for Borneo and Brunei
Kuching (3 nights)
When you arrive in Kuching, the first thing you have to do is visit the Semenggoh Nature Reserve. Drop by either around 9AM or 3PM because that is when the rangers feed them and they will come out of the forest for you to see. Spend your last half day wandering around the city, checking out the Tua Pek Kong Temple, cruise along the river or walk the water front and appreciate the beautiful New Sarawak parliament architecture.
On your second day, take an Uber or a tour to Sarawak Cultural Village to learn more about the rich Sarawak culture and their tradition from their famous long house architecture, wooden bridge and their unique dance performance. It is a little bit touristy but I learned so much from visiting this place alone.
Bako National Park (1 night)
Start from Kuching early and take a bus and a boat to Bako National Park. There are many hikes you can do here and all the information will be provided to you when you register at the national park office. I recommended hiking the yellow trail if you don't have enough time.
Also do spend some time in front of the park office as the long-nose monkeys and wild boars love to hang out there in front of the building.
Mulu National Park (3 nights)
There are plenty of adventure to be found in this national park from caving to hiking. If you like caving, Deer, Langs and Clearwater cave are a few caves you can explore. For hikers, you can do a 2 hours hike to the Paku Waterfall or do the Canopy Skywalk. If you want to do multi-day trekking, you can trek to the Pinnacles, a series of large jagged rocks protruding the jungle.
Brunei (2 nights)
One day is more than enough to see Brunei in my opinion. The wonderful Islamic architecture in Brunei is truly one of its kind. Check out the Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque, Istana Nurul Iman palace and the gigantic Jame' Asr Hassanil Bolkiah mosque when you are there.
You can also take a water taxi to Kampong Ayer, one of the most crowded water village with over 35,000 people living on stilts. Learn the history on why Kampong Ayer used to be one of the most important trade post in this region.
Kota Kinabalu (4 nights)
Prepare your stomach because the moment you arrive in the city center, you will be bombarded with the smells of fresh street food being cooked at the food market along the river front. I went to the river side market for food and drinks every night.
During the day, you can do island hopping around the coast of Kota Kinabalu in the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. To be honest, I wasn't not impress with the islands around here but if you are looking for a beach day, you can do it here.
Last but not least, you can go for something more demanding and trek to the summit of Kinabalu. It usually takes 2 days and you have to go with a guided tour which cost a whooping 400 USD per person. The view from the top at ~4000m is quite a sight to behold.. I heard. I didn't do it because I just couldn't justify paying that much money for 2 days trekking.
And there you have it, a trip into the lungs of the Earth within 2 weeks. Did I miss anything from the list? If so, please let me know in the comments below.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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