Borneo Travel Guide: How to master Borneo like a boss

Kinabatang River
Kinabatang River

Borneo was in our imaginations always an undiscovered paradise, somewhere we wouldn’t choose to travel to first, maybe more undiscovered than other Asian Countries, but we were always curious about Borneo’s rough nature, the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre and everything we heard and read about Borneo.

Being the 3rd larges Island in the world, Borneo is divided in the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, Indonesian Kalimantan and the tiny country of Brunei. Sabah is located at the northern part of the island of Borneo and is most famous for its 4,095m-tall Mount Kinabalu, the country’s highest mountain, and the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. And Sarawak, the southern part of Borneo with stunning nature, rainforest and beaches. Unfortunately we weren’t lucky with the weather when we were travelling through Borneo, but we still saw some pretty amazing things!
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So after our epic Asia round trip, we decided to include Borneo in our Itinerary and after traveling through Malaysia, we flew from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu. Our trip didn’t start that good as the weather was unbelievably bad and our plane was shaking like a leaf. At a certain point we saw the lady next to us praying and another one in the row next to our neighbour was reading the emergency instruction card. I was holding on to my chair so tight that if it would be a human being, it would be full of bruises. Even Lion, who is always the calm and relaxed dude, wasn’t to sure about this plane landing us safely to the ground. Thank goodness we did, but when we arrived in Kota Kinabalu, I was seriously thinking of how it would be to travel by boat from Borneo back to Australia.

What to do in Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu, the Capital City of Sabah in Northern Borneo is quite a small city. Actually smaller than we expected. You really don`t need a lot of time to explore Kota Kinabalu. We stayed here for 2 nights in total and this was enough for us to get a good impression of what Kota Kinabalu has to offer. For us it was more a little bit of time to relax and prepare ourselves for our trip to Sandakan. Kota Kinabalu has a nice boardwalk along the sea with bars and restaurants and a busy night market with delicious food. That market was our absolutely amazing with delicious fresh Malay food and people from young to old, singles to families all coming together for a great traditional and cheap meal.

Where to Stay in Kota Kinabalu

We stayed 1 night in De Galleria Hotel. This hotel has a great location in the heart of the city centre of Kota Kinabalu, which is convenient for both leisure as business travellers. Rooms are kinda small, but comfortable,clean and has everything you need for a pleasant stay.

Look here for more pictures, information and reviews about De Galleria Hotel in Kota Kinabalu.

As we like to try out different accomodations, we also stayed 1 night in the Aston Boutec Hotel. This hotel is located in the Business District of Kota Kinabalu,which is a bit further from the city centre but still a great place to experience Kota Kinabalu and its surroundings. The staff is very friendly and helpful and there are nice restaurants very close to the hotel.

Click here for more photo`s, information and reviews about the Aston Boutec Hotel in Kota Kinabalu.

The Kinabalu National Park

Kota Kinabalu is the getaway to the Kinabalu national park, which is home to the 4095 m high mount Kinabalu. You can spent hours as well days of hiking, mountain climbing, photographing the stunning nature, animals, flora and fauna. All summed up, The Kinabalu National Park is adventurous heaven.

An important notice stated on the Sabah Tourism website ` Mt. Kinabalu is a popular destination, visitors who wish to climb Mount Kinabalu are advised to make reservations 6 months in advance to avoid disappointment. The number of climbers is limited to 135 persons daily” Not that we were planning to climb this amazing mountain,but it might be good to know, if you are planning on climbing Mount Kinabalu. What we did plan was visiting the Kinabalu National Park and hiking around, but unfortunately we were completely in the wrong season, and the weather was really bad, so we had to skip it. The weather wasn’t looking promising for the next few weeks, so it didn’t make sense to stay and wait for longer weather. So we decided to travel further up north, to Sandakan.

If you  want to stay close to the park and in the middle of the stunning nature of Borneo the Kinabalu Mountain Lodge is an amazing accomodation.  Check it out here at AirBnb and get a complementary 50 $ off your first booking! 

How to travel to Sandakan

From Kota Kinabalu it`s a long, but stunning bus ride of about 6 hours to Sandakan. On the way to Sandakan you will pass the Kota Kinabalu national park, very green scenery and several small Malaysian villages. The Malaysian busses are in general very comfortable and cheap, so travelling for hours in a bus is just a matter of sit back, relax and enjoy the stunning views!

Travel Solo But Never Alone

Where to stay in Sandakan

We stayed in the Borneo Cove Hotel. Although it`s not really located in the centre of Sandakan, it is still a very good and very affordable choice to stay. The rooms are clean and light, they have a nice refreshing swimming pool and the staff is really friendly. It`s a great hotel to explore the surroundings and have a dip and relaxing time in the pool after!

Look here for more about the Borneo Cove Hotel 

If you want something special, AirBnb has this amazing accommodation called a left over house. This guest house was created from all the off cuts from the construction of a volunteers house. The owner of the accommodation lives here by himself when it`s not rented out. It`s small, but you can’t say everyday that you slept on top of a water tank in a left over house right?

Go and check it out here and get FREE travel credit when you book your first Airbnb stay!

Sign up and search for ‘left over house Sandakan’ they have rooms from only $26 per night!

What to do in Sandakan

Sandakan itself is not that exciting, it`s more the surroundings, that makes Sandakan a must do on your Borneo Bucket list. When you think of Borneo, one of the things you will probably think of first is the Oerang Oetangs at the Sepilok rehabilitation centre. This was one of the reasons we went to Borneo in the first place.

So we took a taxi from our accommodation in Sandakan to Sepilok, which is around 45 minutes away from Sandakan. There were also busses going from Sandakan to Sepilok several times per day, much cheaper than a taxi, but those busses only run to the junction of the centre, and from there it`s another 1.5 km walk, or you can take a taxi, but they will try to charge you big time of course. On top of that it was raining as well, so we decided we just go for the relaxed way and take a taxi all the way.

The entrance fee was around 30RM for non Malaysians, plus another 10RM for the use of your camera. Unfortunately it was rainy and the rest of the week wasn’t looking good either, otherwise we could have gone another day, so we didn’t use our camera much. Also the Oerang Oetangs decided to stay warm and protected somewhere where we couldn’t see them, so we only had a little sneak peak at a few of them, which was of course pretty amazing, but secretly we hoped to see a bit more of this special animals.

Staying at the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre

If you want to stay longer and experience everything Sepilok has to offer, you can stay close to the centre in some great accommodation.  Click here to see a accommodations are near the Sepilok Rehabilitation centre.
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Sepilok Oerang Oetang Rehabilitation Centre
Sepilok Oerang Oetang Rehabilitation Centre
Sepilok Oerang Oetang Rehabilitation Centre
Sepilok Oerang Oetang Rehabilitation Centre
Sepilok Oerang Oetang Rehabilitation Centre
Sepilok Oerang Oetang Rehabilitation Centre

Another thing to do from Sandakan : Jungle tour over the Kinabatang River

Another must do when you are in Sandakan is a jungle tour over the Kinabatang River. We did the day tour, but we strongly recommend doing at least a 1 night tour. This is because we spend almost 3 hours one way to drive from Sandakan to the point where we could go on the river. So your actual time on the Kinabatang River is minimised by the travel time if you only go for the day. Plus if you stay a night, you can do one of the night jungle tours as well!

Kinabatang River Borneo
Kinabatang River Borneo
Kinabatang River Borneo
Kinabatang River Borneo

Green Travel Tips

We where just very unlucky with the weather during our trip through Borneo, so again, as in Sepilok, the animals decided to hide safe and dry from the rain. We did see some monkeys and birds, and heard some special animals, but the weather made the overall experience a bit average.

Because it wasn’t going to be better any time soon, we travelled Borneo in general a bit fast tracked and skipped some things we had planned, but instead we came up with the brilliant idea to visit Brunei, while we where in the neighbourhood and before heading further South to Kuching 

Read about Brunei and how to travel from Borneo to Brunei! 

Have you been to Borneo and to the Sabah? What did you think? Talk to us in the comments below


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