Borneo, the world’s third largest island, is divided among Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. I would like to think, however, that the best of Borneo can be found in the two Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak.
If you have three weeks of backpacking in Borneo, where should you go? Where should you start?
I guess you can start the tour from Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of the Malaysian state of Sabah. You can access Kota Kinabalu either from Malaysia’s KL International Airport or Singapore’s Changi Airport. Budget carrier AirAsia also flies to Kota Kinabalu from these two airports.
Here are 14 things you can do in Borneo but first a brief disclaimer. This is neither a definitive nor a comprehensive guide as it only touches on tourist attractions in Sabah. Please check with Sabah Tourism or local tour agents for a more information.
This blog has no business relations with tour agents mention in this entry.
Without further ado, here are the 14 things you can do in Borneo
Assuming that you start your tour in Kota Kinabalu, you can check these out:
1. Explore the city on your arrival, go to the museum, night market, Gaya Street Sunday bazaar or laze on the seafront.
2. Visit Monsopiad Cultural Village for a unique cultural experience. Located 20 minutes from Kota Kinabalu, the village is a traditional as well as a historical site maintained by the descendants of the feared and legendary Kadazan head-hunter warrior Monsopiad. His trophies of 42 skulls and a thigh bone are still kept at the village, in a hut called the House of Skulls.
3. Visit Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, about 15-20 minutes by speed boat ride. The park is a cluster of five islands — Pulau Gaya, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Mamutik and Pulau Sulug. You can dive, snorkel and learn how to scuba dive there. You can also do seawalking in Pulau Sapi where you’d get to walk on the sea bed as though you are walking on land.
From Kota Kinabalu you can plan your trip to:
4. Climb Mt Kinabalu (requires 2 days minimum). Mt Kinabalu is Borneo and Malaysia’s highest mountain.
The 4,092.5-metre mountain is used to be the highest mountain in Southeast Asia until someone pointed out that the Hkakabo Razi, at 5,881m in northern Myanmar or Burma, is the tallest mountain in the region. Myanmar is of course a Southeast Asian country.
So we now say Mt Kinabalu is the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea. The mountain is the central piece of the Kinabalu National Park, a World Heritage Site, located about an hour’s drive from Kota Kinabalu.
5. Take a bath at Poring Hot Spring after the climb. The hot spring is located 40 minutes drive from the Kinabalu National Park.
You can also plan your trip (after climbing Mt Kinabalu or even before) to:
6. Klias Proboscis Monkey Cruise , a 2-in-1 excursion, where you are taken on a boat along the Klias River (two hours drive from Kota Kinabalu) to see proboscis monkey and then as night sets in, treat yourself with spectacular display of nature’s own neon lights — thousands of fireflies lighting up trees by the river. More info here.
By now, you would have spent about eight days of your trip. Now it’s time to take a flight to Sandakan (or six hours by land) to experience Borneo’s wildlife adventure. Sandakan can take you approximately five days to cover. Things to do in Sandakan:
7. Visit the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. To many tourists, going here is among the main reasons — to some, the only reason — why they come to Borneo. Make sure you reach this centre by 9.45am in time for the orang utan feeding time at 10am. The orang utan are fed again at 3pm.
Why must you come during feeding time? Because that’s the time you’d get to see these men of the forest emerging from their jungle habitat.
There will be a video show after that and it is recommended that you go and watch it. It is enlightening, to me at least. More info here.
8. After seeing the orang utan, you can proceed to the Rainforest Rediscovery Centre not too far from Sepilok. It is dubbed as the most accessible rainforest in Sabah. More info here.
9. Visit Selingan Turtle Island and see marine life, turtles lying eggs and so on. You can also contribute to the conservation of this planet’s turtles by helping to release young turtles to the ocean.
10. Explore Sabah largest limestone and bird nests cave called Gomantung Cave.
11. Join Oxbow lake cruise for another wildlife excursion.
For more information about what you can do in Sandakan, the available tour packages and so on, refer here.
From Sandakan, you can access either Semporna or Lahad Datu, both about two hours by land:
12. Ah, time flies. It going into the third week already. If you are a diver, diving in Sipadan is a must.
You haven’t seen anything yet if you haven’t dive in Sipadan. Maybe that’s an exaggeration and coming from a non-diver, you need not take my word for it. But you should really take Jacques Cousteau’s word seriously.
13. If you are not a diver, and want to see Sabah’s own version of the Amazon rainforest, you should really come to Danum Valley Conservation Area in Lahad Datu. There’s a jungle lodge there.
It is an ancient jungle, minus T-Rex and co, of course. There is also an ancient burial ground which is not really a burial ground but rather a place where the dead in their timber coffin are stashed away in caves.
14. I guess, by now you have seen most of the major attractions Sabah has to offer. By now your three weeks is almost over. You can now return to Kota Kinabalu to catch your flight back.
However, if you still have a day to spare, you can make a quick dash to the northern part of Sabah to the village of Tinangol where you can see the traditional longhouse community.
That’s three weeks for you… and you still haven’t discovered the Malaysian state of Sarawak. Well, you can come back later for another three weeks of experiencing Borneo from Sarawak, the Land of the Hornbills. Lots of amazing things there… limestone landscape, people, world’s biggest cave and so on.