When I was a young child I remember flipping through a National Geographic article on Borneo, Malaysia. The pictures showed lush green trees that towered into the skies and images of unique wildlife that looked so obscure, I couldn’t help but pause and look at the photos just a bit longer. Borneo seemed like such a distant land that only researchers went to and little did I know that one day I would go there too.
Fast forward twenty some odd years later and I have now spent over two months exploring this mystic land. From those younger years, I have built a life around traveling with a passion for finding and observing wildlife. It’s no secret that our last wild places all over the world are becoming smaller and smaller. Borneo is certainly no exception and this is a place I wanted to see and spend quality time in sooner than later.
Malaysia and Indonesia each have land within the borders of Borneo as well as the small country of Brunei. In Borneo, Malaysia there are two regions, Sarawak to the west and Sabah to east. When I tell people I have spent over two months in Borneo, Malaysia, that is not even touching the Indonesian part! There is a lot to do here!
Visiting Borneo, Malaysia can be a great destination choice, particularly for those either working or based in Southeast Asia. Flights booked in advance can be so affordable and I met a lot of teachers or people working remotely around Asia who would 'pop over' to Borneo for a long weekend. If you go I would:
- Assess how much time you have and what you want to see.
- Pick an area and figure out what seems reasonable and enjoyable for your preferred pace of travel.
- The parks below are based around either Kuching or Miri, in Sarawak Malaysia, making those great starting or ending cities for these parks.
Bako National Park
Proboscis monkeys are endemic and only found in Borneo. An overnight stay is one of the best ways to increase your chances of seeing this rare primate. Day hikes and a decent canteen make this an easy park to spend a day or two in. Bearded pigs, flying lemurs, pit vipers and glowing fungus are just a few of the other cool animals and fauna you have a chance of seeing during your time in the park.
Kubah National Park
If you want to see frogs like you’ve never seen before, stay overnight here! Every evening frogs make their descent towards the water to mate and feed. I stayed for two nights and each night saw multiple species of frogs, a baby pit viper and possibly a saddleback snake as well. For the day time, there is a nice hiking trail past sting-less bees (yes, these are a thing) to a waterfall for swimming.
Mulu National Park
A World Heritage Site, Mulu National Park is one of the best run parks I have been to. Essentially the park is only reachable by small plane (or hiking in via the Headhunters Trail) and Mulu has some of the best caves in the world. A biodiversity hot spot, every evening there is a massive bat exodus where up to a million plus bats exit Deer Cave. Go on a night hike to get just a small glimpse of the estimated 20,000 insects that live in the forest. There are opportunities for adventure caving, more casual viewing of the show caves and a three day hike to view the unique rock formations called the Pinnacles. Don’t cut yourself short on time here!
Niah Caves National Park
Most visitors bypass Niah Caves or go for a short day visit. Here is where a skull believed to be the first human skull found in Southeast Asia was unearthed. Visitors are able to wander into the depths of the cave via boardwalks at their own pace. This cave also gives a first hand look into bird nest harvesting, a tradition used to make bird nest soup. For those looking for more adventure, stay another night and hike to the summit of Bukit Kasut. This is a full day hike and using ropes and ladders are necessary to reach the top.
Lambir Hills National Park
Easily reachable from Miri either as a day or overnight trip, Lambir Hills helps visitors understand the richness and importance of plant diversity in the rain forest. We often hear concerns of animal extinction, but hear less of plant extinction. Many animals only eat very specific parts of trees and plants. Without the plant, the wildlife is doomed to die out. Take our collective knowledge a step further and we also can learn that certain plants can only grow in specific soil types. All these factors are connected to species survival and what is happening both in and around National Park throughout the world. Taking a hike in Lambir Hills and going through the visitor center gives one a look and appreciation of the estimated 2500 plus tree species that exist in that park alone.
Borneo is a land unlike any other. This land is changing as more and more areas are cleared for palm oil production. Hopefully through sustainable tourism there will be more economic reason to keep the rain forest alive rather than burn it down. Even as I have seemingly spent a significant amount of time here, I feel like I have only scratched the surface. Borneo is a place to return to many times over.
If you go:
Bako National Park is easily reached from Kuching. Take local bus No 1 for $3RM to the park access point. Here you will need to take a boat for $40RM pp return. If you can stay overnight in the park and book as far in advance as you can! Accommodations fill up fast and can be done online here. Also read this post for more information on how to get to Bako and what you need to do.
Kubah National Park is also easily reached from Kuching. Take local bus No 11, $4RM pp to the park entrance and walk 400 meters up the hill and you are there. Entrance for foreigner $20RM pp. It is necessary to make your own food there and cooking facilities are provided. Eat dinner first and then head up to the frog pond at 6:30pm and wait for the frog orchestra to start.
In Kuching, I stayed at Marco Polo’s Guest House. It is about a 10 minute walk to the main part of town and I did not mind this. The ambiance was wonderful and everything a traveler could want: nice people, safe, good Wi-Fi, and a decent breakfast. We also checked out the facilities and heard from other travelers they enjoyed their stay at Singgahsana Lodge.
Mulu National Park is reached by MAS Wings. Try to plan ahead and get a promo rate on the airfare. If you plan to hike the Pinnacles, definitely book ahead and this is cheapest done directly through the park. Otherwise you can only hope to be really lucky or miss out. You can stay inside the park, although this is quite a bit expensive. There are many homestays just outside the park, which is a nice way to support the local community. I stayed at D’ Cave Homestay and would definitely recommend this as my top choice. Dina and Robert were wonderful and this is one of the only homestays that keeps the generator on all night from about 6pm until 6am, as opposed to turning it off at midnight. Best if you can call them at 01115085990, 0128729752 , 01115117599 or email firstname.lastname@example.org (there may be a delayed response via email because of a lack of internet.)
Lambir Hills is easily reached from Miri. Take local bus 33A to the main bus terminal. Then take any bus heading south towards Bintulu and ask the driver to let you off at Lambir Hills, $10RM pp. If you stay overnight, ask for a room in the chalets. We were put up in The Hill Lodge, which is great for a budget, but it has seen better days. The chalets looked much nicer.
Niah Caves can be done as a day trip from Miri, but if you are making all the effort to go there, might as well stay a night, or more if you are into caves and hiking. I stayed two. Check out this post for all the information you need if you would like to visit Niah Caves.
In Miri we stayed in these two budget places. Next Room Backpackers – had the nicest rooms, but the men’s bathroom was kinda gross. Ladies bathroom was fine. My Homestay – nicest kitchen facility to use and super nice bathrooms, but the rooms were cell like and not appealing. If you are ok with budget options, either of these places were fine enough. You could have a look on Agoda for slighter nicer places if you would prefer.
There are so many places to see in Borneo and these five parks are just a sampling of some of the variety you can see. If there is anything else I can help with, please feel free to get in touch! Enjoy Borneo!
Have any of you digital nomads been to Borneo yet?
What was one of your favorite experiences?
Author Bio: After her first year at university, Tiffany moved to Wyoming in the spur of the moment decision to live on the floor next to a washer and dryer. She has never looked back since embracing a life of adventure. With her husband Chris, she travels the world full time as a travel blogger and photographer. Learn more at www.vagabondway.net.