Borneo Malaysia 10 days backpacking things to see and do

BORNEO, Malaysia | 10 days backpacking from south to north

Katja MALAYSIA | BORNEO Leave a Comment

We STARTED OUR MALAYSIAN TRIP by flying directly to the third largest island in the world, BORNEO. The largest part of it belongs to INDONESIA, the smallest part is a country called BRUNEI and all the rest is under MALAYSIA. The island´s biggest treasure is one of the OLDEST RAINFORESTS in the world, with an AMAZING FLORA AND FAUNA. A real jungle, which made Borneo one of the most exciting travel destinations, we got the chance to visit so far.

When: August 2005

Places: Kuching, Batang Ai, Miri, Mulu, Sandakan, Sukau, Sepilok, Kota Kinabalu

How: planes, boats, minivans

Stayed in: small hotels




After the long FLIGHT TO KUALA LUMPUR we took another FLIGHT TO KUCHING in the south-west of BORNEO. The cheapest way to get around the island is by BUS, although a bus will not take you to all places – there is a good bus network between the coastal towns, but you will probably have to take a (shared) TAXI or a MINIVAN here and there to get to more remote places. If you share it with others, it will also not be that expensive. We also took a couple of FLIGHTS in between, to save time and also, sometimes it seemed to be the best option anyway. What we also did quite often is take SMALL WOODEN BOATS rides which take you across rivers and lakes. They are perfectly comfortable, unless it rains. 10 days later we ended our “Borneo part of the journey” in the north of the island, before flying back to KL from where we explored the most part of the peninsula with a RENTED A CAR.



There seemed to be lots of cheap options and lots of expensive options – but not as many moderate price range accommodation. We tried to COMBINE A LITTLE BIT OF BOTH and it turned out great. Even the expensive options were a good value, compared to European standards for instance. Personally I found it the best to stay in small little wooden huts which had their own terrace and a fan, and an obligatory extra size bug spray. BREAKFAST and DINNER was usually served in a half open dinning rooms with free “LIBRARIES” and HAMMOCKS– and since we were often in the middle of nowhere this was the only way to spend the evening (a beer and a book after dinner), but we enjoyed the peace.


Might be a good idea to make a RESERVATION UPFRONT in the more secluded areas, since many times the way to the next nearest hotel/guesthouse is long. You don´t want to spend the night outside, at least not without proper equipment. Some agencies offer 2-3 day trips to the jungle where you can overnight with locals in their homes, I guess this is one of the best ways to experience the real wilderness.


Delicious, fresh, spicy, unknown, exotic, smelly, interesting, aromatic, sticky, fruity and sometimes also a bit disgusting. Amongst the “a bit disgusting” ones I would definitely put the edible “BIRD´S NEST” – it´s actually a CHINESE DELICACY, but very common in Borneo. When dissolved in water, the bird´s nests have a gelatinous texture which is perfect for SOUPS. To many also a DURIAN fruit would count as disgusting and the consumption of it is strictly forbidden in some areas and on public transport. The more yummy things include different FRUITS, VEGGIES, fresh FISH and MEAT, SPICES (black pepper), RICE and NOODLES.

borneo food


Obviously, take care of WILD ANIMALS, don´t SWIM IN RIVERS unless you are reassured there are no crocodiles, there will be many different kinds of INSECTS (but we didn´t have that many problems inside the rooms), do not make loud noises in the woods and keep your bags closed so that nothing gets in. We didn´t eat any malaria pills, there were also not many MOSQUITOS. The other thing to watch out for are all the LEGAL RESTRICTIONS, don´t worry, you will be reminded with signs often enough!



KUCHING | the largest town in Malaysian Borneo

With its 600.000 inhabitants, this is THE LARGEST CITY IN BORNEO – it´s a perfect starting point, because it gives one the chance to get in touch with the local culture, climate, food, history and people. You can easily reach all the major attractions and sights on foot, there are also many shops and markets to buy all you might need for further travelling days.



Every time we are in some other part of the world one of the first things I like to do is visit a LOCAL MARKET. Even if I do not intend to buy anything, it´s a great way to get in touch with the locals and try out some new culinary delights. We did stock on some fruits for the way and spices to take home with, especially the local pepper.





SEMENGGOH NATURE RESERVE | rehabilitation centre for orangutans

Just a SHORT DRIVE FROM KUCHING to the countryside, you find the BIGGEST REHABILITATION CENTRE IN SARAWAK in the south-east Borneo. This is one of the two most known rehabilitation centres on Borneo and although it is kind of a tourist attraction, it still serves its primarily purpose to rehabilitate ORANGUTANS and eventually release them back into wild. Animals are not I cages, but can freely move around. They do get food placed on WOODEN PLATFORMS, where they can get it anytime they want. Most of the animals in the centre do not know how to find food on their own and need to learn the basics so to say.



GUIDES will take you to those platforms from which you can quietly observe the orangutans. We were pretty lucky and got so see many.


BATANG AI NATIONAL PARK | sleeping in the jungle and visiting traditional long houses

Time for the real JUNGLE. After hours of driving and a beautiful BOAT RIDE on the big artificial LAKE just before sunset, we reached our beautiful “HOTEL” in the NATIONAL PARK and watched the sun go down from a fisherman´s pear while drinking a well deserved cold beer. 250 kilometres from Kuching we were in the middle of an extensive tropical forest which represents home to many PROTECTED ANIMALS, there are no real roads and the only way to get there is by boat. Hard to think of a better end of the day.




THE NEXT MORNING we were ready for action and we made a deal with a LOCAL GUIDE who took us for a visit to his VILLAGE. The LONG BOATS might be wooden and there is not much space for the legs, but they sure are fast (and sometimes smelly).


There are MANY FAMILIES LIVING IN A TYPICAL LONGHOUSE. A common corridor is used for storing things, gathering and social life – each family has usually also a small room, the rooms are all on one side of the corridor. KITCHENS are mostly common and the woman cook together for many people, the verandas and terraces are also common and so is the roof / attic. Under the longhouse, between the stilts animals such as PIGS and CHICKEN are kept. Since the arrival of Europeans, the Iban have been urbanised and we find TV´s, telephones and even internet in some of the more modern longhouses.





The IBAN PEOPLE are the LOCAL INHABITANTS and some of them still today live in TRADITIONAL LONG HOUSES, catch their own food and seem to be ONE WITH THE NATURE . Many of them though have already moved to bigger towns and visit their villages just over the weekends. They are known to have had practised HEADHUNTING and tribal/territorial expansion in the past, they enjoyed the REPUTATION OF A FEARSOME AND STRONG TRIBE. Today, those times are over and they seem to be welcoming every one very kindly amongst themselves.




COCK FIGHTING is still big on Borneo – it`s not necessarily something I would go and watch, but these two looked like they were ready to do it despite the lack of spectators.


When they cook, it´s A FEAST. After a short trip with the long wooden boats we took a swim in a river (and were reassured there were no crocodiles) and helped (or better said watched, since they insisted on preparing all on their own) how they made a very DELICIOUS MEAL, just like that, on a river bank. All the ingredients were brought from the longhouse on our small boat. And then there was grilled chicken, yummy fresh caught fish, pineapple, rice (steamed in a bamboo stick), chilli-garlic sauce, beans and water. EATING WITH HANDS made it taste even better.






BACK TO OUR WOODEN HOTEL at the lake, we took the chance of catching the evening sunlight from the hanging bridges at the CANOPY WALKWAY.




MULU NATIONAL PARK | via Miri to amazing caves and rainforests

It was time to leave the jungle. And move to another jungle. This one was even more REMOTE. From MIRI we took a short FLIGHT TO MULU NP, because the road would take way too much of our time and there is really no good connection, so most visitors fly. The park is under UNESCO and is an important site composed of CAVES and KARST FORMATIONS in a mountainous RAINFOREST region. Since it lays in a really remote area there has not been much visible influence of human beings and visitors can really enjoy the nature.



By following a 3km WOODEN WALKWAY, which takes you through various landscapes, you end up in the DEER CAVE and the PENAN BURIAL CAVE. Specific formations inside the caves are impressive, even for a person that has seen many caves before. There is even one which resembles the profile of Abraham Lincoln.



Thousands of BATS flying out of caves in the late afternoon.


I have never seen so many different funny INSECTS in my life. It is really rewarding to take your time when walking in the rainforest, stop here and there and just look up or to the nearest tree – I bet you will see something amazing! Just don´t try and touch anything, it might be poisonous, besides, you are in a NP, so respect the nature.


I just looked up this specific palm tree, because it is not so often that I see it – and guess what. First, it´s not really a palm tree, second; it is still called a “TRAVELLER´S PALM”, and it originates from Madagascar. Anyway, obviously these beauties grow also on Borneo.


SUKAU | night and day boat cruising the water channels through misterious rainforests

Time to leave the jungle. Again. And time to visit another JUNGLE. Again! More flying for us, we did save some travelling days by doing this, but in Borneo it´s not a big deal, many do it like this, because it is often the only reasonable way. We landed in the NORTH OF THE ISLAND and decided to skip the BEACHES (I know I know, a tough one), because we continued our trip in the Malaysian peninsula and saved a beach retreat for the last couple of days. Although, if you are a diver you should make a beach stop somewhere on Borneo, it is supposed to be amazing. Instead, we were off to Sukau, to do some more NATURE WALKS and BOAT RIDES. Yeah, this time also in the night!







Hours on a SMALL BOAT, paddling on water, where might be CROCODILES and other “dangerous things”, SNAKES hanging from the trees, MONKEYS jumping around, colourful BIRDS flying everywhere, SPIDERS getting into our bags – now imagine all of that, IN THE NIGHT. We were just 5 in the boat and had a GUIDE of course, who in all peace tried to spot sleeping monsters for us to watch. He did a great job and we returned safely and wide awake! Great experience.


SEPILOK | the most known rehabilitation center for orangutans

THE CENTRE is opened for more than 50 years now and it is THE FIRST OFFICIAL REHABILITATION CENTRE for rescued orphaned baby orangutans from logging sites, illegal hunting, plantations and being kept as pets. The ANIMALS are trained step by step to be able to survive in the wild again, find their own food and so on. The centre is one of Borneo´s major tourist attractions and hosts between 60-80 orangutans different ages. There is also a special area for the very small ones, a nursery. They are LIVING FREE IN THE RESERVE and the area is kept as a VIRGIN RAINFOREST. The place was similar to the Semenggoh Nature Reserve we visited near Kuching, but this one was muuuuch bigger and had more visitors.


It was time to leave Borneo – we were FLYING BACK TO KL from KOTA KINABALU and were thinking if we should have planned in more time, but on the other hand we were also looking forward to a big city and everything it offers. BORNEO WAS A GREAT OUTDOORS EXPERIENCE and I truly hope its rainforests remain so untouched. Would love to go back anytime in the future and check if and how it has changed.



Borneo Malaysia Things to see and do 10 days backpacking

Borneo Malaysia 10 days backpacking things to see and do

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