Planning your next trip and want to know the top things to do in Borneo? Or maybe you are wondering why visit Borneo? We will answer all of this below!
Borneo… Just the name of this big island in south east Asia’s Malay Archipelago sounds mysterious and adventurous. With thousands of square kilometres of rainforest and a long coastline, there are many Borneo points of interest just waiting to be explored.
The island of Borneo is divided by three nations – Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Indonesia calls it Kalimantan and takes up the majority of the island. Malaysian Borneo is along the northern edge with the small nation of Brunei sitting on the northern coast, surrounded by Malaysia.
You can visit Borneo things to do in all three countries, but the most common entry point and most Borneo must see places are in Malaysian Borneo. The capitals of the two Malaysian states, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching, are the easiest access points and great bases from which to see the best of Borneo.
Borneo is not as well known as its peninsular Malaysian counterpart and you may not know much about what to do in Borneo. It’s most famous for its orangutans and we will cover the best places to see orangutans in Borneo. But we will also show you much more!
In this article, you will find the best places in Borneo to visit on your adventure as well as a handy map at the end of all the best places to go in Borneo!
Table of Contents
Top 12 Best Things To Do In Borneo
Enjoy A Sungai Kapur River Cruise
This recent tourism development near the town of Lahad Datu is an interesting exploration into one of Sabah’s most forgotten and pristine primary rainforest and wetland environments. The 3-days-2-nights Sungai Kapur River Cruise offers a chance to venture safely on Sabah’s easternmost coast, an area that was infamous and less-touristed since it was attacked in 2013 by pirates coming from the nearby Islamic Sultanate of Sulu.
Today the situation is under control, and the area offers chances to meander along the Kapur river and its small side streams, searching for elusive wildlife such as crocodiles, pygmy elephants, flying foxes and hundreds of species of birds. It’s also a perfect way to experience the life of Sabah’s last village, Kampung Meruap, inhabited by a mix of Malays and ethnic Sulu people, and change stereotypes about this once troubled region.
This one of the things to do in Malaysian Borneo is organised by Bike and Tours and Tabin Lodge (from RM2700 per person all inclusive) and leave from Lahad Datu town. Accommodation is in a comfortable ranger chalet on the edge of the rainforest, and meals include two delicious seafood feasts graciously offered by the locals at Kampung Meruap, who source their scrumptious prawns and giant grouper fish directly from the sea.
Contributed by Marco from Monkey Rock World.
See Orangutans In The Wild At The Danum Valley Conservation Area
Orangutans are synonymous with Borneo, and the Borneo Rainforest Lodge in the Danum Valley Conservation Area is one of the best places on the island to see them. The Danum Valley is one of the few remaining pockets of virgin rainforest in Borneo, and, while seeing orangutans is not guaranteed, it is common to see them here. Even if you don’t see orangutans, spending time hiking in the primeval jungle surrounded by towering trees, thick buttresses and tangled vines is an incredible experience.
The only place to stay inside the Danum Valley Conservation Area is Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Your stay includes guided hikes with expert local hikes, a night walk and a night drive in the back of an open truck with a powerful spotlight to spy nocturnal creatures. The day hikes include a walk on their canopy walkway where you are high in the trees where orangutans often hang out.
The Danum Valley is in the Sabah region of Malaysian Borneo The nearest airport is Lahad Datu. The lodge is all inclusive, and they have an office near the airport and take you into the Danum Valley. There is a cheaper option, the Danum Valley Field Center. It is just outside the conservation area, has basic accommodation and does not have all of the guided trekking and night safari that the lodge has, but is a great budget option.
The best time to go is between March and October, which is the driest time of the year Avoid December and January as they are the worst months for viewing wildlife.
Contibuted by James at Travel Collecting
See The Pygmy Elephants On The Kinabatangan River
The pygmy elephants of Borneo are genetically different from other Asian elephants – they were isolated from the mainland elephants over 300,000 years ago. These are the smallest elephants in Asia and there are less than 1,500 of the Bornean elephants left. They’re found mainly here in Sabah.
Males grow to a size of 2.5 metres, and while these elephants are fully grown they look like babies. Their ears are more than a little oversized, and their tails drag on the ground sometimes as they’re so long.
You’ll find the Asian pygmy elephant along the banks of the Kinabatangan River in Borneo. You should come here as it’s the only place you can see these elephants. You can reach the lodges here at this one of the best places in Borneo by bus and boat transfer from Sandakan.
You can take a day tour here from Sandakan, but it’s far better to spend a few days and nights here. It’s gloriously peaceful, and you can combine your stay with night nature walks and more wildlife spotting.
This isn’t a protected area, so there is no national park fee, you’ll just have to pay the related tour fee, or splash out on a luxurious lodge stay. I highly recommend this Borneo must do.
Contributed by Sarah from ASocialNomad.
Explore Gomantong Caves
Visiting Gomantong Caves is one of the things to do in Sabah Borneo because these caves are hundreds of years old. The Gomantong Caves system has 19 limestone caves and is the largest limestone cave system in Sabah.
Discovered in 1930, the two main caves are Simud Hitam (Black Cave) and Simud Putih (White Cave). The Black Cave is open to the public while the White Cave requires cave climbing experience.
The boardwalk in the Black Cave loops around the chamber and is suitable for families to visit. Besides learning about the geology and history of the caves, you’re likely to see cockroaches, lots of swiftlets and bats. The cave system is also home to giant centipedes, scorpions and mud crabs.
A unique thing about this where to visit in Borneo is that swallows have built their nests here for centuries and swallows nests are harvested and sold to produce bird’s nest soup. However, the collection of bird’s nests is controlled by the Sabah State Government’s Department of Wildlife and conducted twice a year only.
Gomantong is located 110 kilometres from Sandakan and 35 kilometres from the town of Kota Kinabatangan. The road from Kota Kinabatangan to Gomantong is paved and the turnoff to Gomantong is well signposted. You can get to the caves by hiring a car from Sandakan or on an organised tour.
The entry fee is RM30 and if you’re planning on taking photo with a camera other than your smartphones, there’s an additional camera fee of RM30.
Contributed by Christina from Travel2Next.
Learn About Marine Life In Turtle Island
Borneo is known for its amazing wildlife, and one of the Borneo best places to visit to learn about its marine life is Turtle Island (Pulau Selingan).
This tiny one of the best islands in Borneo lies just off the northern coast. Pulau Selingan is home to a marine park which deals with turtle conservation. Every night turtles come ashore to lay their eggs which are collected by the park staff. The eggs are carefully looked after until the newly hatched turtles can be released into the wild. During your stay on the island you’re able to learn about turtle conservation, and watch the rangers at work.
To get to Turtle Island you need to book yourself onto a tour here, which usually lasts for a day and a night.
The tours depart from Sandakan, where you jump on a speedboat that whisks you across the sea to the island in under an hour. Pulau Selingan has pristine white beaches where you can relax or snorkel until the evening.
Observing the turtles is strictly controlled – you have to stay in a waiting room until a ranger collects you to see the turtles laying eggs on the beach. The next day an early breakfast is served before you’re taken back to Sandakan.
Crystal Quest is the official tour operator and tours cost in the region of RM500 per person. Other tour operators can also arrange your stay, but they are usually more expensive.
Contributed by Emily from Kids And Compass.
Learn About Orangutans At Sepilok
If you’re heading to Borneo, the chances are you’re there to see orangutans, and there’s nowhere easier than at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah. Located about 45 minutes by bus from Sandakan, this is maybe the best place to see orangutans in Borneo.
Established in 1964, Sepilok was the first orphaned orangutan rehabilitation centre in the world, and today is home to about 80 individuals, some in nurseries and others free in the protected forest reserve.
Visits begin with a short lecture and film about the conservation process, followed by exploration of the forest using designated wooden walkways. From here, you can watch some of the orangutans as they come down to the feeding platforms, swinging from high ropes and sometimes squabbling with the macaques who like parading along the handrails, munching on stolen bananas. It’s the easiest and best way to see orangutans in Borneo.
There are two feeding times each day, and it’s recommended that you arrive at 8:45am or 1:45pm so you don’t miss out. You can also watch some of the young orangutans in the outdoor nursery as they complete their final stage of rehabilitation.
Entrance is RM30 which allows you to attend both feedings if you wish, and there’s a further RM10 camera fee for those wanting to take photos. Just be aware that the centre is closed for lunch between 12 and 2pm. Many visitors like to visit to the nearby Rainforest Discover Centre over lunch whilst Sepilok is closed.
Contributed by Heather from Conversant Traveller.
Visit The Famous Handicraft Villages
It is often a good idea to buy souvenirs from locals while traveling, and in Kudat they’ve made it easy for you to do just that.
At this option of the Borneo what to see, you will find three tribal villages that have dedicated themselves to making just one product, like traditional gongs in the village of Kampung Sumangkap. Many of the houses had a gong workshop underneath the living quarters, and since gongs are the most important instrument in local festivals and ceremonies, it was interesting to see how they were made.
The village charges each visitor a RM5 fee to park, wander around the village, talk to the various artisans, and ultimately to buy one of their products. Most of the artists spoke at least some English, and after talking to a few, we really got to see how the traditional gong was made, completely by hand.
The Kudat area is located only about three hours from Kota Kinabalu, and you can either drive there yourself or take a pre-arranged tour. The other two villages have a honey business and a traditional longhouse to experience. Visiting these handicraft villages is a perfect way to give back and help the local economy, and it will provide the best souvenir from the region. It’s perfect with travelling solo or on a Borneo family holiday.
Contributed by Corinne from Reflections Enroute.
Go Hiking At Mount Kinabalu
For anyone with even a slight interest in hiking, Mt Kinabalu is a must-visit for the best treks in Borneo.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the highest mountain in Malaysia (4,095 meters) and is part of a national park of the same name. So even if you don’t want to hike up the mountain, it is worth the visit.
For those of you that want to hike the mountain you can do it in two days. There is one main route for most of the way, and then you can choose from two different routes to make the final summit. The standard package starts at RM1990 for a group of foreigners. It gets more expensive if you have less than 7 people.
There is also a 3 day 2 night option. Packages for this start at RM2280 for a group of foreigners.
Booking ahead is absolutely necessary if you want to climb the mountain because they only allow 185 climb permits a day. It is a popular activity, so giving it a 6-month lead time is a good idea.
The best way to get to Mt Kinabalu is by mini-van. Catch one from the long-distance bus station in the city (near the night market). It will drop you right at Kinabalu Park main office. The fare is RM15 and it takes about 2 hours.
If you would like to experience the park without hiking up the mountain, click here to book a great camping experience in Mount Kinabalu.
Contributed by Bert from Survival Fitness Plan.
Explore The Rainforest In Ulu Temburong National Park, Brunei
Brunei is a fantastic side trip when looking for where to go in Borneo and Ulu Temburong National Park is one of the best Borneo places to visit if you want to experience virgin rainforest and have an easy rainforest adventure. Ulu Temburong is home to a huge range of wildlife and vegetation although much of the wildlife will probably stay hidden.
Easily accessible from the capital of Brunei, Bandar Seri Begawan, on day or longer tours, getting here is half the fun. The journey starts with a 40-minute speed boat ride to Bangar Town and then an overland drive before taking the last part of the journey by long boat. It’s possible to visit traditional long houses on the way.
Visitors can only enter certain parts of the park as Brunei is serious about its conservation, but in these parts you can do quite a lot. There are rainforest walks with over seven kilometres of boardwalks as well as a canopy walkway 50 metres in the air as pictured above. You will feel like you are in the middle of nowhere (but that nowhere is very spectacular). It all adds up to one of the top Borneo tourist attractions.
There is also rainforest worth visiting just outside the park. We visited a waterfall where we could wade in and they had those fish they have in shopping centres that eat the dead skin off your feet!
Day tours for this Borneo top 12 start at about RM300 but I recommend staying overnight. It’s hot and humid so take spare clothes, comfortable shoes, sunscreen, a hat and plenty of water. Make sure you add it to your list of best places to visit in Borneo.
Contributed by David from Paid Survey Fanatics.
Encounter Wildlife In Bako National Park
Bako National Park is a haven for avid birders and wildlife enthusiasts close to Kuching city in Sarawak and deserves its place on this list of top places to go in Borneo. Tourists and nature lovers flock from across the globe for the prime park attraction – the long nosed Proboscis monkey. However, that’s not the only pull for naturalists. Bako boasts a vast array of flora and fauna – from the bearded pigs to flying lemurs, tarantulas to hermit crabs, there is just so much on offer here.
Bako is just a 30-minute drive from Kuching city. It is advisable to stay for at least two days inside the park to enjoy several hiking trails and boat rides. If I had more time, I could happily spend a week in the dense rainforests and mangroves of Bako.
The entry fee ranges from RM10 for Malaysians to RM20 for adults. Cost of boats and stay is additional (based on the forest lodge you pick). All hikes are free of cost and marked properly. You can even opt for a day trip to Bako though it is not recommended as the guided night walk was one of the highlights of my time there.
Contributed by Jo from Wonder With Jo.
Learn Culture And Traditions In Sarawak Cultural Village
Sarawak Cultural Village is not only the best thing to do in Borneo with kids, but it’s also the perfect place to start your first visit to Borneo.
The village provides a fascinating introduction to the diversity of human life on the island. Here you learn about all seven ethnic groups of Borneo by visiting real wooden houses, some very big.
You see and join in with traditional village life alongside staff who role play different activities at this things to see in Borneo. Learning here about local trades and observing everyday village culture is fun for the kids and adults too.
Twice a day there is a show of tribal dance. We were all fascinated by that. It’s best to go for the early show (11am) as a cultural primer for your visits to the different houses.
Sarawak Cultural Village is 50-60 minutes from Kuching. You can get there by taxi or by a van shuttle from Grand Margherita Hotel, Kuching departing 9:15am, 12:15pm and 2:15pm.
Currently, entry costs RM50 adults and RM25 for kids if purchased in advance from the website.
Contributed by Ania from The Travelling Twins.
Visit Camp Leakey, Indonesia
My very best of the things to do in Borneo, Indonesia is to visit to Camp Leakey. Located in the Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Borneo, a visit to this remote location involves a 2 day journey by river on board a traditional Klotok boat where you will be hosted by Indonesian locals, enjoy traditional food and sleep under the stars on the deck!
Camp Leakey was established by Dr. Biruté Galdikas in 1971 as the pioneer research centre for the study of orangutans. To this day it remains an active research facility where visitors can observe orangutans from a safe distance.
Named after the legendary paleo-anthropologist, Louis Leakey, who was both mentor and an inspiration to Dr. Galdikas as well as Doctors Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. Aside from it’s focus on orangutan research and conservation, Cape Leakey also provides researches and visitors the opportunity to observe proboscis monkey and gibbons in the wild jungles of Borneo.
The easiest way to get to Camp Leakey is to fly to Pangkalan Bun with Kalstar or Trigana airways from Surabaya and Jakarta. Flights leave daily and will take about one hour. If you wish to visit Camp Leakey, it is best to do so with an approved orangutan trekking company who will arrange the klotok and tour details. This is the perfect answer to what to do in Borneo, Indonesia.
Contributed by Kathryn from Becoming You.
Map Of What To Do In Borneo
Have you been to Borneo? What are your suggestions for what to see in Borneo?
Sharon is an Australian who has fallen in love with Malaysia! She explores Malaysia multiple times a year, often with her kids, and has previously lived in Penang.