Borneo Backpacking Itinerary: Travel and Route Guide

 

Borneo with its true eco-tourism, awesome nature and the high chance to see plenty of wildlife is Malaysia´s number one place to visit for backpackers. More and more, Borneo and its 140 million years old rainforest is getting interesting for travelers all over the world and also for us, backpacking in Borneo became an unforgettable adventure.

In this itinerary, we will share our experiences of travelling through Borneo (Sarawak and Sabah) and Brunei. Also, you will read about the top backpacking highlights and the best nature and wildlife spots you shouldn’t miss. Additionally we will show you a perfect Borneo travel route where you are going to see the best things of this phenomenal and adventurous travel destination.

Borneo Travel Route? Here are the top things to see and to do in Borneo:
  • Kuching – the city of cats and starting point for the nearby national parks
  • Semenggoh Nature Reserve – getting close with the Orang-Utans
  • The Bako National Park – explore one of Borneo’s most beautiful National Parks and visit the Nose monkeys
  • Gunung Gading National Park – Jungle Trekking and the world biggest flower
  • Exploring the fascinating Niah Caves and/or Mulu Caves
  • Brunei – be amazed by the colorful mosque of Brunei
  • Climb the top of the highest Mountain ins South East Asia the Mount Kinabalu with 4095 m
  • Kinabatangan River Cruises – wild Orang-Utans and Pygmy Elephants

So let’s explore Borneo: Here is our itinerary for an ultimate backpacker  travel route:

Sarawak-Borneo

Kuching

After 2 exciting month of backpacking through Thailand and West Malaysia we decided to visit Borneo in East Malaysia. Borneo is absolutely famous for its wide range of National Parks and wildlife – so for us – the perfect travel destination! We took a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching, where we stayed a few nights. This city with its tranquil riverside is not just lovely but it’s also a fantastic starting point from where you can do great excursions to the nearby National Parks. In Kuching you will also find the tourist National Parks Office – they are doing a great job and provided us with useful information about National Park fees, accommodations and how to get there.

Kuching in well known for its backpacker scene and the wide range of hostels, guest houses and hotels. Here are some of the best places to stay.

Gunung Gading National Park

Have you ever heard about the Rafflesia tuan-mudae flower? It’s the world biggest flower and we were very lucky to find one of them blooming in the Gunung Gading National Park! This flower is the main attraction of this park – check at the National Park Service if one of them is blooming at the moment. The Park is easy to reach by public bus from Kuching – inside the park there are guided jungle hiking tours! To spot a Rafflesia inside the deep rainforest was an absolute travel highlight.

Bako National Park

This Park is situated ap. 40 km from Kuching and can be reached by boat from Kampong. We recommend staying there for one or two nights – there are lots of adventurous hiking trails to explore!
We loved hiking through the tropical rain forest – there are various types of flora and fauna and lots of wildlife! It was amazing to see the proboscis monkeys (long nose monkeys) just a few meters next to us. Additionally, we got in touch with long-tailed macaques, boars, flying foxes and a few snakes. On top, we found some beautiful carnivorous plants and we explored amazing beaches. For us the Bako National Park is the ultimate MUST SEE in Sarawak!

Semenggoh – Orang Utan Nature Reserve

The Semenggoh Nature Reserve is a wildlife center for Orang Utans, where you have the possibility to see these monkeys at their feeding times. Normally they spend their time roaming around in the rain forest, but when it comes to a free meal they return to the center of the park. We had a lot of fun watching these guys. The best chance of seeing Orang Utans is between 9-10 and 3-4 o`clock.

If you would like to see these amazing monkeys you should definitely visit this park!

Niah Caves National Park 

Briefly said, we loved exploring the Niah Caves National Park! ! This National Park is beautiful, so calm and less touristy but it offers some interesting and impressive sights: There is the huge main cave which is home to thousands of swiftlets. It’s possible to pass the caves on a trail, but make sure to take a flashlight with you. The caves are unlit but you can go there on your own. After that trail you will find the Painted Cave, which is also interesting to see. The jungle walk is easy to manage and on the way to the caves you will also pass some Iban longhouses. Although all the main attractions of the Niah Park can be done in one day, we stayed inside the park for one night. If you want to read more about the adventurous Niah Caves, check out “Visting the Niah Caves in Borneo”

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Gunung Mulu National Park

If you are interested in visiting Caves you would also have the possibility to go to see the Gunung Mulu National Park. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and famous for its karst formations inside the rainforest and for its 200 km of caves passages.
This excursion will probably be more expensive than the Niah Caves because you have to take a flight to the park and inside the park there are plenty of excursions offered.

We chose the Niah Caves because they can be reached easily with the bus going to Batu Niah. From there you can take a taxi (3km) to the park entrance. We really liked that the park is less touristy and you can explore the caves by your own. Additionally the main caves are very impressive too.

Brunei

Next stop on our route through Borneo was Brunei. The country is located between Sarawak and Sabah, so why not visit this small exotically named country? We took the land route from Miri to Bandar Seri Begawan with a private taxi bus that we luckily found at Miri bus station. Visiting Brunei was quite cool, above all it’s a country most travelers haven’t been to before. A must see is the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque with its golden domes, for us one of the most beautiful mosques we have ever seen. You can also do excursions to see the proboscis monkeys.

Accommodation in Brunei should be booked in advanced. Here you will find some great deals. Our choice is the Kunyit 7 Lodge, a  unique homestay set in Brunei Water Village.

 

Sabah-Borneo

Kota Kinabalu

2 days later we headed off to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah. It’s a good starting point for nearby excursions like the Mari Cultural Village, the Islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park and the famous Mt. Kinabalu. Additionally, you will find plenty of guest houses and affordable restaurants –perfect for backpackers. We decided to climb up the Mount Kinabalu, which is just 50 km from Kota Kinabalu.

Mount Kinabalu 4.095 m

The Mount Kinabalu is a World Heritage Site and additionally with, 4.095 meters the tallest mountain in South East Asia. If you love hiking like us and you fancy high mountains you should definitely put Mt. Kinabalu on your “to do list” for Borneo. The climb up to the peak took us two days, and was a fantastic adventure. You will walk through different kinds of flora and fauna and finally you will reach the peak at sunrise. Make sure that you are trained and fit for the long walk!

Hiking the Mount Kinbalu was an amazing Borneo adventure, if you love mountains make sure you don`t miss this hike!

Kinabatangan River Cruise

For our last stop in Borneo we visited the Kinabatangan River, which is popular for its unique wildlife and ecosystem. We took the bus from Kota Kinabalu to Kota Kinabatangan which was an adventure by itself – the place is not easy to reach but that’s the price if you want to go deeper inside the rainforest.

On the road to Kinabatangan with the luxury bus 😉

All in all our stay at Kinabatangan River was fantastic, we had a small lodge just next to the river. From there we did thrilling guided jungle walks and guided river cruises. We saw lots of wildlife including crocodiles, snakes, horn bill birds and we were so lucky to see wild Orang Utans. Also, with some luck, you will see the Pygmy Elephant. If you want to read more about, check out “Kinabatangan River Cruise – wildlife safari in Borneo”.

We stayed at the Nature Lodge next to the Kinabatangan River. The beautiful location just next to the river and the fantastic jungle and river tours had been a highlight on our backpacking trip through Borneo.

 

So that’s it for our itinerary of backpacking in Borneo. Now you are ready to start your adventure. Enjoy!


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16 Comments

  1. These pictures left me speechless, Juma. Borneo seems like an outstanding travel destination and it definitely has lots to offer. When’s the best time of the year to explore it?

    • Hi Agness!
      Thank you so much for your kind words 🙂 –> March to October is the dry season – we had been there in February and the weather was fine, just in Kinabatangan we some rainy days.
      Have a nice day,
      Martina and Jürgen

    • really?! Thats so cool! If you need anymore informations, just let us know!
      Have a nice day,
      Martina and Jürgen

  2. I love your pictures and your informative guide. Mount Kinabalu is high on my list, but there are so many parks here I’d also like to visit.

    • Thanks for your nice words! Hopefully you can make it one day – it is a fantastic travel destination!
      Have a nice day,
      Martina and Jürgen

    • Hey Penny!
      So true, the night walk inside the rainforest was really special – we saw lots of night active animals – at daytime they would have been sleeping. But it was somehow a bit scary too 😉
      have a nice day,
      Martina and Jürgen

  3. I’ve never been to Borneo but it looks like total paradise when you like wildlife and flora! I would love to hike the Mt. Kinabalu, I had no idea it’s the highest mountain in South East Asia !

    • Thanks Alice! We are happy that we could give you some new travel inspirations 🙂

  4. This is a very detailed guide! Is it safe to roam around the parks with wild Orangutans?
    I’m planning to hike at Mt. Kinabalu next year! Thanks for the tips!

    • Hi Karla,
      Really?! That’s so cool, I am sure you would love it. I wanna do this hike one day again, it was such a great experience!
      We felt absolutely safe inside the parks, I think if you are following the safety guidelines everything should be fine 🙂

  5. That green snake at Bako National Park is so tiny!!!!! Although I think I’d still be too scared to hold it hahaa. I heard about Brunei for the first time last year and didn’t give too much thought into visiting. Their mosque is so beautiful though! Definitely makes me wanna book a flight over to explore!

    • Hi Jas,
      I wouldn`t hold a snake too – haha 😀
      Brunei is definitely worth a visit – hopefully you can make it one day!

      Have a nice day,
      Martina

  6. Wow, your trip looks incredible. I did a similar route across Borneo about 8 years ago but I don’t have any photos to show for it, so it’s nice to look through yours and bring back memories!

  7. Nice traveling guide. I am a also traveler I already read many article in this topic. Your back packing guide line is unique other then. Your tips is great new idea to back packing. Thanks for share this your experiences

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