An in-depth guide to Borneo, the heart of the Malay archipelago!

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Welcome to Borneo, a land where nature's beauty is so astounding, it almost feels like a personal show put on by Mother Nature herself. This place isn't just a destination; it's a vibrant, living mosaic of lush rainforests, diverse wildlife, and cultural wonders.

Sabah and Sarawak are the two jewels in the crown of Malaysian Borneo. These regions promise adventures and experiences as diverse as their landscapes. Sabah, known as the 'Land Below the Wind,' is a haven for thrill-seekers and nature lovers alike, offering everything from the majestic heights of Mount Kinabalu to the underwater marvels of Sipadan Island. Sarawak, the 'Land of the Hornbills,' on the other hand, invites you into a world where rich cultural heritage melds seamlessly with untouched natural beauty. From the bustling streets of Kuching to the pristine wilderness of Bako National Park, Sarawak is here to show you the true heart of Borneo!

And hey, for all you Aussies thinking about your next holiday spot, Borneo's practically in your backyard and it's a treasure trove of adventures – from thrilling mountain treks to serene beach lounging, and let's not forget the mouth-watering Malaysian cuisine that awaits. Ready to dive into what Borneo has in store for you?

What you can't miss in Borneo

Mulu national park in Borneo

Mulu National Park, Sarawak: Imagine stepping into a world where every turn shows you a scene from a nature documentary. Mulu National Park is that place. Home to one of the largest cave systems in the world, it's a realm where ancient limestone carves out natural masterpieces.

Mount Kinabalu, Sabah: Rising above the clouds, Mount Kinabalu feels like a journey to the heavens. As you ascend, watch as the landscape transforms from lush rainforests to granite peaks. Reaching the summit isn't just a check on your bucket list; it's a story you'll tell for years.

Kinabatangan River, Sabah: The Kinabatangan River is where Borneo's wildlife comes out to play, and you have a front-row ticket. It's a safari unlike any other, with orangutans, pygmy elephants, and exotic birds making guest appearances. Keep your cameras ready for this one!

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sabah: At Sepilok, it's not just about seeing orangutans; it's about connecting with them. Here, you’ll get to see firsthand all the commendable efforts to rehabilitate these gentle giants back into the wild. Each orangutan here has a story, and their resilience is nothing short of inspiring.

Kuching, Sarawak: Kuching, affectionately known as 'Cat City,' is a blend of history, culture, and feline love. Its streets, lined with colonial buildings and whimsical cat statues, offer a charming and relaxed vibe that's uniquely its own. Get ready to be charmed by its purr-sonality!

Labuk Bay Proboscis Sanctuary, Sabah: At Labuk Bay, get up close with one of Borneo's most distinctive residents – the Proboscis Monkey. Known for their long noses and playful antics, these monkeys are sure to capture your heart and your camera lens!

Bako National Park, Sarawak: Just an hour from Kuching lies Bako National Park, a microcosm of Borneo's ecological diversity. From mangroves to rainforests, and bizarre rock formations to secluded beaches, it's a nature lover's dream come true.

Sandakan, Sabah: Straight up in the northeast, Sandakan is a gateway to Borneo's wildlife adventures. With its rich history and access to incredible wildlife sanctuaries, Sandakan is a hidden jewel waiting to be discovered.

The Pinnacles at Mulu National Park, Sarawak: Why climb the Pinnacles at Mulu? Because it's there, and it's spectacular! This challenging trek leads you to limestone spires that defy gravity and expectation. It's a physical challenge with a surreal reward.

Selingan Turtle Islands, Sabah: Floating between Borneo and the Philippines, the Selingan Turtle Islands offer a rare opportunity to witness sea turtles nesting and hatching. It's a delicate dance of nature that's both humbling and mesmerizing.

Miri, Sarawak: Miri, a charming coastal town, is your off-the-beaten-path gem. With its vibrant markets, stunning seaside, and gateway to some of Borneo's best national parks, it's a photogenic paradise waiting to fill your Instagram feed.

Brunei: If your travels permit, a detour into the nation of Brunei offers a glimpse into a world of stunning mosques, untouched rainforests, and a rich cultural tapestry. It's a small country with a big presence, perfect for the curious traveler!

Sun Bear Sanctuary, Sepilok, Sabah: Who can resist the charm of the world's smallest bear? At the Sun Bear Sanctuary, you’ll get to see these adorable creatures as they roam, play, and snooze in a safe and nurturing environment. It's a heartwarming experience that highlights the importance of conservation.

Now, let’s explore Sabah and Sarawak in greater detail.

Sabah: Where adventure meets the sea

Kota Kinabalu:

Affectionately known as KK, this isn't just a city; it's a launchpad to Sabah's endless adventures. The city was once known as Jesselton and has been rebuilt several times due to war and natural disasters, making it a phoenix city of sorts.

  • Kota Kinabalu City Mosque: Resembling the Nabawi Mosque in Saudi Arabia, this floating mosque is a sight to behold, especially when it reflects majestically on the surrounding lagoon.
  • Handicraft Market: Buzzing with life, this market is your go-to for vibrant textiles, intricate beadwork, and the famous Sabah pearls. It's a sensory overload in the best possible way!
Kota Kinablu City Mosque

Mount Kinabalu:

Mount Kinabalu is a mountain rising 4,095 meters above sea level. Did you know it's one of the youngest non-volcanic mountains in the world and grows by 5mm each year?

  • The Climb: This two-day climb is a journey through a biodiversity hotspot. You'll start in lush rainforests and ascend through cloud forests to reach the rocky summit, where a spectacular sunrise awaits.
  • Kinabalu Park: Hosting over 5,000 plant species, 326 bird species, and 100 mammalian species, it's like stepping into a live-action National Geographic documentary.
Disney world

Sipadan Island:

Sipadan Island, a marine paradise, is consistently ranked among the top diving spots globally. Fun fact: it was formed by living corals growing on top of an extinct volcanic cone!

  • Diving Experience: Imagine swimming alongside hawksbill and green turtles, schools of barracuda, and myriad tropical fish. Each dive here is a unique pageant of marine life.
  • Conservation First: Due to its fragile ecosystem, dive permits are limited. Plan ahead to secure your spot in this underwater Eden.
Sipadan Island Borneo

Sarawak: Where culture hugs nature


Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, is a delightful blend of the old and new. Here's something to know: Kuching means 'cat' in Malay, and you'll find whimsical cat statues throughout the city.

  • Sarawak Museum: Explore Borneo's rich history and diverse cultures in one of the oldest museums in Malaysia.
  • Waterfront Promenade:This scenic walkway offers stunning views of traditional sampans on the river and the grand Sarawak State Assembly building across the water.
Kuching Borneo

Bako National Park:

Bako National Park, Sarawak's oldest national park, is a microcosm of Borneo’s biodiversity. Did you know it's home to the bizarre-looking proboscis monkey, found only in Borneo?

  • Wildlife Galore: From flying lemurs to pitcher plants, Bako is a treasure trove of wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for the rare and elusive Bornean bearded pig.
  • Diverse Trails:The park offers a variety of trails, ranging from easy walks to full-day hikes. Each trail promises unique encounters with nature's wonders.
Bako National Park Borneo

Longhouse Life:

Experiencing longhouse life in Sarawak is like stepping into a living, breathing cultural museum.

  • Stay and Learn: Participate in daily activities, from traditional Iban weaving to blowpipe demonstrations. It’s an authentic glimpse into the lives of Borneo’s indigenous communities.
  • Cultural Exchange: Enjoy warm hospitality, learn about local customs, and maybe even join in a traditional dance or two!
Longhouse Borneo

Let’s introduce you to the culinary scene

Borneo's culinary scene is a riot of flavors, deeply influenced by its diverse cultures and rich natural resources. From bustling street markets to quaint local eateries, there's an abundance of places where you can savor authentic Bornean dishes. Here are some must-visit spots to indulge in the local cuisine:


Top Spot Food Court, Kuching:

This open-air food court offers a variety of stalls serving everything from succulent grilled fish to stir-fried midin (jungle fern).

James Brooke Bistro & Café, Kuching:

Set along the picturesque waterfront, this café offers a fusion of local and international cuisine. Their laksa and beef rendang come highly recommended.

Lepau Restaurant, Kuching:

Experience authentic Sarawakian indigenous food here. Their menu, featuring dishes like manok pansoh (chicken cooked in bamboo) is a journey through Sarawak's culinary heritage.

Borneo street food

Street Food and Markets

Gaya Street Sunday Market, Kota Kinabalu:

A bustling street market where you can try various local snacks, from apam balik (sweet pancakes) to kuih-muih (traditional cakes).

Miri Public Market, Miri:

A haven for foodies, this market offers so many local dishes! Try the Sarawak laksa or kolok mee for a quick and delicious breakfast.

Kota Kinabalu Night Market:

As the sun sets, this market comes alive with vendors selling grilled seafood, satay, and local desserts. It's a perfect spot to indulge in a variety of Sabah's street food.

Borneo food markets

Speciality Dishes and Unique Eateries

Bamboo Chicken, Tambunan, Sabah:

In the rural town of Tambunan, several eateries specialize in bamboo chicken, a unique dish where chicken and spices are cooked inside a bamboo tube.

Sarikei Pineapple Festival, Sarikei, Sarawak:

If you're visiting in May or June, don't miss this festival where you can enjoy pineapple-themed dishes, reflecting Sarawak's status as a major pineapple-producing region.

Borneo Travel Guide