Planning a trip to the island
Are you planning a trip to Borneo, or simply want to learn more about this amazing island? Let’s take a look at the most commonly asked questions about Borneo.
Hopefully, this article will help show the amazing side of the island and encourage anyone considering traveling to Borneo. It’s a place that should be on every itinerary but is often left out in favor of more well-traveled destinations. One thing is certain, however, anyone who visits is sure to fall in love with Borneo!
Where is Borneo?
Borneo is located in the South China Sea. You can find it on a map to the South East of Vietnam and circled by Malaysia, Indonesia, and The Philippines. The island sits on either side of the equator so prepare for hot, tropical weather.
How big is Borneo?
Borneo is the world’s third-largest island behind Greenland and New Guinea. It covers an area of 288,000 square miles which makes it more than three times the size of the U.K., the country that once colonized it.
Is Borneo a country?
No, Borneo is not a country in and of itself.
Different parts of the island are owned by three separate countries.
What country is Borneo in?
Borneo is divided up into three countries. Indonesia makes up roughly 73% of the island, Malaysia has 26%, and Brunei makes up the remaining 1% of Borneo.
Map of Borneo/Kalimantan
The best way to get a sense of Borneo’s size is to look at a map!
Borneo time zone
Borneo falls under the Malaysian/Central Indonesian time zone. (UTC/GMT +8 hours)
- Time difference between the U.K. and Borneo: Borneo is 7 hours ahead of the U.K.
- Time difference between Los Angeles and Borneo: Borneo is 15 hours ahead of Los Angeles
- Time difference between New York and Borneo: Borneo is 12 hours ahead of New York
- Time difference between Sydney and Borneo: Borneo is 2 hours behind Sydney
- Time difference between Tokyo and Borneo: Borneo is 1 hour behind Tokyo
- Time difference between Rome and Borneo: Borneo is 6 hours ahead of Rome
What is the weather like in Borneo?
As you might expect of an island this big, the climate tends to vary from region to region. Your best bet is to check the weather conditions in the cities you plan to visit.
The temperature stays consistently hot year-round with an average between 80°F to 90°F. There is no cool season since the island straddles the equator.
Expect high humidity and frequent rain throughout the year. From March to October visitors will experience less rainfall than during the wet season which lasts from November to February. An umbrella is a near requirement, however, as rainfall is both frequent and unpredictable.
When is the best time to visit Borneo?
The best time to visit is during months of lower rainfall – typically March to October. The lower rainfall means that you will have more time to get out of the hotel and see some of what Borneo has to offer. Who wouldn’t enjoy hiking through a sunny rainforest and munching through a mouthwatering bag of Pisang Goreng?
However, some great deals can be found if you don’t mind taking your chances with the weather. Accommodation between November and February is offered at a good discount as tourists thin out and rooms are vacant. If the weather gods are kind, you will be able to experience Borneo’s attractions in relative solitude. Imagine scuba diving in the pristine waters around Sabah and seeing nothing other than sea life. Pure bliss.
The best way to get to Borneo
It really depends on where you are coming from, and where you want to go. If you are coming from elsewhere in South East Asia you could fly direct to Kota Kinabalu and see the city before heading to other parts of the island. Flights from Taipei are usually under $100 each way – and it’s even cheaper if you’re coming from Thailand or Malaysia. Flights with Air Asia will run you $20 – $40 – but could end up being free if you time it correctly. If a direct flight, it would be best to head to Kuala Lumpur before connecting to Kota Kinabalu or another airport.
If you are planning on heading to the Indonesian part of the island you will want to transfer in either Jakarta or Bali. Flights from either of these hubs will give you reasonably priced flights to Indonesian Borneo. Flights from Bali will be around $100 each way with a budget carrier, while flights from Jakarta can often be found for $70. The cost to visit Indonesian Borneo might be higher, but it’s worth it if you want to visit areas unaffected by tourism.
Singapore is another good transit choice as there are affordable flights from Singapore to Malaysian Borneo.
What are the major cities in Borneo?
Samarinda – Located in East Kalimantan on the Mahakam River. Samarinda is the capital of East Kalimantan and is the largest city on the island. The Dayak Cultural Park is a must-visit as it allows you to experience the culture and lifestyle of the Dayak people.
Banjarmasin – Located in South Kalimantan it is one of the rare inland cities in Borneo. The city has a rich history and unique style of architecture. Visitors should seek-out buildings in the traditional style as they are slowly disappearing.
Kuching – Located in the Sarawak province, Kuching is a great place for foodies. Expect a range of delicious Malay and Chinese cuisine here.
Balikpapan – In East Kalimantan sits the quiet port city of Balikpapan. It’s a great place if you want to spend some time relaxing on the beach and eating fresh seafood. There are a number of wildlife sanctuaries that are open for visitation or volunteering.
Pontianak – West Kalimantan. This city stays hot and rainy for most of the year. Don’t let that stop you from visiting though. Pontianak is a diverse mix of cultures and boasts some amazing street food!
Kota Kinabalu, Sabah – Capital of the Malaysian province of Sabah. A common entry point to Borneo. Kota Kinabalu, or KK for short, has a number of stunning islands just off the coast. Island hopping in Kota Kinabalu should be on every itinerary.
Sandakan – The capital of Sabah and a popular stop for travelers. Sepilok is a must-visit as it is just a short drive from Sandakan. Here you can see all kinds of local wildlife including orangutans and proboscis monkeys.
Tawau – Located in the province of Sabah, Tawau is a great place for visitors looking to experience nature. There are a great number of rewarding hikes and eco-friendly activities in the region.
Where are Borneo’s airports located?
There are a large number of airports located around Borneo. Due to the dense jungle interior, most of the airports are located in coastal cities.
Unfortunately, travel in Borneo is not that convenient as nearly all airports service domestic flights. This means that you will be required to make one (or more) transfers when headed to other parts of the island.
Here are some of the larger airports in Borneo. Note that many airports in Borneo will be smaller than you are likely used to. That means that the facilities offered will likely be less than expected. For example, when flying to Sandakan we discovered that the SIM card kiosks were closed that day. This, combined with no public wifi at the airport, meant that we had to rely on screenshots of our hotel and booking confirmation to get to our destination. Remember to always screenshot your hotel address before hopping on a flight!
- Brunei International Airport (BWN)
- Sepinggan International Airport (BPN)
- Beringin Airport (GXA)
- Syamsudin Noor Airport (BDJ)
- Pangkalanbun Airport (PKN)
- APT Pranoto International Airport (SRI)
- Supadio International Airport (PNK)
- Tjilik Riwut Airport (PKY)
- Bintulu Airport (BTU)
- Kota Kinabalu International Airport (BKI)
- Kuching International Airport (KCH)
- Labuan Airport (LBU)
- Miri Airport (MYY)
- Mulu Airport (MZV)
- Sandakan Airport (SDK)
- Sibu Airport (SBW)
- Tawau Airport (TWU)
What is the population of Borneo?
As of 2010 there were 19,803,000 people living in Borneo.
- Population of Brunei – 406,000
- Population of Indonesian Borneo – 13,772,000
- Population of Malaysian Borneo – 5,625,000
What language do they speak in Borneo?
This is perhaps the hardest question of all. There are actually hundreds of languages that are spoken in Borneo!
Malay is the official language in Malaysian Borneo. A variety of Chinese dialects are also spoken and include Cantonese, Mandarin, and Hokkien in addition to other dialects. Each group of indigenous people in Malaysian Borneo speak their own dialect which brings the number of spoken languages even higher.
In Indonesian Borneo, also called Kalimantan, there are 74 languages known to exist. The most widely used languages are Dusun Malang, Banjar, and Ngaju. Each group of indigenous people has developed its own language which increases the number of spoken languages. Check out this detailed breakdown of languages in Indonesian Borneo.
Is Borneo safe to visit?
In recent years Borneo has been an exceptionally safe place for travelers to visit. However, you should still take precautions when visiting Borneo, especially remote islands. Although the island has not always been safe, it has been peaceful for many years. Corina and I have done a significant amount of travel in Borneo and we felt as safe, if not safer, here than anywhere else in South East Asia.
Do note that there are some piracy activities that occur around more remote islands near Borneo. This shouldn’t affect most travelers, but do check with your embassy before planning boat trips that will take you off the beaten path.
Is Borneo worth visiting?
Borneo makes a great solo destination, as well as an excellent addition to any Southeast Asian Itinerary. Borneo, as a whole, is often left off of travel plans in favor of nearby tourist destinations like Bangkok, Bali, and Singapore.
Borneo is a great place to visit for several reasons. First, you have a real connection to nature here. The jungle is never far away – even if you stay in one of the larger cities. There are a lot of possible day trips around the island that will allow you to experience unspoiled rainforest – something that is, unfortunately, getting harder and harder to find.
If lush jungles and exotic animals aren’t for you, Borneo has an abundance of islands that make it the perfect place to kick back and disconnect from the world. Accommodation on these islands ranges from simple beach huts to luxury waterfront resorts.
Consider spending a few days in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the Malaysian Province Sabah, before deciding to explore other parts of the island. Kota Kinabalu is a jumping-off point to a number of nearby islands as well as a base for those looking to climb the 4,000-meter Mount Kinabalu. KK is a great place to stay and has something to offer for everyone.
Is Borneo expensive?
Not really! There are plenty of options here that can cater to the budget of any traveler – even a shoestring backpacker. Borneo can be seen and explored on a variety of budgets.
Getting to Borneo should be fairly affordable and no more expensive than elsewhere in Asia. The only downside is that most visitors will need to book connecting flights to get here.
I recommend booking the initial leg to Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, or Singapore and then catching the next leg to your destination. All three of these cities are international transit hubs, so the flight should be relatively affordable.
Cheap hotels in Borneo will typically range from $10 – $20, but depends greatly on the area you visit and whether it is the high season or not.
For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, hotels like the Gaya Island Resort, Gayana Marine Resort, and Sepilok Nature Resort will set you back hundreds of dollars per night. These are definitely on the travel bucket list though!
For comparison, we stayed at the Four Points Sandakan during our last trip to the island. It is arguably the nicest hotel in the city of Sandakan and costs just under $50 per night!
Food in Borneo is fairly affordable overall. Certain restaurants will set you back a hefty amount but they can usually be avoided in favor of the delicious Malay and Chinese food found everywhere. Seriously, Borneo is an underappreciated culinary treat that must be experienced. To top it off, you will likely pay between $1 to $5 for a meal – quite a bargain!
There is nothing better than sitting down to a plate of Nasi Lemak and a cup of Teh Tarik after a long day!
This list of popular food in Brunei gives a good look at the types of cuisine you can expect to find in Brunei and the rest of Borneo.
This is where things start to get expensive. There are so many amazing activities to participate in around Borneo. Amazing adventure activities do come with a price though, so the more you do, the more your trip will end up costing.
Taking a cruise on the Kinabatangan River is a great way to experience the jungles up close and personal. This is also one of the best ways to see Borneo’s wildlife in their natural habitat!
Let’s look at the average costs for a few of the more popular activities.
- Climb Mount Kinabalu – $300+
- Go island hopping in Sabah – $35+ depending on the length of the tour
- Stay the night at Turtle Island – $150+
- Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary – $7.50 + transportation
- Boat trip on the river – Varies based on length
- White water rafting – $35+
- Scuba diving – Cost will vary based on provider and dive package but expect prices to start at $100.
There are really so many things to do in Borneo that you will never have time for it all. Your best bet is to narrow down on what you want to do the most.
Beaches? Islands? Wildlife? Jungles?
There will be a tour for everyone!
Is Borneo family friendly?
Borneo is a vast island covered with rugged jungles. As such, it might not be the best place to visit with young children – especially if you plan to go trekking or on excursions out of the cities. The biggest issue would be the abundance of insects that you encounter on the island. The worst of these is the mosquito which can carry diseases like dengue fever and malaria.
With that said, Borneo has a number of resorts that cater to families with young children. One of the most famous is Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort. It comes with all the amenities you would expect at a Shangri-La property as well as a children’s pool and kids club.
What are the best resorts in Borneo?
So you’re looking to treat yourself to a luxurious island getaway? Borneo can certainly cater to those looking for an upscale resort. This list of resorts is largely made up of resorts in Malaysian Borneo. That is due to the fact that the Indonesia side has a lack of resort-style accommodation. There are plenty of great places to stay in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), but if you want a true resort you will probably want to visit the Malaysian part of the island.
- Gaya Island Resort – Gaya Island, Malaysia
- Guyana Marine Eco Resort – Gaya Island, Malaysia
- Sutera Sanctuary Lodges – Manukan Island, Malaysia
- Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort – Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
- Le Méridien Kota Kinabalu – Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
- Nexus Resort & Spa Karambunai – Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
- Sabah Beach Villas & Suites – Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
- Bigfin Beach Resort – Kota Belud, Malaysia
- Sepilok Forest Edge Resort – Sepilok, Malaysia
- Langkah Syabas Beach Resort – Kinarut, Malaysia
- Miri Marriott Resort & Spa – Miri, Malaysia
- Pullman Miri Waterfront – Miri, Malaysia
- Damai Puri Resort & Spa – Santubong, Malaysia
- Cove 55 – Santubong, Malaysia
- Pom Pom Island Resort – Pom Pom Island, Malaysia
- Green Nirvana Resort – Rantaupanjang, Indonesia
- Pratasaba Resort – Maratua Atoll, Indonesia
These resorts are some of the best you will find on the island. Don’t let the prices scare you off though – Borneo has plenty of super budget-friendly accommodation as well!
What animals can be found in Borneo?
Borneo is widely believed to be the most diverse biologically diverse place in the world. This means that you can see a wide range of animals – some that are found nowhere else on earth. From the strangest animals around to the absolute cutest, Borneo has it all!
Some of the most loved animals in Borneo:
Proboscis Monkey – The Proboscis Monkey is easily recognizable by its enlarged nose which helps the male find a mate and warn of danger. There are some sanctuaries where you can see them up close and participate in their feeding.
Orangutan – The Orangutan is one of the highlights for any visitor to the island. These lovable primates are facing threats to their habitat and can be seen at several wildlife sanctuaries.
Greater Mouse-Deer – Mouse deer have the skinniest legs you will ever see. As members of the mice family, they do jump quite well. Their massive, oversized eyes allow them to see in the dark.
Clouded Leopard – When looking at a clouded leopard it’s easy to tell why some consider this to be the most beautiful in the cat family. They are relatively small at 25 – 50 pounds.
Pygmy Elephants – Everyone loves elephants and these small-ish pachyderms are some of the cutest. They are the smallest elephants in the world but are sadly endangered and have a shrinking population.
Sun Bears – Another nocturnal animal, the Malaysian Sun Bear is a rare find in the wild. This cute bear eats a diet that consists mainly of insects and fruits. If they find a beehive they will happily eat both the honey and the bees!
Pangolins – Easily one of the world’s strangest animals. The pangolin is a nocturnal creature with a dwindling population. Consider yourself lucky if you are able to spot one on a night trek.
Asian Hornbills – Borneo is home to 8 species of hornbills making it a great place for bird spotters. The hornbill is easily recognizable from its oversized bill which gives it a distinctive look.
These are only a few of the many animals on the island. Borneo is a huge, exotic island with a lot of diversity. There is no better place on earth if you want to experience cool, interesting, or strange animals!
Where can I see the Borneo Orangutan?
There are several Orangutan Sanctuaries on the island so the one you visit is entirely up to you. However, my personal favorite is the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. The sanctuary is a great way to interact with these spectacular creatures in an eco-friendly way. The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre feeds and cares for a large number of orangutans who have been orphaned and displaced by deforestation. They are fed daily, with tourists allowed to watch and snap photos from a distance. The best part is that the orangutans are free to come and go as they please. The orangutans will eventually wander further and further away from the sanctuary until they become stop coming back for food.
The cost of admission is roughly $10 which keeps the center running. Make sure you arrive in time for feedings which occur at 10 am and 3 pm.
Is Borneo facing deforestation?
Unfortunately, yes. Deforestation is a major threat to wildlife in Borneo. Deforestation continues today due to a thriving market for products like rubber and palm oil. According to the WWF, there are around 1.3 million hectares of forest that are destroyed each year. The destruction of Borneo’s forests has increased rapidly in recent decades. This has been the result of the increasing demand for palm oil and related products.
I’m sure most readers will recognize the tragedy of the situation. One of the oldest rain forests in the world is being destroyed in our lifetime – not to mention the countless animal species with the potential for extinction. All thanks to our love for cheap consumer products.
This comprehensive list of palm oil products (and alternatives) is very helpful if you want to see how many products you buy contain palm oil.
The unfortunate fact is that an incredibly high percentage of consumer products contain palm oil. These range from shampoo and toothpaste, to sodas and candy, to chips and cereal.
While it might not be possible to completely eliminate palm oil from your life, there are steps that you could take to consume less. This article provides some ideas on reducing our use of palm oil as a consumer.
List of islands near Borneo
There are tons of islands around Borneo. Some of these are easily accessible with premium accommodation, while others are less visited and more remote. Here are some of the top picks to consider when planning your trip.
Gaya Island – The largest out of a cluster of islands located just off the coast of Kota Kinabalu. Relax on the beach, hike the jungles, or snorkel in the pristine water. Gaya has something for everyone and is great for either a day trip or a 2-night stay.
Sipadan Island – You have probably seen some insanely beautiful Instagram photos of Sipadan by now. This island is tiny in size and is surrounded by a buildup of coral. But don’t let its size fool you, Sipadan is considered to be one of the best dive locations in the world. Getting here is no easy feat, however. The government aims to maintain this unspoiled island and only allows a handful of tourists to visit each day.
Lankayan Island – This island, located near the northern tip of Borneo, is one of the smallest of the list. It is a resort island so expect eye-watering prices for accommodation. This resort island is surrounded by a reef which makes it a perfect place to go scuba diving. The lucky few who visit will be rewarded with an experience that is second to none!
Turtle Island – Turtle Island is home to a turtle sanctuary that runs a conservation program for sea turtles. The sanctuary has a popular overnight program that allows tourists to spend the night on the island and help release newly hatched turtles to the ocean.
Tiga Island – Tiga is located near Kota Kinabalu, but is less well known than Gaya Island. This is due to the effort it takes to reach Tiga – located 30 miles south of the city. For those willing to make the journey, Tiga’s unspoiled beaches will be a quiet sanctuary allowing you to escape to the peace of the island. This is the place to be if you’re looking to get away from the crowds!
Adventure activities in Borneo
- Mount Kinabalu – climbing the tallest mountain in South East Asia is no easy feat! Note that guides are required and you will not be allowed to climb without hiring one.
- Hike Tawau Hills – Hiking in Tawau is not for the faint of heart! This is a great chance to spot some of the amazing animals that are only found in Borneo!
- Take an Orangutan Tour – Taking a Borneo orangutan tour has got to be one of the most exciting things ever! This river cruise takes you through lush jungles and allows observation of orangutans and countless other animals.
- Scuba Diving – There are tons of world-class dive sites scattered around the island. It would be a shame to visit Borneo without plunging into the warm waters.
- White Water Rafting – there are a number of spots where white water rafting is possible. Prices are fairly reasonable and it’s good fun when visiting the island. Remember to wear plenty of sunscreens or you will be burnt to a crisp by the tropical sun!
Holidays in Borneo
Public holidays will vary slightly between different regions on the island. It’s best to check the holiday schedule for the area(s) you plan on visiting. Check here for public holidays in Borneo for 2019 and 2020.