Whats’ the best Borneo itinerary for first-time visitors?
Borneo is the world’s third-largest island and is shared by three countries. Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei.
We traveled 2 weeks through Malaysia and The Malaysian part of Borneo and discovered beautiful nature, a mix of religions and cultures and very friendly people.
In this Borneo travel blog post, we share a complete Borneo itinerary with the main attractions and highlights of our trip. Perfect for first-time Borneo visitors.
There is a really good chance that this post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission (for which we are deeply grateful) at no extra cost to you.
What’s the best time to visit Borneo
The average temperature in Borneo lies between 27 and 32 degrees Celsius throughout the year. Borneo has a fairly humid climate, and it rains regularly.
The best time to visit Borneo is between April and September. The busiest months are from May to September.
We visited Borneo in July, and it was mostly dry, apart from the occasional shower.
Going independent or joining an organized tour
We found it easy and straightforward to create our own travel itinerary. It was also fairly easy to travel through Borneo independently.
We traveled with our suitcase but Borneo is also a great backpacker’s destination. Her you will find a complete list of the best backpacking gear when you are planning on backpacking in Borneo.
But if you want the company of a group, don’t have the time to create your own itinerary or just don’t want to go independent, you could also join an organized tour. Tourradar is a trustworthy company where you can book an organized tour to Japan to make it easy on yourself.
How to get to Borneo
Wondering how to get to Borneo? Since there are almost no international flights directly to Borneo our journey started with a flight to Kuala Lumpur before taking our Air Asia flight to Kuching, a route many other travelers use.
How to find cheap tickets to Kuala Lumpur
Momondo and Skyscanner are both very good at finding good deals, of the two, Momondo is probably the one with the most intuitive user interface.
Those who are always on the lookout for the best deals should join the Dollar Flight Club. Joining is free and once you’ve joined you will get alerts in your mailbox whenever cheap flights out of your home airport have been found.
I recently joined the club and already saw some incredible deals. Joining is free and it can literally save you thousands of dollars.
How to get from Kuala Lumpur to Borneo
Air Asia is a low-cost airline, and as with all budget airlines, it means they are very strict when it comes to luggage and you have to pay for all extras.
Those are things I would rather avoid but if we ignore those typical low-cost aspects I must say their service was good and we had an enjoyable flight.
We had an hour’s delay on this flight and were spontaneously handed a discount voucher for a future flight. I still prefer to fly with the major carriers, but would consider Air Asia for another flight.
Air Asia operates 9 flights daily. Their flight to Kuching leaves from the low-cost terminal of KL airport. (LCCT) Note that the low-cost terminal is far apart from the regular terminal. The low-cost terminal can be reached by taxi.
Another way is by KLIA Transit. There is a stop at Salak Tinggi station where special busses depart to LCCT.
There are also buses that transport passengers between the two terminals; though they are very cheap it also takes quite some time.
If you rather don’t fly with Air Asia you can choose for Malaysia airlines. Malaysia Airlines offer more than 10 flights a day.
The flight time from Kuala Lumpur to Borneo is around 1h40 minutes.
Flights from Kuala Lumpur to Borneo are often very cheap. The prices fluctuate depending on seasons but with four entry-point options, you can always get into Borneo somewhere for under $50.
Do I need travel insurance for Borneo
We do not recommend traveling without travel insurance. Besides medical expenses, it covers lots more.
You can turn to you travel insurance if your camera, notebook or smartphone gets damaged or stolen. Travel insurance will reimburse you if you can’t leave on your trip because of an emergency at home or if you need to end your trip early.
Drawing up a travel insurance policy may seem expensive at first but it can potentially save you a significant sum, significantly more than the small insurance fee.
Good travel insurance, such as the one from World Nomads, covers the things we mentioned above and even more.
A Borneo itinerary for 2 weeks
Day 1-2 Kuala Lumpur (KL)
We started our Borneo 2 week itinerary in Kuala Lumpur.
Kuala Lumpur is the capital city of Malaysia and an interesting city to spend a few days.
Although this city is not located in Borneo, it would be a shame not to take the opportunity to discover this city before we continued our journey to Borneo.
How to get from the airport to Kuala Lumpur city center
There are several ways to get from the airport to Kuala Lumpur (and vice versa).
From KL Sentral you can continue your journey to your hotel by metro, bus or taxi. The taxi rates at this station are fixed and you arrange your taxi at the counter.
To get a quote you need to give the name of your hotel and the preferred model of taxi.
Beware that small cabs have small trunks and your bags may not fit.
The difference in the different taxi models is normally shown at the counter.
They will give you a ticket at the counter. This ticket also contains the address where you’re going so you just need to show it to the taxi driver and you’ll be taken to your destination.
Another option to get from the airport to Kuala Lumpur is by taxi. It is the most comfortable way to get from the city center to the airport and back as it takes you directly door to door.
Depending on the number of passengers the taxi can be cheaper than the train.
The taxi will take approximately 45 minutes to get to the city. It all depends on traffic and where your hotel is located.
The taxis use the same ticket system at the airport so you will also need to get a ticket at the ticket counter before you head to the taxi line.
The Cheapest way to travel between the airport and Kuala Lumpur city center is to board one of the buses that drive between the airport and KL Sentral.
Airport Coach is one of them.
They charge around RM18 to bring you to KLIA.
Places of interest in Kuala Lumpur
You can see the western influence very clearly throughout the city. You might as well be in Singapore or Hong Kong.
You can explore the highlights of this city in three days.
The main highlights are of course the Petronas Tower and Kuala Lumpur Tower – the two landmarks of this city. At 452 meters, the Petronas Towers are still the highest twin towers in the world.
You have a fantastic panoramic view of the city from here.
An absolute must-do when you’re in Kuala Lumpur.
This, however, is the modern Kuala Lumpur.
For a more authentic experience, have a wander around the typical Indian and Chinese areas.
And be sure to have a bite to eat in Jalan Alor, the top destination for tasty street food.
Where to stay in Kuala Lumpur
Many of Kuala Lumpur’s major attractions are located in a relatively compact part of the city.
That’s why the hotels we share are all located near the city center of Kuala Lumpur.
JW Marriott Kuala Lumpur
The JW Marriott Kuala Lumpur lies very central, close to all the main tourist attractions. The hotel is a wonderful oasis for those looking for a place to relax in luxury after exploring Kuala Lumpur during the day. Very welcoming staff and excellent service.
Premium Comfortable hotel
Impiana KLCC Hotel
The Impiana KLCC Hotel is a very comfortable location for sightseeing. Spacious and well-designed rooms. Very friendly staff. You can see the twin towers while swimming in the pool.
Holiday Inn Express Kuala Lumpur City Centre
The Holiday Inn is a good hotel right in the middle of Kuala Lumpur close to the towers. Clean and well-kept rooms. Good value for the price.
They have several room types. Choose The big one with a sofa bed, even if you don’t need the sofa, because the room is much better.
Day 3-4 Kuching
Our first stop in our two weeks Borneo itinerary was Kuching.
Kuching itself is not one of the highlights of Borneo, there is not much to do in the city, but the many side attractions we can do from Kuching will keep us busy for these 2 days.
Points of interest to do in Kuching
We stopped here mainly to visit Bako National Park.
We contemplated spending the night in the park but didn’t in the end as we found too many negative reviews about the accommodation.
It didn’t look too bad once we were there, but it was too late by then.
We had a beautiful hike and our day flew by.
The buildings in the park are beautiful, but we didn’t get a lot of information about them. The staff simply didn’t have enough knowledge of English, and that was a pity.
The cultural show, on the other hand, was definitely worth it.
As animal lovers, one of the highlights was, of course, our visit to the Semenggoh orangutan rehabilitation center. They tell you about the animals, and you can observe them at (relatively) close distance when they are fed.
In this post, you will find more about what to do in Kuching.
Where to stay in Kuching
There are plenty of options to stay in Kuching. Here we share three of the best hotels.
Hilton Kuching hotel
Hilton Kuching is a very centrally located hotel with a beautiful view over the Sarawak river. You can enjoy a delicious breakfast in the morning. After a busy day, you can relax at the wonderful pool.
Premium Comfortable hotel
Imperial hotel Kuching
The Imperial hotel is a modern hotel with very comfortable rooms and a big bathroom. Staff are super friendly and speak very well English.
It’s a bit out of the center of Kuching, however, it is barely a 10 rm ($3) roundtrip fee for a Grabcar ride and there are always cars available.
Harbour View Hotel
The Harbour View Hotel is newly renovated and located in the middle of town. Spacious and clean rooms. Comfortable beds. Very helpful and friendly staff.
Book a high floor room that’s facing the Waterfront.
Day 5-7 Mulu
From Kuching, we continued our two weeks in Borneo to Mulu. We chose to fly, which is the quickest, and surest option.
Sometimes you can take a boat down the river, but that is not an option if the water is too low.
We flew MASwings, a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines. They offered 3 direct flights a week straight from Kuching to Mulu a few years ago but seem to offer daily direct flights at this point.
Things to do in Mulu
The reason for us, like many other tourists, to visit Mulu was the Mulu National Park. Historically, the area was very popular for hunting, so a lot of animals can unfortunately no longer be spotted here as they were killed, or have fled.
But there are lots of insects like dragonflies and butterflies, and the real stars of the park are the bats.
A visit to the caves in the park is absolutely worthwhile, and you can watch the bats take flight at dusk.
This was the ultimate highlight of our trip around Borneo.
Read our detailed post about Mulu here
Where to stay in Mulu
Accommodation in Mulu is very limited. You basically have three choices.
Accommodation outside the park in rather basic hotels or homestays. (dorms or very basic rooms with cold showers or no showers at all and electricity available 2 to 4 hours/day) : +/- 20-35MYR/pp
The Mulu national park accommodation is more expensive at 200-250 MYR/night. The hotel rooms in the park are more luxurious. They offer electricity all day, hot showers and comfortable beds. We loved our room!
Mulu Marriott is a good option if you are looking for a luxurious treat and want to spoil yourself. The hotel has a swimming pool and a spa. Breakfast and dinner are served in a buffet style. The hotel is 10 minutes outside the park but has a free shuttle that takes you to the entrance. If we would go back, Mulu Mariott would be our first choice.
Day 8-10 Kota Kinabalu
We continued our Malaysian Borneo itinerary in Kota Kinabalu.
We were looking forward to snorkeling in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park.
This is a collection of five islands, mainly visited for their beautiful underwater world.
We were really looking forward to this after numerous fantastic snorkeling trips in Thailand, but it was very disappointing.
Things to do in Kota Kinabalu
During our 2 weeks in Borneo, we visited two islands In Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, Sapi, and Mamutik. On the way there we already sailed through a lot of rubbish (bottles, life jackets…) and the islands were full of rubbish too. A terrible shame really.
The water is shallow, and so a lot of the coral is broken because people damage it while snorkeling.
And because there are so many people, you bump into each other or you don’t see anything because of all the splashing.
What made our trip a bit better were the monitor lizards on Sapi. They just amble among the barbecues, but you hike a nature trail where you can see them in a more natural habitat.
The Rafflesia, a giant carnivorous flower with a diameter of up to 106cm, is the symbol of Sabah, the state of which Kota Kinabalu is the capital. Pictures of the flower looked amazing so we decided we had to see this flower while we were here.
I would suggest, however, that you go view it elsewhere if possible.
The flower is nice, but the trip we took into the Tambunan Rafflesia Reserve was quite expensive and felt like a rip-off.
You can also see it in the Gunung Gading National Park or during a climb of Mount Kinabalu, but we couldn’t fit either of those into our itinerary.
Read our detailed Kota Kinabalu post here.
Where to stay in Kota Kinabalu
Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu
Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu lies right opposite the markets and just a short walk away from the riverside promenade. Spacious and Comfortable rooms. Beautiful pool.
Watch the sunset from the pool area.
Premium Comfortable hotel
Mercure Kota Kinabalu city centre
The Mercure Kota Kinabalu lies in a great location close to the Baywalk area with lots of stores and restaurants. Small but comfortable rooms. The hotel has a small swimming pool on the roof, with great city and sea view. You can also enjoy a beautiful sunset from here.
The Klagan Hotel
The Klagan hotel lies in a wonderful location. There are lots of restaurants and shopping within walking distance. Modern and comfortable rooms.Good buffet breakfast. You can enjoy sea view while having breakfast.
Day 11-14 Kinabatangan
From Kuching, we flew to Sandakan. This flight was once more with Air Asia.
Our Kinabatangan river cruise
The Kinabatangan river is an area with tropical lowland rainforest vegetation and unique ecosystems.
We booked a stay in the Borneo Nature lodge including an extra tour on the way to the lodge, and once again when leaving the lodge.
Our guide was waiting for us at the airport and brought us to the hotel with a stop at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.
Compared to Semenggoh, the information was better and more plentiful, so if you only want to visit one center, I would suggest you choose Sepilok.
We took boat trips twice a day, leaving our lodge early in the mornings and again at four in the afternoon.
We spotted lots of animals like orangutans, probosci’s monkeys, pygmy elephants and of course many beautiful birds.
If you’re like us and get excited seeing animals in their natural habitat, then this is a place you certainly have to put on your Borneo itinerary.
We also did a night-cruise, or technically an after-sunset cruise.
The advantage of such a cruise is that you can take beautiful photographs of the animals as you can get much closer. And it is exciting to go canoeing in the dark too.
Here you can read more on our Kinabatangan river cruise.
On the way back from our lodge we visited the Gomatong Caves. This is where they harvest the edible bird’s nests which are a delicacy in China.
Well, after being here, I don’t think I’ll ever try those as the cave was full of cockroaches, beetles, and other bugs, and in the middle was an enormous mountain of bat poo.
We still shudder thinking about it.
We finished our trip with lunch in the English Tea House, a colonial-style building from where we had beautiful views over the sea and could forget the horrors of the Gomantong Caves.
Kinabatangan riverside lodges
The price of your Kinabatangan river cruise package depends on many elements. The level of comfort of the accommodation will make a difference but there will also be differences in what’s included in your package.
Some Kinabatangan river lodges offer all-inclusive packages (typically including all meals and 2 daily Kinabatangan River Cruises) but some only include your accommodation.
We advise taking an all-inclusive package.
You will have nothing to worry about because your tours and your meals will be included.
As you are in the jungle there are no other restaurants around.
If you are just like us a big nature fan, opt for a 4 days/3 nights package so you can enjoy 3 full days in the Malaysian wilderness.
You will have more chances to see the orangutans and pygmy elephants. We saw different animals on each river cruise.
There’re many Kinabatangan river accommodations. Remember that you are in the jungle and that these river accommodations may not offer all the amenities that you are used to.
Here we share 3 comfortable hotels with air conditioning that offer all-inclusive packages.
Borneo nature lodge
We stayed in the Borneo Nature Lodge one of the more comfortable Kinabatangan riverside lodges. It’s the only lodge in Kinabatangan rated 2 stars. The manager took really good care of us and we were treated with delicious meals after every river safari. We comfortably enjoyed the pleasures of the jungle :-).
Nature Lodge Kinabatangan
The Nature Lodge Kinabatangan offers basic clean rooms with air conditioning. Incredibly friendly staff. The tours are good and the group sizes are considerably smaller than other tours.
The Bilit Rainforest Lodge
The Bilit Rainforest lodge offers spacious rooms with air conditioning. They offer a reasonable selection of well-prepared food, Very friendly and helpful staff. The river safaris are excellent and the guides are good at spotting wildlife.
We think this is a fairly complete 2-week itinerary for Borneo.
But as always, you have to make choices, and that’s what we did for this Borneo itinerary.
As nature lovers, we loved Mulu and our Kinabatangan river cruise the most.
This was absolutely the highlights of our Borneo itinerary.
If you have less time and aren’t going to climb Mount Kinabalu, we would suggest skipping Kota Kinabalu.
If you are looking for a 10 days Borneo itinerary and like snorkeling or diving, we would advise adding Lankayan Island. It’s easy to reach with a private boat transfer from Sandakan. We didn’t do it ourselves because we went to the Perhentians. But we heard from other people that it is an amazing island.
If you are convinced of Borneo but are looking for a tropical destination, our Kerala in India might be something for you.
If you are wondering what to pack for Borneo, check out this Borneo packing list.
If you want to stay online while you are in Malaysia, check out this post about the best Malaysia tourist SIM card.
If you like this article, pin it
Have you visited Malaysian Borneo, what were the highlights for you? Would you change something in our itinerary?