Take a journey to Asia's final frontiers, where orangutans swing through thick jungle and white-sand tropical islands are untouched by mass tourism. Departing from Kuala Lumpur, there's a sense of exploring a destination that's completely different from the rest. Intimate and authentic, Borneo is home to some of our planet's most unique travel experiences, from a sunset witnessing hatching turtles to river cruises beneath the rainforest canopy.
No matter where you have traveled, you will never have been anywhere quite like Borneo. The world's third largest island accounts for just one percent of the world's landmass, yet is home to 6% of global biodiversity, discovered in the endless swathes of lush, tropical rainforests. In Borneo you discover the oldest and most undisturbed rainforests on the planet, where rare plants and wildlife thrive. Beyond the rainforest laze deserted beaches, snorkeling in blue water lagoons, and encounter exotic local tribes people.
Known simply as "KL," Kuala Lumpur is a pleasant hub for reaching Borneo and worth a day or two stopping over en route. A slightly more brash version of Singapore, KL is a bustling boom-town with a heady urban blend of impossibly tall towers and ornate temples, mega-malls and chic eateries, big businesses and diversity of cultures. A highlight, the cuisine, is a delicious confluence of Chinese, Indian and local Malay traditions. Overall, KL is an comfortable and efficient stopover for gateway for a Borneo trip.
A tropical island retreat amidst the colors of the Sulu Sea, Langkayan is in the heart of a huge marine protected area. With its soft white sand and thick jungle interior, the small island easily rivals any in Southeast Asia for its beauty. While we recommend it for beach bums and casual snorkelers, it's the scuba diving that makes Langkayan so memorable. There are dive sites for beginners and advanced-certified divers, along with a whole host of tropical reefs within snorkeling distance of the beach. Remote and resplendent, the island only has one resort, making it perfect for a relaxing getaway that also incorporates Borneo's famed marine world.
A Kota Kinabalu sunset will linger long in the memory, the fiery colors visible from almost anywhere in this small coastal city. This is the capital and gateway to Borneo's state of Sabah, a place that is sometimes unavoidable given the logistics of travel, yet one that quickly grows on every visitor. Old-world charm and 21st-century development merges in what is a conveniently compact city, but the real highlight is the waterfront, with little fishing boats slowly turning to silhouettes as you enjoy the legendary sunsets.
Known as Turtle Island, Selingan is an hour by speedboat from the town of Sandakan. Mesmeric ocean views greet you at every turn, exceptional snorkeling is found in the Sulu Sea, and the evenings bring encounters with turtles. Selingan is one of five islands within the protected Turtle Park and is the only one that is habitable. The park protect the many hawksbill and green turtles that choose the archipelago to lay their eggs. Snorkeling almost always delivers images of the large females, while during the evenings, experienced rangers help you see baby turtles along the beach.
An orangutan returns your gaze, curiosity etched into his playful eyes. Walk further along the walkway and you see four more, facial expressions betraying their thoughts. Human-like fingers curl around branches, frowns and smiles reveal so much, and the sense of intimacy is exquisite. You can immediately sense that the orangutans are genetically familiar to you, as told through all the gestures and behaviors. After a full day in the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary and Reserve you'll come to learn all about these primates' life and legacy.
Remote Sandakan is a sliver of a port town and the arrival point for visiting the famous orangutans. Its airport helps makes Sepilok accessible and the endangered primates are easily visited on any private Borneo tour. The reserve covers more than 40 square kilometers of lush, protected rainforest, and exists for the rehabilitation of orphaned and injured orangutans. They come from the wild and touching is not aloud. However, these orangutans have grown accustomed to human presence.
At feeding times you are almost guaranteed a sighting of a small troop of orangutans but you'll also get chance to see them on the boardwalk trail. There is also an excellent visitor center and video presentation to be enjoyed. We can also arrange a nighttime canopy walk for even more immersive encounters.
The landscapes around Kinabatangan River respond to preconceptions of the Borneo rainforest. Sabah's longest river is flanked by exotic bird and wildlife, which thrives in virgin mangroves, wetlands and thick, tangled rainforest. Head out on river cruises in search of wild orangutans, proboscis monkeys, and the other five of Borneo's primates. Eight species of hornbill chirp from the trees, just some of the hundreds of exotic birds that flutter around. Pygmy elephants create trails in the forest and you sometimes hear their trumpeted shouts during a candlelit dinner. While almost all of Borneo is rainforest, this area is one of our favorites, the award-winning Sukau Rainforest Lodge making the rainforest luxurious as well as adventurous.
A must visit destination for travelers who've come for wildlife viewing. Danum Valley is home to some of Borneo's most iconic wildlife providing for exceptional encounters in the forest. Danum features 130 million year old rainforest, the oldest on Earth, with exceptional wildlife spotting. The Danum Valley Conservation Area is over 250 square miles with an incredible diversity of tropical flora and fauna, including such species as the rare Bornean orangutans, gibbons, mousedeer, clouded leopards and over 270 bird species, including colorful helmeted hornbills and bristleheads, and rare birds including Banded Kingfishers.
While Sabah receives the majority of visitors to Borneo, the western state of Sarawak is equally spectacular. Pristine rainforest stretches untouched into the interior, with wild orangutans and monkeys easily spotted. Rare tribes can be visited and the state lays claim to being Malaysia's most culturally diverse; you'll get a warm welcome everywhere you go, whoever you encounter. For those seeking adventure, Sarawak can take you even further into the wild than neighboring Sabah, like a riverboat trip up the Batang Rejang river, a hike across the Kelabit Highlands, and an expedition to the extraordinary scenery of Gunung Mulu National Park.
Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Borneo and all Malaysia of 4,095 meters (13,435 feet) and the third-highest peak of an island on Earth. The World Heritage Site is located in a large national park, pleasant for daytripping to explore botanical gardens, jungles, view the mountain up close, hot springs, or for more active travelers, or hike to the summit for spectacular views (about six hours).
The last wild frontier of Asia, with ancient rainforests, pristine tropical islands, and a astonishing variety of wildlife. Explore some trip ideas below and others on our trips page and contact us to plan your private, custom trip.
Borneo's main destinations feature the exceptional wildlife of the island, including the Danum Valley and the Kinabatangan River, though some places offer a tropical paradise for sun and sea or outdoor adaventure, such as Mount Kinabalu. In addition, Kuala Lumpur is an exciting stopover en route to Borneo, as well as Penang, Singapore and Georgetown afterwards.
Borneo accommodations cross a variety from simple national park cabins, jungle lodges, to world-class beach resorts. Explore a few of these below and our our Borneo hotels page.
Before or after your Borneo trip, spend a day or two in the vibrant capital. Cuisine is just one element of how Kuala Lumpur has redefined nations of multiculturalism and the breadth of experience is exquisite. Afterwards, fly to your base in the oldest rainforests in the world, visiting one of several popular orangutan preserves in the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, along with dozens of pristine islands scattered throughout the Andaman and South China seas.
Home to 6% of the world's biodiversity, the epic and untouched rainforest on Borneo creates a surreal experience with nature. Orangutans are an obvious highlight but they're just one of seven primates who call this jungle home. Pygmy elephants create trails through the trees and birdlife is prolific, like eight species of hornbill and the more than 400 wild birds on the island. But most of all, a visit to the Borneo is about the immersion in an untouched land. You'll feel the wilderness with all your senses and come to understand the raw beauty of nature.
Malaysia has islands just as exotic and dreamy as Thailand. But other than the Perhentian Islands, the archipelagos have missed out on the rest of Asia's tourist overdevelopment. They have remained in their pristine original state, the white sand framed by jungle backdrops and marked by only a small handful of boutique resorts. The underwater life is magical, with turtles and reef sharks amongst the life seen when snorkeling, while the life on land is as relaxing end to any luxury Malaysia holiday.