Visiting Borneo was a dream of mine ever since I was a child watching National Geographic video series about the biodiversity in Borneo. Planning my trip to Borneo took quite a bit of time as Borneo is one of the world’s largest islands with three countries.
As I only had two weeks for Borneo, I had to choose carefully what to do in Borneo. This was my itinerary for two weeks in Borneo, focusing on Malaysia and Brunei. I tried to include the best things to do in Borneo, which makes it easy to stretch this Borneo itinerary to four weeks in Borneo depending on your interests.
A note on choosing Malaysia and Brunei instead of Indonesia for my Borneo itinerary
I’m so excited to visit Indonesia, however I found that flights to/from the Indonesian part of Borneo were pricey. SImilarly, I didn’t have the time to take slow boats around.
My friend Cherene had a fantastic experience after flying into Kalimantan seeing wild orangutans in Indonesia. My aunt was able to take an in-depth tour to Kalimantan to learn about traditional weaving in the region and we met one person who had done some intensive jungle trekking in Indonesia. However, the Indonesian side has less infrastructure, which makes it more difficult to get around Borneo without a lot of time.
Borneo in two weeks itinerary
This itinerary can be easily flipped depending on where you fly into Borneo. For me, it was cheaper to fly to Kuala Lumpur to start off my trip prior to taking an AirAsia flight to Sandakan rather than to fly into Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, or Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei).
You’ll find international flights to/from Europe and Australia into BSB (Brunei) although you’ll also find flights into Kota Kinabalu with a transfer. I leave this part of your Borneo itinerary up to you, but this was how I organized my personal trip to Borneo to minimize backtracking as well as flights. You can read my packing list for Borneo. This itinerary is not strictly for two weeks in Borneo, so I hope it inspires your holiday to Borneo no matter the length.
I’ve included a bit of side trips that are easy to do from different cities, so depending on your interests, you should be able to add/cut different things. It might not be avoidable to go to certain cities if you want to do specific activities. I was very interested in a number of these side trips, but I ran out of time.
I hope that this information about Borneo helps anyone planning their trip to Borneo by highlighting the best things to do in the Malaysian and Bruneian parts of Borneo! You could easily expand this itinerary for four weeks in Borneo, focused on travel in Sabah and Sarawak.
Beginning of your Borneo trip: Sandakan & the Kinabatangan Valley (3 days)
You can fly into Sandakan from Kuala Lumpur for as low as $20 USD. After doing my research into where best to see wildlife in Borneo, I realized that the Kinabatangan region would be the best option given my limited time in Borneo. I was hoping to see wild pygmy elephants, but unfortunately we didn’t get lucky.
Most wildlife safaris that are mid-range to luxury will pick you up from the Sandakan airport as part of their package price. I paid ~$300 (per person) for my three day two night excursion in the Kinabatangan region.
During this time, we saw hundreds of wild monkeys [including silver leaf and proboscis monkeys], spotted THREE wild orangutans, jungle trekked, and cruised along the river.
The whole experience was out of a dream and why I came to Borneo. Some people stay longer, however I felt three days in the Kinabatangan Valley was enough time. You can read more about my time in the Kinabatangan Valley, including where I stayed here.
Optional trip from Sandakan or Kota Kinabulu: Sipadan for diving (1-3 days)
I still don’t know how to dive, however diving in Sipadan is a must for divers. Sipadan is routinely rated as one of the best places in the world to go scuba diving.
Be aware that they strictly limit the number of divers that can visit Sipadan each day, so you must apply in advance for a diving permit (they go quickly). You can take a six hour bus to Somporna from Sandakan or fly from Kota Kinabalu to Tawau. You might need to reorder your trip depending on whether you choose to take the bus to Sipadan or fly.
A related note: I skipped Sipadan as I do not know how to dive and depending on pirate activity, you might want to stay up to date on what’s going off the eastern coast of Borneo if you’ll be spending extra time in this region.
Optional 2-7 days side trip: Danum Valley
I did not include Danum Valley in this Borneo itinerary as the prices were so exorbitant that I couldn’t justify paying it. I heard incredible things about spending 3 days to a week hiking in Danum Valley, but it wasn’t in my budget unfortunately. You can fly from Kota Kinabalu to Danum Valley.
Kota Kinabalu: Three Days, including Kota Kinabalu National Park
Kota Kinabalu is the largest city on Borneo and it has a lot to offer. To see the main city sights, visit the spectacular Kota Kinabalu national park (which has its own ecosystem), learn about local culture, and snorkel/dive on Gaya Island, you’ll need about three days.
A must is going around the Kota Kinabalu night market, which is a great place to try local specialities, although I must say that I am taken with laksa. You can read a good itinerary for three days in Kota Kinabalu here.
Optional day trip from Kota Kinabalu: Paragliding in Ranau
We spent a day going on a day trip to Ranau, which has a lot of tragic history from World War II relating to prisoners-of-war, with a day trip that we booked once we were in Kota Kinabalu.
I highly recommend stopping along the way to try fresh fruit and local indigenous specialities in the region. Be sure to visit the memorial prior to going paragliding in the hills of Ranau.
Paragliding is one of those once in a lifetime experiences that I recommend that anyone should try out. You’ll understand how it feels to soar in the air like a bird!
Optional trip from Kota Kinabalu: Mount Kinabalu Via Ferrata (1-3 days)
If you’re considering climbing Mount Kinabalu to do the via ferrata, you’ll need at least 2-3 day extra days and quite a bit of cash as it’s a fairly pricey activity.
I chose not to climb Kinabalu due to the cost, but it’s recommended that you take a 3D2N trip to Mount Kinabalu as your trip might be cancelled if the weather is not right and you’ll have an extra night to summit to the top if the weather is not great the first day. Not going is a big regret of mine.
At minimum, consider visiting Kota Kinabalu National Park as a day trip.
Brunei Darussalam (3-5 days total)
There’s a good flight connection between BSB Brunei and Kota Kinabalu as well as Kuala Lumpur. We flew Royal Brunei Airways.
I’m always shocked to hear that people spend so little time in Brunei when I found Brunei one of the most fascinating places that I’ve visited in the world.
Brunei is a great place for cultural travel as Brunei as they have their own rich culture and history in addition to a water village that deserves UNESCO recognition The mosques are pretty spectacular too
Bandar Seri Begawan (3 days)
A lot of people rush through their time in Bandar Seri Begawan as they find it boring. (I disagree.) The capital city of Brunei Darussalam has free attractions, a UNESCO-worthy water village that is living history, friendly people, lively night markets, and delicious food
Ulu Temburong National Park (1-2 days)
You’ll need to book an excursion from Bandar Seri Begawan to get to Ulu Temburong National Park, one of the most well-maintained virgin rainforests in the world.
In order to get to Ulu Temburong National Park, you’ll take a stunning ferry ride through the rainforest prior to taking a traditional longboat. The area around the park is home to the Iban people, who have their own culture and history.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Iban people, I recommend spending more than a day here as a day trip to Ulu Temburong National Park means that you won’t have time to properly learn about Iban culture! Be sure to visit in time for the Harvest festival if possible. You can read tips for visiting Ulu Temburong National Park here.
Miri (1 day)
You can take a bus from Brunei to Miri. You’ll find the bus departing daily in the mornings. Ask any tourist information desk for bus departure information or book your tickets online.
Thanks to Ying Ying for the fantastic tour of Miri. I was lucky enough to have a local guide to Miri, which is where Shell was founded. Oil is a key industry in Miri still and Shell still has a very strong presence in this city (as well as a private beach club).
Miri isn’t too large although a car is essential as the bus from Brunei comes in at an inconvenient place. Miri is a great base for various trips around Sarawak and a great place to try Sarawak laksa in case you haven’t yet…
Miri is one of the only places in the world where you can try the Bario pineapple outside of Bario as well as Kelabit food. You’ll need to visit The Summit Cafe to try Kelabit food.
Optional side trip from Miri: Gunung Mulu National Park (2-5 days)
Although the flight from Miri to Mulu National Park is only thirty minutes, this flight is often canceled and delayed due to visibility. As a result, you need at least 1-2 days built into your Borneo itinerary to ensure that you have enough time to visit Mulu with taking into account possible flight delays. (Flights are inexpensive.) Be sure to bring enough cash to cover food and tours.
Gunung Mulu National Park is one of Borneo’s gems without question although you need to have a more flexible schedule to visit this national park.
Gunung Mulu National Park is most famous for its pinnacles, which can be seen via three days/two night trek. Similarly, each night, you can see the bat migration out of the caves of over three million bats.
It should be noted that most of the tours require at least two people. If you’re into caving, you must do one of the adventurous cave tours at Gunung Mulu National Park, which can be booked online in advance. There’s also trekking that can be done from the park headquarters as well as a canopy walk.
Optional day trip from Miri: Gua Pari fairy caves and wind caves (1 day)
The Gua Pari fairy caves and the wind caves are an easy day trip from Miri. Many tours will include both caves on a day trip from Miri. Be sure to wear good footwear as the caves have many bats (which usually means bat poop) as well as many steps. It’s possible to visit both caves independently.
Optional side trip from Miri: Kelabit Highlands / Bario (2-3 days)
For those interested in cultural travel, Bario needs to be on your list. I was lucky enough to try Bario pineapple and rice while I was in Miri.
Bario is a remote community that can be reached by plane from Miri. It is the main settlement for the Kelabit tribe. It’s a great base for adventure travel if you’re interested in cultural travel as well as trekking.
We heard amazing things about Bario and I want to go to Bario on my next trip, not just for the pineapple (which was pretty delicious). I tried Kelabit food while in Miri and it was delicious as well as quite different than what I was used to. Bario recently got electricity.
Kuching (2 days)
I was entranced by Kuching, which has a mix of ethnic groups. I loved the blend of cultures, the architecture, the cats (Kuching means cat in Malay), and the food.
Kuching is the gateway to Sarawak and anyone interested in learning about the many indigenous tribes of Malaysia will be fascinated by Kuching. You’ll also find a lot of fantastic food in Kuching!
If you intend to visit Bako National Park, you’re better off staying in the city of Kuching prior to your departure. Kuching is perfect for 1-2 days of relaxing, non-stop eating, and admiring the city’s adorable shops.
Although I’m not a fan of Uber, it was very easy getting around Kuching via Uber with lots of friendly drivers. Take the shuttle bus to Bako National Park from Kuching! You can easily find budget flights from Miri to Kuching.
Optional half day trip from Kuching: Sarawak Cultural Village
Sarawak Cultural Village, very close to Taman Negara Santubong, is a “living museum” where you can see traditional architecture via seven traditional houses and learn about life in the longhouses. It’s certainly a must-see if you’re interested in cultural travel as it’s a great introduction to the rich culture and history of the region’s ethnic groups.
Optional trip from Kuching: Taman Negara Santubong (2-3 days)
We stayed outside of Kuching. The mountain and rainforest close to Kuching (Santubong National Park) is relatively untouched and great for trekking (you need a guide), however it’s best noted that it’s expensive getting from this area to Bako National Park without a taxi.
It’s possible to hire a boat to take you from Taman Negara Santubong to Bako National Park via most of the resorts, but this is not a cheap option. I’d recommend doing this as a day trip from Kuching instead of staying overnight.
Day trip from Kuching (if you’re lucky enough) (1-2 days)
In Gunung Gading National Park, you can see one of the world’s largest and rarest flowers in bloom. We were told that you need to need to ask around carefully beforehand to ensure that the rafflesia is in bloom prior to going there. You don’t have that much time to see them if they’re in bloom, so keep an eye out.
Bako National Park (3 days)
Bako National Park is one of the gems of Borneo and you must put Bako on your Borneo itinerary. A lot of people come here as part of a day trip from Kuching, however if you don’t stay overnight, you’ll miss out on the most incredible experience of all: 10 ringgit ($2.50 USD) wildlife night walks with the experienced rangers who will help you spot flying lemurs and other creatures of the night.
The trekking in Bako National Park is fantastic, so even if you have limited time (and can only do a day trip to Bako National Park), be sure to go hiking.
The more remote parts of the island and longest hikes on Bako National Park require taking a boat with one of the rangers to the starting point of the hikes, so be sure to bring extra money for the boat ride to/from the park as well as any additional boat rides that you intend to take.
I think that Bako National Park is one of the easiest ways to experience nature in Borneo even if you’re not a big hiker as some of the trails are easy enough (boardwalk only) that even non-hikers can enjoy some of the unique ecosystems on the island.
Within Bako National Park, you’ll find seven distinct ecosystems, remote beaches, amazing views, and not that many people considering that this is one of Borneo’s most famous national parks.
It’s still rainforest, but I loved that the park had such drastically different ecosystems compared to other parts of Borneo that I visited during my trip. After visiting Bako National Park, it’s easy to fly to a number of cities in Malaysia from Kuching via AirAsia as well as continue your trip deeper into Sarawak.
You can read my tips for visiting Bako National Park here.