Ever since watching National Geographic, I’ve dreamed of visiting Borneo. Borneo is HUGE, so when I finally got my chance to visit, I ended up focusing my time on visiting the Malaysian part of Borneo as well as Brunei as it was easier to get around. However, one does not simply land in Borneo without significant preparations and a well-thought packing list for Borneo. Keep reading for tips on what to do before you leave for Borneo (including vaccinations and malaria tablets), what to pack for Borneo, and what you’ll definitely want to know about leeches in Borneo.
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Included in this Borneo Packing List:
- Weather in Borneo
- Borneo Packing List for Two Weeks
- What to pack for jungle trekking in Borneo
- What you need to know about leeches in Borneo
- Medicines to bring with you before you visit Borneo
- Do you need malaria pills for Borneo
What’s the weather in Borneo?
Keep mind that Borneo is actually composed of THREE countries (Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, and Malaysia) and it’s a huge island. Depending on where you are planning on visiting, the weather might be quite different.
That said, on average, there’s a dry and a rainy season. Expect Borneo weather to be hot and humid with average temperatures in winter being about 27 degrees Celsius (81 F) and average temperatures in summer nearing 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees). That said, the humidity is often an issue, so it will feel hotter than it is. I was constantly sweating through my clothes.
Rainy season in Borneo can bring a lot of rain, on average, over 400mm of rain in January/December, although the average drops significantly in summer and spring. If you’re trying to guarantee good conditions for trekking in Borneo, you might want to avoid rainy season.
Borneo Packing List for Two Weeks
Keep in mind that my itinerary for Borneo was a diverse one, including a mix of cities as well as trekking. I’d say that I spent most of my trip out in nature although I stayed each night in a basic accommodation or hotel. If your trip is more trekking intense, you might want to ask your tour guide on what is specifically needed for long-term trekking hikes as this Borneo packing list is more intended for people who intend to dodaily day hikes rather than week-long trekking.
My trip was more nature focused with nine of our days spent doing day trekking in the Malaysian and Bruneian jungle with returning to our accomodation each night. It wasn’t continuous as I had never done jungle trekking before this trip and I wasn’t sure how it would be. The rest of the trip was split between city sightseeing in Malaysia (Sabah/Sarawak) and Brunei, paragliding in Ranau, and snorkeling off the coast. I did not do a week-long trek like some people, but you still might find some useful advice for your Borneo packing list here.
This is what I actually brought with me to Borneo plus a few things that I wish that I had packed for Borneo. Nobody sponsored our trip and this is a no-bs guide to packing for Borneo. My goal is to have you prepared for your trip to Borneo as I really felt like nobody gave me definitive answers in terms of preparations before leaving. I’m not about expensive gear, so don’t worry and save your money for the incredible wildlife experiences in Borneo that you’re visiting it for!
What to wear for jungle trekking in Borneo
Borneo was a dream trip for me, so although I definitely splurged on experiences, I was not interested in spending a lot on fancy jungle trekking clothes as we weren’t doing weeks of jungle trekking. That said, if you’re doing a lot of trekking, you might want to bring more sets of clothing. You’ll want to be aware of how quickly your clothes dry as the humidity means that your clothes dry slowly.
We did proper jungle trekking for about nine days out of our two week trip, but it wasn’t all in a row and I had 3 sets of “hiking” clothes to ensure that I always had something that wasn’t dripping with sweat.
Lightweight, sturdy long pants for Borneo trekking
A few quick-dry long sleeve shirts for jungle trekking
Good waterproof hiking shoes for trekking in Borneo
A waterproof day-pack
If you’ll be visiting Mount Kinabalu, a fleece sweater/sweatshirt
Enough pairs of underwear and socks
Leech socks (coupled with a surprise item below)
..So, I actually got bit by a leech while in Borneo because I didn’t wear leech socks. Our guide told me that we’dknowwhen there was a leech on us, however depending on the leech variety and how new you are to this, you might not realize it’s a leech and assume it’s something else. I was fairly careful, but my biggest mistake (beyond not wearing leech socks) was wearing long dark pants and dark socks as it made it difficult to visually check my leg for leeches. The leech that got mechewedthrough my sock until it got to my ankle. I didn’t see a leech, but I felt a mild buzzing pain (apparently typical for a tiger leech). I checked myself and didn’t see anything. I kept going and I can only assume that the leech happily fell off after drinking my blood. It took hours for my ankle to stop bleeding although my pride was still more hurt from bragging to my husband (who the leeches kept hopping onto) that I didn’t manage to attract any leeches. Luckily, leeches don’t carry diseases. Beyond the obvious disgusting factor and your wound bleeding, you’ll be fine.
I struggled to find any cheap leech socks before we left, so if you have an extra day in a major city (e.g. Kota Kinabalu), you should be able to buy a more reasonable leech sock. Some say thattightly woven soccer socks are mostly effective against leeches
, but I wasn’t comfortable doing this in the end. Be sure to pull the socks OVER your pants and consider soaking them in tobacco.
Kampong Ayer water village in Brunei
Items to pack for sightseeing in Borneo
Women: One dress
A light layer (sweater)
One pair of Jeans or clean non-trekking pants (Can be substituted for shorts)
Trust me, your trekking pants will be all nasty after a couple days of trekking, so don’t forget a comfortable pair of jeans for Borneo. In Brunei, I lived in my jeans
. I’m not really one for shorts and I felt that I stood out a lot more in shorts compared to jeans. That’s your call.
Other items to pack for Borneo
A DSLR with a zoom lens
A bag of loose cheap tobacco (for your leech socks)
Bear with me here. I’m not advocating smoking, but our guide swore by tobacco for slowing down leeches. What you’ll want to do is to soak the tobacco in some water that you lightly spray to your pants/shoes. Others swear by keeping one pair of leech socks lightly soaking in tobacco water about two days before (before letting them dry). You don’t need a lot, so buy it cheaply in the city before you head to Borneo.
A good water bottle
It’s going to be very hot and honestly, you’ll be drinking a lot of water. Some people swear by also carrying their own water purifier for longer trekking, but we simply just carried enough water for us on our day-hikes. I love my Nalgene bottle!
One set of Tupperware
Some guides/agencies will carry the food for you, but if you intend on going to one of the national parks where you can go trekking in Borneo without a guide
, you’ll need to carry your lunch with you from the nearby canteen. A lot of people in Bako National Park go for the day and forget food, so they end up carrying a plastic bag with a styrofoam box along the way with their lunch.
Large sealable plastic bags
Borneo is wet and if you’re going to trekking or even taking a boat upriver, you’ll want to protect your electronics from water. I recommend carrying a few sturdy sealable plastic bags with you for your electronics (camera/phone). Make sure they’re watertight!
A good deodorant
Between the heat, humidity, and jungle trekking, you’ll need a good deodorant. Keep in mind that some scented deodorants can scare animals away/attract bugs, so try to get an unscented deodorant if possible.
A travel adapter
A good 50L backpack with a rain cover
Soap and Shampoo + toiletries
Once you’re in Borneo, you’ll be able to buy soap and shampoos in the big city. However, if you have curly hair,
you’ll want to plan your products ahead as the humidity is very intense. Similarly, it’s good to have a soap that is less likely to leak, so consider buying a bar soap.
Kind of a given, but depending on whether you’re staying at accomodations with air conditioning or not, you might want to pack a mix of shorts and long pants for your pajamas.
Optional: Phone bungee
Optional: Trekking poles
What to do before you leave for Borneo: Vaccinations and Medicines
Although some people choose to visit Borneo with few preparations, your physician may disagree as depending on your activities, you’ll probably need some vaccinations, just in case. All travelers are encouraged to get the Tetanus, the same updated shot that you may have had as a child (Diphtheria, Measles, Mumps and Rubella), and Hepatitis A. It’s good to know that if you get the follow-up injection for Hepatitis A about six months after your first injection, it will last for around a year.
Be sure to talk to your physician about your plans for traveling to Borneo with specifics as they’ll need to know what vaccinations you need as well as if you need malaria medicine. Similarly, if you’re allergic to many antibiotics, it might be worth it to carry a small prescription on you as access to a stocked pharmacy will be difficult if you intend to do a lot of trekking.
I’m not a doctor, so I recommend discussing your trip with your doctor as you might require additional vaccinations/requirements if you intend to do more trekking or stay in very rural areas. You might need to go to a special travel doctor as your doctor might not be knowledgeable enough. If you’re planning on doing more adventurous activities (like at least a week of jungle trekking), you might be encouraged to get the Hepatitis B and Rabies vaccination. I opted not to get these as I didn’t feel that our jungle trekking was that intense, but I might have gotten the Rabies vaccination considering how many close calls we had with aggressive macaques while in Borneo. The vaccinations cost me about 100 euros in the Netherlands.
Do you need Malaria tablets for Borneo?
Depending on where in Borneo that you’re visiting, youmayneed to get malaria tablets. Your travel doctor should have a map of the regions of Borneo where you need malaria tablets. (For instance, you don’t need to take malaria tablets for Bako National Park in Sarawak.) Not all of Borneo has mosquitos that carry malaria, so definitely tell your doctor your plan and keep in mind that it’s often worth it to get the more expensive malaria tablets to avoid the nasty side effects that you’ll get with the cheaper ones. In Sabah, the Kinabatangan area required taking malaria medicine.
Keep in mind that some malaria medicines require that you start taking them almost two weeks before your trip, so if you’re planning your trip to Borneo on the wire, this might impact your malaria medicine. Talk to your doctor and do your research on malaria drugs. Personally, I was very nervous about the side effects from Malarone and ended up being prescribed Chloroquine. The side effects were minimal besides feeling tired a lot and getting an upset stomach when taking it prior to food.
Your Borneo Packing Checklist.
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Have you been to Borneo? Anything that you wish that you had brought with you?