The third largest island in the world, Borneo is a favourite of ours for its natural beauty and wildlife. Borneo rainforest is home to more than 15,000 species, making it a fantastic destination to visit for wildlife enthusiasts or a family trip with the kids. But Borneo is not just about wildlife, it is an amazing place to come and relax with its flawless beaches. For the adventures there are loads of activities to keep you occupied, like a day trip hike up Mount Kinabalu. With so much to see and do in this place, we have put a list of our favourite places to visit in Borneo, so you don't miss out.
Bako National Park
Sarawak's oldest national park, and one of its smallest, Bako lies at the tip of the Muara Tebas Peninsula, at the mouth of the Bako and Kuching Rivers. Accessible only by boat, the park is a haven for an astonishing variety of flora and fauna including almost every known plant species found in Borneo.
It can boast over 25 distinct plant species, seven complete ecosystems and over 150 species of birds. It is also home to rare endemic proboscis monkeys, flying lemurs, pangolin, monitor lizards and Bornean bearded pigs, which are the largest mammals to be found in the park. The park is also riddled with a network of well maintained walking trails that provide everything from gentle forest walks to full day jungle treks and overnight camping expeditions.
Home to Orang Utan, hornbill and gibbon, Batang Ai covers some 240 square kilometres of tropical rainforest to the east of Kuching. Traditional homeland to the Iban people, the national park was founded in 1991 and is famed for its tranquil setting and its authentic Iban long-houses, which afford visitors a chance to experience something of the customs and culture of the local people.
Batang Ai is also unique in that its management and conservation projects are run in conjunction with the local Iban people and the Forestry Department, with funds generated in the area kept within the community to further fund continued development. The park also encompasses Sarawak's only artificial lake, an expansive reservoir that covers some 24 square kilometres and extends up along the Engkari and Ai Valleys.
Although this is not part of Borneo, it has made it onto our list as it is one of our favourite places to visit when travelling to Malaysia. The region is characterized by extensive tea plantations. People mostly come to Cameron Highlands to escape the heat and to do some beautiful walks. Besides the tea plantations there are also the following attractions: Mossy Forest, Rafflesia tour, strawberry farm, rose gardens, a Chinese temple, a cactus valley and vegetable gardens.
Please avoid places where insects or animals are kept; as they are often in pretty bad shape (for example the butterflies at the Butterfly Farm are kept in poor conditions). On weekends you can visit the night market in the evenings. Here locals buy their ingredients, fresh meat, fish and also vegetables and fruit. Tourists can enjoy one of the popular local snacks.
A stunning natural gem, the Danum Valley Conservation Area presents a pristine landscape of virgin jungle and lush tropical lowland forest that provides shelter for a rare collection of animals, including Asian elephants, Bornean pygmy elephant, Sumatran rhinos, proboscis monkeys and clouded leopard.
Covering nearly 44,000 hectares and lying to the west of Lahad Datu (Sabah's fourth largest town), it has been recognised as one of the world's most complex ecosystems, and one of its richest conservation areas. Blessed with a collection of beautiful waterfalls and pools, as well as ancient Kadazandusun burial sites, the area is a paradise for bird watchers, with 270 Species of birds have been recorded here. A wonderful 300 metre long and 27 metre high canopy walks providing unparalleled access to the forest canopy.
Sabah's Kinabatangan River is the second longest river in Malaysia, running some 560 kilometres from its source in the mountains of the south-west to the Sulu Sea, east of Sandakan. Blessed with one of the world's richest ecosystems, including the largest forest covered flood-plain in Malaysia, the river supports five distinct habitats, from limestone forests to saline swamps, providing a haven for some of Borneo's richest concentrations of wildlife.
There are saltwater crocodiles and indigenous proboscis monkeys, Asian elephants and Sumatran rhinos, as well as all eight species of hornbill. The surrounding forest is also one of only two places in the world where 10 species of primate are found in one place, making the region one of the best areas to view wildlife in the whole of Southeast Asia.
Formerly known as Jesselton, the capital of Sabah State lies along the north-western coast of Borneo, overlooking the waters of the South China Sea. Founded by the British North Borneo Company in the late 1800s, the settlement grew to become a major trading port, dealing in rubber, rattan, honey and wax.
Destroyed by the allies during the Second World War, the town was rebuilt by the British in 1946, going on to become the state capital in 1963, when the Federation of Malaysia was formed between North Borneo, Sarawak, Singapore and Malay.
Named after the famous mountain that lies to the north-east of the city, today Kota Kinabalu is one of Malaysia's major tourist destinations, offering easy access to Sabah, Borneo and the stunning natural beauty of Kinabalu National Park.
The capital of Sarawak, Kuching is the largest city in Borneo and one of the most vibrant cities in the region. Situated on the banks of the Sarawak River, in the north-western part of the island, the city's name derives from the Malay word for 'cat' and it was once the personal kingdom of the British adventurer James Brooke, the first Rajah of Sarawak.
Surviving the destruction of World War II relatively intact, the city's historic centre reflects something of the city's colonial and Chinese influences, whilst its waterfront has been transformed into a landscaped esplanade of restaurants, shops and food stalls. The city can also boast an internationally renowned museum and a bustling Sunday market that is one of the best in Sarawak.
One of Sabah's top diving spots and part of the Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area, the virtually uninhabited Lankayan Island lies amidst the pristine waters of the Sulu Sea about 90 minutes by boat from Sandakan. Renowned for its whale shark sightings (between March and May), Lankayan is also an important green and hawksbill turtle nesting site, offering a rich selection of dive sites that boast everything from wrecks and sharks, to rays and giant clams.
The island's only resort offers a choice of 16 attractive wooden chalets that provide a tranquil haven for divers and non-divers alike, with beautiful thick tropical jungle and unspoilt white beaches offering some idyllic diversions away from the coral reefs and clear waters.
Mount Kinabalu Park
Set amongst the dramatic landscapes of the Kinabalu National Park, Mount Kinabalu is Borneo's highest peak, and one of the highest mountains in Southeast Asia. Accorded UNESCO World Heritage status and rising some 4,095 metres above the surrounding forest and lowlands, the mountain lies amidst some of the most important biological regions on earth; home to some 4500 species of plants, over 320 species of birds and 100 different types of mammals.
The granite spires of Mount Kinabalu provide one of the most spectacular climbing routes anywhere outside the Himalayas. The tough, 2-day hike to the summit ascends through cloud forest, gaining some 2500 metres over a 24 hour period, so, whilst non technical, it is a climb that requires a reasonable level of fitness.
Mulu National Park
The Gunung Mulu National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site that encompasses some of Sarawak's most spectacular natural attractions. Covering nearly 53,000 hectares of primary rainforest, but it is below ground where its real treasures lie. The park is home to one of the largest limestone cave systems on earth, including the world's largest (Deer Cave), Southeast Asia's longest (Clearwater Cave) and the largest natural chamber on earth (Sarawak Chamber).
Over 200 kilometres of caves have so far been surveyed, but this is believed to represent only about 30-40% of the total. It is also home to an impressive array of flora and fauna including 8 species of hornbill, 27 species of bats, over 280 species of butterfly and 262 species of birds.
Located along the Sungai River and part of the Niah National Park, these caves represent one of the most important archeological sites in Southeast Asia. Forty-thousand years ago the Niah caves first sheltered human life, including the oldest human remains ever found in the region, giving emphasis to the park's claim to be one of the birthplaces of human life in the area.
Home today to bats and swiftlets, the significance of the caves was first highlighted in the late 1950's, when a 40,000 year old skull was discovered. As well as detailed wall paintings and 'death ships', boat shaped coffins containing the remains of the deceased, along with a selection of artefacts destined to travel with them into the afterlife.
Pangkor Island lies just off the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. It’s known for beaches like Teluk Nipah, Coral Bay and Pasir Giam, which connects to coral-ringed Giam Island at low tide. Dating back to 1670, the ruined Dutch Fort demonstrates the island’s strategic colonial importance. Nearby, the Sacred Rock is inscribed with the Dutch East India Company symbol and a picture of a tiger carrying away a child.
Penang is a Malaysian state located on the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia, by the Malacca Strait. It has two parts: Penang Island, where the capital city, George Town, is located, and Seberang Perai (formerly Province Wellesley) on the Malay Peninsula.
Located about 40 kilometres north and 90 minutes by boat from Sandakan, Selingan Island is part of the Turtle Islands National Park, an area famed for its green and hawksbill turtles. One of the most important turtle breeding grounds in the whole of Southeast Asia, the park covers over 17 square kilometres of beaches, coral and reefs, with Selingan providing the only overnight accommodation in the area.
During the peak season in October, up to 50 turtles come ashore each night to lay their eggs in the soft warm sands, providing a unique opportunity to observe one of nature's most remarkable events. It is possible to visit the turtle hatchery and visitor's centre on the island to gain more of an insight into the world's oldest turtle conservation programme.
One of Sabah's most popular attractions and part of the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre was set up in 1964 to help orphaned Orang Utans. Set amidst 4,300 hectares of lush forest, the centre offers an opportunity to observe these magnificent primates up close and in their natural environment.
Accessed by a boardwalk, there is a viewing gallery and feeding platform, whilst those looking for a more adventurous trek can obtain a permit to hike through the 5 kilometre trail that runs through the mangrove forest. Conservation and rehabilitation is still the primary goal of the sanctuary and the orphaned Orang Utans are taught to survive back in the wild before being re-released. between 60 and 80 of them live wild within the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve.
Tabin Nature Reserve
Tabin Wildlife Reserve is located in the eastern part of Sabah. The reserve comprises an area of approximately 300,000 acres in the centre of the Dent Peninsula, north-east of Lahad Datu town, south of the lower reaches of the Segama River and north of the Silabukan Forest Reserve. Tabin was declared a wildlife reserve primarily on account of the large number of animals inhabiting its forests, some of which are highly endangered.
The three largest mammals of Sabah, the Borneo Pygmy Elephant, Sumatran Rhinoceros and Tembadau are all found within the reserve; nine species of primate are present, as well as three species of cats all of which are on the protected wildlife list. Of bird species, 42 families representing 220 species have been recorded.
Semenggoh Nature Reserve
Constituted in 1920, Semenggoh is Sarawak's oldest forest reserve and is home to both a wildlife rehabilitation centre, an arboretum and a botanical research centre. Covering some 653 hectares, the reserve is an abundant mix of lowland forest and undisturbed primary jungle that contains some of the richest collections of flora on the planet.
A haven for gibbons, giant and pygmy squirrels and a collection of birdlife that includes kingfishers, bulbuls and woodpeckers, the reserve has had an astonishing success in recent years with its Orang Utan rehabilitation programme, which has seen incredible numbers reintroduced back into the wild. Located just 20 kilometres south of Kuching, it continues to play a vital role in conservation education and provides a number of opportunities for wildlife watching, nature study and trekking.