A Guide to Malaysian Borneo: Things To Do in Southeast Asia’s Jungle Island

A Guide to Malaysian Borneo: Things To Do in Southeast Asia’s Jungle Island

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As mentioned in our overview of Malaysia, the country is split into two main parts. Its capital, Kuala Lumpur, lies on the western side, which is also known as Peninsular Malaysia. Across the sea, on the island of Borneo, lie the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak. As East Malaysia shares no land borders with Peninsular Malaysia, tourists visiting from the west can only get to Sabah or Sarawak via plane.

An Expatbets guide to Malaysia highlights how the beautiful geography and natural wonders have helped the country become a popular tourist destination, especially with backpackers. And the beauty of Malaysian Borneo offers makes it well worth the trip.

With ancient rainforests stretching for miles, Borneo is home to thousands of flora and fauna species, including the parasitic Rafflesia flower and the endemic orangutan. Adventure-seekers can get a thrill out of climbing Southeast Asia’s highest peak, the 4,095 meter-tall Mount Kinabalu in Sabah. And that’s only scratching the surface. Below, we’ll go over a few of the best activities tourists can do when visiting Malaysian Borneo.

Borneo bear

Go Hiking At Bako National Park

Despite the relatively small area it covers, Bako National Park in Sarawak features a wide range of biomes, from lush rainforests to jungle streams, coves, and beaches. Bako is home to a number of colorful species, including the famous big-nosed Proboscis Monkeys, bearded pigs, long-tailed macaques, and monitor lizards.

With many walking and hiking options available, Bako National Park’s extensive trail system allows tourists to take in the beautiful landscapes of Sarawak at their own pace. Adventurers can immerse themselves more deeply by taking one of the trail’s full-day trek tours, while travelers with stricter itineraries can opt for a short walk.

Proboscis Monkey from Bako
Proboscis Monkey from Bako

See Baby Orangutans at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

The great orangutan once ruled the forests of Indonesia and Malaysia. However, poaching, habitat destruction, and deforestation have decimated populations, leaving the species critically endangered. In areas near oil palm estates in Sabah, orangutan populations had dropped by up to 30% within a 15 year period, according to a 2019 assessment by the World Wide Fund for Nature. Only 11,000 orangutans remain in Sabah today.

Fortunately, many organizations have stepped up to protect Borneo’s orangutan populations. Today, tourists that want to show their support can even visit rehabilitation centers and learn about the different ways people are trying to help.

Get educated on the issue while witnessing these beautiful apes up in person by visiting the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, a facility in Sabah that was built to rehabilitate orphaned orangutans. Here, visitors can watch the baby orangutans play at their outdoor nurseries. The extra funding from tourists helps keep the center’s facilities running.


Witness More Wildlife at Kinabatangan

You can also watch wild animals in their element by touring the protected Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. The wildlife sanctuary can be found along the Kinabatangan River, which is the second-largest river in Malaysia.

Sustaining some of the world’s richest ecosystems, the Kinabatangan River is favored as one of the top wildlife-watching destinations in Asia. Among the forest trees, you’ll find primate species like the aforementioned orangutans and Proboscis Monkeys. You might even catch herds of pygmy elephants drinking by the river bank. Tourists can immerse themselves in Kinabatangan’s biodiversity by taking one of the sanctuary’s many available guided boat tours.

Kinabatangan River
Kinabatangan River

Go Scuba Diving At Sipadan

In 2000, the New Seven Wonders of Nature Votes Committee listed Sipadan Island as one of the 77 best and most magical landforms in the world. A haven for marine life, the waters of Sipadan are home to over 3000 species of fish.

Divers may encounter a number of unique marine animals, including sea turtles, leopard sharks, eagle rays, and jackfish. The elusive whale shark may roam the waters occasionally, but you’d have to be lucky to spot one. Naturally, the island has become one of Asia’s most popular spots for scuba diving. Dive marshals all over the island help to monitor the safety of marine life while educating tourists on diving rules and regulations.

Sipadan underwater world
Sipadan underwater world

Climb Mount Kinabalu

Standing at an impressive 4095 meters above sea level is Sabah’s Mount Kinabalu, one of the tallest mountains in South East Asia. Because the mountain is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site Kinabalu Park, the government and other organizations have implemented strict protection measures, which strive to maintain the area’s integrity and beauty. Like most places in Borneo, Mount Kinabalu boasts rich plant and animal biodiversity. In fact, more plant species can be found in Kinabalu alone than in Europe and North America combined.

Adventurers that want to climb Mount Kinabalu are required to pay for a climbing permit, a mountain guide, climbing insurance, and the standard Kinabalu Park entrance fee. The park only issues 165 climbing permits each day, so climbers need to book their mountain tours at least a few months in advance. Since the climb takes about two days and one night to complete, climbers are also required to book overnight mountain accommodation.

Mount Kinabalu
Mount Kinabalu

Is It Safe To Travel To Borneo?

Due to COVID-19, the Malaysian government currently advises against traveling to any part of the country. Malaysia’s COVID-19 situation means the country’s international borders remain closed. Only Malaysian nationals and non-citizens with employment or resident passes are permitted to enter the country, given that they take a COVID-19 test upon arrival and complete a 14-day quarantine period inside their designated government facility.

If you are planning to travel to Borneo, you might have to postpone your trip to a later date, when the situation calms down and the risks are lower. According to a November 2021 report from Condé Nast Traveller, Malaysia plans on reopening its borders in January 2022. Officials have yet to declare a firm date for reopening. Additionally, the Malaysian government will likely require travelers to be vaccinated before entering.

Though Malaysia has yet to reopen its borders for non-essential travel, adventurers seeking exciting encounters with wildlife and nature should keep Borneo in their future plans. From Proboscis Monkeys at Sarawak to sea turtles at Sipadan and orangutans at Kinabalu, the life that teems at Borneo’s many ecosystems are sure to provide travelers with unforgettable experiences.

Get more inspiration from the video below!

Take a look at some books about Borneo:

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East Malaysia- the Jungle Island of Southeast Asia is full of fantastic opportunities to explore. This is a guide to Malaysian Borneo. East Malaysia- the Jungle Island of Southeast Asia is full of fantastic opportunities to explore. This is a guide to Malaysian Borneo.

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