17 Best Things to Do in Borneo (Malaysia): Orangutans, Beaches, Caves, and More!

Planning your itinerary and wondering what are the best things to do in Borneo? Here’s the ultimate list!

Borneo is a tropical paradise located in Southeast Asia, known for its dense rainforests, exotic wildlife, and indigenous cultures.

things to do in borneo

As one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, Borneo offers a wealth of amazing things to see and do.

From trekking through the jungle and spotting orangutans in their natural habitat, to relaxing on pristine beaches and learning about local traditions, this island truly has something for everyone.

In this post, we’ll cover some of the best things to do in Borneo so you can plan a perfect itinerary!

Things to Do in Borneo for Wildlife

Borneo is home to spectacular wildlife, lush rainforests, and unique ecosystems.

There are plenty of opportunities to delve into Borneo’s wild side and witness its breathtaking nature.

1. Kinabatangan River Safari

One of the best things to do in Borneo if you want to see animals is go on a river safari along the Kinabatangan River.

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It’s Borneo’s longest river and you’ll encounter a variety of wildlife such as orangutans, proboscis monkeys, crocodiles, and hornbills. If you get really lucky, you may even see pygmy elephants!

River safaris often start at Sukau village – an excellent base for exploring the surrounding jungle and its inhabitants.

Boat trips offer a chance to discover the region’s beauty both in the daytime and nighttime. Buckle up, you’re in for a wild ride!

2. Bako National Park

Bako National Park, just a short boat ride from Kuching and even though it’s less visited, it was actually one of my favorite things to do in Borneo!

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With a plethora of well-marked trails catering to different fitness levels, you’ll be able to find an adventure that suits your fancy.

Keep an eye out for striking geological formations and hidden coves as you explore the coastline and dense jungle.

Moreover, they offer cabins here, so I highly recommend spending at least one night in the park, especially if you want to spot Proboscis monkeys as they’re easier to find during sunrise and sunsets.

Don’t forget to get travel insurance for your trip! As always, I recommend Safety Wing for great prices and coverage abroad. It starts at only $45 USD per month and will have you covered with everything you may need during your trip! Check them out here.

3. Danum Valley Conservation Area

Often considered the crown jewel of Borneo’s wilderness, the Danum Valley Conservation Area is a pristine, untouched rainforest and a paradise for nature enthusiasts.

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Hiking through the jungle provides ample opportunity to discover rare wildlife and breathtaking viewpoints.

One must-see highlight is the Tree Top Canopy Walkway, offering a birds-eye view of this ancient ecosystem.

At night, take a guided walk to observe nocturnal creatures in their natural habitat.

best things to do in borneo

4. Orangutan Sanctuaries

These rescue and rehabilitation centers – such as Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and Semenggoh Wildlife Centre – play a crucial role in the conservation of these amazing creatures.

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During your visit, you can expect up-close encounters with orangutans in their natural habitat and the opportunity to learn about conservation efforts and programs.

Pro tip: Arrive early in the morning or late afternoon during feeding times to witness the orangutans in action.

5. Sun Bear Conservation Centre

Another must-visit location is the Sun Bear Conservation Centre located in Sandakan.

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Their mission: save the world’s smallest bear from extinction.

Your visit will allow you to observe sun bears in their natural environment from viewing platforms and learn about their unique behavior, diet, and threats they face.

Best Things to Do in Borneo for Culture

It’s not exactly a secret that Borneo has an incredibly unique culture.

If you want to dive deeper and learn more about first-hand, these are some of the best things to do in Borneo for you:

6. Visit the Longhouses of the Iban

Visit the Iban people’s traditional longhouses is one of the most interesting things to do in Borneo.

best things to do in borneo

These communal buildings can house up to 200 people and are an integral part of Iban culture.

You’ll find them in Sarawak and can see them year-round, but dry season (April to September) is best

Some of the top Iban longhouse experiences include participating in a traditional miring blessing ceremony, trying your hand at blowpipe hunting, and savoring a traditional tuak rice wine.

7. Explore the Caves of Mulu

The Mulu Caves in Gunung Mulu National Park are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and definitely one of the best things to do in Borneo.

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Here, you’ll find a cave that is home to 2-3 million bats that create an impressive exodus at dusk as well as another cave that is home to one of the world’s longest underground rivers, with pools for a refreshing dip.

If you want to see impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations, make sure you also check out Wind Cave.

Guided tours are available, and remember to bring a torch and wear sturdy shoes.

8. Kuching’s Cat Museum

If you’re a cat lover or just looking for something unique, this is a must-visit while in Borneo.

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Located in the city of Kuching, the Cat Museum is a quirky and fun place to explore.

You’ll be surprised by the diverse collection of feline-related items such as sculptures, statues, paintings, photographs, movie posters, and comic books.

The museum operates from 9 am to 5 pm daily, except on public holidays.

Admission is free, but there’s a small fee if you want to take photos or videos.

Best Things to Do in Borneo for Beach Fun

9. Sipadan Island Diving

As one of the top diving spots in the world, Sipidan offers incredibly fascinating marine marine life and unique underwater features.

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During your visit, you can swim alongside turtles, sharks, and a wide variety of fish in the clear blue waters.

Keep in mind that diving permits are limited, so be sure to book your dive in advance!

If you’re not into diving, you can simply spend your days enjoying some of the best beaches in Borneo here!

10. Relax on Tunku Abdul Rahman Islands

Tunku Abdul Rahman Islands is a collection of five stunning islands just a short boat ride away from Kota Kinabalu. It’s one of the easiest and best things to do in Borneo if beach hopping is what you’re after.

Here’s a quick rundown of what each island offers:

  • Gaya Island: Lush rainforests and luxurious resorts
  • Sapi Island: Pristine beaches and snorkeling spots
  • Manukan Island: Hiking trails and beachside relaxation
  • Mamutik Island: Crystal-clear waters and vibrant coral reefs
  • Sulug Island: Solitude and a tranquil environment

Choose your favorite, or island-hop to experience them all!

11. Witness Sea Turtles on Selingan Island

As part of Turtle islands Park, Selingan Island is another of the best things to do in Borneo, especially if you want to combine beach goodness with wildlife encounters.

Between April and October, you’ll have the opportunity to witness endangered green and hawksbill turtles laying their eggs on the beach.

Moreover, you can also participate in a ranger-led program where you can learn about turtle conservation efforts, observe hatchlings being released into the sea, and aid in measuring and tagging adult turtles.

Note that visitor spots are limited, so be sure to make a reservation well ahead of time.

Best Things to Do in Borneo for Adventurers

Borneo offers incredible thrills and experiences waiting to be discovered.

Whether you’re a mountain climber or a daring rafter, there’s no shortage of activities for adventure seekers.

Here are some of the best things to do in Borneo if you’re craving adventure:

12. Mount Kinabalu Climb

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the tallest peak in Southeast Asia, standing at 4,095 meters (13,435 ft) tall.

The climb typically takes two days and includes overnight accommodation at a mountain hut.

Here’s a brief outline of how your journey might look like:

  1. Start at Timpohon Gate
  2. Trek to Laban Rata (over 6km)
  3. Stay overnight at Pendant Hut
  4. Begin the summit climb in the early morning
  5. Reach the peak and enjoy the sunrise
  6. Descend back to Timpohon Gate

Remember to bring appropriate gear and don’t forget your camera for those breathtaking views!

13. White Water Rafting

Jump into an adrenaline-pumping experience with white water rafting in Borneo.

There are a few rivers to choose from, each offering thrilling rapids:

KiuluEasy1-2 hrs
PadasModerate2-3 hrs
SelungayanAdvanced4-5 hrs

Whichever river you choose, brace yourself for intense rapids, navigate winding turns, and see the beautiful landscapes pass by.

14. Jungle Trekking

Borneo’s jungles are home to exotic wildlife, pristine rivers, and diverse flora.

Lace up your boots and immerse yourself in the heart of Borneo’s rainforests.

Popular trekking destinations include:

  • Danum Valley: Famous for its orangutans, pygmy elephants, and countless bird species.
  • Maliau Basin: Known as Borneo’s “Lost World,” it offers amazing waterfalls and rare flora.
  • Batang Ai National Park: Home to the traditional Iban tribe, it gives you cultural insights and a chance to encounter wildlife such as gibbons and hornbills.

15. Canopy Walk in Poring Hot Springs

The Canopy Walk at Poring Hot Springs is another of the best things to do in Borneo.

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Nestled within the lush landscapes of Kota Kinabalu National Park, this attraction allows you to experience the rainforest from a bird’s-eye view.

  • Height: The walkway hangs about 40 meters above the ground.
  • Length: The entire walk stretches nearly 175 meters.
  • Opening Hours: 9 AM to 4 PM daily, but times can change, so check ahead.

Start your walk from the ground level and ascend the staircase to the start of the suspended bridge.

Tip: Be sure to wear comfortable shoes as you’ll be walking across wooden planks and nets, which might be slippery, especially after the rain.

Best Things to Do in Borneo for Foodies

16. Taste Traditional Dishes

One of the best things to do in Borneo is eat!

The cuisine of Malaysian Borneo is influenced by the diverse ethnic groups that inhabit the island and features fresh seafood, tropical fruits, rice, and spices.

Common dishes include nasi lemak, a fragrant coconut rice served with fried anchovies, peanuts, cucumber slices, and a chili sauce; laksa, a noodle soup made with coconut milk, lemongrass, and fresh seafood; satay, skewers of grilled meat served with a spicy peanut sauce; and rendang, a rich coconut beef curry.

17. Street Food Tour

Borneo’s street food scene is remarkably diverse.

During your visit, make sure to try some local favorites, like:

  • Sarawak Laksa: a spicy coconut-based noodle soup with prawn, chicken, egg, and bean sprouts.
  • Nasi Lemak: coconut milk-infused rice served with sambal, anchovies, peanuts, and cucumber.
  • Roti Canai: a crispy flatbread served with curry sauce on the side.

18. Local Market Visits

To explore Borneo’s culinary scene further, visit local markets, and witness the abundance of fresh produce.

best things to do in borneo

Tamu markets are weekly gatherings of local farmers, and you can find the freshest ingredients and unique regional items such as Bambangan (wild mango) and Tuhau (a pickled wild ginger).

Don’t be shy — engage with the locals and ask for recommendations on how to cook these regional specialties.

A trip to a local market is not only a great opportunity to experience Borneo’s culinary delights but also to learn from the friendly locals who are proud of their culture and their food.

Best Things to Do in Borneo: Festivals

In Borneo, you’ll get an authentic taste of local culture by joining their vibrant festivals and events, some of which are renowned worldwide.

19. Gawai Dayak Festival

Every year on June 1st, the indigenous Dayak peoples of Borneo celebrate the Gawai Dayak Festival.

It’s a time when you can witness traditional rituals, cultural dances, and the sounds of ancient music.

Homes are open, and you’re likely to be invited to join the festivities, including the miring ceremony, where offerings are made to the spirits.

20. Rainforest World Music Festival

Held annually in Sarawak, the Rainforest World Music Festival brings together musicians from all corners of the globe.

You can attend workshops, jam sessions, and concerts set against a backdrop of lush rainforest.

The event usually spans three days in July and is one of the best things to do in Borneo for music lovers seeking a fusion of cultural and contemporary tunes.

Don’t forget to get travel insurance for your trip! As always, I recommend Safety Wing for great prices and coverage abroad. It starts at only $45 USD per month and will have you covered with everything you may need during your trip! Check them out here.

Best Time to Visit Borneo

The ideal time to visit Borneo largely hinges on the weather.

Since it’s located near the equator, Borneo has a tropical climate with no extreme fluctuations in seasonal temperatures, but there are distinct wet and dry seasons worth considering for your trip planning.

  • Dry Season: March to October
    • Lower humidity levels
    • Warmer, sunny days ideal for outdoor activities
    • Best time for diving in the east coast (Sipadan Island)
  • Wet Season: November to February
    • Higher humidity and rainfall
    • Lush, green landscapes following rain
    • Good for spotting wildlife as animals congregate around rivers and watering holes

Regional Variations

RegionBest Visit TimeNotable Conditions
North BorneoLate May – SeptemberLess rainfall, clearer skies
SarawakJune – AugustDriest months, cultural festivals
SabahMay – SeptemberPeak time for Mount Kinabalu

How to Get Around Borneo

When exploring Borneo, your primary modes of transportation will be a mix of air travel, cars, buses, and boats.

Here’s how you can navigate this vast island:

By Air

Domestic flights connect major cities and towns, making it the quickest way to cover large distances.

best things to do in borneo

Airlines like AirAsia, Malaysia Airlines, and Royal Brunei operate regular services. Check for regional airports near your destinations.

By Road

Renting a car gives you flexibility, although roads can be tricky.

For longer distances without driving stress, consider:

  • Express Buses: Affordable and covering most routes.
  • Minivans: A faster, though costlier option.

By Boat

For many remote areas and islands, boats are the only way in or out.

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Options vary from speedboats to more leisurely river cruises.

FAQs About the Best Things to Do in Borneo

What are the top activities to experience in Borneo for adventure seekers?

Borneo is a haven for adventure seekers. You can challenge yourself with activities such as climbing Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in Southeast Asia.

Don’t miss out on exploring the depths of the numerous enchanting caves, like Deer Cave and Clearwater Cave.

For a thrilling river experience, embark on a white-water rafting adventure along some of Borneo’s wild rivers.

Where are the hidden gem beaches to visit in Borneo?

Looking for some pristine and less crowded beaches? Check out some hidden gems like Tanjung Batu Beach in East Kalimantan or Pantai Tanjung Aru in Sabah.

Alternatively, you can head over to the gorgeous Turtle Beach and Golden Beach in Sarawak’s Similajau National Park, where you’ll be surrounded by both sandy shores and lush rainforest.

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How can I make the most of a week-long trip in Borneo?

To make the most of your week-long trip, plan your itinerary around the highlights of each region.

Start by immersing yourself in the rainforest of Danum Valley before heading to Kota Kinabalu for some urban exploration and mountain climbing.

Then, visit the orangutans in Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre and enjoy the pristine beaches of Sipadan Island.

What’s the ideal season to explore the diverse wildlife in Borneo?

The best time to witness Borneo’s wildlife is during the dry season, which generally falls between March and October.

However, the island is blessed with year-round warmth, and you can still spot wildlife during the rainy season, especially if you venture into the rainforests.

Just be prepared for the occasional tropical downpour.

Can you recommend cozy and unique accommodations in Borneo?

Borneo offers plenty of unique and cozy accommodations to make your stay memorable.

For a one-of-a-kind rainforest experience, consider staying at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Danum Valley or the Sepilok Nature Resort in Sandakan.

If you’re after a beach retreat, check out the Lankayan Island Dive Resort or Bunga Raya Island Resort & Spa in Sabah.

best things to do in borneo

Are there any cultural experiences or local foods I shouldn’t miss in Borneo?

Borneo boasts a rich cultural heritage and diverse cuisine that you must explore.

Participate in local festivals, such as the Gawai Dayak and Kadayawan, to witness the vibrant sights and sounds of Bornean culture.

As for food, try the layered delight of Kek Lapis or the mouth-watering Laksa Sarawak. Don’t leave without tasting Sabah’s specialty fish dish, Hinava, and the delectable, savory Penyet in Kalimantan.

Best Things to Do in Borneo: Conclusion

With its stunning natural beauty and cultural richness, Borneo truly is one of the most fascinating destinations in Southeast Asia.

From the mountain peaks of Mt. Kinabalu to the lush rainforests teeming with wildlife, this island never fails to amaze visitors.

I hope this guide has helped you choose the best things to do in Borneo for your itinerary!