Before anyone confuses Borneo with being a small tropical paradise, it’s important to remember that it isn’t small at all (although the ‘tropical paradise’ part is bang on). It just so happens to be the third largest island in the world and three separate countries claim sovereignty over parts of it: Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. It’s also home to one of the world’s oldest rainforest, stunningly clear sky blue oceans, coral reefs and the marquee event: the critically endangered Bornean orangutans.
Conquering all of Borneo isn’t easy, in fact it’s impossible in one trip unless you have indefinite resources and time, so BUCKiTDREAM is going to provide you with the best-of-the-best of your dream Borneo trip and give you the best tips on where to eat, drink, sleep and party on your adventure around this fantastic country.
For those of you that are interested in visiting Borneo primarily for the orange swinging apes, our Hang With an Orangutan in Borneo article will be right up your street (or tree). But don’t leave without learning more about the country via the following tips!
What to Eat?
Wherever you find yourself in Borneo, you’re going to want to enjoy some of the local flavor; luckily for you, the whole country is full of delicious food. Whether you’re eating in a small dive or a fine dining location, here are a few of the foods that the area is best known for and that you can’t miss on your trip!
Sarawak Laksa Will Sooth What Ails You One of the most popular dishes in Borneo and undoubtedly Kuching Laksa is a delicious belly-warming-and-filling soup. It is made up of prawn sambal, chilli paste, coconut milk, chicken, noodles, egg and coriander, plus lime thrown in for good measure. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, it’s simply because you haven’t tried it yet.
Kolo Mee, Don’t Mind if I Do This is one that is as equally delicious as it is unhealthy for you, (sigh), like all things in life. The good news is you’ll find it on nearly every street corner in the land. The bad news? The calorie count! It’s a delicious dry-tossed noodle dish with lard (yes) minced beef or pork and yellow egg noodles. It’s a local favorite as well so at least you can say you’re eating like a local whilst packing on the pounds.
Bamboo-Flavoured Luxury? Try Iban-Style Dishes If you’re heading somewhere a little more upscale, you might find that your food is cooked over bamboo stem and an open fire. Everything from meat and fish to rice and vegetables can be prepared this way and the result is simply astounding. The bamboo adds a flavor like nothing you’ve experienced before and it’s a truly a unique and equally delicious experience.
Where to Party?
Oh, Borneo knows how to throw a party, lest you be worried that your trip would be all one-of-a-kind jungles, orangutans and beautiful beaches. (We know: HUGE worry.) The party scene starts in Sabah, which is jam-packed with a cocktail of modernity and indigenous tradition. The real party scene, however, can be found in the Malaysian capital Kuching, where there is a clubbing district to rival Asia’s finest. However, don’t expect to party too hedonistically in Brunei, as it is part of the Islamic emirate and the sale and public consumption of alcohol is banned. Here are a few of our favorite spots across the country. Drink responsibly if you’re on an orangutan-spotting mission, as those furry friends wake up early!
Watch a Sunset in… Sunset Bar Wonderful cocktails, an amazing ambiance and a world-class view over the South China Sea in Sabah make this elegant bar place to linger with old friends or make new ones, seeing as it’s always lively.
Want to party in Sabah? Hit Up the Blue Note! It’s one of the busiest and wildest bars in the area; even out of season, it’s got a steady flow of visitors. Blue Note is so popular that acclaimed international DJs will occasionally swing by and drop a beat.
But I’m in Kalimantan? Where Do I Go? Unlike the northern regions of Borneo the south is a little more rustic, but the parties are still not to be missed. If you’re in Indonesian Borneo and you want some local flavor, warm up those vocal cords because it’s all about the karaoke. A great spot to do your best Bonnie Tyler is the Luai Lounge; however, if you don’t want to sing there’s a lot of alternatives in Kalimantan. We love Sid’s Bar, where you’ll find a great concoction of locals, expats and a dash of tourist, whilst it’s hard to go wrong in the aptly named Joy’s Bar for some convivial nighttime fun.
Where to Stay?
From tree-top bungalows to personal islands and luxurious resorts, Borneo has something for everyone. Your perfect Borneo accommodation all depends on your budget and which part of the stunning country you plan on visiting. Here are a list of some of our favorite spots across Borneo, to suit a variety of budgets. (Don’t worry, we make sure that prime orangutan-spotting locations are nearby.)
If your destination is near Sabah in the Indonesian area of northern Borneo and you’re looking for a luxury retreat, it’s hard to find anything more amazing than the Bunga Raya Island Resort & Spa. It’s a luxurious resort 5-star resort located within a tropical rainforest paradise with outstanding facilities and dining.
Looking for something a little more affordable around Sabah? Try Hotel Eden54, where you can get a luxurious hotel experience for hostel/backpacker prices.
Central / Southern Malaysia
If you’re looking for luxury near the Batang Al National Park then the Aiman Batang Ai Resort & Retreat is a one-of-a-kind experience. You’ll be mere meters from stunning jungles, waterfalls and rivers and if you need any idea of how nice this resort is, just look at their website…it’ll blow you away.
For no-frills but close-to-the-action, the D’Valley Inn is a phenomenal deal. You can get a hotel room for under $20 and they provide regular excursions and travel information to all of the hotspots around Lipis.
Indonesia / Southern Borneo
If you find yourself in Southern Borneo around Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of the country, and you have very deep pockets then the place to be is the Virgin Cocoa – Tropical Hideaway Island. The southern portion of Borneo is known for its crisp clear beaches and stunning white sands as well as world-renowned diving. Come on, your own tropical island retreat? It’s got to be everyone’s dream destination!
There are a lot of cheap hotel alternatives around Kalimantan and the fact that your money goes a long way in Borneo is very helpful, but if we had to pick one, the value, location and quality of the Swiss-Belhotel Borneo Banjarmasin is hard to beat.
Tips & Culture
OK, first and foremost, you need to decide which part of Borneo is best for you. With that in mind, here are some tips and tricks for you to make the most of your trip, from interacting with orangutans to respecting local people and customs.
- Even though you’ll never struggle to find a hotel in Borneo, it’s important to plan ahead. The local’s grasp of English is not great, so knowing where you’re supposed to be ahead of time will save you a lot of trouble.
- You’ll need a visa. In most cases you can pick them up at the airport when you arrive and they’re fairly cheap. Just make sure that you check in advance if you need to be inoculated for anything before your arrival, as this can be the difference between getting in and being sent home.
- Respect religious diversity! Borneo is split between 60% Islam, 20% Buddhist, 10% Christian & 6% Hindu, with the remaining 4% we assume to be atheists. If you’re traveling through the country, a lot of the religious groups are regional, so ensure that you respect their individual religious freedoms.
- Respect the rainforest. If you’re going to Borneo to see the orangutans, you’ll be spending some time in one of the world’s most treasured natural resources. Treat it with due reverence and remember that the reason that these animals are endangered is not due to natural predators, but because of human consumption and waste.
- Keep a close eye on your cash and valuables. Wear a money-belt and stay aware at all times.
- Most importantly…have fun!
It’s got to be the orangutans. Whether you organize a day tour or schedule your entire trip around them, you can’t leave Borneo without seeing its most famous – and not to mention cutest – inhabitants. Take a peek at our Hang With an Orangutan in Borneo article to get the lowdown on all of the necessary info to swing that dream into reality.
If Borneo is on your BUCKiTDREAM list, make sure to share your adventures with friends and fellow travelers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Sharing dreams is the first step towards making them come true.