Borneo preparation

We have gathered some helpful advice for travel to Borneo. We encourage you to read carefully thought this page to educate yourself on the various logistics of travel in Borneo. For country information, visit our Borneo Country Information Page. As always, we encourage you to reach out to us with any additional questions you might have.

It is not possible to train or prepare for heat and humidity in the UK, but it will be important to train in advance of any trip to the mountains with regular hill walking and a rucksack on your back. Mt Kinabalu has a large number of steps which put a lot of strain on the thigh and calf muscles. Take care with not over-training and allow time before the trip to scale down any training, in case of last-minute injuries.

None of our trips to Borneo requires any specific training programmes, but clearly, a good level of fitness will ensure that you enjoy the experience more. The Three Peaks trip and the Roof of Borneo trip are physically harder than the others and we would suggest a structured approach to training as one would for any physical challenge.

Put simply the more training and preparation you can do before you arrive, the quicker you will start to enjoy your trip. The Adventure Alternative Borneo trips vary in terms of physical rating but they all share some common facts: whilst out trekking it is generally very hot and sweaty and most hills are steep – up or down. The more practice you can get of these beforehand the easier you will find it. Increase your strength by training using the backpack you will be bringing with you and gradually increase the weight inside. Make sure you break in those new walking boots! 

Borneo is a rapidly changing place, especially in the cities, but it is, without doubt, most definitely Asian. A good expression to learn and appreciate is that of 'Jam Karat’ - literally translated this means rubber time - in the rural areas where we spend most of the time this is very much the case. This is to say do not expect the timings within each day to run to exact minutes and seconds - try removing your watch when you step off the plane and slow down.

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A look at jungle peaks peeping from the trees.

Borneo Flights and Information Regarding Borneo Airports

Before you buy your flights please do check with us that the trip is definately going ahead. Please also carefully check when and where the trip commences. There are a number of regional airports that you can either fly to direct or with a connecting flight. In some instances you may choose to fly to one airport and travel overland independently to the start location. However, please do ensure that you speak to us to agree a rendezvous point.

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Penan villagers fish in a jungle river.

For trips commencing or exclusively based in the North Eastern areas of Borneo (Sabah, Mt Kinabalu etc) the most convenient point of entry is Kota Kinabalu International airport (BKI), as it is only 8 kms from the town of Kota Kinabalu.

Some of our trips will commence in Sandakan on the North East coast of Borneo. You can fly to Sandakan airport (SDK) direct from some overseas locations or via a short internal connecting flight.

For trips commencing or exclusively based in the central or Western areas of Malaysian Borneo (Sarawak) it is easier to fly into Miri International Airport (IATA: MYY, ICAO: WBGR), 

There are a few possible routes to airports in Malaysian Borneo including:-

  • Singapore Airlines fly via Singapore. Flight times 13hrs + 2.5hrs
  • Malaysia Airlines fly via Kuala Lumpur. Flight times 12.5hrs + 2.5hrs
  • Royal Brunei Airlines fly via Dubai then Brunei. Flight times 7hrs + 8hrs + 1hr

We can give you advice and help reserve the seats for group flight bookings but we cannot sell them to you because we are not a ticketing agency. Note however that you are more likely to benefit from cheaper deals on the flights by booking as individuals. For independent bookings, it is worth trying flight comparison sites such as ebookers, Sky-Scanner and Kayak. Though do check terms and conditions if you fly with combinations of airlines.

 

A look at a river cruise with the Iban tribe of Sarawak. Jungle rivers provide transportation netowrks in remote locations of Borneo.

Borneo Insurance 

It is essential that you have personal travel insurance to cover all the locations and activities on the trip. When getting quotes, you need to check the wording of the policy carefully and it is worth sending the company a copy of your itinerary and getting them to confirm in writing that a particular policy will cover it all.

You need to take out the insurance policy as soon as you have made any bookings with us or have bought any flights. Then the money you have spent is covered. If you had to pull out of the trip before you have insurance then anything you had spent on flights would be lost. More detailed information can be found on our Insurance page. 

Borneo Vaccinations & Medications (min 8 weeks before leaving)

You need to make an appointment to speak to your family doctor and/or a travel health centre at least 8 weeks prior to leaving. You can then ask them to advise you on what vaccinations you will need. You will also need to speak to them about the type of antimalarials that are most suitable for you personally. The NHS publish guidance on their Fit For Travel website. There is also further information on Vaccinations and Malaria medications on our relevant web pages.

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The city of Kota Kinabalu, a start contrast from the remote jungles, but it is an arrival point for many of our Sabah tours.

Borneo Money

The local currency in Borneo is the Malaysian Ringgit and there are about 6 Ringgit to the GB Pound - you can check the current rate of exchange at xe.com. You can obtain Ringit in the UK before you travel but we can also help you to obtain money on arrival. There are ATMs in Kota Kinabalu which take Visa and Mastercard, and there are banks with forex facilities. Be aware that the exchange rate offered at the airport is likely to be unfavourable. Do also remember to have small denomination notes whenever possible because many local places will not be able to offer change for large notes. You can take sterling, euro or dollars, and change it easily.

Borneo Visas

UK passport holders do not need a visa for stays of less than 3 months for tourist purposes. If you are a citizen of any other country you should check requirements with the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and your own foreign office. You need to make sure that your passport will not run out sooner than 6 months after your trip date, Do check this early as it can take a long time to process a new one.

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Both Sabah and Sarawak boast dense jungle with stunning scenery. Pictured here is a Sabah waterfall.

Research

You will inevitably get more from your trip if you are somewhat 'primed' beforehand. Do look through the information on our website and get to know a little about Malaysia, Borneo, the rainforests etc. If you come across interesting information that you think other travellers would be interested in then please do contact us so that we can share it. Equally, if there are any issues to which you cannot find an answer please do contact us for further advice.

A rare look at swimming pygmy elephants.

 

Food

Borneo street food compares favourably with the likes of Vietnam and Thailand – too oily and bland. However, anyone who has tasted a longhouse or village feast cooked with jungle produce and washed down with some Tuak (rice wine) will rank it as some of the most memorable of the region.

Vegetarians will find the food generally bland and repetitive but we will help balance this out as best we can. Seafood lovers will be in heaven.

You will be unlucky to get ill by the food in Borneo. Compared to other areas in the region, standards of cleanliness are high. Minor upsets can be expected due to a change of diet. Bottled water is always safe as is boiled water provided in hotel rooms and villages. Ice cubes are also ok as they are factory made. Avoid 'shaved' street ice.

Malaysian Borneo has some of the best value resort style hotels in the region and they are a fantastic way to celebrate the end of an unforgettable trip. However, city accommodation is average by regional standards and poor value for money. Where possible we seek to use locally owned accommodation that provides a true Borneo welcome. Whilst in the field village and longhouse stays will utilise roll mats, expedition hammocks or tents.

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A look at the Cocker Range on our Biking Tour of Borneo.

Under the Gloss

As Malaysia heads towards its 20/20 vision of being a first-class nation by 2020, its toilets remain a curious oversight. Expect the worst unless you are fortunate enough to be able to step into the comfort of a mid-range hotel. Village and many city toilets are often the 'squat' variety – usually navigable unless you have just descended the summit of Mt Kinabalu!

Unless you are fortunate enough to be in the highlands then the heat and particularly humidity can be stifling and downright debilitating. You simply cannot drink too much water on your trip and rehydration sachets are recommended at least once a day as course.

In the last 30 years Borneo has suffered some of the highest rates of deforestation in the world and despite some best efforts of a few, it does look like this process will end soon. Fortunately, its size and remoteness have so far spared some fantastic areas and Adventure Alternative is actively supporting some grassroots community tourism and education programs, some of which the trips visit en-route.

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Mount Kinabalu towers over the jungle island.

Due perhaps to have been so far spared the 'tourism hordes' that now visit other areas in the region, the locals of Borneo are some of the most trustworthy and welcoming you will meet in the world. It is unlikely anyone will give you the hard sell nor rip you off, though of course if buying at street stalls then a little bargaining is part of the experience. If you are stopped by a local, more often than not it will be a chance to pass the time and have a chat - most locals have at least a basic level of spoken English or want to simply practice -don't miss this opportunity to engage yourselves. Unlike some other countries in the region, Borneo is generally very 'moderate' and there is little that cannot be discussed 'off the record', be it religion, politics or sex.

Street crime and begging is practically non-existent but be wary when leaving cash machines and normal levels of awareness should be upheld. Be mindful of any shows of wealth. Some of the places you will visit although not on or below the poverty line strictly speaking have little access to hard cash or consumer goods. The wealth gap in Malaysia is growing as fast as anywhere in the world!
Beware of the length of time it takes to acclimatise to the jetlag and the climate, for most people it takes the first few days to get used to being on the other side of the world and being so hot.