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 prepare for the heat and humidity in the UK, but if you are planning to climb Mt Kinabalu 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. Whilst out trekking it is generally very hot and sweaty and most hills are steep – up or down.

For safari holidays like the Borneo Wildlife Tour it might be a good idea to arrive one day earlier than the programme begins to overcome jetlag and give your body a chance to acclimatise to the change in environment. This holiday and others like Wild Borneo do involve jungle walks which are not a great distance but the humidity is sapping.

For the biking holiday the land is hilly and there are plenty of long days cycling on rural roads surrounded by jungle, it's a great experience but do train beforehand on your own bike and make sure to keep hydrated and bring salts to prevent muscles seizing up during the day.

Jam Karat- as different approach to time

Borneo is a rapidly changing place, especially in the cities which are very metropolitan, but it is 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 definitely 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.

For trips commencing or exclusively based in the North Eastern areas of Borneo, for example Mt Kinabalu, the most convenient point of entry is Kota Kinabalu International airport (BKI) and there are many connections from the main SE Asian cities and Australia.

Some of our trips begin in Sandakan, such as the Borneo Wildlife Tour, on the North East coast of Borneo. You can fly to Sandakan airport (SDK) direct from Kuala Lumpur, which would be the main hub for passengers coming from Europe, or via Kota Kinabalu on a 40 minute internal 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 from the UK 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

Adventure Alternative has an ATOL license and we can purchase your internal flights for you, and also international if you wish.

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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.

Travel Insurance 

Please buy your travel insurance after booking your holiday, for most of our Borneo trips a standard holiday cover will be fine but do check the policy if you are climbing Mt Kinabalu. More detailed information can be found on our Insurance page. 

Borneo Vaccinations & Medications

There are no specific requirements for entry to Malaysia but you will need anti-malarial tables. 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.

Money

The local currency in Borneo is the Malaysian Ringgit and there are about 5 Ringgit to the GB Pound. You can obtain ringgit in the UK before you travel but there are forexes and ATMs in Kota Kinabalu which take Visa and Mastercard. It's a good idea to get a foreign currency card to avoid excessive charges and bring cash aswell. You can take sterling, euro or dollars, and change it easily but remember to get small denomination notes for rural areas will be much better.

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.

Food

Borneo street food compares favourably with the likes of Vietnam and Thailand. 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.

You can buy Asian food, Chinese food and western food in the cities, and the seafood is of course very good. Vegetarians have no problem but vegans will need to check menus carefully.

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.

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Food in the rural areas is very simple and quite plain and commonly vegetarian, but in the cities you can find a wide variety of western, Chinese and Malay food.

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 in the highlands then the heat and particularly humidity can be stifling and debilitating. You simply cannot drink too much water on your trip and rehydration sachets are recommended at least once a day on a trekking or walking trip.

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 not look like this process will end soon.

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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.