Itinerary Malaysian Borneo: 2 and 3 weeks of traveling through Sabah & Sarawak!

In this blog, you will find the best itineraries through Malaysian Borneo. With a 2-week Sabah itinerary, we take you through the highlights of Borneo. Do you have more time for Borneo? Then go for the 3-week backpacking itinerary through Malaysian Borneo. This 3-week Borneo itinerary takes you through the two states of Sarawak and Sabah.


Gaya Island Sabah Malaysia

Malaysian Borneo

The island of Borneo is the 3rd largest island in the world. It consists of Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. The two itineraries we describe run straight through the Malaysian part of Borneo. This beautiful island is a true paradise for nature lovers, adventurers and divers. Borneo is known for its pristine rainforests, colourful coral reefs, white beaches, palm plantations and has a population with ancient traditions. Above all, Malaysian Borneo is the place to go to see wild orangutans or climb Southeast Asia’s second-highest mountain, Mount Kinabalu.

Itineraries & regions in Malaysian Borneo

Scroll down to find the two itineraries for Borneo. The 2-week itinerary is completely focused on Sabah. Sabah is the northernmost region of Malaysian Borneo.

During the other backpack itinerary, of 3 weeks, you combine Sabah and Sarawak. Sarawak is the southern region of Malaysian Borneo.

The last region in Malaysian Borneo is Labuan. This area, consisting of seven small islands, is not included in the itineraries below. It is primarily a tax haven (where you can buy cheap alcohol) and thus more of a business district than a highlight to visit when backpacking.

Below the two possible itineraries, the destinations and highlights of Borneo are described. Including tips!


Wondering if Malaysia is an expensive country to travel in? Then read our blog about prices and budget in Malaysia!


Itinerary Borneo in 2 weeks

This itinerary focuses on Sabah, the northern region of Borneo. In two weeks you will see all the highlights of Sabah and enjoy everything that Borneo has to offer.

Your journey through Borneo starts in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the state of Sabah. Kota Kinabalu is a large city and a great base from which to explore Sabah further. Take a trip to the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. Your next stop is the Tip of Borneo where you have pristine beaches. A nice place to relax, snorkel or surf. Then you will travel to Sandakan where you will visit the Sepilok orangutan rehabilitation centre. In this centre, orangutans are taken care of that have lost their habitat. The next day you will cruise the mighty Kinabatangan River where you will look for exotic birds, pygmy elephants and Borneo’s other famous resident, the Proboscis monkey.

The next destination on your itinerary through Sabah is Danum Valley. Here it feels like stepping into Disney’s Jungle Book. This place has perhaps the best-preserved tropical rainforests in the world and you can see that immediately. This is one of the few places in the world where you can see the orangutan in the wild. From this paradise above water, you go to another unique paradise underwater: Semporna. One of the best dive sites in the world. This is where you spend the last days of your tour in Borneo.

This 2-week itinerary through Sabah looks like this:

 

Kota Kinabalu – Tip of Borneo – (Sandakan) Sepilok – Kinabatangan River – (Lahad Datu) Danum Valley – Semporna – Kota Kinabalu

Itinerary Malaysian Borneo 2 weeks hightlights of Sabah

Day schedule tour Borneo 2 weeks

Day 1: Kota Kinabalu (arrival)
Day 2: Kota Kinabalu & Tunku Abdul Rahman Park
Day 3: Kota Kinabalu – Tip of Borneo
Day 4: Tip of Borneo
Day 5: Tip of Borneo – Sepilok
Day 6: Sepilok – Kinabatangan river

Day 7: Kinabatangan river
Day 8: 
Kinabatangan river – Lahad Datu – Danum Valley
Day 9: Danum Valley
Day 10: Danum Valley – Semporna
Day 11: Semporna
Day 12: Semporna
Day 13: Semporna – Kota Kinabalu
Day 14: Kota Kinabalu (departure)


Itinerary Borneo in 3 weeks

Are you going backpacking through Borneo for 3 weeks? Then consider this itinerary that covers both states of Sarawak and Sabah. The route starts in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak. Kuching is a nice city to discover. From here you can visit traditional longhouses in Annah Rais and the Semenggoh Nature Reserve. The latter is an orangutan rehabilitation centre. Then you fly on to Gunung Mulu National Park where you get to know one of the largest cave systems in the world.

Your itinerary continues as described above. From Gunung Mulu National Park you travel to Kota Kinabalu. Then you have the choice between Tip of Borneo or climbing Mount Kinabalu.

This tour then takes you via Sandakan to the Kinabatangan River. A boat safari is the best way to spot noses here. At your next destination, you try to photograph bears, (small) leopards and the orangutans in the famous Danum Valley during the many hikes. Finally, you can go snorkelling or diving with large turtles, sharks and enjoy the beautiful underwater world around Semporna.

This 3-week itinerary through Malaysian Borneo looks like this:

 

Kuching – Gunung Mulu National Park – Kota Kinabalu – Tip of Borneo / Mount Kinabalu – (Sandakan) Sepilok – Kinabatangan River – (Lahad Datu) Danum Valley – Kota Kinabalu

Malaysian Borneo 3 week itinerary ultimate trip full of hightlights of Borneo

Day schedule tour Borneo 3 weeks

Day 1: Kuching (arrival)
Day 2: Kuching & Semenggoh Nature Reserve
Day 3: Kuching – Gunung Mulu National Park
Day 4: Gunung Mulu National Park
Day 5: Gunung Mulu National Park – Kota Kinabalu
Day 6: Kota Kinabalu & Tunku Abdul Rahman Park
Day 7: Kota Kinabalu – Tip of Borneo
Day 8: Tip of Borneo
Day 9: Tip of Borneo
Day 10:Tip of Borneo – Sepilok

Day 11: Sepilok 
Day 12: 
Sepilok – Kinabatangan river
Day 13: Kinabatangan river
Day 14:Kinabatangan river – Lahad Datu
Day 15: Lahad Datu – Danum Valley
Day 16: Danum Valley
Day 17: Danum Valley – Semporna
Day 18: Semporna
Day 19: Semporna
Day 20: Semporna – Kota Kinabalu
Day 21: Kota Kinabalu (departure)


Click here for the ultimate 3 week Malaysia travel itinerary.


Destinations & highlights of Borneo

Below you will find an overview of all destinations and highlights of Malaysian Borneo. Also handy, they are in the order of the above itineraries, including travel time between the destinations.

Kuching (Sarawak)

Kuching is a nice town to discover. It is the capital of the state of Sarawak. In this city, which translated means ‘cat’, there are statues of cats in all kinds of places. There is also a special cafe dedicated to cats and a cat museum.

Half an hour’s drive from Kuching, you can easily visit Semenggoh Nature Reserve where orangutans are taken care of who have lost their natural habitat due to deforestation. These orangutans are fed at fixed times. During feeding time, the chances of spotting these beautiful animals are high.

Another highlight near Kuching is the traditional longhouses. Entire families have lived under one roof in these large bamboo houses for generations. Annah Rais is a Bidayuh (indigenous tribe) settlement that happily welcomes tourists. The Bidayuh take you into their ancient traditions. Think of hunting with a blowgun, their collection of human skulls, traditional dance and tasting rice wine. Annah Rais is approximately 1.5 hours drive from Kuching.

Hotel tip: The Ranee Boutique Suites

Wild Orangutan Danum Valley Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Gunung Mulu National Park (Sarawak)

Gunung Mulu National Park is an immense cave system in the Malaysian part of Borneo. This park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and famous for its pinnacles (series of sharp rocky points). The landscape of Gunung Mulu National Park was created by extreme erosion. Adventurers visit the rainforest for several days and walk the famous Headhunters Trail, visit the many caves or climb the top of the Gunung Mulu.

Hotel Tip: AA Homestay

Travel time Kuching to Gunung Mulu: 1 hour by plane.Vlijmscherpe kalkstenen in Gunung Mulu NP Borneo

Kota Kinabalu (Sabah)

Kota Kinabalu is a large city in western Malaysian Borneo, located in the state of Sabah. KK (Kota Kinabalu’s nickname) is used as a base for Malaysian Borneo. From here you can climb Mount Kinabalu (4095m high), or go island hopping in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine ParkTwo days is enough time for Kota Kinabalu.

Click here for the free travel guide about Kota Kinabalu in Borneo!

Hotel tip: Bed&[email protected]

Travel time Mulu National Park to Kota Kinabalu: 50 min by plane.

Sapi Island Sabah Malaysia

City Mosque Kota Kinabalu Borneo

Tip of Borneo!

Long stretched beaches, towering palm trees and green dense jungle. The northernmost part of Malaysian Borneo, called Tip of Borneo, is an unexplored area where you feel like a real explorer. Away from busy cities, this is Borneo as you imagine it: an oasis of peace and nature. Here you will find the best beaches in all of Borneo. A nice place to relax. You can also snorkel and surf here. Read all about Tip of Borneo in this blog.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu is not included in the suggested itineraries through Malaysian Borneo. If you want to climb this sacred mountain, consider skipping Tip of Borneo or another destination.

Hotel tip: Hibiscus Villa Borneo

Note: Tip of Borneo is not that easy to reach. We recommend that you rent a car and drive there yourself via the well-maintained roads of Sabah.

Mt Kinabalu Sabah Borneo Malaysia


Super handy: the best hostels, hotels and lodges per destination at a glance. Read our guide to the best hotels in Malaysia!


Sepilok & Kinabatangan river

Sepilok has an orangutan rehabilitation centre. A place where you have a very high chance of seeing the beautiful orange monkeys. The orangutans that live here have been rescued from the wild. The main reason for this is the deforestation of their habitat. Especially during the feeding time of these monkeys, there is a big chance that you will see them. Sepilok orangutan rehabilitation centre is a half-hour drive from Sandakan. A few hours are enough for this activity. Then you can continue your journey towards the Kinabatangan River.

The Kinabatangan River is about 2 hours from Sepilok. Kinabatangan River is the second-longest river in Malaysia and is surrounded by many palm oil plantations. The river is known for its immense biodiversity. This means that you can spot a lot of wildlife here. In addition to the famous proboscis monkeys, you can see crocodiles, gibbons, the Borneo dwarf elephant and many bird species here. Here you can do cool treks, but the best way to see and photograph all the animals is by boat trip. There are several villages along the river. But Bilit and Sukau, these are the villages with plenty of accommodation options.

Hotel tip Sepilok: Paganakan Dii Tropical Retreat
Hotel tip Kinabatangan river: Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Eco-Resort

Transport Tip: Sandakan is easily accessible by bus (7 hours) or plane (45 min) from Kota Kinabalu. The Kinabatangan River is more difficult to reach.Malaysian Borneo Kinabatangan river Malaysia droneshot

Danum Valley, Borneo

Danum Valley is one of the oldest rainforests in the world and chock-full of wildlife. In this magical paradise, we went in search of wild orangutans. A trip to Danum Valley is a great adventure where you go back to basic. It is a beautiful area for hikes and to spot birds, animals, reptiles and all kinds of insects. Before you go to Danum you often stay overnight in Lahad Datu. This is also the place where you travel by bus or plane and then continue on to Danum Valley. We recommend a minimum of 3 days for this dense paradise on earth. If you want to know more about orangutans in Danum Valley on Borneo, read our blog!

Hotel tip: Bike & Tours B&B

Travel time Kota Kinabalu to Danum Valley: 7 hours by bus or 55 min flight to Lahad Datu. From Lahad Datu, it is a 2-hour drive to Danum Valley.Tough life for red leaf monkey Danum Valley Sabah Borneo MalaysiaGibbon Danum Valley Sabah Borneo MalaysiaHornbill Danum Valley Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Semporna

The Semporna archipelago is a great dive spot. This reef still has a great bio-diversity. You will find here colourful coral, turtles and sharks. In short, an ideal place for scuba diving or snorkelling. Near Semporna is also the famous island of Sipadan. This island is a perfect base for all your diving trips.

Hotel tip: ND Divers

Transportation tip: Semporna is accessible by bus (10 hours) or plane (1 hour) from Kota Kinabalu. From Sandakan, there are also good bus connections to Semporna.Snorkeling gear Tip of Borneo Sabah Malaysia


Transportation in Malaysian Borneo

The roads and bus connections on Malaysian Borneo are often very good. However, if you have little time, you will have to fly. The destinations on Borneo are far apart and some places are difficult to reach by public transport.

If you have the time, travel by bus! With good roads and low prices, buses are a pleasant and budget-friendly means of transport. Also nice, renting a car yourself! It is not difficult at all to drive a car in Borneo and the gasoline prices are low.

Borneo tip: It is not necessary to book your car, bus ticket or plane ticket far in advance, except in December or January. Then the Malaysian people have holidays and prices skyrocket.Orangutan Sabah Borneo Malaysia


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2 Comments

  1. by Katrin on 29 December 2020  16:15 Reply

    Thank you so much for this blog! Great pics and great input. My husband and I love to travel the world and Borneo is one spot we would love to explore. We definetely want to see the junlge and the Kinabatangan River.
    I´ve read that the eastern part of Sabah (the islands between Borneo and the Philippines including the mainland eastern coastal area) is kind of dangerous because of terrorism. How was your experience?

    • by Charlotte van de Sande on 30 December 2020  13:33 Reply

      Hi Katrin,
      Happy to have helped you! We have heard the same stories but were always asured by locals that the "islands with tourism on it" were safe. We have traveled to Lahad Datuh and its surroundings but never felt unsafe. However that is just our perception. It might be wise to inform at the hotel you intent to stay or to have contact with a local agency on the subject in case you intent to book any activities.
      kind regards, Charlotte

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