Where to go on a family vacation to Borneo

Borneo may be an island, but it’s the third largest in the world, so you won’t cover much ground on a one- or two-week vacation. Most families focus on Malaysian Borneo, spending their time in Sabah or Sarawak or a combination of the two. Sabah is Borneo’s most accessible region, with the best infrastructure, so you’ll get around all the highlights within a couple of weeks. Sarawak is slightly less developed but no less rewarding, with plenty of scope for jungle and river trips, as well as spotting orange-furred orangutans. Indonesian Borneo – Kalimantan – is still new to tourism, with most traveling done by boat, and is less suitable for families with young children.
Bako National Park

1. Bako National Park

The smallest and oldest national park in Sarawak, Bako is notable for its lush coastal location. You can get around the park by foot or by boat and stops on deserted sandy beaches for swimming are almost a requirement. Your wildlife needs will be met by monitor lizards, wild boar and the rare proboscis monkey, as well as a huge variety of plant life, including the carnivorous pitcher plant.
Batang Ai National Park

2. Batang Ai National Park

Batang Ai National Park has the highest orangutan population density in the whole of central Borneo and the local Iban community – which make up some 30 percent of Sarawak’s population – are fully involved in park management and wildlife conservation. You can choose to stay in a tribal longhouse with the Iban people, sleeping in simple communal quarters and participating in daily activities.
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

3. Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

This fantastic conservation center sits next door to a famous orangutan reserve but receives a fraction of the visitors. Enthusiastic staff will tell you all about each furry resident as well as the relevant conservation issues facing the island’s sun bears. The highlight is the elevated viewing platform, from which you can gaze at the bears as they climb through the trees.
Kinabalu National Park

4. Kinabalu National Park

Set at the foot of mighty Mount Kinabalu, this forested reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site shelters a diverse collection of Malaysian birds, mammals and amphibians. Hit the forest trails to discover hot springs, waterfalls and an incredible selection of plants, including 500 orchid species and the world’s largest flower – the rafflesia.

5. Kinabatangan

A cruise along the waterways of Kinabatangan is a tranquil, hassle-free way for families with small children to watch wildlife. Boats sit low in the water, making it easy to scour the riverbanks or peer off the side into the water. Proboscis monkeys, orangutans and pygmy elephants live here. Don’t miss the Gomantong Caves, home to two million bats and more than a million swiftlets.
Kota Kinabalu

6. Kota Kinabalu

Known to its inhabitants as KK, Sabah’s capital is as diverse as it is dynamic. The city’s architecture is testament to the different cultures who have made their mark here and includes huge mosques, British colonial buildings and Buddhist temples. The State Museum is the place to head for informative exhibitions about Sabah’s indigenous population.

7. Kuching

Kuching’s proudly multicultural heritage is best appreciated through the city’s street food, which includes gems such as Sarawak laksa, oyster omelettes and kompia, a kind of Chinese bagel. Alternatively you can find out about the city’s history at the excellent State Museum or wander the streets to check out Chinese temples, grand mosques, stilt houses and sprawling bazaars.
Lankayan & Selingan islands

8. Lankayan & Selingan islands

Endangered green and hawksbill turtles arrive throughout the year to lay their eggs on the beaches of Selingan and Lankayan islands, though June to August is peak season. Hatcheries protect the eggs from predators until the tiny hatchlings emerge and crawl across the sand to the sea. Visiting one is a brilliant experience for children.
Santubong Peninsula

9. Santubong Peninsula

After a frenetic week or two of jungle discoveries, head to the Santubong Peninsula for some time on the beach. A 10km-long finger of land surrounded by the South China Sea, it has laid-back resorts and clear seas that are perfect for young children. There’s an interior rainforest should the urge for more adventure grab you.
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

10. Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Set up in 1964, Sepilok rehabilitates orphaned, injured and previously captive orangutans before returning them to life in the wild. Around 200 live in the reserve and it’s one of a couple of places in Borneo where you’re pretty much guaranteed to see them. Twice-daily feeding sessions see orangutans descend from the trees to the feeding platform.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Borneo family or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Borneo Family Vacations Advice

Nicky Hollamby, from our vacation specialist Audley Travel:
“If I was doing a family trip, I’d spend half the time in Sarawak because you can base yourself in Kuching and do daytrips. It’s a brilliant city with plenty of character, and it’s more of a cultural capital. Whereas in Sabah, it’s all wildlife and beach. In Sarawak you can stay overnight with communities, which – when done properly – is really great for both the tourists and the tribes. Then you can go kayaking through the mangroves looking for the river dolphins and visit Bako National Park, but it’s a day trip so it’s not too intense for kids. Then you come back to your comfortable hotel in the evening, go out and eat some of the local food, go to the markets... but you’re not really isolated in the rainforest, and I think that’s really good for families.”
Daniel Waters, from our supplier Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel, shares his tips on traveling in Borneo with kids: “It’s a pretty safe destination to travel to; resorts and hotels tend to be kept to a pretty high standard. It’s a lot easier to travel round than you might suspect. There are lodges that look after children very well, and KK (Kota Kinabalu) is a wonderful city for children, it’s very inclusive and approachable. In more offbeat areas where there aren’t so many facilities it would be more difficult, but on the whole it’s a great destination for families. There is a lot of walking involved to get the most out of Borneo, so as long as the kids are able to cope with that they’ll be fine. There are different itineraries though – you can do quite an easy Sabah itinerary suitable for any age, but if you’re going into Sarawak, which is a bit more off the beaten path, or into the caves, then young children might be a bit of an issue.”

Family vacations in Borneo: Tips from our travelers

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do – and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Thailand family vacation tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your vacation – and the space inside your suitcase.
Malaysian Borneo, centerd around Kuching, is a brilliant way for families with younger children to get a taste of all that the country has to offer. Nothing is more than a 40 minute drive from the delightful city - jungle, orangutans, monkeys, frogs and stunning beach.
– Danielle Fieller on our Sarawak family vacation
“Even in the dry season, leech socks are necessary for Tabin and Danum Valley. Buy them there, not online. MUCH cheaper! This is a BUSY schedule involving very early mornings most days, as that's when you're most likely to see wildlife. Having a few days of relaxation (in our case Gaya Island) was perfect to recharge before heading back to the UK.” – Liz Carr on our Sabah family vacation

“If you prepare for the bugs, they aren't an issue, e.g. strong mosquito repellent, a scarf to wrap around your head, football socks. We stopped in Singapore for 5 days before the last flight to Borneo, and would absolutely recommend as an introduction to the climate and culture.” – Melissa Marfleet-Collins, returning from our Borneo family tour

“Be ready to question your own views and values. Be prepared to get wet you will soon be dry again. Perhaps get your rainmacs etc in Borneo and rubber shoes rather than walking boots. Be ready to try a variety of food and particularly some unusual fruits! Have plenty of strong sun cream and insect repellent. Have a waterproof camera. Be ready for seeing and absorbing. Don't be put off by having a guide, we thought we would feel less intrepid, but we learnt and laughed so much” – Nikki Shack on our Borneo family tour
The village homestay was a great experience and clearly benefitted the local people.... and us! It was a great opportunity for us and our children to see that there are more similarities than differences between families around the world
– Delia MacKechnie, Borneo family tour
Written by Nana Luckham
Photo credits: [Page banner: Fish Ho Hong Yun] [Bako NP: Peter Gronemann] [Batang Ai NP: tajai] [Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre: Siew Te Wong] [Kinabalu NP: Seshadri. K. S] [Kinabatangan: Christopher Michel] [Kota Kinabalu: CEphoto, Uwe Aranas ] [Kuching: Jourdan Ann] [Lankayan & Selingan islands: Bex Walton] [Santubong Peninsula: Dustin Iskandar] [Sepilok Orangutan Rehab Centre: Chris Charles] [Daniel Waters tip: Fabio Achilli] [Review 1: Joshua Alan Eckert] [Review 2: IndoMet in the Heart of Borneo]