Borneo travel advice

Tips from our friends in Borneo

Turtle watching advice

Kate Tyler, from our supplier Odyssey World, shares her Borneo travel advice for marine wildlife fans:
“People complain about Selingan Island in Sabah. It is basic, but you are there for the turtle hatchery, so you are going to be roughing it a bit for a night but that’s not your purpose for being there. The problem is it’s oversold as an “island escape” by tour operators, but that’s not what it is. They do incredible conservation work there and they really protect the species, but then my experience may be very different to someone else’s. You’re there for the marine biology and ecology – if you want an island break then this is not the place.”

Borneo visa advice

Harriet Whitmarsh, from our supplier The Great Traveler, offers Borneo travel advice for avoiding visa applications:
“The benefit of Malaysian Borneo is that it’s a quick and easy flight and there are no visa issues – you just walk right in. But for Indonesia, you’ll need a socio-cultural visa if you’re going to do a longer-term volunteer placement, so it makes things more confusing and difficult. It’s easy to go in as a tourist though – you have to pay but it’s straightforward. There are also departure taxes from all Indonesian airports, so you must be sure to keep cash on you and not spend it all before you leave, even if it’s just a domestic flight.”

Indonesia advice

Roger Salwey, from our supplier Oyster Worldwide, gives Borneo travel advice for those visiting Kalimantan: “Indonesian Borneo is underrated. It’s a lot harder to get there as you have to come in through Jakarta – it really is off the beaten track. You can get to settlements on the coast with no tourists, as well as inland along the rivers. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough for adventurous travelers. Malaysia is quite westernised now but Indonesia really isn’t, so you’re experiencing real life there rather than the glossy, touristy side. People who choose to go there have picked somewhere really quite off the beaten track, and they’ll be rewarded for that by not just being treated as another tourist and passed around. You do have to remember that it is Islamic – so be respectful and keep fairly well covered up. But it’s very friendly, they’re very laid-back. They are very smiley people and you need to keep smiling – that’s how they communicate.”

Borneo itinerary advice

Kate Tyler, from our supplier Odyssey World, shares Borneo travel advice for planning the perfect itinerary:
“Do give yourself time. If you can allow yourself that extra two or three days it certainly opens up your whole itinerary – the difference between having 10 days there or 13 makes the difference between having a rest at the end of your trip after taking in all the sights. You’re probably never going to go back there again – so if you’re only going to do it once, then do it properly! It’s the trip of a lifetime.”

Health & safety



  • Several vaccinations are advised before traveling to Borneo; consult your GP or travel clinic six to eight weeks before departure to ensure you have time to complete all the series of injections.
  • Malaria is also present, so you will need to bring anti-malarial medication. Wearing long sleeves and trousers is also advised, as well as insect repellent. This also protects against dengue fever. Remember, malaria can develop up to a year after exposure, so keep an eye on any symptoms.
  • Citronella is the favoured repellent for many travelers. However, this should be avoided as it attracts hornets – giant wasps with an extraordinarily painful sting.
  • Tap water is unsafe to drink – also be wary of ice in drinks and unpeeled fruit and vegetables.
  • Avoid eating bushmeat such as monkeys or bats as these are often carriers of diseases – as well as often being inadvisable for environmental reasons.
  • Mt Kinabalu is 4,095m above sea level, so if attempting to climb to the summit you should be aware of the symptoms of altitude sickness. The climb ascends over 2,500m in less than 24 hours, so there is little time for your body to acclimatise.
  • Leeches are present in the lowland jungles. These are more unpleasant than dangerous, but you can buy “leech socks” which are effective at stopping them, and keep your trousers tucked into your socks or boots.
  • Borneo is incredibly hot and humid, so keep well hydrated at all times.
  • Bring a basic first aid kit and medication for sickness and diarrhoea if planning to trek or cycle in remote regions.
  • If you need to be hospitalised, travel to the mainland may be necessary, so be sure you have comprehensive travel insurance which covers medical evacuation, along with any other activities you may be doing, such as high-altitude hikes, windsurfing or diving.
  • Forest fires in Central Kalimantan cause serious air pollution which is getting more and more dangerous each year; fires in 2015 were described as a "crime against humanity". Travelers with respiratory problems should exercise precautions, and all travelers are advised to check with their vacation company on the severity of the smog in the region they are traveling to - especially if visiting Kalimantan, although pollution also spreads into Sabah and Sarawak. You should ask if face masks are available when in the worst affected areas.
Visit the CDC website for up to date health information on Malaysia and Indonesia


Borneo in general is a safe destination with relatively low crime rates. Tourists should exercise the usual precautions – not walking alone at night, not leaving valuables such as cameras and smart phones on display, using registered taxis, etc.
In recent years there have been a few kidnappings of tourists and locals around the east coast of Sabah. Thanks to its proximity to the Philippines, this area is at a higher risk of this kind of activity. Travel to this area is largely trouble-free, but stay up to date with government travel advice on the FCO website to be sure.
If you are traveling independently in this region – and particularly from the airport at Lahad Datu to your accommodation, you should be sure you are using transport organised by reputable companies.
Traffic accidents are not uncommon. Choose your driver wisely, and always wear a helmet if traveling by motorbike or moped.
Malaysia and Indonesia are largely conservative, Muslim countries, and you should dress modestly, particularly in rural areas, to avoid causing offence. This is even more important in Indonesia.

Homosexuality is not widely accepted (homosexual acts are illegal in Malaysia and taboo in Indonesia), so same-sex couples are advised to act discretely in public.

Vacation reviews from our travelers

Recommendations from those who have been there

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 Borneo travel 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.
"It says you'll get an adventure and you do. Don't expect your home comforts here." - Penny Earle

"Listen to the guides for guidance and information about the animals. Respect the fact that you're a guest in the home of a variety of wild animals." - Fiona Trolley

"If you are going walking, watch out for the leeches, there are lots of them - pack leech socks." - Alison Robb

"Bring warm clothes if you are going to climb Kinabalu! I was freezing." - Paul Spencer

"Many animals are high up and difficult to see. We knew exactly what we were going to and thought the experience was unbelievable, but some people hadn't expected this and were disappointed." - Gillian Slater

"Don't move on too quickly to next location as you'll spend all your time traveling." - Susan Spiller

"Book early in Sabah. We met many people who wanted to climb the mountain or stay in a particular lodge but everything was booked." - Phil Pinchen

"Be as mentally, physically and emotionally healthy as you can as so to put 100% effort into your adventure, as it is priceless"... - Sherryn Page

"Bring lots of clothes during rainy-season, a week after washing they are still wet." - Barbara Hoerist

"Take your large back pack for the full duration and a smaller one for each section." - Jennifer Beard

"Talk to the local people - they have so much passion and many stories to tell." - Deanne Ward-Thompson
Photo credits: [Selingan island: stenley] [Indonesian borneo: Franco Pecchio] [Mount Kinabalu review: Chris Wary] [Lankayan review: Smim90]
Written by Vicki Brown
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Photo credits: [Page banner: Fish Ho Hong Yun]
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