Borneo – What you need to Borne – know

Where is Borneo ? It was my first question when my boyfriend at the time suggested the trip. With a very critical sense of direction, I figured it was somewhere in Asia, no detail added. Well Borneo is this giant, beautiful island in South East Asia shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, place that I would recommend to anyone! I will share with you some tips and ancedotes from my two weeks holiday there with a group of friends.

At least three months before flying to Borneo, the control freak part of myself had already planned everything (nearly). The Google doc was created, flights were booked, international + local, hostels/ Airbnb were reserved and the list of places to go to kept expanding.

Whilst it was my way of traveling, I don’t think that much planning was necessary. I am going to summarize here the key things to decide ahead of your trip.

  • The first question is where and when are you planning to go to Borneo?

The dry season is between March and October which makes it a great summer destination. We went in July and the weather was fine. It wasn’t always sunny but the heat was bearable and the humidity was perfect for us to hike.

We decided to stay for two weeks in the Malaysian parts of Borneo but moved a lot within this part of the island.

  • Then you need to figure out how you want to spend your holiday: hiking, staying on the beach, do some snorkeling, culture addict, foodie?

We were a group of six between 22 and 25 and as such we tried to ally a bit of everything during our stay

We arrived from Europe (Paris, London, Berlin, Vienna) late the first day. As such, we decided to sleep in a hotel 30 mins away from the airport ( De Grand Boutique Hotel in Sepang), nothing exceptional, it was clean, affordable and practical.

The next day, we flew early in the morning to Kuching (the Capital of Sarawak). We had booked our ticket in advance (it was cheaper, especially if you have a luggage). Kuching is a nice city by the river front. Depending on what your budget it, you’ll find there plenty of hotels & hostels. Not many Airbnb were available so we took the Hostel option (we were only staying one night).

During the day we walked along the river, went to see the Pink mosque below and the Fort. It was very warm and humid that day so we were pretty exhausted at night. We had diner at Lucky Charlotte, very cool place – highly recommended for drinks/ dinner in the middle of the Old court House.

Pink Mosque

As early as the third day, we flew to Gunung Mulu National Park (1h30 from Kuching). This definitely need to be booked in advance as there is only one plane a day leaving from Kuching. We arrived at Mulu airport, 5 mins away from the national park. We had been told not to book a hostel in the park and so we booked Mulu backpacker homestay. It was perfect, really cute place on the river. You can book ahead by texting Helen (01114075006) or Peter is (+60) 0113524100. They were the sweetest couple ever. They picked us up from the airport, even if it was a two minutes drive, not carrying our backpacks was very enjoyable. Whilst one of our friend opted for the black luggage, hipster style kind of outfit, we were all carrying a beautiful (and freacking heavy) backpack. Honestly, we absolutely did not need it for what we did. We arrived at the hostel and were only sharing the place with another couple. Helen cooks really well and she even prepared us packed lunch to bring to our hike the next day. Peter also went to buy us beer the second night and drove us to the park early in the morning.

Gunung Mulu Airport

We had pre-booked most of the activities at the National Park which was useful as some were fully booked when we arrived. We had lunch just outside the park in a little local place where the noodles were very good ( the food is better outside, would recommend the fish curry). Our night tour was cancelled at night as it was pouring rain.

The next day we did the Garden of Eden Valley walk which I would recommend a lot. It is a day trip where you see the caves + a nice waterfall. It was really fun and apart from the slips on the wet rocks and the smell of bat poo it was a very nice and tiring day in the sun.

Our guy friends decided to stay for the bat exodus ( where you basically stare at the cave seating on a bench for two hours waiting for the bats to come out). My girlfriends and I waited 1h and after being called impatient, lazy, stubborn and girly we decided to come back to the hostel, take a shower and a nap and it was wonderful. The guys came back and described us this “incredible” experience. Luckily they had filmed the whole thing and the video was more than enough for us. But if you are more patient, I guess it’s worth waiting.

Bats exodus

We came back to our hostel and had a nice dinner with the beers brought by Peter.

The next day the only thing on our plan was the Canopy Skywalk tour in the afternoon (very instagrammable experience). In the morning we walked around the park and went to a beautiful waterfall where we had lunch and got sunburnt.

We had booked the hostel inside the park for the last night which wasn’t necessary, we should have stayed in Helen’s and Peter’s place. The park’s hostel was a bit too packed and loud.

At night, we decided to go for dinner with the tour guide we had during the day. We asked the Park reception for a car to drive us to a little restaurant by the road ( nothing extraordinary, complete tourist-trap). After that, we walked to the Marriott hotel to have a drink and watch the Football World Cup. What started off as a “one drink only” kind of night turned into two of our friends vomiting and passing out in the hotel lobby, us having to sleep in the reception of the Marriott because there wasn’t any car left to drive us back ( it was 4:00 am). We took the 6 am shuttle bus from the Marriott to go back to the park with the hotel clients going for an early hike. This was a truly unique experience and it’s safe to say we were super mad at our two friends that day. We went back to the hostel got changed and went straight to breakfast (the only good bit about staying in the park hostel were the morning pancakes from the cafeteria). We had to pack and take our flight to go back to Kuching.

Back in Kuching we stayed at le Nomade Borneo Bed and Breakfast, the place itself was cute with an outdoor patio but they had messed up the reservation and we had a “cockroach” nightmare at night, so would not recommend.

The next day we went to Bako national Park, most beautiful place of the trip. We took a taxi there to arrive early, and then a boat takes you from the reception to the entrance of the park.We had not brought enough water with us, as the hike path we took was quite intense. It was also the sunniest day of the trip. But the view when you arrived at the end of the rock (below) was incredible, we saw turtles, monkeys. We took a random path and we were on our own walking the whole day, it was magical. If you can stay for one night in the park and do a two days hike I would highly recommend it! When we came back, we had reached the point of our trip where we were sick of noodles and currys and went to have a very well deserved McDonald followed by a healthy donut and a Pizza Hut for dinner. You burn many calories when you hike right? Also you basically melt in this heat…

The following day we walked around Kuching. That’s a lie. We did spend most of the day at the mall shopping/ eating. Most of us were exhausted from our long exercises of the past few days and this break was needed. Not gonna lie we also had wifi + Air conditioning inside the mall, which was a good incentive. Btw in order to avoid such inactivity I wouldn’t recommend the Caramel Frappuccino from Starbucks…

Next day – We flew to Kota Kinabalu (Sabah). We were all waiting for this: sunny beaches, snorkeling on this islands, Airnbnb by the pool, well it was disappointing. Kota Kinabalu is not a nice city, it is full of malls and very not charming buildings. We were not very lucky during our time there as the weather was very bad and we could only go to the islands the last day when it was still a bit cloudy. In the meantime we decided to visit the malls, chill by the pool, go to Nandos, do a massage, went to bars to watch the World Cup, come back to Nandos and chill. I’ve experienced worse holidays. But like all the tourists in Kota Kinabalu, we had the brilliant idea to do island hopping the last day of our trip, only non-rainy day. We arrived in this very touristy place, where everything felt like a trap. We apparently arrived too late and could only do one island so chose Sapi. It was a mix of weather condition and being unlucky but the island was so polluted, empty plastic bottles everywhere, packed with tourists, there was no place to sit on the beach. We were all very disappointed and shocked by people leaving their empty packagings in the sand without caring at all. After unsuccessfully trying to negotiate to change island we took one of the earliest boat to go back to the Pier. I think the experience can be much better than what we had, some friends went a year before and described it as a very cool and beautiful adventure on an empty island. Seems far away from what we experienced as I only keep the good memory of Nandos and Dunkin Donuts there…

As dreamy as it’s advertised, KK doesn’t look at all like the pictures. If I had to go back I would choose to go to a different, less touristy place. But if I didn’t completely put you off KK , the fish market is a must ( very good food and mango juices).

After being a bit disappointed by this last experience we were happily surprised by Kuala Lumpur where we spent our last two days. We had booked a very cool Airbnb in a modern tower. We just walked and found good restaurants and went out on our second to last day to a fun club after getting a drink at the Heli rooftop bar with a view over the whole city. At the club, Marie and I learnt basic fight moves from two MMA fighters, very random. Sadly, I chose not to ditch my friends and follow the proposition of one of them to fly to Hawaii with him the next day, good times. After waking up with a slight hangover and walking around all day we went to a very cool rooftop bar. Oh how I wish the story ended here.

On our way out of the bar, a “fun”/ “memorable” experience happened to us. We got stuck in the lift on our way out between the 56 and 57 floor for 20 mins. It would have been fine if it was only the six of us in there but no, that’s not where the story ends. These three very drunk girls decided to join us during this experience just before the door closed. After 30 secs stuck between two floors, one of the girl decided to puke in the paper bag she was carrying, leaving residues dropping on the floor. It was a charming, wonderful end of our trip, definitely a last bonding experience! At least we got free drinks after that..

Even if this trip took some unexpected turns and made us all put a few extra pounds (yes three days of hiking don’t compensate for all the noodles, fried rice, Nandos & Donuts, I know that now..) it remains full of great memories, diverse landscapes and cultural discoveries.

If you need any additional info, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’d be happy to help you plan a trip to this very cool island.

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