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How to Plan the Ultimate Road Trip Through Borneo

Lambir Hills National Park offers a variety of waterfalls to explore
Lambir Hills National Park offers a variety of waterfalls to explore | © EyeEm / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Lu Yin Wai
27 October 2021
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Road trips have become a popular way for travellers to explore Malaysia. Certainly, the Borneo region can be an amazing place to visit by car and travelling along the Pan Borneo Highway you will encounter cities full of culture, mountainous terrain, tropical rainforests and relaxing beaches. If you’re up for an adventure, read our guide to the ultimate 10-day road trip to take across this gorgeous island in Southeast Asia.

Planning a trip and want all the details taken care of? Book yourself onto Culture Trip’s 10-day adventure to Borneo, which includes a visit to an orangutan sanctuary, organic tea farm and a snorkelling trip in Kota Kinabalu.

Day 1: Kuching

Begin your trip by spending a day walking around the city of Kuching. Learn about Sarawak’s history at the Sarawak State Museum, which displays historical artefacts and natural specimens. Take photos of the Cat Statue and Big White Cat Statue, symbols of the city, located in the city centre. Visit the old Fort Margherita, built by Charles Brooke, the Rajah of Sarawak. Explore The Astana, a residence of Sarawak’s governor with a beautiful waterfront and gardens. From here, drive up to the Sarawak Cultural Village to learn about the ethnic diversity of Sarawak through various handicraft displays and traditional performances. The Sarawak Cultural Village is the venue for the World Harvest Festival and the Rainforest Music Festival.

Statues of cats are littered throughout Kuching, the capital city of Sarawak | © Photogenic / Alamy Stock Photo

Day 2: National Parks in Kuching

Spend your second day exploring the national parks in Kuching. The Bako National Park, the oldest park in Sarawak, has panoramic rainforest views with rocky cliffs and secluded beaches. To get there, park your vehicle at Bako village and take a 30-minute boat ride to the tip of the Muara Tebas peninsula. From here, walk among the jungle trails, where you’ll find proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaques, bearded pigs and monitor lizards. Discover the rocky pools and secluded beaches near the rainforest, but remember to stick to the trails and mangrove boardwalks, as estuarine crocodiles can also be found here.

Head back to Bako and drive down to Kubah National Park, home to a wide range of palm trees and orchid species. Different trails afford breathtaking views, including the Selang Trail, which leads to a viewpoint of the Matang and Santubong peninsulas.

Day 3: Sibu

Wake up early today, as it’s a six-hour drive to Sibu. Arrive just after midday and visit the Sibu Heritage Centre, which showcases Sarawak and Sibu cultural history. Watch the sunset views at Tua Pek Kong Temple, a Taoist temple with panoramic views of Sibu and Batang Rejang. Shop for some local fresh produce at the Sibu Central Market, with more than 1,000 stalls. You can have dinner at the food stalls upstairs where they serve Chinese, Malay, and Ibanese food.

Tua Pek Kong, also known as Vihara Budhi Bhakti, is a key Kong Hu Cu temple in Sibu | © Pandureka / Alamy Stock Photo

Day 4: Lambir Hills National Park

Drive further north and you’ll reach Lambir Hills National Park, where you can explore its diverse rainforest ecosystem. Take the Latak Waterfall Trail and Pantu Waterfall Trail to view the scenic cascades. Hike along the Summit Trail, where you’ll be mesmerised by wild orchids, and bathe in the natural pool by the Dinding Waterfall. You’ll encounter different species in the rainforest, including some 150 bird species. Stay the night in Miri and prepare yourself for a wild adventure in Gunung Mulu National Park tomorrow.

Day 5: Gunung Mulu National Park

You’re halfway through your trip and almost finished exploring Sarawak. A natural sight you must visit is the Gunung Mulu National Park, known for its high biodiversity and for its iconic sandstone karsts. To get there, either take a boat or a MASWings flight. We recommend taking one of the frequent daily flights from Miri to Mulu. Make reservations to spend the night in the park, where accommodation is provided for travellers. Venture through some of the caves and don’t miss Deer Cave, Clearwater Cave or the Sarawak Chamber, the largest known cave chamber in the world.

Limestone pinnacles characterise views across Gunung Mulu National Park | © Juhani Viitanen / Alamy Stock Photo

Day 6: Kota Kinabalu

Begin your journey in Sabah by taking a two-hour flight to Kota Kinabalu from Mulu Airport, and spend a day there. Explore the majestic Kota Kinabalu City Mosque, which is surrounded by a beautiful lagoon. The mosque has similar features to the Nawi Mosque in Medina, including a blue and gold dome. Take photos of the wooden Atkinson Clock Tower, the oldest structure in Sabah dating from 1905. Visit the historical Petagas War Memorial, commemorating the soldiers who died defending Sabah during World War II. End your night by savouring street food and seafood at Kota Kinabalu’s Night Food Market or Sinsuran Night Market.

Day 7: Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park

Begin your island-hopping adventure by taking a ferry from Jesselton Point to Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, which consists of five islands: Gaya, Sapi, Manukan, Manutik and Sulug. You can either book an island tour or discover them for yourself, by snorkelling in the tranquil, crystal-clear water or relaxing on the white-sand beaches. The price for island hopping depends on how many islands you plan to visit.

Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park is home to stunning beaches | © FANGXIANG CHEN / Alamy Stock Photo

Day 8: Kinabalu Park

Take the two-hour drive down to Kinabalu Park, one of Malaysia’s Unesco-listed sites, where you will be able to see Mount Kinabalu from afar. Discover various flora and fauna in the rainforest, including Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world with one of the foulest smells. Stay a few days at Kinabalu Park if you plan to climb Mount Kinabalu; be sure to be well-equipped for hiking the highest mountain in Malaysia.

Day 9: Sandakan

It is time to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, a 229km (142mi) drive from Kinabalu Park. Founded in 1964, Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre supports 60–80 orphaned orangutans. Watch these orangutans be taken care of with tender love and care in their natural habitat. A boardwalk leads to a viewing gallery and feeding platform, where orangutans are fed with milk and bananas twice a day by the rangers.

From here, visit the Gomantong Caves to learn how edible bird nests are harvested by the farmers. You can watch the harvesting at Simud Hitam (Black Cave), although Simud Putih (White Cave) has the more valuable nests. Swiftlets, bats, serpent eagles, bat eagles, and kingfishers can be seen at these caves.

Visitors can get up close and personal with young orangutan at Rasa Ria Orangutan Nursery near Kota Kinabalu | © Ville Palonen / Alamy Stock Photo

Day 10: Semporna

For the final day of your road trip, it’s time to celebrate on the calm seas and islands at Tun Sakaran Marine Park. Drive the 304km (189mi) to Semporna and take a boat ride. The marine park consists of eight islands and two reefs, including Bohey Dulang Island and Mantabuan Island. There are plenty of stilt houses and houseboats as the nomadic Bajau Laut community live in the park; visit the Bajau Laut village to catch a glimpse of their everyday life – you may even get the chance to chat with the locals. Make sure you go island hopping to discover the unique features of each island – Bohey Dulang is great for hiking and bird watching.

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