How to Travel From Kuala Lumpur to Borneo

Sandakan, in Sabah, lies in the Malaysian part of Borneo – each of the three countries that comprise the island has different customs and laws
Sandakan, in Sabah, lies in the Malaysian part of Borneo – each of the three countries that comprise the island has different customs and laws | © Findlay / Alamy Stock Photo
Sam Bedford

Borneo has one of the oldest rainforests in the world, not to mention orangutans and an abundance of other natural attractions. Here’s how to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Borneo, with helpful tips and suggestions for how to get around, as well as information on paperwork and safety tips.

You can visit Borneo in the company of our Local Insider and a small group of culturally curious travellers on the Culture Trip specially curated 10-day Borneo adventure.

Why you should visit Borneo

Borneo is among the most biodiverse regions on the planet. The dense rainforest is home to thousands of animal and plant species, providing the ultimate jungle experience. By travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Borneo, you can explore rainforest ecosystems and tropical islands, and even see orangutans. Other natural attractions include the Sarawak caves, some of the best diving spots in the world and the tallest mountain in Malaysia, Mount Kinabalu. Compared to Kuala Lumpur, Borneo is a paradise for nature lovers.

Borneo is among the most biodiverse regions on the planet

What you need to know

Borneo is enormous. Three countries share the third-largest island in the world. The Indonesian section, known as Kalimantan, covers the biggest area. The Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah occupy the northern third. Tiny Brunei sits within Sarawak. Jungle covers most of the interior, with many parts uninhabited and inaccessible.

The Indonesian section of Borneo, known as Kalimantan, occupies the biggest part of the island

Visa requirements

Because three countries share the vast area of Borneo, travelling around the island needs careful planning. A Malaysian visa is required for Sabah, Sarawak and the island of Labuan off the mainland coast. If you want to visit Brunei or Kalimantan, check the specific visa requirements for your country beforehand. Most nationalities can get a visa on arrival when entering the Sultanate of Brunei, while to visit Kalimantan you would usually need to get a visa in advance.

Getting around

Dense jungle, mountain ranges and rivers fill the interior. Most settlements sit around the long coast, with few roads passing through the middle. Compared to Kuala Lumpur and West Malaysia, getting around Borneo on land will be more cumbersome and time-consuming. Roads are at risk of flooding during the monsoon season, further obstructing transport.

Getting around Borneo on land can be difficult and time-consuming

Travelling around Borneo

Each of the three countries in Borneo has different customs and laws and offers a different travel experience. Sabah and Sarawak have more liberal policies, while Indonesia and Brunei practise conservative Islam. Alcohol is freely available in Malaysian Borneo, but it can be difficult to find in Kalimantan and is banned under Sharia law in Brunei. This and other strict Islamic laws also apply to non-Muslims.

Safety

Since 2013, safety warnings have been issued along the Sabah coastline, from the northern tip of Borneo in Kudat to Tawau in Sabah, near the border with Kalimantan. Malaysian authorities implement curfews in this section, referred to as the Eastern Sabah Security Zone. The region is at risk of illegal landings from insurgents from nearby islands in the Philippines, and while this is unlikely to cause any problems for tourists, it’s always a good idea to check the latest security advice from your home government.

Forms of transport

The only way to get from Kuala Lumpur to Borneo is by air. You can fly direct into Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Kuching in Sarawak and or Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei. All trips to Indonesian Kalimantan have a stopover somewhere in Indonesia (most likely Jakarta). Travelling to Borneo by ferry is time-consuming, costly and inconvenient.

Flying from Kuala Lumpur to Sabah and Sarawak

Flights from Kuala Lumpur to Borneo depart from either KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) or KLIA2 (Kuala Lumpur International Airport Terminal 2). Domestic carriers connect the capital to towns and cities in both Sabah and Sarawak. You can fly with Malindo Air, Malaysia Airlines or AirAsia.

You can fly from Kuala Lumpur to Borneo with AirAsia, Malindo Air or Malaysia Airlines

Flying from Kuala Lumpur to Brunei

Several flights connect Kuala Lumpur to Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei. AirAsia often offers the cheapest option, while Royal Brunei Airlines provide a more comfortable journey at about twice the price. Because of Sharia law, alcohol is banned in the country. Foreign tourists have a liberal duty-free allowance for alcohol, but need to fill in a customs form when they arrive in Bandar Seri Begawan.

Flying from Kuala Lumpur to Kalimantan

There are no direct flights between Kuala Lumpur and Kalimantan. All travellers will need to make a connection in Indonesia before flying to the state capital, Balikpapan. Expect the journey to take approximately seven hours, including the connection.

Getting around Borneo

When you arrive in Borneo, the easiest way to get around is by flying. Buses connect towns and cities throughout the island, too, though choosing this way of getting around can mean a long and uncomfortable journey. You could rent a car for more flexibility. Apart from a scenic railway in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo doesn’t have any trains.

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