Borneo is among the planet’s most biodiverse regions. The dense rainforest houses thousands of species of animals and plants providing the ultimate jungle experience. By travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Borneo, visitors can explore rainforest ecosystems, tropical islands and see orangutans. Other natural attractions include Sarawak’s caves, some of the world’s best diving spots and Malaysia’s tallest mountain. Compared to Kuala Lumpur, Borneo is a nature lover’s paradise.
Borneo is enormous. Three countries share the world’s third largest island. Indonesian Kalimantan covers the biggest area on the southern part. Malaysia’s Sarawak and Sabah occupy the northern third. Tiny Brunei sits between Sarawak. Jungle covers most of the interior with many parts uninhabited and inaccessible.
Because three countries cover Borneo’s vast surface, the Malaysian visa only applies to Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan. Tourists who want to visit either Brunei or Kalimantan need to check visa requirements beforehand. Most nationalities can get a visa on arrival when entering the Sultanate of Brunei while Kalimantan usually requires getting one in advance. In short, travelling around all of Borneo needs careful planning and applying for visas.
Dense jungle, mountain ranges and rivers fill the interior. Most settlements sit around the long coast with few roads passing through the middle. Unlike 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.
Each of the three countries in Borneo has different customs, laws and travel experiences. Sabah and Sarawak have more liberal policies while Indonesia and Brunei practice conservative Islam. Alcohol is freely available in Malaysian Borneo, but it can be difficult to find in Kalimantan and banned under Brunei’s Sharia Law. Other strict Islamic laws will also apply to non-Muslims.
Safety warnings have been issued along Sabah’s stretch of coastline from the northern tip of Borneo in Kudat to Tawau near the border with Kalimantan. Referred to as the Eastern Sabah Security Zone, Malaysian authorities implement curfews. The region is at risk of illegal landings and aggressive from insurgents from nearby islands in the Philippines. While this is unlikely to cause any problems for tourists, it’s always a good idea to check your country’s travel advice.
The only way to get from Kuala Lumpur to Borneo is by air. Travellers can fly into Sabah’s Kota Kinabalu, Sarawak’s Kuching and Brunei’s Bandar Seri Begawan on a direct flight. All trips to Indonesian Kalimantan as of 2018 will have a stopover somewhere in Indonesia (most likely Jakarta). Travelling to Borneo by ferry will be time-consuming, costly and inconvenient. This is especially the case when direct flights lasting a couple of hours sometimes cost less than $30 USD.
Flying from Kuala Lumpur to Sabah and Sarawak
Flights from Kuala Lumpur to Borneo depart from either KLIA or KLIA2. Domestic carriers connect the capital to towns and cities in both Sabah and Sarawak. Flights rarely cost more than $60 USD one-way on either Malindo, Malaysian Airlines or AirAsia. We recommend paying slightly more and flying with Malindo, which provides in-flight entertainment and significantly more leg room compared to the other airlines.
Flying from Kuala Lumpur to Brunei
Several flights connect Kuala Lumpur to Brunei’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan. AirAsia offers the cheapest option at less than $40 USD one-way. Royal Brunei Airlines provide a more comfortable journey at about twice the price. Because of Brunei’s 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. You should also be aware of the poor safety record of some of Indonesia’s airlines before booking the cheapest possible route.
Getting around Borneo
When you arrive in Borneo, the best way to get around is by flying. Buses connect towns and cities throughout the island too. But this might not be worth the long and uncomfortable journey to save a few dollars instead of taking a domestic flight. Some visitors will rent a car, which gives them flexibility. Apart from a scenic railway in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo lacks trains.