Malaysia (Borneo)


Malaysia (Borneo)

13 days,  August '10




Kind of travel:
Me and my girlfriend Elisa in an independent travel

3rd- 16th Aug 2010

Do I need a visa:
No, for EU citizens just passport, but you'll get plenty of stamps in Borneo entering/ exiting Sarawak and Sabah regions

How I moved: by train and bus in peninsular Malaysia, mainly by boat in Borneo with some bus trips. In Borneo there's only a small line of railway I didn't manage to ride :-(

Freezing or baking:
Sweating like hell! Even if the temperature is 'just' around 33 C, humidity soars to 90%

Where I slept:
guesthouses and cheap hotels (12- 18€ for a double). Unfortunately A/C is a granted. Train night train is a good way to save money and time

What I liked:
the boat trip from Kuching to Kapit over the boat roof, walking in the darkness in Niah caves and the cute Kuching.

What I disliked:
the sticky humidity and the fact in Bako National Park and in the Niah Cave National Park I didn't see a single animal!! I hated we couldn't proceed to Belaga from Kapit because of the low level of the river

How much daily:
around 30€ per day per person (accommodation 9€ each +10€ transports + 8€ eating + varies). Means of transport will impact since, despite being cheap, you'll take a lot of them. Visit the long houses in Kapit will be a cost especially if overnight (we paid 70€ each for a daytrip). Flying in the very interior of Borneo to stay in the National Parks means at least 100$ per day.

Dangers/ hassles:
South Asia is safe and easy by definition

What you do need:
a sweater for A/C to carry always in the bag


As per most of the Asia also in Borneo traveling is always a pleasure (despite the steamy climate) because of feeling at ease and safe even walking in the outskirt in the evening.
What will make a travel in Borneo unlike most of the other destinations in Asia, is the amount of time you'll spent on a boat (or better on the roof of the boat) sailing the river while snaking in the jungle. Having said that, moving in Borneo generally is easier than I thought (at least along the cost and the main rivers), since public means of transports (mainly boats) are reliable and frequent.
In fact I expected Borneo more remote from the infrastructure standpoint (at least in the areas we visited), but at the same time especially Sarawak I thought more touristic, or at least as touristic as I found Sabah.
Sarawak is indeed the region more convenient for backpackers, given its several highlights (Bako National Park, Semenggon Orangoes Reserve, Kapit/ Belaga longhouses, Nyala Caves,...) reachable by public means of transport. On the contrary Sabah fits more to the organised tours, since flights and accommodation booking are needed. That's why Sabah is generally associated at much higher costs.
The last but not the least while traveling I expected to meet more animals, but, beside giant insects, we didn't mbump in anything else; this is mainly given by the density of the jungle hiding everything even if staring you at one meter distance




Day Transport Duration
3 night Singapore- Kuala L. Train 8h
4 Kuala L.- Butterworth Bus 7h
4 Butterworth- George T. Boat 30min
5 George T.- Butterworth Boat 30min
5 night Butterworth- Kuala L Train 8h
6 Kuala L.- Kuching Flight 1.5h
7 Kuching (Bako N.P.) Bus + Boat + On foot 1h + 1h + 3h
9 Kuching-Kapit Boat 7h
10 Kapit (longhouse) Car (with driver) full day
11 Kapit- Sibiu Boat 3h
11 Sibu- Niah caves Bus 6h
12 Niah caves- Bandar S. B. Bus 8h
13 Bandar S. B.- Kota K. Boat 5h
14 Kota K. (Turku Archipelago) Boat full day (1h by boat)
15 Kota K.(hot springs) Minibus

full day (3h by minibus)

16 Kota K. (Turku Archipelago) Boat full day (1h by boat)
17 Kota K.- Bandar S.B. Bus + Boat 3h +2h

[Travel in Singapore]


Continental Malaysia

A night train led us in 8h from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur; in the Malaysian Capital we jumped on a bus towards the well-known Penang Island. After 7h we pulled in Butterworth (the mainland town in front of the island) where we got the hourly ferry for the 20min sea cross.
Georgetown is the capital of the Penang region (the whole region is the island) and by consequence the main town of the island.
Here we settled in the 'Love In' guesthouse paying 13ˆ for a double with A/C (forget sleeping without!) The island is an easy destination for backpackers abounding of cheap guesthouses and highlights convenient for day trips by public transports.
The following day we took a bus to the snake temple (1h). The name will stimulate your curiosity (as did for ours), but don't expect too much; the few snakes sliding around are quite sleepy, and the stalls outside give the impression it's more a tourist draw.
Then by a 20 taxi ride we reached the Kek Lok Si temple, the Malaysia biggest Buddhist temple, being definitely worth the trip. Besides of his vastness and the variety of colours, it's the location making the real highlight: the temple is set along a steep slope (there's even the funicular to climb it up) and at the top dominated by a 30m high statue of Goddess of mercy.
In the late afternoon by bus (2h) we reached the Batu Ferringhi beach. Don't expect a tropical paradise just for yourself: this is the main destination for the Arab couples honeymoons and the amount of activities (water scooter, jet parachuting …) make the place quite busy and as woman you could feel not at ease wearing a swimming suit.
The same night we got the train at 23.00 getting off in Kuala Lumpur at 7.30am, where we directly went to the Batu Caves, the most popular Hindu shrines outside India. It's a series of chambers, where temples are built inside. Despite being the most visited highlight of the country, the authentic atmosphere and the scenic setting of the limestone rocks make the visit a must.

BORNEO (Sarawak)

A quick flight (1.5h for 90euro) led us to Kuching, the southernmost town of the Sarawak region of the Malaysian part of the Borneo island.
The town, characterised by a promenade along the river, is for sure the most pleasant one we visited in the whole Borneo. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the guesthouse (Mr'D), where the room (14euro with A/C) was really too tiny to move in and the guys at the reception a kind of stoned.
We spent the whole next day at the Bako National Park: from Kuching at 8.00am there's a bus (1h) dropping you off at the harbour, where you have to rent a boat (60ˆ for 5 people back and forth) to reach in 45min the entrance of the park (read the tips)
Here we began a circle itinerary (6km in 6h) reaching a paradise-like beach, where we had a swim. It's a real sweating jungle walk, but honestly we got disappointed by not seeing an animal beside few mosquitoes and a butterfly. Anyway it's worthwhile and I would recommend, but don't expect it's like visiting a zoo.
The day after we visited the Orang-utan reserve: if you want to attend the morning feeding at 9.00, don't miss the 7.20 am bus as we did (we took a taxi). Don't expect to be alone during the feeding but chances to see Orang-utans are quite high and not through the bars of a cage.
The third day we set out to Kapit through a long 6h boat journey (stopping over in Sibu), however so scenic to the extent of being the highlight of the whole travel. The boat has comfortable airplane-like seats, but the freezing A/C will make you prone to enjoy the boat roof as we did. After few hours in the open sea, the boat sails upstream the Kajang river. The trip pace is interrupted by the frequent stopovers to supply the villages being the river their only communication: further it gets from Sibu, more the river narrows down and you feel to enter the in the jungle, despite logging has already played its part.
In the small town of Kapit itself there's not much to see, beside a market, a 19th century English fort and a museum, but I liked the feeling of being in a 'relatively' remote place connected to the rest of the world by a river on the way to the heart of Borneo
Having said this it's a convenient base to visit the typical long-houses of Borneo, namely a cluster of houses joined by a long common area, where the whole communities live together in daytime.
Don't expect travel agencies to organize you trips, you will have to find you contact,
As suggested by the research done in the net we called Cristine from Greenland hotel asking for a guided full day by car. Frankly I found 70€ quite expensive but no big other choices though and at the end it turned out a very interesting experience we couldn't have done by ourselves.
At first we went to a poor longhouse, staying one hour inside one of the houses and visiting the school. Then after 1h driving we crossed the river to a wealthier village.
Here we saw the village life, even visiting the surprising modern clinic, proud of showing us 6 baby had already been delivered that year.
Our plan was to proceed to Belaga through the Rajanga River and then by jeep reaching the coast.
Unfortunately as typically can happen in the dry season (August), that day the boat didn't run to Belaga due to the water level too low to pass the rapids.
Quite depressed we came back to Sibu jumping on the bus on the way to the Niah Caves. The bus dropped us at the cross road in the darkness 13 km from the Caves, where luckily there was a restaurant and a motel!!
The following morning we took a taxi to the entrance of the Park, from where we walked 1h over a wooden pathway through the forest, nice stroll but again no animals.
The Caves are impressing and their magnitude in term of impressiveness is overtaken only by the smell of 500.000 bat's guano. What makes the visit an adventure is the 1km pathway in the darkness guided only by your flash lamp (you can rent one at the entrance).
Then we took again a taxi to the cross road, where we waited a bus to Miri and finally another one to Bandar Seri Begawan the capital of Brunei (6h by bus from Miri).


[Proceeding in Brunei]


BORNEO (Sabah)

Kota Kinabalu is much more touristy than Kuching, being in front of Tunku Abdul Marine Park archipelago. Here there's no lack of guesthouses, but we struggled to find a room available.
The archipelago is ideal for daytrips from KK (no other choice though) roughly 40min by boat, but at a cost.(read the tips) There'r five island where you can snorkel, having tan,… don't expect to be the only one on the island, since you'll have plenty of Japanese neighbors'.
One of the three days we spent in KK we visited the poring hot springs 3hours by minibus. The site itself built by Japanese during WWII occupation has an artificial look, at least the short canopy walk, built at the top of the trees, allows an unusual 'monkey point of view' of the jungle. Anyway what makes the trip interesting is definitely the landscape so different from the coast. In fact on the way to the site the minibus will climb up to the green mountains wrapped in the fog.
If you are not prone to vertigo there a short canopy walk over the jungle.
The following day we headed to Brunei: initially I hoped to get the train but it's still under renovation (it could be open when you read). Instead of taking the early morning direct bus we wanted to break the trip in Beafourt turning out to be an error. In fact we found ourselves stranded in Lapas (20km from the border) and we had to take a taxi to proceed towards Brunei.


Malaysia-Borneo travel tip

    • From Penang (Georgetown) to Kuala Lumpur by train
    • How to reach Bako National Park
    • Detail about Semengon National Park (Orangoes)
    • Longhouse visit



EU citienzens don't need a visa, just your passport will be enough. However take into consideration that:

  • It will happen your passport won't be even stamped entering the country. In particular if traveling by train from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, but don't worry, nobody will hassle you when leaving Malaysia, and if he does stand the ground isn't your fault if there's no custom on the railway line.
  • Traveling in Borneo all the way along the cost (through Sarawak, and Sabah, maybe even passing Brunei, and reenterning the Temburung district of Brunei) will allow you to have plenty of stamps. In fact every region has it's own custom stamping like hell every time you pass.




The currency is the Malaysian Ringit (1€= 4.1 RM). You can change almost everywhere against € or $. Same currency in the whole Malaysia Borneo included.




I used the english Lonely Planet 'Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei 2009 and the Rough Guide 'Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei' 6th edition , Sept2009.
I preferred Lonely Planet, but it could be since I'm used to.




I had the usual vaccinations: ephatite A, B, typhus and tetanus. I know your main concern is the dilemma 'to do or not to do the antimalaric treatment?'
Against the malaria you have mainly three choises: Clorichina, Malarone and Lariam.
Clorichina is not effective in this part of the world (it's mainly for central America), but at the end I decided to take neither Malarone nor Lariam.
Along the cost the risk is low, while reaching Kapit, in the very inland of Borneo the risk exists, but I preferred to cover conveniently, using repellent and mosquito net than take antimalaric for my 7th times.




  • From Penang (Georgetown) to Kuala Lumpur by train:
    there's a very convenient train leaving Butterworth (the mainland town in front of Penang Island) at 23.00 pulling into Kuala L. at 7.30.
    The price for the lower berth is 46RM (11€) while the upper one is 40 RM (9€).
    There's a ferry boat from Georgetown harbor at 22.00 getting in Butteworth at 22.30, from the ferry dock is 3 min walk to the station.


  • How to reach Bako National Park
    From Kuching at 8.00 am daily there 's a bus heading to the Bako jetty in 45min. Here you have to rent a 5 people boat costing 60€ back and forth to the Park Entrance (40min sail). The best is to gather a group of people and share the cost, but take into consideration everybody must come back at the same time you'll agree with the boat keeper to pick you up.
    At the entrance you'll pay a fee and get a map: there'r several trails ranging from 2h till 12h hike. Take some water with you since you sweat like hell (there's a restaurant/ bar on the island).
    Few hours walk from the entrance there's a jaw dropping beach where you can swim.
    To come back to Kuching from the Bako Jetty you'll find plenty of minibuses.


  • Detail about Semengon National Park (Orangoes)
    Indeed the best chances to see Orangoes are at the feeding time (9.00am). To be there in time you have to catch the bus From Kuching at 7.30am since it takes almost 1h to reach the park and once there you have 15min walk inside it. If you miss the bus, as we did, the only option is a minibus (to the nearest main town) and then a taxi. I found the visit worthwhile (honestly I was enjoying it more the Bako National Park) but don't expect to be the only one. The Park is huge so nobody can guarantee you to see them.
    To come back just stand on the main road passing in front of the Park entrance and it won't take that long some minibus will pick you up


  • Longhouse visit
    The longhouses are for sure the most advertised highlight of Borneo. Honestely I'm not a fan of such organized tours that visit the private houses, looking at the people inside and taking picture as in a zoo, but being in Kapit we couldn't avoid to have at least a glance.
    First of all it's not something you can easily do independently, even if you manage to find where the houses are (and I'm wondering how you could) ,you will need somebody introducing you, translating you, and anyway you'll have to pay a fee to them.
    Hence you need a guide (don't expect travel agencies in Kapit), organizing a day trip, or an overnight; for sure the best experiences are the ones far from Kapit, taking at least 3 days (1 day sailing the river to reach them), however it comes at a cost.
    For the abovementioned reason and to limit the costs we opted for a daytrip finding our guide (Cristine) in the Greenland hotel (as Lonely Planet suggests) and paying 70€ for two people for the guide, the car and the fees at longhouses.
    At first we went to a poor longhouse, staying one hour inside one of the houses and visiting the school. Then after 1h driving we crossed the river to a wealthier village.
    Here we saw the village life, even visiting the surprising modern clinic, proud of showing us 6 baby had already been delivered that year.
    At the end it turned out interesting, not in particular for the longhouses (that honestly I didn't find so special), but for being the only chance we have had to see the village life; one day for me it has been enough, though.