INTRO MALAYSIA- BORNEO
Kind of travel:
Me and my girlfriend Elisa in an independent travel
3rd- 16th Aug 2010
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
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 :-(
Sweating like hell! Even if the temperature is 'just'
around 33 C, humidity soars to 90%
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
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
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.
South Asia is safe and easy by definition
you do need:
a sweater for A/C to carry always in the bag
OF MALAYSIA BORNEO
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
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
TRAVEL IN MALAYSIA
||Singapore- Kuala L.
||Kuala L.- Butterworth
||Butterworth- George T.
||George T.- Butterworth
||Butterworth- Kuala L
||Kuala L.- Kuching
||Kuching (Bako N.P.)
||Bus + Boat + On foot
||1h + 1h + 3h
||Car (with driver)
||Sibu- Niah caves
caves- Bandar S. B.
||Bandar S. B.- Kota K.
||Kota K. (Turku Archipelago)
||full day (1h by boat)
||Kota K.(hot springs)
full day (3h by minibus)
||Kota K. (Turku Archipelago)
||full day (1h by boat)
||Kota K.- Bandar S.B.
||Bus + Boat
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 13
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
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 quick flight (1.5h for 90euro) led us to Kuching, the southernmost
town of the Sarawak region of the Malaysian part of the Borneo
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 (60 for 5 people
back and forth) to reach in 45min the entrance of the park (read
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
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
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
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).
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
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 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
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.
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
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
Penang (Georgetown) to Kuala Lumpur by train:
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.