Back to top

Tips for Travelling in Borneo | Norma James


Norma and Peter travelled to Sabah, Borneo, with Rickshaw basing their trip on our popular itinerary, Great Apes and Beach Escapes. On her return, Norma was kind enough to share her beautiful photos and her tips for others thinking about booking a trip to Borneo… “Generally a trip to Borneo is a once in a lifetime experience so you want to get the best advice on the Do’s and Don’ts. Here are my tips for travelling in Borneo:
Decorative torn edge

1. City Tips

Wall sockets are the same design and amp-age as the UK so don’t take adaptors, however do take a multi plug extension lead as sockets are not in easily accessible places. Do leave your travel kettle at home as most hotels and guest houses supply tea and coffee making facilities.

In bars and coffee houses, ask for either a coffee with milk or a Nescafe. Asking for a white coffee means a certain blend of coffee which must be popular as they always seem to have run out of it! If you don’t like sugar in your coffee or tea, tell them, NO SUGAR. Everyone in Borneo likes their beverages sweet, so it is an automatic process to put at least 2 heaped teaspoons of sugar in every cup.

The weekly markets are wonderful and sell everything so prepare your sense of smell to be assaulted. The ‘pong’ is from the Durian fruit and not the drains. Borneo is a developing country, and whilst there are some excellent changes going on, the control of litter does not yet appear to be high on the agenda. Be prepared to see lots of litter and rubbish in the streets, around the old parts of the towns and cities, and of course the vermin that are attracted as a result.

Kuala Lumpur city markets
Canopy bridge

2. Rainforest Tips

There is an internal flight of 50 minutes which leaves Kota Kinabalu airport and arrives at Sandakan. Many tours take in the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre just after arrival. If you have travelled in trousers, make sure you have a pair of shorts to change into, as it is incredibly hot and humid here. A bottle of water is also important!

This is likely to be the only time you will get reasonably close to an orangutan, so enjoy every moment. You are not guaranteed to see one when you get to the rainforest. Take a strong insect repellent like Deet, which can be easily sprayed on exposed areas. Additionally an antihistamine such as Piriteze or Clarityn, will help if you have an allergic reaction to bites.

It’s hot, 40 degrees with humidity of 80-90%, and of course it rains when you least expect it. Take a long length poncho type waterproof. This will ensure you and your camera/binoculars are protected. You will get wet! Rubber bottomed footwear is very important, particularly as the boardwalks of the lodges get very slippery. Wear the same clothes for each of your river trips. There is no point changing each time, for as soon as you leave your chalet, the humidity makes your clothes damp. I promise you will not experience perspiration smells, because everyone and everything smells of dampness. Don’t think of washing or rinsing any item of clothing, whilst you are in the Rainforest as IT WILL NOT DRY!

Do take a good pair of binoculars with you, to enjoy the myriad of birds, animals, and flowers that abound. And if you are lucky enough to see an orangutan in the wild, you can be sure they will be at the top of the tallest tree in the forest… There is generally no WiFi available in the Rainforest, so just chill!

A Note for the Ladies!!! Only waterproof mascara will survive. Better still, get an eyelash tint before you go! Sandakan is mainly a Muslim area, and whilst the people are very gracious, you may feel more comfortable if you reconsider the strappy top with the tiny shorts.

3. Island Tips

Lankayan Island is a conservation area for sea turtles, which is beautiful. The boat ride from Sandakan harbour to the island takes between 60 and 90 minutes. This is done at very high speed, and is therefore incredibly bumpy. Generally not a good idea for those who suffer serious back problems or very young children. There is a presence of around 30 militia on the island, (very unobtrusive) in order to protect the conservation and the island against pirates. Do not be scared.

Do take your own snorkel and mask, but leave your fins at home as they can be hired, very cheaply at the island resort. Beach towels can also be left at home. It is worthwhile investing in an underwater camera to capture the amazing underwater life. The best time for snorkelling is in the morning as there is a very low tide in the afternoon, which makes it impossible for snorkelling around the coral reef. Make sure you make yourself available to respond to the call of a hatching or egg laying taking place. Wear a t-shirt when snorkelling, it will protect you from the sun and the small jellyfish that are around.

Beach view
Borneo rainforest traveller

4. General Tips

• Borneo is a country of many different religions, but they have a local saying, ‘If your blood is red, we are all the same’.
• Ensure you have your waterproof poncho to hand when taking the fast boat journey to Lankayan Island.
• If you like to drink wine, buy some in the supermarket at Sandakan and take it with you. Beer is cheap on the island but the wine is very expensive.
• Always have a bottle of drinking water with you.
• There will be a number of early morning river trips, internal flights, boat rides, etc, so I suggest you leave a few days towards the end of your time in Borneo to have a bit of luxury in an air conditioned hotel, which has a swimming pool, a large comfy bed and you can get your clothes dry.
• Finally, I hope the tips help you to reduce the weight of your luggage, and provide some helpful insights to ensure you have a wonderful experience!”

Thanks so much for sharing your trip with us, Norma!