Borneo Travel Tips & Useful Info

Three probiscus monkeys on a branch - Borneo Tours - On The Go Tours

Planning a visit to Asia's largest island and want a little pre-travel advice? Interested to know more about the local cuisine and whether malaria might be an issue? You'll find answers to these questions and more with our Top Travel Tips covering everything from health to money.

What vaccinations do I need for Borneo?

You should seek medical advice from your local health practitioner before travelling to Borneo and ensure that you receive all of the appropriate vaccinations. As a guide Tetanus, Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Diphtheria and Polio are recommended.

As Rabies are an ever present problem in Malaysia, close animal contact should be avoided and if bitten, you should treat the matter seriously and seek medical attention immediately. Leeches are present in the jungles and can be a nuisance after heavy rain on jungle walks. Leech socks can be purchased locally and are recommended.

Do I need anti-malaria tablets for Borneo?

There is a risk of malaria in parts of Borneo so it is very important to check with your doctor before you go to see whether malarial medication is required for the areas you are visiting. There is also a risk of dengue and Zika in some parts of the country so avoiding mosquito bites is important. This can be achieved by wearing long sleeves and trousers, sleeping under a mosquito net and covering yourself in an insect repellent that contains at least 50% DEET. For more health information in Borneo visit the NHS Fit for Travel page or the CDC Traveller’s Health page.

Is it safe to drink tap water in Borneo?

Treated tap water is available in most built-up areas. In rural areas we recommend bottled water which is widely available and inexpensive.

Mi Goreng dish in Borneo - On The Go Tours
The noodle dish Mi Goreng is popular in Malaysia with veg and meat

What's the food like in Borneo?

Situated between Thailand and Indonesia and a stop along the traditional trading routes of Europe India and China, Malaysia, by its very location has become a melting pot for food. Now known as Nyona, the cuisine takes elements from both Chinese and Malay culture and is a fusion of an array of amazing food experiences.

The flavours of Malaysian cooking are chillies, garlic, ginger, limes & lemongrass, essential to the curry pastes that form the base of many dishes and also often used by themselves to add flavour. Coconut milk and palm sugar are frequently added to soften the heat.

Wander along the open air eating stalls and try a popiah (spring rolls) or curry puff before moving on to a fish-head curry, Nasi Ayam (Chicken Rice) or a rendang. There’ll be noodles, sambals, seafood curries and fish, all full of flavour. The choice will be limitless, so ready up your taste-buds and get ready to dive-in!

Safe eating while travelling in Borneo

Generally food in Borneo will be safe to eat but it is important to remember that because of the heat, food that has been left unrefrigerated for extended periods of time is best avoided. Always ensure that meat and fish is properly cooked and avoid anything that might have come into contact with tap water, such as salad, unpeeled fruit, raw vegetables and ice, outside of the larger urban areas.

Is it standard to tip in Borneo?

Most Malaysians will not expect tips but a little spare change left on the table after a meal will certainly be gladly accepted as wages in Borneo are generally very low. Most visitors to Borneo will take part in a tour of some description so if the guide has done a good job it is courteous to leave a tip of around USD $10 per person for their service. A tip of USD $1-2 per day is also a nice gesture for hotel staff and housekeeping.

Batik painting - Borneo - On The Go Tours
An artist painting a batik on fabric, a perfect souvenir when visiting Borneo

What is good to shop for in Borneo?

A popular souvenir from Borneo is a bottle of coconut oil, which is renowned globally for its curative properties. In markets, a vast array of arts and crafts are available including paintings, textiles, clothing and hand-carved sculptures. Another fantastic purchase is one of the many pewter products available throughout the country.

For your friends back home that have a bit of a sweet tooth, why not treat them to a bag of dodol, a sticky, toffee-like sweet that comes in individual triangular packages. If interior design is more your thing then an authentic Malaysian batik on silk or cotton is sure to spice up your living room back home and can be found in most markets and shopping areas.

How to bargain in Borneo

Haggling is slightly less common in Malaysian Borneo than it is in other parts of Southeast Asia. If a product has a price tag already, it is unlikely that you will be able to negotiate with the vendor. On the occasion that something isn’t priced, haggling is acceptable but it is important to remain polite and friendly throughout the transaction in order not to embarrass or annoy the seller. If you find yourself bargaining over a matter of a dollar or two, it is probably better to just pay the extra as it will make a big difference to the vendor.

Is it safe for a single woman to travel in Borneo?

Malaysia is a unique country in that it peacefully encompasses three major religions and various races. As such, the cultural differences between foreign and local women are less noticeable than other parts of the world that are predominantly Buddhist or Muslim, for example. This being said, it is still important to keep your wits about you as a solo female traveller. Dressing conservatively is both more respectful to Malaysian traditions and a good way to ward off unwanted attention. Take care not to end up alone at night and if you do, take a taxi rather than travel on foot.

What is the etiquette when visiting temples in Borneo?

When entering temples in Borneo it is important to remember to take your shoes off beforehand. Women wearing trousers or a short skirt will usually be required to put a long skirt on over the top. These are available to borrow at most temples. It is never acceptable to touch somebody on the head in Borneo as it is the highest point of the body and therefore considered the most important and holy. On the flipside, feet are the lowest part of the body and gesturing with them will often be considered disrespectful. Fortunately, because Malaysians are so used to seeing tourists in their temples and holy sites, the ignorance of foreigners is usually just dismissed without too much offence being caused.

Is Borneo a suitable family holiday destination?

Out of everywhere in Southeast Asia, Borneo might be the most family-friendly destination. With thick swathes of jungle to explore, hordes of exotic animals to find, including the famous orang-utan, and a whole host of water-based activities to try out, such as scuba diving, Borneo caters for people of all ages. Young children will especially appreciate the abundant wildlife and vibrant colours of this magical region. Borneo has an excellent infrastructure for accommodating families also. Children of all ages are welcome on our Borneo private tours.

What is the duty free allowance for Borneo?

Travellers are permitted to bring the following into Malaysia:

  • 200 cigarettes or 225g of tobacco
  • 1 litre of alcoholic drinks
  • Food up to the value of USD $18
  • Three pieces of new clothing and one new pair of shoes
  • One portable electronic item for personal care
  • Other goods up to the value of USD $100

The following are banned from being imported into Malaysia: Illicit drugs, counterfeit currency, indecent publications (books, films, paintings etc), anything considered prejudicial to the interest of Malaysia, piranha fish, turtle eggs, cocoa pods, daggers or flick knives, articles resembling syringes (eg pens or pencils), and poisonous chemicals.

Also prohibited unless accompanied by an import licence are animals, fish, meat, plants, eggs in their shells, explosives and fireworks, arms and ammunition, imitation arms, soil, rice, coral and pharmaceutical products.

What is the currency in Borneo?

Malaysia’s currency – the Ringgit (RM) is equivalent to 100 sens (cents). Coins are issued in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 sen and RM1. Notes come in RM1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100. Check OANDA for current exchange rates.

Foreign currency and traveller's cheques can be converted to Malaysian Ringgit at banks or authorized money changers throughout the country or you can purchase currency in advance. ATMs are common in larger cities however Malaysian pin numbers are 6-digits and some travellers have reported difficulty receiving cash from ATMs using 4-digit pins. We recommend a combination of cash (US, Euro, AUD, GBP) and credit/debit cards.

What do things cost in Borneo?

By international standards, Borneo is relatively good value for money. Meals at a local market will average USD $3 whereas in a restaurant travellers can expect to pay USD $15 for mid-range, rising to as much as USD $30 depending on the establishment and what you order. Bottled water is about 40 cents and a local beer anywhere from USD $2-5. We recommend you budget USD$ 25-30 for meals in addition to your tip kitty and entrance fees.

What sort of plugs do I need for Borneo and what is the voltage?

The voltage in Borneo is 240v 50Hz AC and the outlet is a UK style three-pin (type G) rectangular pronged plug.

Is WiFi widely available in Borneo?

Yes, WiFi is widely available throughout Borneo and can be accessed free of charge in most restaurants, cafes, bars and hotels.

What time zone is Borneo on?

Malaysia is 8 hours ahead of Greenwich Meantime (GMT) and does not observe Daylight Saving.

Longhouse in Borneo - On The Go Tours
A typical longhouse in Borneo made entirely out of wood and leaves

Jungle and Beach Accommodation

Whether it is a long-house in Sarawak, a lodge on the Kinabatangan River or chalet on Selingan Island in Sabah, our jungle lodges and beach chalets have been chosen primarily for the experience.

Long-houses located on the periphery of the Batang Ai Reservoir are approximately a 1½ hour longboat ride from boat-launch in a remote area of Borneo. Lodgings are clean with western-style toilets, showers and mosquito nets. Bedding is on raised sleeping platforms in twin bedded or dormitory style rooms. Facilities are shared and power is supplied by a generator. The long-houses are somewhat basic.

Kinabatangan River lodges are accessed by boat from Sandakan and are located amidst primary and secondary jungle hosting a plethora of wildlife. Most lodges possess 24hr electricity, twin bedded and en-suited chalets, with ceiling fans, and netted windows and a water purifying system.

Selingan Island Chalets – Basic though clean and comfortable air-conditioned accommodation with shared facilities. This is not a beach resort; chalets have been built so people have the opportunity to witness the night-time arrival of the turtles.

See Also

Take a look at our handy Travel Guide resources for further help planning your visit to Borneo:

Best Places to Visit - where to go and what to see in Borneo
Tourist Visas - information on visa regulations for Borneo
Best Time to Visit - climate and weather in Borneo