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Exploring Borneo

City Hotels

Cities may not be your first thought when picturing Borneo yet with few exceptions, every visitor passes through at least one. Each city has its own charm and in some, we actually think it’s worth staying a night or two at the start or end of your Borneo adventure.

Kota Kinabalu has a colorful Sunday morning market along Gaya Street. It’s easily walkable and a great way to see some of Sabah’s crafts. The city is your gateway to the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, Kinabalu Park, and cultural highlights such as the Mari Mari Cultural Village.

Kuching is often the first port of call for visitors to Borneo and we love its multicultural feel, the easy pace of life along the Sarawak River, and the vibrant outdoor scene in the evening when people gather for a meal or a cup of teh tarik. This is the only city in Borneo boasting boutique hotels with the personal touches we love and recommend.

Miri and Sandakan are coastal cities that provide access to some of Borneo’s greatest highlights. For those wishing to visit the caves of Niah or look for whale sharks diving the South China Sea, Miri is a must. Many flights to Mulu transit through Miri so you may find yourself here for a night on your way to or from Mulu National Park. Sandakan is the jumping off point for wildlife safaris on the Kinabatangan River. We recommend a stay in nearby Sepilok or down the river at one of the lovely lodges but for those with tight schedules or who want access to some of the freshest seafood in Borneo, Sandakan is a convenient choice.

The nation of Brunei Darussalam has one true city: Bandar Seri Begawan. This small country is a fascinating place for a short stay with its floating village, gold-plated mosques, and access to the well-preserved Ulu Temburong National Park. BSB is primarily a business centre so our hotel pick is a bit outside of town.

City hotels in Borneo are generally large, internationally-affiliated affairs. We’ve personally scoured the region and selected only those with the best service and overall offerings.

Kota Kinabalu

Kuching

Miri, Brunei, and Sandakan

Kota Kinabalu
An easy city to see on foot, Kota Kinabalu is the gateway to Sabah. Hop a ferry to the islands, relax by the beach north of the city, tuck into a meal at the night market, and settle into the easy pace of Sabahan life. More
Tip of Borneo
Empty beaches, clear water, and fantastic villas perfect for those looking to get away from it all. The Tip of Borneo is a quiet place for a self-drive holiday from Kota Kinabalu. A longhouse homestay, traditional villages, and a jungle home to proboscis monkeys are easy day visits. Snorkel, dive, kayak, trek, bicycle, or simply sit by the water. More
Mount Kinabalu
The highest mountain in Southeast Asia offers more than an incredible hike. With multiple mountain environments and climate zones, Kinabalu Park hosts more than 300 bird species and 5,000 flowering plants including the large rafflesia. For those up for the challenge, climbing Mount Kinabalu is an unforgettable overnight hike to see the sunrise at 4,095 meters. More
Sipadan
Considered by many one of the top dive sites in the world, Sipadan Island has coral-covered walls dropping well below recreational limits. Sharks, turtles, and schools of fish that number in the thousands are routinely seen by divers and snorkelers. Only 120 visitors are allowed per day so we recommend staying on nearby Mabul and diving its macro-rich waters on your non-Sipadan days. More
Danum Valley
The largest piece of preserved virgin rainforest in Malaysia sits within the Danum Valley Conservation Area. This remote jungle hosts a magnificent array of wildlife from the largest in the region to some of the smallest. Sun bears, orangutans, clouded leopards, wild cattle, Sumatran rhino, horned frogs, flying frogs, flying squirrels, the list goes on. Previously only accessible to researchers, campers, and those with a very high budget, we've found a lodge that gets you close to the action without the hefty price tag. More
Tabin Wildlife Reserve
Bornean gibbons, pygmy elephants, clouded leopards, proboscis monkeys, orangutans, and a few of the nearly extinct Sumatran rhinoceros are protected within the Tabin Wildlife Reserve. A stay here will have you trekking to a mud volcano and a waterfall, looking for birds and nocturnal creatures on night walks and drives, and if you're lucky, getting a peek at some of Borneo's incredible wildlife. More
Kinabatangan River
A trip down the Kinabatangan River to Sukau is an almost guaranteed way to see proboscis monkeys in the wild. These unique monkeys are endemic to Borneo and line the protected river corridor. Wild orangutans, pygmy elephants, silver leaf langurs, macaques, crocodiles, kingfishers, hornbills, owls, civets, and an array of other wildlife can be spotted in the region. Fireflies light up near Abai and the Gomantong Caves boast a bat population in the millions. Nearby Sepilok is the home to an Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre and Sun Bear Conservation Centre, both worth a visit. More
Brunei
The nation of Brunei Darussalam sits between the two states of Malaysian Borneo. Its capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan, reveals the country's wealth with lavish mosques, gold towers, and carefully groomed outdoor spaces. People are friendly and when the sun sets the country's name, abode of peace, makes perfect sense. More
Kuching
Built along the Sarawak River, Kuching makes a lovely base for exploring western Borneo. Architecturally interesting with Malay, Chinese, Indian, Muslim, British, and other influences apparent, the city is pleasant to walk around and easy to navigate. Nearby Bako National Park and Semenggoh Nature Reserve are great places to see wild proboscis monkeys and semi-wild orangutans. Each can be visited on a day trip from Kuching although spending a night in Bako is well worth it. More
Mulu National Park
The caves of Mulu are some of the largest in the world and the only ways to get there are on foot or by plane. This remote rainforest is full of walking trails and caves, the latter of which can only be visited with a guide for safety reasons. For the adventurous, serious trekking options exist and for the comfort-seekers, a lovely little resort sits just outside the National Park. More
Batang Ai
Traditional culture is alive and well in Batang Ai where the Iban people still live in communal longhouses. No longer feared headhunters, the Iban have incorporated touches of modernity into their traditional way of life. Trek through the park in search of wild orangutans, walk through the canopy looking for birds, sit down with an Iban chief to learn about their culture, or just look out over the many waters for which the region is named.
Caves of Niah
With evidence of human habitation dating back more than 40,000 years, the Niah caves are a fascinating and beautiful area that can be explored on a day visit from Miri. See etchings on the wall of Painted Cave, traditional ladders for those collecting the nests of swiftlets, and huge caverns as you walk the boards and visit the small museum.
Maliau Basin
The "lost world" of Sabah, the Maliau Basin is a naturally enclosed basin drained by tributaries of the Maliau River. A multi-day trek in this dense rainforest is a challenging and rewarding way to get up close and personal with an extremely wide array of plants and animals. More

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