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.