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Exploring Borneo

Waterways of Borneo

The waterways of Borneo, once a primary means of transportation, are a unique way to visit Borneo. This itinerary starts in Kuching where you’ll explore the Sarawak River by sampan and head across a small stretch of the South China Sea to Bako National Park. In the Batang Ai region, learn about the Iban tribe who entered Sarawak from Kalimantan generations ago and explored the many waters before settling on the shores of the lake. In Brunei you’ll have a chance to see a traditional water village, glide through mangroves looking for proboscis monkeys, and head upriver to Ulu Temburong National Park. In Sabah, explore the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park near Kota Kinabalu before a journey down the Kinabatangan River for days of river safaris. End the trip in the Celebes Sea on the small island of Mabul where the snorkeling and diving are second to none.

Please remember this itinerary is here to inspire you as all of our holidays are tailor-made to suit you. We’re happy to add or subtract days or destinations and adjust as you see fit. If you’re interested in exploring the waterways of Borneo, give us a call at UK 020 7112 0019 or email

Please note that Aiman Batang Ai Resort will close for refurbishment on 1 April, 2020. Reopening date is unknown. If you wish to visit Batang Ai, simple accommodation is available at a longhouse.

Your Itinerary

Day 1 - Arrive in Kuching

Welcome to Borneo! Your driver will collect you at Kuching International Airport and transfer you to your riverfront hotel. Late in the afternoon head out on the Sarawak River with your guide on a traditional sampan. This introduction to the waterways of Borneo will take you to a Malay village where you can chat with the boatman and a local family over dinner.


Day 2 - Bako National Park

This morning your guide will accompany you to the village of Bako where you’ll hop aboard for a short boat ride to the national park. You’ll cross a patch of open sea and if the tide is low, walk through the surf to the park. You and your guide can decide which trails you’d like to walk in search of proboscis monkeys, flying lemurs, wild boars, macaques, silver leaf langurs, and other wildlife.

Day 3 - Bako walks

There’s time this morning for more walks in Bako, including one to see the unique sea column, only visible at low tide. After lunch you’ll return to Kuching. Consider an evening stroll along the Sarawak River.

Day 4 - Semenggoh & Batang Ai

The waters of Batang Ai await you today. Break up the journey with a stop at Semenggoh Nature Reserve where semi-wild orangutans may come to the feeding platforms for a meal if the trees aren’t in fruiting season. After a stop for lunch, you’ll reach the edge of the lake. Enjoy the boat ride to your resort where the remainder of the day is yours to enjoy.


Day 5 - Visit the Iban

Skim across the lake on a traditional Iban longboat with your guide. Visit the local Iban people in their longhouse to learn about their unique way of life. These friendly descendants of headhunters will welcome you in and your guide will help you talk with them over lunch in the longhouse. In the afternoon, take a nature walk that leads to a canopy bridge with gorgeous views of the lake on either side.

Day 6 - Return to Kuching

One more ride across the lake today en route back to Kuching. The drive will take a few hours but your guide and driver will pause for stops at a pepper plantation and for lunch.

Day 7 - Brunei bound

Board an early morning flight to Miri where your driver will meet you. It’s a three-hour ride and a pass through immigration en route to Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei Darussalam. Once checked into your hotel, you’ll join your guide for a local lunch and a boat trip to Kampong Ayer, the largest Malay water village. Continue your time on the water as you move through the mangroves in search of proboscis monkeys.

Day 8 - Ulu Temburong National Park

Today you’ll visit Ulu Temburong National Park, where the boat journey might be the best part. With a guide you’ll take a water taxi until it can go no further and you’ll transfer to a longboat. If water levels are low, you may find yourself helping to push the boat upstream! Take a nature trek and canopy walk within the park before heading downstream in the longboat and back to Bandar.

Day 10 - Kota Kinabalu

Fly to Kota Kinabalu this morning where your driver will transfer you to your city hotel. You’ll have most of the day to relax, consider a walk along the waterfront as you look out at the South China Sea.

Day 11 - On the water

Your guide will collect you this morning for a day trip to the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. A mask and snorkel will be provided so you can slide into the South China Sea and check out some of Borneo’s colorful marine life.

Day 12 - Sepilok and Sukau

It’s an early morning start today as you’ll be collected for your flight to Sandakan. Once there, you’ll join others heading for the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre for the morning feeding. After a visit to the Sun Bear Conservation Centre and lunch, start your journey down the Kinabatangan River. Look for crocodiles and proboscis monkeys along the way.


Day 13 - River Safaris

Today you’ll have two river cruises to look for birds, orangutans, monkeys, crocodiles, and other wildlife. The second-longest waterway in Malaysia, the Kinabatangan River, is bordered in many stretches by the Lower Kinabatangan Sanctuary. This protected area is one of the only places on earth where ten species of primates can be found.

Day 14 - Sandakan

This morning you’ll have one more ride along the Kinabatangan River en route to Sandakan. After lunch, visit the Rainforest Discovery Centre and Sandakan War Memorial to learn about Borneo’s role in WWII. This evening we suggest visiting one of the seafood restaurants along the waterfront, they’re some of the best in Sabah.

Day 15 - Mabul Island

This morning your driver will take you to the Sandakan airport for a short flight to Tawau. From there it’s a two-hour drive to Semporna and a 45-minute boat ride across the Celebes Sea to the island of Mabul. Once checked into your overwater bungalow, jump into the water to snorkel the house reef or simply take it easy.

Day 16-17 - Snorkeling, sun, and taking it easy

These days are yours to relax as you wish. Unlimited snorkeling at the house reef is included and if you’d like to join a boat of divers going to nearby Kapalai island, the snorkeling there is also incredible. The marine life in the Celebes Sea is rich, healthy, and a true delight. If you’ve never been diving, this is a great place to try it out!

Day 18 - Bon voyage!

This morning you’ll head across the water to Semporna for a ride back to Tawau where you can get a flight to Kuala Lumpur and onward to home. Safe travels!


This itinerary costs from £3,790 per person based on two adults sharing excluding peak seasons of July-August, Christmas and New Year, and Chinese New Year’s. The price includes all transfers and domestic travel but not international flights.

International flights tend to cost between £700 and £900 return – do ask us for advice. Alternatively we can book the flights for you but a booking fee may apply.

What's included?

  • Prices start from £3,790 per person
  • Accommodation on B&B basis
  • Full board on days 2, 12-13, 15-17
  • Transfers in an air-conditioned vehicle or by boat as mentioned
  • Local taxes except Malaysia Tourism Tax
  • Entrance fees
  • All excursions and activities mentioned in the itinerary
  • Internal flights
  • All trips are ATOL protected or ABTA bonded to ensure you are fully covered
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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
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
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
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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