Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam….of all four places I visited this year, none captured my attention or my heart more by surprise than Borneo.
The name “Borneo” just comes across as exotic. Maybe it’s the fact that people were still lopping off heads there only a few decades ago or maybe it’s just the remote feeling of the place. Either way, Borneo is teeming with rainforests, endangered species, and loads of adventure possibilities for budget travelers.
Thanks to so many tour operations popping up, Borneo travel is becoming synonymous with “too expensive for backpackers”. From my personal experience this year, I found that as with every other place, you can still travel cheap. Sure, Borneo may not be as cheap as Vietnam or Indonesia, but backpacking in Borneo really isn’t that bad. Solo travelers will have a slightly tougher time saving money on accommodation – probably the highest expense, but getting into the national parks and spotting wildlife can certainly be done without hiring guides.
For instance, I was told that you must hire a guide to trek around the Gunung Gading National Park in Sarawak – the cheaper of the two states in Borneo. Even the official park website says that you must hire a guide. I visited the park and was given free roam on the rainforest; the rangers were always willing to help but never once tried to sell me something. I think myths like this discourage budget travelers from visiting Borneo.
Gunung Mulu National Park was one place that I heard requires a guide. Probably because UNESCO has moved in and started charging a steep admission. Even still [prepare to throw the rotten tomatoes] you can skip Mulu with all its expense and still have a damn good time in Borneo – probably more adventure too.
While I saw a few backpackers here and there, for the most part, Sabah was overrun with older tourists dragging suitcases into tour agency offices. With flights around $60 from KL to Kuching, why don’t more budget travelers get down there?
If you happen to plan a trip around Malaysia, somehow get yourself to Borneo. Sure, West Malaysia or Peninsular Malaysia is fantastic – I love it – but Borneo will literally stand out on your trip. The opportunities for seeing orangutans, proboscis monkeys, and having some cheap adventure are too good to pass up.