Borneo destination guide

Best time to visit Borneo

Borneo is a tropical paradise that attracts visitors all year-round. The weather is hot and humid for most of the year, with average temperatures of 27°C to 32°C and relative humidity of 80%. Borneo has two distinct seasons: the dry season, which starts from March to September; and the wet season, which lasts from October to February when the North-East monsoon hits the island. You can expect brilliant sunshine in the morning and rain in the afternoon which generally last a few minutes to hours. However, the weather is often unpredictable and you should expect high humidity and rain at any time of the year.
For wildlife enthusiasts:
Mar to September is the best time to see orangutans in the wild, June to September is the best time to see turtles on Lankayan Island, March to May is the best time to see whale sharks.

Visiting Borneo in January
Borneo sees some of its highest rainfall in January and there may be storms brought in by the North-East Monsoon. The rains are particularly heavy in Sarawak with the beaches receiving the most rainfall of the year, and making inland travel difficult. Sabah receives less rainfall compared to Sarawak and the temperature remains hot and humid. The chance of seeing wildlife is not as good, but with fewer people visiting, you can expect a much quieter time on safari and competitive rates for accommodation.

Visiting Borneo in February
February can be a good time to take advantage of low season offers to visit Kota Kinabalu and the northern coast of Sabah. Days are warm and relatively dry with average rainfalls of 150mm compared to 300mm in January. Average temperatures hover around 28C. The southern part of Sabah continues to have heavy rainfall, making travel to the Danum Valley difficult. As with all tropical islands, the weather is unpredictable and unexpected rainfall can occur at any time. In Sarawak, the rain eases off from the January deluge, but it is still a very wet time.

Visiting Borneo in March
March is an excellent month to travel to Borneo, especially Sabah. With the beginning of the dry season, the rains have decreased and with low visitor numbers, this is a wonderful time to take advantage of offers from a wide choice of popular accommodation. Generally, March is one of the driest months in Sabah and is excellent for the northern beaches such as Gaya Island, Lankayan Island and the beaches of Kota Kinabalu. For wildlife enthusiasts, March also sees the start of the whale shark season. For mountain climbers, March is a good month to consider climbing Mt Kinabalu. In Sarawak, rain begins to decrease with opportunities for trekking and cave exploration.

Visiting Borneo in April
April is one of the best months to visit Sabah and Sarawak. The weather is dry and chances of rainstorms decreased greatly. With some of the best weather conditions for trekking and wildlife safaris, this is the perfect season to combine a wildlife and beach holiday. April also sees the start of orangutan spotting in the wild. The relatively drier conditions in Sarawak makes this an ideal time to enjoy an overnight experience with the Iban at Batang Ai.

Visiting Borneo in May
May is the start of Borneo’s peak season. The dry weather and shoulder-season prices make this a perfect time to look forward to. Unexpected rainfall should still be expected as with all tropical climate Jungle trekking in Sabah are rewarding with excellent chances of spotting orangutans in the wild. The beaches are glorious in May especially on the northern Sabah coast of Kota Kinabalu and Gaya Island. For wildlife enthusiasts, plan to be on Lankayan Island for the start of the turtle season. In Sarawak, the weather conditions remain favourable for jungle trekking, cave exploration and beach stays at Damai. The Harvest Festival is celebrated from 31st May - 1st June by the Dayak people of Sarawak.

Visiting Borneo in June
For wildlife enthusiasts, June is another perfect time to visit Borneo and is one of the best months to see orangutans in the wild. The weather is hot and dry with occasional rain showers. During June, the trees bear fruit and orang-utans can be seen feasting on them. June is also an ideal month to spot turtles laying their eggs on Selingan Island.

Visiting Borneo in July
July is the most popular time to visit Borneo’s wildlife sanctuaries. The weather is hot and dry throughout Sabah and Sarawak with occasional downpours in the afternoon. Orangutans, turtles. whales and the glorious beaches make this a perfect month for a safari and beach holiday with perfect diving conditions around Gaya Island and Lankayan.
For music fans, the Rainforest Music Festival featuring the indigenous musicians takes place in July in Kuching.

Visiting Borneo in August
August is peak season in Borneo. The weather is hot and dry with temperatures averaging 28C and occasional showers. The dry conditions make this a perfect time for jungle trekking, wildlife safaris, and sunny beaches.

Visiting Borneo in September
September sees sunny days and sporadic rains in Borneo. Prices are lower than July and August but there are many opportunities for wildlife spotting, turtles and enjoying the glorious beaches.

Visiting Borneo in October
The start of October is relatively dry and enjoys lower prices and fewer visitors. There are still many opportunities for wildlife sightings and dry conditions for jungle trekking. More rainfall is to be expected towards the end of the month as the wet season returns. Sarawak receives higher rainfall, especially on the coastal beaches.

Visiting Borneo in November
Heavy rainfall and thunderstorms signal the return of the wet season in Borneo. The wet conditions make jungle trekking difficult but it is still possible to visit wildlife sanctuaries and the National Parks. For wildlife enthusiasts hoping to see orangutans in the wild, this may not be the best time.

Visiting Borneo in December
December is one of the wettest months throughout Borneo. Heavy rainfalls and thunderstorms continue for much of the period making travel difficult and wildlife sightings limited.

Best time to go

Sabah (Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Kinabatangan River)

Sabah lies in the tropics is commonly known as The Land Below The Wind due to its strategic location just beneath the typhoon belt and is protected from cyclones. Sabah has two seasons: the wetter season runs from September to January the drier season from February to August. These seasonal periods are becoming less distinct and there is no significant division between the two. You can expect brilliant sunshine in the morning and rain in the afternoon or evening, which generally last a few minutes to hours.

 

Weather (monthly averages)

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 Average minimum temperature
24℃ 24℃ 24℃ 24℃ 24℃ 24℃ 24℃ 24℃ 24℃ 24℃ 24℃ 24℃
 Average maximum temperature
31℃ 31℃ 32℃ 33℃ 33℃ 32℃ 32℃ 32℃ 32℃ 32℃ 32℃ 31℃
 Average hours of sunshine
5 5 6 7 7 7 7 7 5 6 6 5
 Average rainfall in mm
300 150 155 168 175 210 200 200 200 255 310 351

Sarawak (Kuching, Damai Beach, Batang Ai, Mulu)

Sarawak experiences the highest rainfall in January and the lowest in June and July. It is hot and humid throughout the year between 23°C and 32°C. There is higher rainfall in the inland areas eg Batang Ai but expect rain all year round.

Weather (monthly averages)

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 Average minimum temperature
22℃ 22℃ 23℃ 23℃ 23℃ 23℃ 22℃ 22℃ 22℃ 23℃ 22℃ 22℃
 Average maximum temperature
29℃ 30℃ 31℃ 32℃ 32℃ 33℃ 32℃ 33℃ 32℃ 32℃ 31℃ 31℃
 Average hours of sunshine
4 4 5 6 6 6 6 5 5 4 5 4
 Average rainfall in mm
690 510 366 279 262 180 196 234 218 330 358 462

General travel tips

Capital of Borneo:
Brunei - Bandar Seri Begawan. Kalimantan - Banjarmasin (South), Palangka Raya (Central), Pontianak (West), Samarinda (East). Sabah and Sarawak - Kota Kinabalu (Sabah), Kuching (Sarawak)

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

Food & drink
Three world-class dishes; Malay, Chinese and Indian.

North Indian dishes are subtly spiced using more meat and served with a range of bread. South Indian dishes use fiery spices, emphasise vegetables and are served with rice. The most popular North Indian food is tandoori, which is served with delicious naan bread or roti (chapatti).

The Kadazan – the largest ethnic group in Sabah tend to use mango in their Sabahan food, which can be on the sour side.

Malay food is rich and creamy due to the use of coconut milk. Malay curries are flavoursome with the use of herbs and spices including chilli, ginger, turmeric, coriander, lemongrass, cloves, cumin, and cinnamon. The best Malay food is usually found at stalls in hawker centres.

The Chinese cuisine in Borneo consists mainly of seafood, chicken, rice, and noodles. Regional dishes like Hainanese chicken rice and dim sum are mouth-watering.

Soft drinks, mineral water, and freshly squeezed juices are widely available. Malaysian brewed Guinness and Tiger beers are very popular. One of the most interesting cultural refinements of the Indian Muslim community is the Mamak man, who is framed for the Tarik (pulled tea), which is thrown across the distance of about a metre, from one cup to another, with no spillages.

Tap water is unsafe to drink – also be wary of ice in drinks and unpeeled fruit and vegetables. We strongly advise you NOT to drink tap water in Borneo unless it is boiled. However, tap water is safe for cleaning teeth and personal hygiene. In our efforts to reduce waste in Borneo, we highly recommend that you bring your water bottle to refill along the way.
Avoid eating bushmeat such as monkeys or bats as these are often carriers of diseases – as well as often being inadvisable for environmental reasons.

Health
Several vaccinations are advised before travelling to Borneo; consult your GP or travel clinic six to eight weeks before departure to ensure you have time to complete all the series of injections.
Malaria is also present, so you will need to bring anti-malarial medication. Wearing long sleeves and trousers is also advised, as well as an insect repellent. This also protects against dengue fever. Remember, malaria can develop up to a year after exposure, so keep an eye on any symptoms.

Citronella is the favoured repellent for many travellers. However, this should be avoided as it attracts hornets – giant wasps with an extraordinarily painful sting.
Leeches are present in the lowland jungles. These are more unpleasant than dangerous, but you can buy “leech socks” which are effective at stopping them and keep your trousers tucked into your socks or boots.

Borneo is incredibly hot and humid, so keep well hydrated always.

Bring a basic first-aid kit and medication for sickness and diarrhoea if planning to trek or cycle in remote regions.
If you need to be hospitalised, travel to the mainland may be necessary, so be sure you have comprehensive travel insurance which covers medical evacuation, along with any other activities you may be doing, such as high-altitude hikes, windsurfing or diving.

Forest fires in Central Kalimantan cause serious air pollution which is getting more dangerous each year; 2015's fires have been described as a "crime against humanity". Travellers with respiratory problems should exercise precautions, and all travellers are advised to check with their holiday company on the severity of the smog in the region they are travelling to - especially if visiting Kalimantan, although pollution also spreads into Sabah and Sarawak. You should ask if face masks are available when in the worst affected areas.

Language
Bahasa Malaysia is the national and official language, but English is widely spoken.

Money:
Currency is the Malaysian ringgit (RM). Most outlets take major credit cards and ATMs are widely available. 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.
Visa, MasterCard and American Express credit cards are widely accepted in shopping malls, hotels, resorts and when eating out in modern restaurants. Retail outlets often have an RM20 – RM50 minimum charge for paying with a credit card and levy a 2-3% fee for using a credit card.
However, ALWAYS be ready with Cash as some stores, restaurants or establishments DO NOT accept credit cards as a mode of payment.

The population of Borneo: Brunei - 389,000, Kalimantan - 12 million, Sabah and Sarawak - 5 million

Safety
Borneo, in general, is a safe destination with relatively low crime rates. You should exercise the usual precautions – not walking alone at night, not leaving valuables such as cameras and smartphones on display, using registered taxis, etc.

In recent years there have been a few kidnappings of tourists and locals around the east coast of Sabah. Thanks to its proximity to the Philippines, this area is at a higher risk of this kind of activity. Travel to this area is largely trouble-free but stay up to date with government travel advice on the FCO website to be sure. If you are travelling independently in this region – and particularly from the airport at Lahad Datu to your accommodation, you should be sure you are using transport organised by reputable companies. Traffic accidents are common. 

Social and Etiquette
Take off your shoes before entering a house. Ask for permission when you take photographs of local people.
Malaysia is a conservative, Muslim country, and you should dress modestly, particularly in rural areas, to avoid causing offence. Respect the sensitivities of local people. There are accepted dress codes at certain places including places of worship.
Appreciate and protect cultural heritage. Avoid touching rock or cave art, carvings, and monuments.
Respect differences in culture. It is important to recognize that while different, other thought patterns and ideas of time are equally valid as your own.
Take time to listen to people who are willing to share. Ask them questions and learn about their culture.

Souvenirs
Coconut oil, arts and crafts, paintings, textiles, clothing, authentic Malaysian batik, and hand-carved sculptures.

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

Tourism Tax (TTx)

Effective 1st September 2017, foreign tourists will be charged a flat rate of RM10 per room per night for all Tourism Tax (TTx) registered hotel classifications in Malaysia. The Tourism Tax Bill was passed in April 2017.

Toilets
You’ll find a lot of squat-style toilets in Borneo, particularly in public bathrooms. Western-style seated toilets are the norm in hotels and guesthouses. You may be expected to flush using water from a plastic bucket. Toilet paper is often unavailable in public toilets, so keep a stash handy. In urban areas, you can usually discard used toilet paper into the bowl without causing clogging, but if there is a wastepaper basket – as there often is in rural toilets – it’s meant to be used.