In our two week Borneo trip, we traveled from the very western region of Sarawak all the way to the region’s end near Sabah. We planned our trip around the Borneo national parks that appealed to us. I mainly wanted to see wildlife, we both wanted to trek in the jungle, and Jonas was pretty keen on caving. We ended up going to the well known parks which I will highlight, but do note there are smaller national parks throughout this region and you can make stops at them on route. We saw so much wildlife and had an amazing experience in the jungle, surrounded by animal life and the kind Sarawakian people. I highly recommend a trip to beautiful Borneo. Plan your trip around the national parks and everything else will fall into place. This Borneo National Park and Wildlife Guide is in route sequence if you were to start in Kuching and end in Mulu (you can go reverse order as well!).
Bako National Park
This park is stunning. You must access the park by boat making it an isolated piece of nature. It is Sarawak’s oldest national park and there is so much wildlife here it is amazing. Step into your favourite wildlife channel in Bako – this is a piece of preserved jungle paradise. Bako is famed to be the home of the endangered Proboscis Monkey as well as home to other primates like the very cute Silver Leaf Monkeys, birds, insects, carnivorous plants and our favourite, the bearded pigs.
Getting there – Your gateway is Kuching. You can fly to Kuching or if you’re already in Borneo, there are long distances busses. Kuching is a great city to fly into from overseas to start your Borneo trip. From Kuching city, you hop on the red #6 bus. Most people can speak English in Borneo, so just ask your guesthouse to point you in the right direction for the bus to Bako. The #6 costs a few dollars and takes you right to the boat dock. You need to buy a boat ride into the park. Then you will pay for your park entry fee at headquarters. For the full Bako guide I have a more detailed article with in depth details.
How was it? – Bako is a must! It is amazing there. Once you are on the treks, it’s just you and the jungle. You are bound to see and hear all the wildlife there too if you look for it. Bring your telephoto lens for the Proboscis in the trees!
Caves and Natural Hot Springs
There are many caves outside of Kuching in the limestone outcrop. We visited the Fairy Caves and it’s just a beautiful drive out in the scenic jungle and the caves themselves are fun to walk through (plus there’s heaps of bats). There’s also natural hot springs in the surrounding areas of Kuching that are popular with the locals. We made one trip exploring the caves, visiting the world’s largest gold deposit and going to a border market between Malaysia and Indonesia. On a second trip we visited the hot springs, ate at the hot spring cafe where we had steamed rice from carnivorous pitcher plants and visited a longhouse community.
Getting there – You can make a day trip exploring the region. Rent a motorbike or car in Kuching.
How was it? – Really enjoyable day trip out of Kuching!
What about Borneo’s orangutans?
Many people go to Borneo to see the endangered orangutan, the man of the jungle. Tragically, they are very hard to find in nature as their home has been largely deforested. If you’re in the Kuching area, you can easily visit Semenggoh Nature Reserve to see semi-wild orangutans. If you want to see truly wild orangutans, Batang Ai National Park, which is known to have a larger orangutan population, is your best bet.
Semenggoh Nature Reserve
These are semi wild orangutans who have been rescued and replaced in this nature reserve. They have been taught to hunt for food but have had to be nurtured along the way. For a small donation, you can go to Semenggoh for one of the daily feeding times, where the park rangers call in the orangutans for food.
Getting there – Take the local bus for around $2 to the sanctuary.
How was it? – Yes, we saw orangutans! But it was more like a zoo experience. There were so many tourists huddled together waiting to see just one orangutan in the end. The orangutans decide if they come to the feeding or not so somedays, you can get unlucky. Although it is pretty much a 90% sure way to see an orangutan. Plus, the park is genuine in its efforts.
This is the one national park in Sarawak which you can probably see a wild orangutan if you spend a couple of days quietly looking and hiking. Even if you don’t see one the park is so isolated which makes it a beautiful piece of jungle to explore in solitude.
Getting there – It takes some real traveling – a drive, maybe a flight, and some long boat rides to Batang Ai. If you really want to go, you should find your way. I read many things online about the beauty of the park and that you can access the park independently and even stay with local longhouses communities that you arrange al fresco.
Niah Caves National Park
Niah National Park is home to caves with the oldest remnants of human history in South East Asia. The park is really wild and beautiful. There is a downside. Since not many tourists have been coming, the surrounding nature has been completely destroyed by palm oil plantations. If you’re sensitive to the matter it could be a real shock. The nature is home to Hornbills and crocs! The caves are home to ancient cave paintings, huge cave bugs, and death ships! Once inside Niah we had a very interesting experience you can read in my Niah National Park Guide. But it was truly an amazing park!
Getting there – You can take a bus directly to Batu Niah from Kuching, or Sibu. We decided to break up the trip by taking a fast ferry from Kuching to Sibu, and then hopping on a long distance bus to Batu Niah.
How was it? – Highly recommend! It is really fun to explore a cave at your own pace and spook yourself out in the pitch dark with all these huge creepy crawlies. BEWARE OF GIANT CRICKETS. However, that may be changing. We heard of recent plans to build a lighted plank walk through the caves. The cave paintings were covered by some barbed wire, but it worked to preserve them. I’ve seen cave paintings in New Zealand and Thailand, and these were by far the most remarkable.
Mulu National Park
Mulu National Park is a beautiful park in the highlands of Borneo, near the Eastern state of Sabah. It is absolutely beautiful in Mulu with extensive untouched rainforest and huge HUGE caves. In fact, Mulu was home to the world’s largest cave until they recently discovered a bigger one in Vietnam. With big caves, comes huge bat populations. At Mulu you can watch millions and millions of bats stream out of the caves at dusk.
Getting there – You must fly into Mulu. It seriously felt like a 15 minute flight from Miri. Flights are very cheap with the Malaysian line.
How was it? – Stunning! I didn’t want to go to Mulu at first because I read online that it was quite touristy. However, I’m really really glad we went. You fly over this beautiful rainforest and land in the middle of pristine nature and once you get in the jungle there really isn’t very many people…at all. You can take hikes in the rainforest to cooling watering holes, observe the wildlife including different monkey species, birds, large insects and carnivores plants and of course you can sign yourself up for some great caving adventures. For the extra adventurous, there is a 5 day mountaineering trek to the top of Mulu to the Pinnacles.
Exploring the Racer cave, named after the blue and grey Racer Snake that lives in the cave.
GO TO BORNEO! It’s amazingly beautiful and is truly a special place. I can say Borneo is my favourite country in South East Asia and I hope everyone can experience the beauty of Borneo. Travel Sarawak, Sabah or Kalimantan if you’re truly adventure and enjoy the many Borneo National Parks. If you aren’t familiar with the palm oil problem read up here.
P.S. Do you even tourist?