Things to do in Borneo

Our top activities

Get on the water

Tours along Sabah’s Kinabatangan River allow you to cruise through a forest filled with monkeys, elephants, hornbills and orangutans – kick back and watch it all float by. In Kalimantan, wooden klotoks – named after the sound they make – provide floating accommodation, with mattresses and mosquito nets on deck, allowing you to get deeper into the national parks.

Watch orangutans

When it comes to things to do in Borneo, you can’t come all the way here and not see an orangutan. Rehabilitation centres are dotted around the island - sightings are likely during the daily feeding sessions. Sepilok, Semenggoh and Camp Leakey are the better known centres, but numerous others exist – especially in Kalimantan, which shelters the majority of Borneo’s remaining orangutans, but which receives just a tiny fraction of its visitors.
Nothing compares to witnessing these shaggy primates in the wild, however, so come prepared for forest treks or river cruises in Sabah and Indonesia to glimpse them in their natural habitat. Sightings are rarer, but this only emphasises the precarious position they find themselves in. A good guide will not only allow you to spot a whole menagerie of other wildlife, but also help you understand the forest ecosystem and the importance of protecting this precious, dwindling environment.
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The work is physical and can be tough – especially in the tropical heat – but it is universally rewarding. Daily tasks include cleaning enclosures, constructing climbing frames for orangutans, clearing pathways and building new enclosures. You won’t get to cuddle an orangutan, but you will get to learn an awful lot about them, and know that your trip has contributed to their survival.

Stay in a longhouse

Nicki Hollamby, from our supplier Audley Travel, shares her favourite things to do in Borneo: “We visit a small Iban community in Sarawak. Their longhouse has 12 families under one roof. You stop off at the market on the way and get food, then you meet the tribe and the chief. You spend the evening with them, cook with them, sit on the floor in their local area of the longhouse, and the other families come in and share in the food, so it becomes a bit of a free-for-all party. You sleep in the communal area of the longhouse, on a mattress under a mosquito net. You get up the next morning when they get up at 5am with the chickens to go and see how they cook and how they used to hunt.
Considering it is set up for tourists, it’s really good, and you overcome that awkwardness you feel about entering their home. You have a guide who will translate, and they laugh and joke and you get your hands dirty and cook – I loved it.”
Photo credits: [Get on the water: cumi&ciki] [Volunteer: Ecoteer Responsible Travel] [Stay in a longhouse: The Great Traveller] [Watch orangutans: Oyster Worldwide]
Written by Vicki Brown
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