Borneo rainforest holidays

Nimble-fingered villagers are busy making rattan backpacks and mending fishnets, while beef and sticky rice – which you’ll share for lunch – cooks in bamboo over glowing coals. You’ve arrived, after a few hours in the humid jungle and with the help of a machete, at a wooden longhouse, home to an indigenous Iban tribe. Aside from the addition of a few modern solar panels, this traditional communal building offers a glimpse into the lives of people as they have lived in the forest for generations.

Once threatened with eviction from their ancestral homes, these days the Iban tribe is officially recognised as the custodians of Batang Ai National Park, a protected area of Borneo’s rainforest. It’s here that travellers can visit – and stay – for a first-hand experience of traditional rainforest life.
Leaving behind the small villages and local stalls selling crafts and tropical fruit, past the green fields and rice paddies, you’ll board a longtail boat heading into the deepest jungles of Sarawak. Here, your hosts will welcome you with potent rice wine and homemade food, which you can help them to harvest the next day, followed by dancing, before bedding down for a night in the rainforest. The longhouses are made from locally sourced materials, creating little distraction from the surrounding trees where wild orangutans can occasionally be spotted.
“The accommodation is very simple, very communal living,” says Miles Page, Borneo expert at our holiday partner Rickshaw Travel. “You’ll be sleeping on a simple mattress on the floor with a mosquito net.”
Of course, not all your accommodation will be like this, but your Borneo holiday is sure to immerse you in the rainforest.

Saving the Borneo rainforest

Tourism in Borneo’s rainforests is essential: it proves that local communities can make money from the forests in more sustainable ways than logging and agriculture. “You will see deforestation on Borneo tours,” says Miles. “You will pass areas of forest that have been cut for palm plantations. It really brings the problem home.”

All responsible rainforest holidays bring benefits to the local people and wildlife, but travellers who want to get their hands dirty and make a visible difference will find that Borneo is the best place to go. Borneo holidays immerse you in rainforest life where you can work and live alongside locals, helping to monitor rehabilitated wildlife or replant the jungle one tree at a time.

“Travellers on a volunteering holiday will be living with local people, discovering their ways of life and helping them to address their problems in ways that are much more than just financial,” says Anne Smellie, operations director of our volunteer travel specialists Oyster Worldwide.
Borneo volunteering holidays are all different, but all travellers will find something to suit them, whether aged eight or 80, and you’ll learn about both the hardships and the joys of living in the rainforest.
Anne is keen to point out that while volunteering holidays are hard work, they are thoroughly rewarding: “Conservation and volunteering holidays are memorable because they are so different – you are actively helping to achieve something, rather than just passing through.” It’s an experience that often leaves travellers feeling changed. “Our volunteers often return home feeling that they have been rejuvenated and want to take a look at how they live their lives at home and how they can support conservation through the choices that they make.”
Many become ambassadors for the project they worked on in Borneo, keen to do their bit to educate others and encourage them to make different choices too.

What does a holiday in the Borneo rainforest entail?


When you’re not sleeping in tribal longhouses, your accommodation could range from rustic to luxury, depending on the holiday you book. Amidst the thick of the jungle, you’re more likely to stay somewhere simple – somewhere that doesn’t detract from the nature around you. Elsewhere, travellers are often pleasantly surprised to discover just how comfortable sustainable ecolodges can be.


Borneo is better known for its orangutans and jungles, but its rainforest-fringed white-sand beaches should share the spotlight. Small, sheltered coves are ideal for snorkelling, where views beneath the sea are even more spectacular, and you have the chance of seeing local volunteers release rescued baby turtles for their first sea swim. Stay in a beachfront bungalow or a luxury spa resort, where buildings raised on stilts sit up amongst the forest canopy.


Food will usually be local, which is typically a mix of cuisines, much like the food in most of Indonesia: various regional culinary traditions, including Chinese, and lots of different rice dishes. It’s quite easy for vegetarians to eat here. Dairy isn’t used much in meals, but vegans may not have the same variety of choices. Many travellers love having the opportunity to share home-cooked meals with their hosts in tribal villages that they visit – delicious and healthy dishes that are eaten with your hands.


If you book a Borneo volunteering holiday, then you may be working directly with orangutans or sun bears – but many of our holidays support conservation efforts that protect much of Borneo’s incredible biodiversity. Wildlife holidays are the best way to see species as they should be, in the wild, but you’re unlikely to have as much luck when it comes to seeing rare and endangered orangutans, pygmy elephants or proboscis monkeys. For that reason, many tours will include a visit to Sepilok sanctuary, where you will have the chance to see some of Borneo’s incredible native wildlife.
Written by Bryony Cottam
Photo credits: [Page banner: Danielle Brigida] [Orangutan: Julie Edgley] [Volunteer: Natasha de Vere & Col Ford] [Accomodation: charles taylor] [Food: Ezagre]