Visit Borneo As A Solo Female Traveller
If you are concerned about travelling to Malaysian-Borneo as a woman on your own, there is no need to be. I found Borneo very easy to travel with affordable food, good accommodation options and heaps of great wildlife and nature experiences.
Check out how to get to Borneo, get around and the pros and cons of travelling solo in this small Malaysian country that is perfect for budget solo travel.
Information About Sabah and Sarawak, Borneo
Borneo is on the same Island as both Brunei and Indonesia's Kalimantan. Slightly east of Singapore, Borneo is made up of two states, Sabah and Sarawak. Sabah is in the north east of the island quite close to the Philippines, and Sarawak covers most of Borneo as the western section of the country. You do have to pass through passport control if you fly from one to the other.
Weather in Malaysian-Borneo
Malaysian Borneo is a tropical country and has a fairly constant temperature year round. You could expect to find temperatures between 27 and 33 degrees Celsius with a high level of humidity of around 80%.
While the dry season (May~September) is also the high tourism season, don't be scared to go outside of these time frames. Even if you do get a heap of rain, its warm so it's not altogether unwelcome in the heat.
The other consideration is that while Borneo's wet season is said to be Oct~March, the regions are so different that some will be having intense summer storms and some will be almost barren weather wise. For such a small country the weather can be remarkably different from one end to the other. Temperatures are consistent, but rain and wind can be very different just a few hundred kilometres away.
Sabah typically is more hit and miss with the weather, where as Sarawak has more distinct seasons and you should visit both regions to get the full Borneo experience. If you are looking for the purpose of travel weather shouldn't really be a concern. The seasons are a little different but its warm or hot -there's not much more too it than that.
Is Borneo Safe For Solo Female Travellers?
Yes. Borneo is safe, friendly and well tuned in to women in particular travelling on their own. Borneo is very much a nature driven destination and a lot of travellers who like this kind of exposure are women.
While a lot of people want to see the Orangutans and Proboscis Monkeys, from the research I've done a higher percentage of animal tourists are female. This has led Borneo in particular to cater to not just female tourists but solo female explorers. So if you are wondering is Borneo safe, YES I would consider it a safe destination for women.
Of course like anywhere, you have to be smart about what you wear, what you do and where you go, but I found Borneo to be very safe over all and never had any trouble or even any inkling of trouble.
If you are still a little nervous I do mention some tours at the bottom of the page that might suit your travel style.
Borneo Travel Requirements & Visa Info
Most countries can get a visa on arrival in Borneo. Keeping in mind that you will most likely enter in through Kuala Lumpur, you will have got your Malaysian Visa on arrival into KL airport. There tourists visas (or Visa Pass as they used to be referred to) are valid for 90 days.
Travel Borneo Warnings Or Dangers
I have always found Malaysian Borneo to be very safe, however like anywhere you can and should be careful in some areas. Borneo is a Muslim country so it is advisable to be sure you are respectful of local dress and make sure you are also dressed accordingly.
Dress Codes in Borneo
While its not as strict as the UAE for example, you do need to be considerate of local beliefs and customs, both in how you dress and act.
Covering up with lightweight clothing along with being respectful, is also the best way to avoid getting burnt in the hot sun. While Borneo's climate is very humid and can feel like there isn't too much sun around, you will get just as badly burned with cloud cover as you would in full sun, so be sun safe.
Public Displays of Affection
Public displays of affection should be avoided and shoulders and knees should be covered in places of religious significance.
Avoid Religious or Political Discussions in Malaysia & Borneo
Avoid discussions about political or religious subject matter with strangers. If someone insists on talking to you, use it as a learning experience but please don't make comments or voice your own opinions, no matter how informed you might feel you are. If you don't know the person well, don't engage in a political or religious discussion.
Robbery and Pickpocketing in Borneo
Borneo is a country where most families have limited income. Visiting with your 2 carat engagement ring is just not really the thing to do. Don't embarrass the locals by wearing obviously expensive jewellery, or with obvious designer bags or luggage if you can.
While I've never heard about any particular hotspots with regard to pickpockets in Borneo, use your travel sense and keep your valuables inside a bag that is secured to your person at all times. Wallets in pockets, cross body bags that don't zip up or backpacks that can be sliced easily are asking for trouble. Just be smart about what you are carrying and how visible it is to avoid getting back to your hotel without your credit card.
Is Borneo Expensive to Travel?
For almost all countries, Borneo is very affordable for almost everything.
Accommodation Costs In Borneo:
Typically expect to pay around $22-40AUD for a hostel bed. They are usually on the lower end of that price range but the more popular areas where you are a captive market you can pay $35-$40 AUD per dorm bed.
There is often a single room option in the smaller hotels and hostels in Borneo which is awesome. I stayed at Woodpecker Lodge in Kuching which has single rooms. They are a single bed and a tiny bathroom but its all yours! No sharing. They seem to be around $62 AUD per night at present and a bed in a 4 bed dorm room is $37 so just under double.
These rooms are great for solo travellers, especially woman as you are safe, private and comfortable to leave your possessions in your room when you are out.
Tour Prices in Borneo
The only item that you will pay elevated prices for are tours. Day tours are usually not too bad, but anything that has an overnight component usually means that will be in good standard of hotel. It's rare to get a multiday tour in Borneo that doesn't use the better hotels in the region.
The tour operators are well aware that a lot of visitors aren't use to the heat, would like a hot shower and often a pool to cool off, so accommodation levels on tours are often very good. This leads to the tours being not a cheap as you might expect.
I did Sarawak on my own and then jumped on a tour for Sabah. I was running out of time and got a great last minute deal for Sabah.
Check out Tour Radar options for a multi-day tour of Borneo.
Food Costs In Malaysian Borneo
Food is very affordable and VERY good! Expect to pay $7-8 AUD ($5 USD) for a plate of noodles at a street side stall. The same meal in a restaurant will be around $10-12 AUD. Eating in a western style restaurant will mean you are paying $15-18 AUD for a main meal.
Its always heaps cheaper to eat in the local restaurants and because of the style of food, you don't have to be too worried about the quality. A lot of meals are stir fried which means they are cooked at extreme heat and ready for you to eat immediately.
How To Get To Malaysian Borneo
The easiest way to get to and from Borneo is via Kuala Lumpur. Get yourself to Kuala Lumpur and fly from there. Air Asia does fly direct into and out of Borneo most days. Check out Sky Scanner for flights from your home destination to Borneo.
There are quite a few companies that fly from Kuala Lumpur to lots of destinations in Borneo. Apart from flying into Kota Kinabalu, the main destinations are Kuching and Sandakan. Kuching is in the southern Sarawak area and Sandakan is in the northern Sabah area.
Travel to Borneo From Australia
It is very easy to get to Kuala Lumpur from almost any Australian capital city. Melbourne, Gold Coast, Perth and Sydney have direct flights to Malaysia. From KL you can easily get a flight to Kota Kinabalu, Kuching or Sandakan at least daily and often multiple times per day.
If you are flying with Air Asia however, please allow enough time in KL to transfer to your domestic flight. Because you are landing into Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur this is where you will go through immigration and customs. You have to go through both these checkpoints and then check in to your domestic flight which may not be in same terminal.
While Air Asia and other booking websites might let you book your flights on the same ticket, be sure that you have sufficient time to get through immigration and change terminals if need be. I would say at least 3 hours is a minimum for this.
Search Flights to Borneo
Fly from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu
The following airlines fly direct from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu, most on at least a daily basis.
- Malaysian Airlines – multiple times per day
- Air Asia – multiple times per day
- MY Airline – multiple times per day
Fly From Kuala Lumpur to Kuching
These airlines fly from Kuala Lumpur direct to Kuching, which is a great starting point for Borneo. As it is probably as far west as you are going to go in Borneo, its a great starting point. You can move east from here and fly out of Sandakan domestically or internationally (if possible) when you are finished your trip.
- Malindo Air – once per day
- Malaysian Airlines – multiple times per day
- Air Asia – multiple times per day
- MY Airline – multiple times per day
Fly From Kuala Lumpur to Sandakan
There are fewer flights direct to and from Kuala Lumpur and Sandakan but there are multiple direct flights daily. Both Malaysian Airlines and Air Asia fly direct every day.
If you are moving through Borneo over a few weeks, if you head east to west or vice versa, you will probably go to Sandakan. The Turtle Islands are close to Sandakan and are worth a visit, so it probably much more cost effective to fly into Kuching and out of Sandakan than flying in and out of Kota Kinabalu. While Kota Kinabalu is in Sabah and not that far from Sandakan, it would be much easier to fly from Sandakan direct to KL than via Kinabalu.
When Is The Best Time To Travel To Borneo?
Malaysian Borneo's weather temps don't change much from season to season. However the rainfall can. Some pockets of Borneo can get over 4 metres of rain per year so avoiding the main rainfall periods is recommended.
Sarawak has less rain that Sabah and usually the cooler months between April and September will be relatively dry and free of deluges. Temps range from 23-32 year round but you should find that in the cooler season it will average around 25-27 degrees C.
Sabah has more rain than Sarawak and while it is localised around the monsoon season (November to March) Sabah can get a decent rainfall at any time. It is more tropcal in style – an intense downpour mid to late afternoon – but again in the cooler months you should have better weather.
How To Get Around Malaysian Borneo
Update: 2023 – Most flights and airlines are operating again after COVID, however flights in general can still be crazy expensive at the moment and will be way more than ground transportation. Once that levels out again flights will again be worth the money.
Borneo is surprisingly easy to get around, and if you are looking for how to travel Borneo, this should help.
Travelling by Plane In Borneo
Both Sabah and Sarawak are serviced by multiple airlines. The main ones are Malaysian Airlines and AirAsia with Malindo Air in there for the bigger cities.
AirAsia are cheaper however be aware that they have no call centers and any changes must be made by their very frustrating chata bot “Ava”. I've flown Air Asia a lot and have always loved them, but they have really soured for me since COVID. I have a $2000 credit that it seems impossible to use, they cancelled one of our flights in December and it was an absolute nightmare and 6 hours of my time to get my money back (which I still haven't 4 weeks later) and then cancelled a leg that wasn't even with them that it cost me $1100 AUD to replace. Sure airlines are suffering at the moment, but its more that its almost impossible to get an actual person on chat and that damn bot is awful!
So if you get cheap flights and are happy to just throw them away if necessary – Air Asia are great. But if you are spending any decent money just be aware that they are AWFUL as far as customer service goes.
Malaysian Airlines are usually great, however their flights are priced obscenly at present. I just tried to get from Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu which is a 4.5 hour flight and they wanted $1150 AUD each! That is just drug money and its not my responsiblity to keep Malaysian Airlines afloat I don't think??
Again, this may calm down in time (geez I hope so!), however it is unusual for Malaysian Airlines to fly the short internal legs and be competitive with AirAsia.
TIP FOR KUALA LUMPUR FLIGHTS:
Kuala Lumpur has multiple airports so just check which airport you are flying to or from when you book. Kuala Lumpur International & Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah. There is also KLIA2 which is the new low cost terminal so check where you are landing and taking off if you are doing an international connection.
Travelling by Bus in Borneo
Bus travel is easy and affordable in both Sarawak and Sabah. There are multiple bus companies, however they rely on third party booking agents like Easy Book to make and manage their bookings. I've booked and gotten tickets through these websites with no challenge at all, however if you are unsure, head to the big bus station in the town you are in and you can also book direct at the window.
Travelling by Car In Borneo
You could of course find a car and driver if you want to visit a particular area, however I wouldn't recommend this unless there are at least 2 or 3 of you. The price will be more than you pay to bus it or fly and using the bus network you can usually get fairly close to where you need to go and then grab a taxi or use Grab (like Uber in Asia) to get the shorter distance to your destination.
Using GRAB around the cities
GRAB is everywhere in Malaysia particularly Borneo. Just make sure you download it before you leave home and use it exactly like you would Uber. It is owned by Uber however after changing its name they saw a huge decline in use so it got changed back to Grab. This app is wonderful for Borneo solo travel as it allows you to order and use transportation without having to communicate via phone. I remember the old days when you would have to flag down a cab and try and explain where you wanted to go. Now you order it via a secure app, you can track where you are in relation to where you are going and also pay securely.
Pros and Cons of Travelling In Borneo As A Solo Traveller
Pros for traveling Borneo as a solo female:
Borneo has long been a tourism destination for Australian's in particular so English is widely spoken.
With both bus and plane services readily available and affordable, its super easy to get around. It's also not very big so flights in particular are often cheaper than the bus.
There are lots of tours that do Borneo and because it's not very big, you can spend a few weeks and see almost everything. Intrepid Travel has some great tours, however Trip-A-Deal also has some very good deals for Borneo most of the time. Their deals usually include flights so take that into account when you look at the costs. $1999 for 11 days including return flights from Australia is a great deal.
It's very easy to get yourself from A to B in Borneo however it is on buses. As far as I'm aware, Borneo doesn't have a train system but the buses are usually very good.
There are more than a few single rooms available in Borneo. I stayed at a few places that were single rooms with my own tiny bathroom and they were all very affordable. Even a full double room isn't expensive so its one place you can afford to branch out to hostels rather than hostels for not much more money.
The food is AMAZING! South east Asian food is always good but Borneo has a very eclectic mix of Indian, Malaysian and Chinese so it is very good!
Taxi's are cheap and Uber is everywhere but the smaller towns. It's super easy to get around and super cheap.
Borneo has a wonderful mix of wildlife tourism, hiking and beaches so you can get your fix of everything in the one visit.
I found Borneo to be safe wherever I went. I never had a challenge anywhere and while I had heard mention of some Indian men being less than polite I never saw that to be true.
Cons for traveling Borneo as a solo traveller:
Some of the hostels are not good. Some are great, but there was one destination where they frequently tried to pass off “unsafe” as “funky”. I'm not saying don't stay in hostels (I did) however read the reviews before you book. And not just the ones on the front page, go back a few pages and see what others day.
Borneo is a mix of religions, however primarily Muslim so you have to make sure you know when Ramadan is as almost everything closes during this period. This is completely understandable during their biggest religious event, however it would really suck to be stuck somewhere with nothing to do. I don't think this is a con personally, however it is something you should know.
The very popular animal rehab centers can expose people for the idiots we can be. Beware of stepping in however. I grabbed a Chinese lady who was pretty much teasing an orangutan and her entire family wanted to fight me. It was fine and I just walked away, but I would do exactly the same thing again. Some people have no respect for wildlife and you will without a doubt see some of that.
Borneo is hot and humid. I found it no challenge at all and I was there in January, however I'm Australian and live in a hot environment. Others were complaining about the heat non stop so if you aren't a lover of hot wet summers, rethink it or stay at a 5 star hotel.
Cockroaches! EEwwww – cockroaches are everywhere and like here in Australia, they are huge. I swear they could carry off a small child and are just something you have to be used to in the tropics. It's not a sign of anything being unclean, they can just get in anywhere.
- There isn't really wine in Borneo 🙁 It is a mostly Muslim country so that does explain it), but they also aren't wine drinkers typically so you will have to embrace the local beer.
My Recommendations For What To Do In Borneo
I jumped on to a last minute tour about half way through Borneo and loved it. I did about 14 days on my own which included Kuching, Mount Kinabalu, Kota Kinabalu, Gunung Mulu National Park, The Headhunters trail and Brunei. At that point I was researching what to do next and a tour from Intrepid came up at 30% off for last minute and I grabbed it with both hands.
I pretty much did Sabah, all the animal experiences, the river stay and the islands on the tour. Oh man it was so relaxing after getting myself around for a few weeks prior. This trip looks like it might be the one I did, but it seems to hit all the hotspots of Sabah even if I have that wrong.
These are my recommendations for visiting Borneo, whether you are a solo traveler or a group.
- I would start on your own to maximise your budget and then join a trip to do Sabah if you would like an easier option at the end. I did Kota Kinabalu, climbed Mt Kinabalu, did Kuching and Bako National Park first. I then got the bus to Miri and hiked the Head Hunters Trail into Ganung Mulu National Park before flying to Kinabalu to join a tour for Sabah. This G Adventures tour from Tour Radar seems like a great price for Sabah and hits up all the places I did.
- If you have some level of fitness Mount Kinabalu is a great hike. It's not super hard but you have to get up in the middle of the night to summit for the dawn so of course you are completely knackered that day. Of course it is uphill the entire way – don't laugh – some young women in our hiking team complained about it being constantly uphill.
- Sepilok Orangutan Rehab Centre is really worth it. Your ticket allows you to come back later in the day so if you are staying somewhere close by you can spend a few hours in the morning and go back in the afternoon. Read more info in this post.
- The Sun Bear sanctuary is very close to the Orangutan centre and is well worth seeing. The poor old sun bear doesn't get the media exposure that the Orangutans do but they are also suffering greatly with the destruction of their forest for palm oil plantations.
- Gunung Mulu National Park is amazing! You have to either walk in via the head hunters trail or fly in and out. I walked in and flew out which was a great combination. The Headhunters trail is usually combined with other hiking in Mulu National Park (typically The Pinnacles) and is mostly only a short 12km long section before you get onto a boat on the river. and get taken out from there. I did a much longer walk but that's a story for another day. Mulu is amazing with caves and creeks and walks of all levels. You can either camp, stay in the little huts or if you want to splash out The Marriott is pretty cool. Brad bought me 3 nights here as a gift and it was amazing to have a bath to soak in after some very tough hikes. This link will help you plan and I would recommend booking some of the more amazing hikes as it does get busy.
- Visiting Brunei will never be easier than when you are in Borneo. I spent a few days on Labuan Island so it was very easy to get on the ferry to Brunei from there. There are multiple options to get to Brunei but honestly if you weren't planning on staying on Labuan for a few days (and there isn't much there) its a full day trip from either Kuching or Kinabalu so I would fly the next time. The visa's are automatic on arrival (or were then at least) and I spent 2 full days and 3 nights in Brunei and felt that was the perfect amount of time. Viator has more than a few day trip options and while you can easily do it all yourself, stalking the day trips can give you an idea of what is worth doing.
- The turtle islands are very cool and not far off Sandakan. They are a joint venture between Borneo and The Philippines and are a great place to visit to see the turtles laying their eggs.
- Kuching is a great little city and jump off point for Bako National Park which is just a local bus ride away. Check out Chee Choon Cafe for what is said to be the best Laksa in Borneo. You will have to go early and have laksa for breakfast as they close when they are sold out which can be as early as 11am. There is a great little bike tour I did around Kuching which was very cool, the food in the city is great and if you stay at Woodpecker lodge you might be very lucky and get to go out to the local Chinese dinner street market with Oliver the owner.
- Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary – this is a privately run sanctuary but it is very good. The monkeys are so playful and scamper around like there is no tomorrow. It is really fun. It's about 45 kms from Sandakan.
- Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary and river lodges. There are many river lodges you can stay at along this waterway however they all do pretty much the same thing. Dawn and dusk electric boat rides that allow you to see the animals up close and personal. I stayed at Bilit Adventure Lodge which is very middle of the road but lovely staff and private rooms so I couldn't complain. There are heaps so just google Kinabatangan accommodation on Google Maps and you will find heaps of options. This is where I saw the huge male Orangutan making his next for the night from one of our boat trips.
As you can see from everything I've listed here, if you are interested in solo travel Borneo is a great place for that. Borneo is a wildlife and nature destination that I'm sure you will love. The main reasons you go are to see the animals and immerse yourself into nature. Let me know what you've done in Borneo so that next time I go back I can have something new to do!
Find Cheap Tours To Borneo
If you are Australian, or possibly even from New Zealand, Trip-A-Deal often has some great cheap tours for Borneo. They don't always have Borneo on sale but it is one of their main trips so if they don't have it when you check, get in touch with them because they may have one coming up soon. Obviously you would fly from Australia so if you are in New Zealand you would have to get to Brisbane or Sydney first.
Trip A Deal's Trips to Borneo:
Currently they have this 9 Day 2 for 1 deal for $3995 AUD.
This price INCLUDES flights so sits at around $2000 AUD per person inclusive of getting there and back with Malaysian Airlines, Singapore Airlines or any codeshare partners (subject to availability).
You can also earn around 12,000 points if you pay full price OR pay for some of the cost with your Qantas Frequent Flyer points.
Check out my Borneo Destination Page for all the info, posts & places to visit in Borneo.