Borneo is the largest island in Asia and the third largest island in the world and is divided into three countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. Borneo is a top destination in Southeast Asia because of its rich wildlife, various bodies of water, and fine sand.
With over 15,000 varieties of plant species, Borneo is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. Borneo is also home to Southeast Asia’s tallest mountain, the largest flower, and the unique Orangutan species that can only be found in the rainforests here.
Since it is filled with rivers and jungles, there are tons of exceptional accommodations that you would surely enjoy. Since this region has so much to offer, 3 weeks in Borneo is ideal for exploring this area.
TIP: If you want to explore mainland Malaysia only check our 3 weeks in Malaysia itinerary
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE GOING TO BORNEO
When planning and writing your travel itinerary, you might find yourself with some questions on basic things such as the best time to visit Borneo, a budget range, and what to pack. To help you with that, I answered some of the most basic yet vital questions below.
When is the best time to go to Borneo
Borneo experiences rain throughout the year, so the dry season depends on the area you want to visit. Sabah is driest between January to May, Sarawak from March to September, and Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, and Derawan Islands receive less rain from July to October.
The general typhoon season for Borneo is from September to February and must be avoided, not only because it’s dangerous but also because most attractions will be closed anyway. Borneo’s peak season is during one of its hottest months, August.
Are 3 weeks enough for Borneo
There are tons of natural wonders to explore in this country, such as caves, jungles and diverse species, so you wouldn’t run out of things to do even if you stay for 20 days in Borneo. However, planning your trip might be tricky as it is less developed than the Western Peninsular. That’s why I came up with an itinerary perfect for a 3-week vacation.
What to pack
Many activities in Borneo include hiking in dense forests, visiting historical and cultural sites, and spending time on the beach. If these things are in your itinerary, here are some things that you must bring yourself instead of buying when you arrive in Borneo:
- mosquito repellent – deet-free can be hard to find in Borneo
- waterproof hiking shoes
- hiking clothes
- waterproof hiking backpack
- prescribed medications
Malaysian, Brunei, and Indonesia have a significant population practicing Islam. Many areas will require you to dress modestly, such as covering your shoulders, head, and lower body. Make sure to bring long trousers, a long shirt, and a lightweight scarf for situations like this.
We have a packing list for a 3-week trip that might help you with your checklist. You can also check our collection of different packing lists depending on the season – these are all suitable for a 20-day vacation.
How to get around
Aside from planes, other modes of transportation in Borneo include buses, taxis, boats, and ojek or Grab’s motorcycle taxis. The bus is the cheapest and the most widely used mode of transport here, but if you are in a rush and have more budget, taxis are generally faster. There are pickup and dropoff points in various establishments, and you could also hail taxis online through local e-hailing services.
Language and currency
Borneo’s most commonly used language is Bahasa Malaysia. Other widely spoken languages include Chinese, Tamil, and English.
The currencies in Borneo are the Indonesian Rupiah, Malaysian Ringgit, and Brunei Dollar. Credit cards are accepted in most cafes and major hotels, and restaurants. However, it is more advisable to bring cash as some local establishments only accept cash.
American Express isn’t widely used if you’re planning to pay via credit card, as Visa and Mastercard are Borneo’s most commonly used credit cards.
Average travel cost for 3 weeks in Borneo
Borneo is an affordable destination. This means that your travel budget for this trip can go a long way. The flight to Borneo can be expensive, especially if you’re coming from the Americas, Africa, and Europe.
But once you get here, a budget of $1,400 per person for a 3-week trip is ideal. You can enjoy a private room, guided tours, and a comfortable mode of transportation. If you’re on a backpacker budget, you can bring that number down to $800, but it means you have to sleep on a bunk bed in a dorm room.
If you have the means to go on a luxury trip, $2,000 is an ideal number. This will allow you to stay in luxury resorts and dine at nicer restaurants. Keep in mind, though, that these numbers don’t include your flights to and from Borneo, travel insurance, and travel gear.
Visa and COVID-19 protocol
Other travel tips
Although tourists do not run over Borneo, arranging your travel plans in advance is still recommended, especially if you wish to go during peak season. Here’s a list of my favourite travel sites to look for the best accommodations, tours, and transportation. Many offer a free cancellation which is great if your plans are yet to be finalised.
PINNED MAP OF MUST-SEE PLACES IN BORNEO
Click the enlarge button on the top right corner. Credit: map data: Google
3 WEEKS IN BORNEO ITINERARY
Northern Borneo offers heritage sites, natural sites, museums, mosques, and natural wonders featuring many endangered species under the government’s care. You can follow the itinerary as is or do it in reverse, as there’s also a flight between Kuching and Kuala Lumpur.
>> ALSO CHECK: 3 weeks in the Philippines and 3 weeks in Thailand
Sandakan for 4 days
Sandakan is a less prominent place compared to other places on this list. However, it is perfect as a starting point for your trip as there’s a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to Sandakan, which is very convenient for locals and tourists alike. Sandakan is perfect for those who love outdoor adventures, as you can do tons of activities here, such as hiking and water activities.
Aside from that, it offers many historical sites if you are a history buff. There are also day trips from Sandakan if you have extra time.
Things to do in Sandakan
- Sandakan Heritage Trail walking tour
- Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Center
- Rainforest Discovery Center
- Sandakan Memorial Park
- Sandakan Heritage Museum
- Sam Sing Kung Temple
- English Tea House
- Puh Ji Shih Temple
Accommodations in Sandakan
Kota Kinabalu/Sabah for 4 days
Kota Kinabalu is the state capital of Sabah, Malaysia. It is a significant tourist destination and gateway to Borneo and Sabah. It is one of the industrial and commercial centres in East Malaysia, and it’s also where one of Southeast Asia’s tallest mountains, Mount Kinabalu, can be found.
Aside from that, this area is also filled with rainforests, hiking trails, and scenic beaches.
The fastest way to get to Kota Kinabalu is by flying, which takes more than an hour. The distance between Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu is 222 km. Other alternative options are driving or riding the bus.
Things to do in Kota Kinabalu
- Kota Kinabalu City Park
- Mount Kinabalu
- Atkinson Tower
- Green Connection Aquarium
- Tanjung Aru Beach
- Signal Hill Observatory Platform
- Lok Kawi Wildlife Park
- Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park
Accommodations in Kota Kinabalu
Labuan Island for 4 days
Labuan, also known as Pearl of Borneo, is a low-lying and well-cultivated island with an extensive road network and a large airfield. This place is well-known by the locals but not among the foreign visitors, which makes it a perfect destination for those who want lesser crowds. It is also a haven for scuba divers.
Flying is the easiest way to reach Labuan from Kota Kinabalu, with an approximate flying time of 40 minutes. Other alternative options are taking the ferry or driving.
Things to do in Labuan Island
- Scuba Diving
- Labuan Marine Museum
- Labuan Clock Tower
- Ramsey Point
- Labuan Botanical Garden
- Labuan Bird Park
- The Water Village
- Pohon Batu Beach
Accommodations in Labuan Island
Brunei for 4 days
Brunei is a country located on the north coast of the island of Borneo. It is the third-largest oil producer and is considered to be the most observant Islamic nation in Southeast Asia. There are also about 35 plant species that can only be found here.
You’ll be able to reach the port of Serasa in Brunei if you’re coming from Labuan Island via ferry. Before going to Brunei, ensure you obtain Brunei Dollars, as this is an entirely different country.
Things to do in Brunei
- Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddien
- Brunei Darussalam Maritime Museum
- Kampong Ayer
- Ulu Temburong
- Wreck and Macro diving
- Jerudong Park
- Nurul Istana Royal Palace
- Try out their local ambuyat dish
Accommodations in Brunei
Kuching/Sarawak for 3 days
Kuching is the capital and the most populous city in Sarawak. It is a major food destination and is a member of UNESCO’s creative cities network under gastronomy. It is also the main gateway for people travelling to Borneo and Sarawak. This city is filled with biodiversity and is unique because it has many museums, historical sights, and national parks.
The most recommended mode of transportation from Brunei to Kuching is flying. The flight from Miri to Kuching lasts more than an hour and covers 513 km. Other options include riding the bus or driving.
Things to do in Kuching/Sarawak
- Cat Museum
- Astana Negeri
- Kuching City Mosque
- Hiang Thian Siang Ti Temple
- Old Courthouse
- Rainforest World Music Festival
- Fort Margherita
- Ganung Gading Naational Park
Accommodations in Kuching
Bonus Places To See
We’ve already covered many places to add to your three-week itinerary in Borneo. However, if you prefer places with fewer crowds or just want to modify some of the sites included in the itinerary above, I added a couple more areas you could explore.
Miri is a small city near the Southern border of Brunei. It is the leading tourist destination for a world-famous UNESCO world heritage site. It is also home to numerous national parks, secret diving spots, and magical beaches that look picture-perfect because of bioluminescent planktons.
Things to do in Miri
- Grand Old Lady
- Blue Tears
- Miri City Fan Recreation Park
- Pantai Tanjung Lobang
- Tua Pek Kong Temple
- Saberkas Weekend Market
- Mulu National Park
- Lambir Hills National Park
Bintulu is a coastal town on the island of Borneo. Its port is the busiest in Sarawak, and the town is connected to Samalajau Industrial Park. This laidback industrial town between Sibu and Miri is well-known for producing most of Malaysia’s liquified natural gas supply.
Things to do in Bintulu
- Tanjung Batu Beach
- Taman Tumbina
- Bintulu Night Market
- Jepak Village
- Borneo International Kite Festival
- Council Negeri Memorial Bintulu
Sibu is a landlocked city in the Sarawak region. It is approximately 60 km from the South China Sea and 191.5 km from Kuching. Sibu is famous for its riverine towns and Iban and Orang Ulu longhouses. The tallest building and one of the longest river bridges in Sarawak can also be found here.
Things to do in Sibu
- Wisma Sanyan
- Lanang Bridge
- Lau King Howe Hospital Memorial Museum
- Sibu Heritage Center
- Jade Dragon Temple
- Bukit Lima Forest Park
- Borneo Cultural Festival
- Sibu International Dance Festival
SUMMARY OF 3 WEEKS IN BORNEO ITINERARY
Borneo is one of Asia’s natural gems that a traveller shouldn’t miss. It has sandy beaches, dramatic mountain peaks, jungles densely covered with diverse plants and trees, and rainforests rumoured to be around 130 million years old.
Aside from enchanting natural wonders, they also have many preserved historical sites, activities, and festivals that you surely wouldn’t want to miss throughout the year. With everything this country offers, one must stay 3 weeks in Borneo.