We recently spent several weeks exploring the incredible and diverse island of Borneo. I had wanted to visit Borneo ever since I visited mainland Malaysia in 2011. A land of unique tribal cultures, some of the most rare and diverse flora and fauna, and a plethora of adventure and cultural activities… Borneo was everything I could have dreamed of and more.
Being slightly more developed than other countries in South East Asia, costs here are a little higher than say, Cambodia or Vietnam. But really, for anyone travelling from a developed part of the Western world, Borneo is a fantastic budget option.
Budget Accommodation in Borneo
There is a huge range of accommodation available in Borneo. Everything from backpacker dorms, cheap and basic private rooms, mid range hotels, and high end luxury. But whats really awesome, is even the expensive hotels in Borneo are still pretty reasonable. We actually found an online deal for Kuching where a night at the Hilton was less than a 100 dollars. I was really tempted to book at the Hilton, but then I found a 12 dollar a night private room at a nearby hostel, and my inner cheapskate took over.
The trick to finding budget accommodation, in Borneo and anywhere in the world, is to compare several hotel booking sites. Sometimes a hotel will be cheaper on one website than it is on another. A little bit of research can easily pay off.
Budget Transportation in Borneo
Getting around in Borneo is pretty reasonably priced. If you are travelling long distances you have two options; flying or taking a long distance bus. The bus is obviously the cheapest option, but journeys can be long, and in some areas where the palm oil industry is strong, the scenery is pretty boring. For example, Dan took the bus from Semporna to Sepilok, a 5 hour journey, and only paid 14 dollars (40 ringgit).
But if you don’t have time to take the bus, there is always the plane. Now normally I wouldn’t promote flying as a budget travel option, but in Borneo it is actually pretty cheap. While Dan was scuba diving in Sipadan, Jacob and I went to Brunei for a few days. Our plan was to take the ferry from Brunei to Kota Kinabalu, and then the all day bus down to Sepilok the next day. But after spending an entire day feeling nauseous on the ferry, the thought of trying to entertain a toddler for 6 hours on a bus just wasn’t appealing. I ended up booking a morning flight, about 8 hours before the flight actually departed, and I only paid 40 dollars for the two of us to fly down. Yes the bus is cheaper, but if you are short on time the plane is a good option.
Eating on the Cheap in Borneo
Food is cheap and freaking amazing in Borneo. You can find everything here. From Chinese steamed buns, to Indian curry houses, from high end fusion restaurants to 24 hour roti restaurants. The stable of our breakfasts in Borneo was the roti place. Here we would get usually 3 or 4 roti’s and curry to share, plus a couple drinks, all for under $5. Even the high end restaurants were quite affordable. We went to one of the best Italian restaurants in Kuching, where the walls are lined with photos of famous people who have eaten there, and our meal of 3 meals, 3 drinks and 3 massive mains was just under $40. In Kota Kinabalu we went to an extremely busy little Chinese restaurant, whose specialty was steamed buns. A red bean paste bun cost us a hefty 35 cents each. You can eat well, and you can eat often, in Borneo.
Free and cheap attractions in Borneo
Most attractions have a small cost in Borneo. If you want to see the Orangutans in Sepilok, or go on a cruise on the Kinabatangan, you will have to pay something. Most of the entrance fees are pretty reasonable though. For example, visiting the Orangutans in Sepilok will cost you about $10. Not bad considering it one of the most popular tourist attractions in Sabah.