- Full Itinerary
- Photo Gallery
- Travel Details
- Trip Reports
- Know Before You Go
- Other Trips You May Like
Experience wild Borneo, a world beyond your imagination! We visit the Malaysian state of Sabah at the northern end of the world’s third largest island. Sabah harbors the best of Borneo’s equatorial rainforest, and all of Borneo’s 52 endemic birds can be found here — out of 650 birds on the island. But our trip goes way beyond the birds. We could see up to eight primate species, including three big endemics: the Bornean Orangutan, Bornean Gibbon, and Proboscis Monkey. The island boasts nearly 100 endemic reptiles (out of 288 total); 63 endemic mammals (280 total); 1,700 orchids; 46 rhododendron species; and 39 Nepenthes pitcher plants.
Few areas on Earth can match Borneo’s amazing biological diversity, and our adventure takes us through many fascinating landscapes. We start in Kota Kinabalu (KK), the coastal capital of Sabah. From KK, we access the amazing Crocker Range and the dripping cloud-forests of Mount Kinabalu — at over 13,000 feet, the highest peak in southeastern Asia (though we only get halfway up the mountain). After Kinabalu Park, we venture into some of Sabah’s most pristine lowland rainforests, in the magnificent Danum Valley. We then explore the Gomantong Caves before reaching the Kinabatangan River. Based at our lodge in Sukau, we enjoy several casual boat rides into secondary lowland rainforest, still finding new birds and mammals every day. After the Kinabatangan, we drive to Sepilok, where we visit rehab centers for Bornean Orangutan and Sun bear. We hike among giant dipterocarp trees at the Rainforest Discovery Center, and we visit the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey sanctuary. This is an adventure that can’t be missed.
- “A wonderful jungle adventure! Great people, fantastic guides. Beautiful places to stay.” — Margaret Miller, 2023 Traveler
- “Great trip with many wonderful animals, birds and plants seen. Top highlights: Seeing orangutans in the wild and in the refuge in Sepilok, seeing all the different hornbills in Sabah province., and seeing the various
- monkey species in the wild like proboscis, macaques, and langurs,” —Donna Hogge, 2023 Traveler
- “The tour was very well organized. We had a wonderful time. Lots of wildlife and birds. Very high quality lodges and hotels.” — Donald Lill, 2023 Traveler
- Explore the world’s third largest island, a bastion of biodiversity
- Experience the cloud forest on southeastern Asia’s highest mountain, Mt. Kinabalu
- See the world’s largest flower, the Rafflesia
- Search for up to 52 endemic bird species, including the Bornean Bristlehead
- Tour canopy walkways through the world’s oldest rainforest
- Find endemic mammals like the Bornean Pygmy Elephant and the Bornean Orangutan
- Enjoy eclectic Asian cuisine at luxury jungle lodges
Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.
Day 1: Arrivals in Kota Kinabalu
Our tour starts and ends in Kota Kinabalu (KK), the coastal capital city of the Malaysian state of Sabah. Even in the downtown areas, we should see House Swift coursing overhead and Asian Glossy Starling just about everywhere. You may even find a Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker in the trees downtown! A walk to the Jesselton Harbor could produce a couple different tern species at eye level or a Pacific Reef Egret on the docks. Kota Kinabalu is a lovely city with many charms, and you may want to spend more time here before or after the tour.
Your guide meets you at Kota Kinabalu International Airport (BKI) and transfers you to our hotel. Please plan to arrive in time to meet in the hotel lobby at 6:00 PM for a welcome dinner at a local restaurant where we get to know our traveling companions and learn about the plan for the trip. We encourage you to come in a night or two early to rest up from your travels and perhaps explore the city.
Accommodations at Grandis Hotel or similar, KK (D)
Day 2: Exploring Crocker Range National Park
On our first full day, we head into the impressive Crocker Range National Park, which supports both secondary and primary hill forest. Our morning stop takes us to Tambunan Rafflesia Center, with its comprehensive museum focused on the unique biology of the genus Rafflesia, the world’s largest flowers. Despite the name of the reserve, we will not likely see the blooming Rafflesia here. Instead, we search for several mountain specialty birds and a few Borneo endemics such as Kinabalu Serpent Eagle, Mountain Barbet, Bornean Treepie, Whitehead’s Spiderhunter, Bornean Black Flowerpecker, Chestnut-crested Yuhin, and Bornean Bulbul. After lunch at a local restaurant we bird farther south in the Crocker Range in search of Orange-backed Woodpecker, Little Cuckoo-Dove, and Ashy Drongo, among many others. We return to KK for dinner.
Accommodations at Grandis Hotel or similar, KK (B,L,D)
Day 3: Arrival at Kinabalu National Park
After breakfast, we start our journey to Kinabalu National Park (KNP), at the foothills of Mount Kinabalu, with numerous stops for mountain scenery and a local market. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its high biological diversity, few places on the planet match the botanical variety of Kinabalu Park. As the park centerpiece, Mount Kinabalu rises to 4,095 m (13,436 ft.) above sea level. It is one of the youngest non-volcanic mountains in the world, and it boasts the highest summit between the Himalayas and New Guinea. The 750-km2 park is home to over 4,000 plant species, including 26 rhododendrons and 1,200 orchids. Over 300 species of birds have been recorded here, including a majority of Borneo’s endemics. From the park entrance at 1,585 m (5,200 ft.) to a zone just above our lodge, a rich montane oak forest includes familiar laurels, myrtles, and rhododendrons, but also tropical palms, ferns, orchids, bromeliads, and bamboos. As we ascend 2,000 feet up the mountain we discover another cooler cloud forest zone dripping with lichens, ferns, and bromeliads.
We check into our villas and enjoy some afternoon birding around park headquarters before dinner.
Accommodations at Nepenthes Villas or similar, KNP (B,L,D)
Day 4: Exploring Kinabalu National Park Headquarters Region
We spend today birding between Timpohon Gate and KNP headquarters. Around park HQ, we often bird along the park road, which invites us into a network of excellent trails, allowing easy exploration of the varied forest habitats. At the park’s botanical garden, not far from our lodge, we marvel at the diversity of orchids and carnivorous Nepenthes pitcher plants. Several endemic bird species occur between park HQ and the Timpohon Gate (the entrance to the summit trail), including Crimson-headed Partridge, Whitehead’s Trogon, Golden-naped Barbet, Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush, Bornean Green Magpie, Mountain Blackeye, Everett’s Thrush, Bornean Stubtail, Bornean Whistler, and Bornean Whistling Thrush. We enjoy lunch and dinner between outings and spend the night in the park.
Accommodations at Nepenthes Villas or similar, KNP (B,L,D)
Day 5: Kinabalu Park | Poring Hot Springs | KK
After an early breakfast, we check-out and head to Poring Hot Springs. A short drive around the mountain takes us into sub-montane hill forest where we explore the grounds and trails at Poring. Here we enjoy our first canopy walkway, where we watch forest canopy dwellers at eye level, including trogons, barbets, broadbills, and cuckoos. The route to Poring takes us by a private property that offers the perfect conditions for the world’s largest flower, the rare Rafflesia, which can attain a diameter of 36 inches! Endemic birds at Poring may include White-crowned Shama and Dusky Munia, and we typically find some other fun species like the Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler, Crimson-winged Woodpecker, Diard’s Trogon, and Black-backed Dwarf-Kingfisher. In the afternoon, we return to KK for dinner and another night in the Grandis Hotel.
Accommodations at Grandis Hotel or similar, KK (B,L,D)
Day 6: Fly to Lahad Datu | Danum Valley Conservation Area
After breakfast, we take a one-hour flight to Lahad Datu, where we meet the staff from Borneo Rainforest Lodge (BRL). We enjoy lunch in town, followed by the approximate 2.5-hr. drive (depending on wildlife sightings) to the Danum Valley Conservation area. Danum’s virgin lowland and hill forests exemplify a swath of land through the middle of the island called the “Heart of Borneo,” and they offer perhaps the best bird and wildlife watching on the entire island. We settle into our rooms, with plenty of time to relax before our first of BRL’s amazing buffet dinners.
Accommodations at Borneo Rainforest Lodge or similar (B,L,D)
Days 7 – 8: Exploring Danum Valley
The next two full days take us across the network of trails in the Danum Valley. The botanical diversity of Danum’s Dipterocarp forest rivals that of lowland South America. In fact, twenty-five acres of forest here contain more plant species than the U.S. and Canada combined. These stunning arboreal habitats support a mind-boggling variety of birds, with more than one-third of Borneo’s entire bird list recorded here. From the elegant Great Argus to the stunning Asian Fairy-Bluebird, Danum never fails to impress.
Some of the woodpeckers we might encounter at Danum include Maroon, Rufous, Buff-rumped, and Gray-and-Buff Woodpeckers, just four among the Danum Valley list of 14 woodpecker species. All eight Bornean hornbill species live at Danum Valley, with a special stronghold for the massive Helmeted Hornbill. Black-bellied and Chestnut-breasted Malkohas and Red Leaf-Monkeys may accompany us as we traverse Danum’s canopy walkway, marveling at spectacular views of the multi-layer primary forest. Whiskered Treeswift elegantly flycatches from its sky-view perches, while up to seven pitta species tease us with their haunting calls from deep within the impenetrable vegetation of forest floor.
Up to 17 different bulbuls and 24 babblers keep us very busy while we enjoy the colorful pigeons, trogons, and barbets. We are especially diligent in searching for our top bird of the trip: the Bornean Bristlehead, representing the Bornean-endemic monotypic family Pityriaseidae. While most of the birds at the Danum Valley are sleeping, we enjoy at least one night-drive in the valley, searching for Brown Wood-Owl and Malay Eared-Nightjar. Our night excursion also allows us to observe some of Danum’s secretive nocturnal mammals, including Greater Mouse-Deer, Tarsier, and the impossibly cute Slow Loris. With some luck, we may also find a Civet, Leopard Cat, or the magnificent Clouded Leopard.
Accommodations at Borneo Rainforest Lodge or similar (B,L,D)
Day 9: Transfer from Danum Valley to Kinabatangan River
Today is our longest travel day, with the drive back to Lahad Datu, and then southwest toward the second longest river in Malaysia, the Kinabatangan (kih-nuh-bah-tung-ahn, said quickly with barely noticeable inflections). The World Wildlife Fund calls the Kinabatangan the “Corridor of Life,” describing the river as “arguably the last forested alluvial floodplain in Asia and an area of enormous importance for wildlife and the local community.”
En route to the river, we make a stop at Gomantong Caves, birding in secondary forest on the entrance road. After a short hike to the cave entrance, we are surrounded by millions of swiftlets—representing four different species. We learn about the fascinating ecology of the caves and the centuries-old practice of harvesting the edible nests of the White-nest Swiftlet, a practice now managed sustainably throughout the region. The boardwalk through the cave is an otherworldly experience.
That evening take us to the bank of the Kinabatangan at the village of Sukau (SOO-cow), where we take a short boat ride upstream to the Sukau Rainforest Lodge (SRL), named as a “National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World.” The lodge here is certainly unique and luxurious, but the real highlight is the chance to see many birds and mammals on multiple boat rides along the main stem of the river, as well as several productive tributaries.
Accommodations at Sukau Rainforest Lodge or similar (B,L,D)
Days 10 – 11: Exploring the Kinabatangan
The next two full days take us up and down the K River and along several tributaries. Cruising the Kinabatangan makes you feel like you are in a wildlife documentary! The forest along the river’s edge supports 10 primate species, including the endemic Orangutan and many Proboscis Monkeys, and we watch closely for the world’s largest woodpecker, the Great Slaty, which lives in family groups along the river corridor. If we’re lucky, we may encounter a herd of Bornean Pygmy Elephants, a rare subspecies of Asian Elephant. When not watching these fantastic mammals, our attention is focused on the rich birdlife of the area. The endangered Storm’s Stork finds a stronghold here, along with possible Lesser Adjutant and Purple Heron.
Kingfishers are well-represented in the rich aquatic habitats, with the possibilities including Stork-billed, Blue-eared, Black-back Dwarf, and the migratory Common Kingfisher. We could have Oriental Pied Hornbill around the lodge, and river trips might produce the Wreathed, Wrinkled, Rhinoceros, or Asian Black Hornbills. Bornean Gibbons howl from across the river each morning and evening. Green Imperial Pigeon are very common, and the raptor list for this stretch of the river is amazing. We could see Changeable, Rufous-bellied, and Wallace’s Hawk-Eagles; Gray-headed and Lesser Fish-Eagles; Brahminy Kite is common, and we have an excellent chance to see the smallest raptor in the world, the “Bornean” White-fronted Falconet.
Accommodations at Sukau Rainforest Lodge or similar (B,L,D)
Day 12: Transfer from Kinabatangan River to Sepilok
After breakfast, we pack up and take a short boat ride to our vehicle, followed by the drive to Sepilok (sep-i-lock). We settle into our villas at MY Nature Resort, followed lunch on the property and a short break. For the afternoon, we visit the Orangutan Rehabilitation Center for the 3:00 PM feeding ritual.
Accommodations at MY Nature Resort (B,L,D)
Days 13 – 14: Sanctuaries in Sepilok Region
The birding scene around Sepilok is decidedly laid-back, though still brings us many new species for the trip. Our days around Sepilok have many highlights, but the impressive Rainforest Discovery Centre is the gem of the region. This oasis of primary forest boasts an amazing canopy walkway, giving you a bird’s eye view of the giant dipterocarp trees. On one evening, we stay until dusk to experience the emergence of Giant Flying Squirrels from their cavities high in the Koompasia trees.
At Sepilok, we also observe Bornean Orangutans and Bornean Sun Bears at their respective rehabilitation facilities. Sturdy elevated boardwalks at these sites allow for close viewing of these threatened mammals, while we are distracted by many new birds, just a few of which may include Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Black-and-red Broadbill, Bushy-crested Hornbill, and up to six different sunbirds. Just a short drive from Sepilok we visit the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, with close-up views of this bizarre primate, as well as practically tame Silver Langurs. We also enjoy a short hike along the mature mangrove forest in search of woodpeckers like Common and Greater Flamebacks.
Accommodations at MY Nature Resort or similar (B,L,D)
Day 15: Return to KK
After breakfast, we pack up for our departure to Sandakan airport and return flights to KK and your individual departures. If you were not able to spend personal time in KK prior to the tour, we recommend that you stay for a couple of days afterward. The markets—especially the fish market and Philippino market—offer superb local culture. Flight schedules look like we will land in KK around 2:30 PM. Please make international flights out for this evening.
Our operator arranges your flights from Sandakan to KK, but the tour officially ends as we leave Sandakan. (B)
Black-and-Yellow Broadbill, by Steve Shunk
Vine Snake, by Steve Shunk
Crested Serpent Eagle
Common Green Magpie
Red Dragonfly, by Steve Shunk
Crocodile, by Steve Shunk
Long-tailed Macaque, by Steve Shunk
Cost of the Journey
The cost of this 15-day journey is $TBD DBL / $TBD SGL, from Kota Kinabalu. This cost is based on double occupancy and includes 14 nights’ accommodations; all meals as specified in the itinerary, in-country domestic flight, group airport transfers, professional guide services, local park and other area entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses. Cost of the journey does not include airfare from your home to Kota Kinabalu, or items of a personal nature, such as drinks from the bar, telephone, and local guide gratuities. Cost also does not include fixed lens camera fees at the following preserves: The following Professional Camera Fee will be applicable for the usage of fixed lenses: 400mm, 500mm, 600mm, 800mm and above: Sepilok Orang Utan Centre/BSBCC/Gomantong Cave @ RM1,000 p/ camera unit p/location Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary @ RM500 p/ camera unit Danum Valley @ RM500 p/camera unit
Please plan to make air travel plans only after the minimum group size has been met. We will send you a confirmation email as soon as the trip has been confirmed.
Travel Notes: We recommend that you arrive at least one day early to rest after the long flights from home. You may also want to explore Kota Kinabalu on your own for a day or two to experience the amazing markets, eclectic restaurants, and general hustle and bustle of this small but busy city.
Departure Airport is BKI / Kota Kinabalu International Airport
Items of Note
Tour Style & Pace:
Our Borneo safari will surprise you for its relatively casual tropical birding experience. Birds can be abundant at times, but you will not typically be overwhelmed by species numbers. In fact, we may ‘only’ tally 200+ species for the entire trip—although more than one-quarter of these will likely represent species and subspecies that are endemic to Borneo!
Many species will be quite common, giving you ample chance for repeated encounters, and we will also see plenty of large birds, such as raptors, hornbills, and waders. Daily outings will include hiking on trails and roadsides, strolling along well-maintained boardwalks, and slow cruising in comfortable boats. Birding time around some of our lodges will include leisurely strolls through manicured gardens and along entry roads.
Bird observation towers and canopy walkways offer wonderful viewing experiences, but they typically require climbing several flights of stairs. We will visit some mountainous and hilly terrain, especially at Mt. Kinabalu, where the trails may have moderately steep grades. Trails can also be quite muddy in places. On all of our outings, your guides will move at a rate suitable for the entire group, and having two guides allows us to easily divide the group for varying ability levels if needed.
In general, our tour operates at a relaxed pace and appeals to birders with a wide range of skill and ability levels. As expected, those guests with more advanced skills will be able to find and identify more of the anticipated species, while less-experienced birders can still be guaranteed jaw-dropping looks at plenty of birds. Each evening, we will review the birds and other wildlife seen during the day, but we are not big ‘listers’, so we will not let the prospect of a larger bird list drive our daily schedule.
Browse below for trip reports and species lists from past versions of this and other tours from this destination.
- September 2023
Steve Shunk started birding in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989, and he moved to central Oregon’s ‘Woodpecker Wonderland’ in 1997, where 11 woodpecker species breed annually. This phenomenon led to a 20-year obsession studying this charismatic family of birds. Steve founded the region’s woodpecker festival in 2008, and his Peterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers of North America was published in 2016. He has fed leeches (his own blood) in Malaysian Borneo, and he has watched Spotless Starlings swarming around the Greek ruins of Sicily. Steve’s Alaska adventures have taken him from Ketchikan to Barrow and St. Paul Island. One of his favorite destinations takes him to see ‘eastern’ warblers breeding across the boreal forest of Alberta, but recent adventures have led him to favor the cushion plants and condors of the Peruvian high Andes. Steve speaks at bird festivals across North America, and he returns annually to speak and guide at the Vallarta Bird Festival in far-western Jalisco, Mexico. Steve joined Naturalist Journeys earlier this year, and we are excited to have him on the schedule for 2021 and beyond.
Steve’s work as a field biologist has taken him from the Coast Range of Oregon to California’s Sierra Nevada. Most recently, he conducted point-count and woodpecker surveys for a study in the Central Oregon Cascades. Steve co-founded the East Cascades Bird Conservancy (now East Cascades Audubon), and served as its first president. He also co-founded the Oregon Birding Trails Program and coordinated its flagship project, the Oregon Cascades Birding Trail. When Steve is not traveling the world for tours and lectures, he can be found writing, skiing, hiking, and watching woodpeckers at home in lovely Sisters, Oregon.
Other trips with Steve Shunk
Christmas in Costa Rica Full! Take a look at our July Costa Rica tour!December 22 - 29, 2023
Caribbean Endemics of JamaicaJanuary 28 - February 4, 2024
Costa Rica: Monteverde & More! Full! Take a look at our July Costa Rica tour!March 20 - 30, 2024, w/La Selva/Sarapiqui extension
Taiwan: Birding & NatureApril 10 - 20, 2024, w/Okinawa & Amami extension
Oregon's Malheur NWR & Woodpecker WonderlandMay 20 - 29, 2024
Oregon's Malheur NWR & Woodpecker WonderlandMay 31 - June 9, 2024
Photography Seminar Oregon's Woodpecker WonderlandJune 11 - 16, 2024
- Christmas in Costa Rica
Essential Information +
This information is important for being prepared for your journey; we want you to have the best experience possible. If you only read one section, this one is key!
Ahead of Your Tour
- Make sure your passport will be valid at least six months after the date of your scheduled arrival into Borneo. No visas are required for U.S. citizens for stays of this duration. If you are from another country, please contact the Embassy of Borneo website for guidelines.
- Please check current CDC recommendations for travel to Malaysia and consult with your doctor about general travel vaccinations you should have as precaution for travel. See the “Health and Inoculations” section below.
- Travel insurance in case of serious medical emergency is strongly recommended. Full health coverage and repatriation is available through Allianz Travel Insurance.
- Plan your flight reservations arriving into and departing from Kota Kinabalu International Airport (BKI). Send a copy of your itinerary to the Naturalist Journeys office please.
- Soft sided luggage/duffel bags are easiest for packing the vans. Pack essential medications in your carry-on luggage, as well as one day of clothing and optics in case of luggage delay.
Arrival into Kota Kinabalu International Airport (BKI)
Please note. If you are delayed in travel, please FIRST call the number of our Malaysian operator. As a backup, contact our office (both numbers are on your emergency contact list).
Our tour begins and ends at Kota Kinabalu Int’l Airport (BKI), which can be reached from several major Asian flight hubs, including Seoul (ICN), Kuala Lumpur (KUL), and Hong Kong (HKG), among others. We recommend that you arrive at least one day early to rest after the long flights from home. You may also want to explore Kota Kinabalu (KK) on your own for a day to experience the amazing markets, eclectic restaurants, and general hustle and bustle of this small but busy city. If you do arrive early or stay beyond the tour, you will need to make your own reservations.
On tour start date we will coordinate your pick-ups close to your departure with operators and guides once we have all travelers completed travel information. Please make sure we have both your ARRIVAL and DEPARTURE information, so they can plan this. It is imperative that we have your correct TRAVEL information; we appreciate if you email us a copy of your flight reservation. They will check internet for your updated flight information.
Please check the Travel Details section of this tour for additional information and updates.
Departures from Kota Kinabalu International Airport (BKI)
Please check the Travel Details section of this tour for additional information and updates.
Passports, Visas & Documents
You must have a passport that is in good condition and is valid for six months AFTER your scheduled arrival into Malaysia. You should have at least one blank page per stamp. The blank pages need to say “Visas” at the top. Pages marked “Amendments and Endorsements” will not be accepted. If you are from another country, please contact the Malaysian embassy website for guidelines. Information for U.S. citizens can be found at:
At the time of writing, a tourist visa is not required for stays the length of this tour, but you will need proof of a return ticket. The necessary documents will be distributed by your airline while in flight or provided for you upon arrival. We advise that you bring your eContact list of hotels for use at immigration as well.
As a precaution for lost or misplaced documents you carry on your person during travel, we highly recommend you keep hard and digital backup copies on your phone (either photo or PDF scan), as well as a hard copy left with your emergency contact at home. The recommended important documents to copy include, but are not limited to; your passport ID page, travel visa, the front and back of your credit card(s), the airline barcode on your luggage. This will greatly expedite getting new ones if necessary – we hope everyone will always keep travel documents close so that losing them will not be an issue.
General Health & Inoculations Information – Be Prepared!
We will share your health information with your guide. This information will be kept confidential but is very important as we want to be best prepared in case of medical emergency.
Anti-malarial drugs are not required for any area that you visit. There are occasional reports of Dengue Fever in lower elevation areas, for which there is no vaccine. Dengue fever, Zika, and other diseases are contacted by mosquito bites so be sure to use mosquito repellant containing DEET or Picaridin. Travelers can reduce their risk of disease by protecting themselves from mosquito bites in lower elevation areas by using protective clothing.
Vaccinations: Bring copies of your vaccination records with you. At the time of writing there were no other required vaccinations to enter Malaysia other than COVID. The CDC recommends that all travelers be up to date with routine vaccinations and basic travel vaccines (such as Hepatitis A and Typhoid) before traveling to any destination. Please check with your doctor for recommendations at least 4-6 weeks before departing on your trip. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for Malasia is a helpful resource, or reach them or by phone at (800) CDC-INFO.
Prescriptions and Allergies: It is a good idea to pack any meds you take regularly in your carry-on luggage. Bring an extra pair of glasses or contact lenses. Bring an adequate supply of any prescription medications you use, a copy of the prescription and a list of generic names of your medicines as “back-up” in case it is necessary to purchase drugs while abroad. You’ll want to keep medications in their original, labeled containers. It is also recommended to carry with you an up-to-date record of known allergies, chronic medical problems and Medic Alerts so that, if necessary, emergency treatment can be carried out without endangering your health.
Common Ailments: We recommend that you bring a travel-sized first aid kit and a supply of standard over-the-counter medications for common ailments (such as upset stomach, headache, motion sickness, diahhrea, minor scrapes, bug bites, etc.).
Weather & Climate
Straddling the equator, the daily weather in Borneo is generally humid and warm with temperatures in the 70s-90s°F, with occasional afternoon or evening showers. The high humidity will make it seem hotter than the actual air temperature, especially for participants who live in arid climates. On some days, thunderstorms may require us to make a hasty retreat for cover, but most rainy situations can be managed with waterproof outerwear or a personal umbrella. You might even appreciate getting wet on some days!
Annoyances & Hazards
Mosquitoes can occur in the forests; therefore, a supply of insect repellent containing DEET is essential. At grassland or farm locations you may encounter ticks or chiggers, if so, spray your shoes with repellent, and tuck your pants into your socks. When back, be sure to shower and air out your clothing. Your guide should have a good read on if it has been wet enough that chiggers are active. There can also be poisonous snakes and insects, though encountering them is rare. Do listen carefully to any advice given by your local guide. And remember the sun is strong and be prepared with proper protection.
Leeches can be a nuisance, particularly in the Danum Valley. Spraying socks and pants can help, but a pair of anti-leech socks is more effective. Salt sachets can also be useful.
Food & Drinks
Menus at lodges and restaurants are varied, sustainably based on the wonderful local ingredients available, and delightfully prepared in a sanitary environment. As with any case when traveling we urge you to consider what your body is used to before you eat something. Trust your common sense when consuming food and beverages. This is the best way to avoid any unwanted problems. Ask for recommendations from your hotel or refer to a guidebook such as Frommers. Enjoy eclectic Asian cuisine at luxury jungle lodges.
Bottled water will be available for field trips and drinking water is provided for you to refill a bottle. Tap water is not considered safe to drink.
Packing, Clothing & Laundry
Dress is very informal throughout your journey. While some people will change for dinner, it is usually just to a drier or cleaner version of what they wore during the day. Again, the climate is warm to hot, so you will be comfortable in lightweight clothing.
Some, but not all, of our lodges will have laundry services.
Please, pack light. We are serious about this – we move around a lot; you just do not need much to cope with tropical life! Please do not bring anything more than you must. Lay out your hopeful things to take and then do a serious paring down please!
TRAVEL TIP: Imagine NOT getting your suitcase. Wear your most important shoes for the field and have one day’s clothing change (including a change of underwear!). And please do not pack any essential medications, or your vital optics, in your checked luggage!
The official currency in Sabah is the Malaysian Ringgit (MYR), and ATMs or currency exchanges (check the rates) at the airport are the most reliable sources for local cash. ATMs at banks near your hotel may have the best rates. We advise you carry a mix of different types of payments, such as local and U.S. cash, an ATM card, and a credit card. For the current exchange rate, please refer to an online converter tool like www.xe.com or your bank. U.S. dollars in good condition (no rips or tears) may be taken as a form of payment but shopping for smaller handicrafts may necessitate using local currency, and give you greater value.
When using an ATM to withdrawal cash, keep in mind it might only accept cards from local banks or not allow cash advances on credit cards. Many U.S. banks charge a fee of $1 - $5 each time you use a foreign ATM. Others may charge you a percentage of the amount you withdraw. Check with your bank before departure, and advise them you will be traveling. You must become familiar with how to use your ATM card and PIN number ahead of the journey.
We suggest you have more than one card available, if possible. You may want to bring more than one brand of card (VISA and Mastercard are commonly accepted; American Express is less common). You can use credit cards at lodges to pay your bar and gift tabs. Not every shop will accept every card. Some smaller shops and restaurants, or taxis require cash, so it is always a good idea to ask before making a purchase. Also, we recommend that you advise your bank or credit card company that you will be traveling abroad to avoid questions, card freezes, or charges. If you have a choice of cards, bring one with no foreign exchange fees.
Traveler’s checks are not widely accepted. They can be difficult to exchange. We do not advise you use them.
Tipping throughout the tour is at your discretion. Some guidelines follow. At larger (mostly city) hotels, tip maids and bar service as you would at home. At eco-lodges, there is typically a staff tip box in a public area; the going rate per person is $6-$10 a day, which is shared among staff for maid service, and general staff service at the lodges. Gratuities for group meals are already included. Your Naturalist Journeys host will take care of smaller tips such field trip services by boat drivers, night drive outings, single activities. Your additional tip is encouraged for birding tour guides and drivers who are with you for several days or the full trip; $10-$15 per day per guest is standard for guide service, and half that for a driver. If you have more than one local guide at a location, they will share the daily amount. We encourage tipping for the local teams hosting you; anything extra for your Naturalist Journeys host is at your discretion.
Cell Phones & Internet Service
You can make international calls from most of our hotels. The country code for the USA is 1.
International calls to the United States: Dial 00 + (1) + country code + area code + number.
If you plan on using your cell phone on this trip, please check with your wireless provider to see if your phone and service will work in your destination country. Ask for “international roaming” to be activated on your phone. Or you can buy a local SIM card at the airport and insert this in your mobile phone (just make certain your phone can accept one).
If your phone can connect to Wi-Fi, you may be able to make voice and video calls free of charge. Please contact your cell phone provider for further details. Another option if you have access to Wi-Fi, is to use smartphone apps like Skype, WhatsApp, or Viber to send text messages, and make voice calls, or video calls. Many smartphones, tablets, or laptops come with one of these apps pre-installed or you can download for free. If bringing a laptop or tablet, get a good dustcover to protect it at all times.
Make sure if you do NOT want to use your cell phone that you turn off your cellular data. You could incur huge charges if you are not on Wi-Fi. Putting your phone in airplane mode if you mainly use it for photos will save the battery as well.
Your hotels and most local restaurants provide Wi-Fi at least in their common areas. Although it is generally a reliable service, it can be affected by adverse weather conditions due to the remote location.
Please refrain from taking or making cell phone calls in the vehicles when traveling with other passengers, unless it appears to be an emergency. This disrupts other guests, plan on cell phone call use on your own time.
In Malaysia the power plugs and sockets are of type G. (standard British plug). The standard voltage is 240 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.
Travelers from the U.S. may need a voltage converter, or consider a combined power plug adapter/voltage converter. More information can be found at www.power-plugs-sockets.com.
Kota Kinabalu is on MYT – Malaysia Time. Daylight Saving Time (DST) changes do not necessarily occur on the same date every year. Check www.timeanddate.com before leaving home for your conversion.
Please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone us toll free: (866) 900-1146 if you have any questions. Many thanks for traveling with us and we hope you enjoy your journey!
Pace & Protocols +
Pace of the Tour & What to Expect
You will receive a Schedule-at-a-Glance and list of hotels (our eContact List) a few weeks before your departure. This will serve as an outline for each day and alert you to any recent changes made in the schedule or to our hotels, if needed.
Our journeys are set up to follow the rhythm of nature. Our focus is on birding and nature; we offer full, well-planned field days and often get up early for that magical time around dawn. We generally follow the published itinerary, but we stay flexible to the weather, wildlife opportunities and the interests of the group. Your guide will keep you apprised of the next day’s schedule at each evening meal, noting what to bring and what to prepare for. Questions and/or concerns are welcome.
The pace of our Naturalist Journeys tours is moderate; to fully participate you should be able to get in and out of vehicles several times a day, and walk 1-3 miles over uneven terrain. It is important to participate with a flexible attitude as adjustments may be made in our schedule to make the most of our time in the field or for other purposes at your guide's discretion. We are not a “listing” bird company that drills down on target species, but at times we do wait for those special species unique to the places we visit. During the day, we take time to stop for photos and for educational opportunities to learn about conservation projects, landscapes, and geology. We appreciate other taxa as well as birds, with mammals often the biggest draw but plants and butterflies are also very popular. Our clients often lend their own expertise to the mix.
We like to make meals a fun and memorable part of the experience, too. Breakfasts are often at hotels, and we carry snacks, fruit, and water in the vans each day. Lunches are a mix of picnics in the field (weather dependent) and a chance to dine with locals at small cafes and restaurants. For dinner, we pride ourselves in our homework to keep up with the best choices for dining, choosing restaurants with atmosphere that specialize in local foods. On occasion we keep dinner simple to go back out in the field for sunset wildlife viewing or night walks. In some remote locations, our choices are limited. If you are tired, room service for dinner may be an option you can choose.
Naturalist Journeys International Trips: Guide Role
Naturalist Journeys supports ecotourism and the development of excellent local guides. Once we know our international partners and guides well, we can send out small groups working directly with these trusted partners, adding a Naturalist Journeys guide to assist the local expert when we have a group of 6-7 or more. This helps us keep your costs down while retaining tour quality. The local guide is your main guide. You can expect your Naturalist Journeys guide to be well-researched and often they are experienced in the destination, but their role is not to be primary, it is to help to organize logistics, help you find birds, mammals, and interesting other species in the field, keep reports, help facilitate group interactions, and to keep the trip within Naturalist Journeys' style. Local guides live in the countries we travel to, know the destinations intimately, and are often the strongest force for conservation in their countries. They open many doors for us to have a rich experience.
Smoking is not permitted in any vehicle or in any situation where the group is participating in an activity together, such as a vehicle excursion or a guided walk. Please respect all designated smoking areas at hotels and restaurants.
As a courtesy to each other, we ask that all travelers please rotate seating. On international trips we may all be in one small bus, on some trips we are in vans, particularly the roomy Sprinter Vans when available. Some areas require us to be in smaller 4-wheel drive or safari vehicles. Rotation allows you to sit with different drivers and alternate front and back seating.
Photo Release & Sharing
We take many group photos and will share photos with the group. And after your tour, we will organize a chance to share photos via Dropbox or Google Photos. Please note that this is our policy and if you prefer to be excluded, we need to know ahead of your tour.
By registering for this tour, you agree to grant to Naturalist Journeys and its authorized representatives’ permission to record on photography film and/or video, pictures of my participation in the tour. You further agree that any or all of the material photographed may be used, in any form, as part of any future publications, brochure, or other printed materials used to promote Naturalist Journeys, and further that such use shall be without payment of fees, royalties, special credit or other compensation.
You are traveling in remote areas. Naturalist Journeys strongly recommends you have full medical and evacuation insurance from a company such as Allianz, for all international travel. If you do not have medical coverage or evacuation coverage on your existing travel insurance policy or for some reason elected not to take that out, we advise getting an evacuation plan with Global Rescue, World Nomads, Medjet, Allianz (they can do evacuation only) or a similar company. These plans are typically $300-$400 for a year for multiple destinations. This coverage may be a part of a larger Travel Insurance policy but can also be purchased on its own.
Please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at email@example.com or telephone our office: (520) 558-1146 or toll free: (866) 900-1146 if you have any questions. Many thanks for traveling with us and we hope you enjoy your journey.
Packing List +
Please pack light!
Soft luggage is much easier for us to pack than a more rigid hard sided piece, so if you have the choice, please use your soft luggage. Be sure to have your name and address on the inside of the bag, as well as on the luggage tag on the handle. It is our hope that you can pack in one checked suitcase that does not exceed 45 pounds. Be sure to pack your personal medication, airline tickets, passport, binoculars, camera, and other essential items in your carry-on bag. You will want a day pack for field trips, so this is an ideal carry-on. Please reconfirm your airline’s baggage weight and size restrictions about a week or so before departure.
In general, the weather during your stay will be hot and humid, typically varying from 70°F to 90°F. Rain is likely during your trip - prepare by bringing raingear.
Dress is informal throughout the trip. Dressing in layers is the best way to be comfortable, although you won’t need too many layers in the lowlands. That said, in the highlands, it can be quite cool, so you will want a sweater and jacket. Lightweight long sleeve shirts and long pants make ideal field clothing for the lowlands, as they are more protective from sun and vegetation. Please do not wear shorts! Quickly drying fabrics are ideal. You will want a pair of waterproof shoes or light boots with good tread. We do not recommend that you wear sandals.
Note on clothing colors and insect repellent: We recommend muted colors of tan, brown, khaki, grey or green, as they are spotted less easily than white or bright colors, though camouflage clothing is not recommended, and in some countries, not legal to wear. It is possible to purchase field clothing permeated with insect repellent such as the Craghoppers Insect Shield collection. Another approach is to purchase Permethrin spray (online or from REI) to treat your field clothing and socks before your departure.
Clothing & Gear
- Lightweight long pants, 2-3 pair
- Light weight long sleeve shirts, 2-3 (loose fitting keeps you cool)
- T-shirts or equivalent, note that these will get wet due to the humidity; this will keep you cool, but you will be, well, wet. You may wish to avoid cotton in favor of fabrics that wick.
- Casual clothing for travel days and evenings
- Personal underclothing and pajamas
- Socks – lightweight and easy to wash and dry, long enough to tuck your pants into, and/or socks treated with insect repellent
- Comfortable walking/hiking shoes such as tennis shoes and lightweight waterproof hiking boots. Please note that forest trails will be on uneven terrain and will likely be muddy – good tread and support are essential! Most of the lodges have rubber boots to borrow, but you may wish to bring your own.
- Anti-leech socks (optional)
- Shower thongs
- Lightweight fleece jacket or sweater for highlands
- Rainwear, such as a poncho or raincoat, and/or a pocket umbrella are essential
- Mesh bug jacket with a hood (no face screen)
- Hat with broad brim
- Bug hat or mesh bug hood that can be worn over a cap
- Bathing suit (optional)
- Bandana (optional, ones with gel inserts are great for cooling off when you are hot and sweaty)
Equipment & Miscellaneous
- Airline tickets or e-ticket verification
- Passport, visa (if required), travel insurance info, money & credit cards.
- A secure pouch to carry the items above on your person (such as a secure, under-clothing document pouch)
- As a backup: copies of all the above (phone and/or paper) packed in a separate location than on your person, plus a set given to your emergency contact at home as a backup. For passport, copy of the ID and entry stamp pages.
- Small daypack for field gear while hiking and as carry-on bag (water-resistant recommended)
- Umbrella (recommended) – not brightly colored
- Small flashlight (headlamps may attract insects close to your face) with fresh batteries
- Alarm clock
- Walking stick (optional, but recommended if you have one)
- Sunscreen/lip balm with SPF
- Sunglasses with neck strap
- Insect repellent spray and/or wipes (both with and without DEET is advised)
- Kleenex packs
- Toiletry articles
- Universal adapter/converter combo
- Cell phone and charger
- Binoculars (a hotel shower cap is great to cover these when it is raining…)
- Camera and extra batteries, digital chips etc., lens cleaning supplies and instruction manual (Optional)
- Adapter for UK-type outlets; Type G, which conversion to 240 volts; note that some lodges will have
- U.S.-type outlets.
- Rechargeable power bank (optional)
- Spotting scope and tripod (optional)
- Tablet or laptop for personal use and/or transferring photos, USB cord and charger (optional)
- Water bottle (or plan to reuse one purchased on location)
- Gallon-size zipper bags for keeping things dry
- Laundry soap for hand washing
- Travel sewing kit
- Earplugs (if you are sensitive to noise at night – optional)
- Notebook or journal and pen (optional)
- Field guides (optional)
- Padlock for luggage (optional)
- Steri-Pen or other UV water treatment device. Tap water in Malaysia is general free from pathogens but it may be discolored or distasteful from the pipes. Therefore, you may wish to filter your water. Bottled water will be available at lodging sites.
WE DO NOT RECOMMEND TRAVELING WITH PRECIOUS OR VALUABLE JEWELRY – don’t tempt anyone and don’t bring things you’d regret losing - your mind will be at ease!
Medical & First Aid Items
- Personal medication (with copy of vital prescriptions, including glasses) and any medical alerts
- Motion sickness preventatives if likely to be needed on bus, van drives, etc. We will be driving some winding roads.
- Personal first aid kit, including medications for general ailments, colds and stomach ailments (Imodium or Lomotil, antihistamine cream or tablets, eye drops, etc.) and antiseptic cream or wipes. It is possible, though unlikely, that you may contract digestive pathogens, so we recommend that you carry Cipro or similar medication.
- Foot powder, lotions for dry skin, general “comfort” items
- Hydrocortisone cream to ease itching from insect bites
- Band-Aids (important if you catch a leech), and moleskin to protect against blisters
- Epi-pen if needed for allergic reactions
- Antibacterial hand soap, small vial, and cleansing wipes
- Heath insurance and vaccination information (kept in personal pouch with other travel documents)
- Vaccination records
- Extra pair of eyeglasses or contacts, with plenty of wetting and cleaning solution
Suggested Reading List +
There are many titles of interest for Borneo; the following are a few that we have enjoyed that can get you started.
Your guide will also have a selection of reference books and materials for participants to share.
As an Amazon Associate, Naturalist Journeys earns from qualifying purchases, and may get commissions for purchases made through links on this page at no added cost to you.
Useful Links +
Nature, Wildlife & Biology
Evolutionary Hotspots for Southeast Asian Biodiversity
Heart of Borneo, a Paradise of Biological Wonder
Species of Borneo – iNaturalist.org
Mammals Seen on Kinabatangan River
Adventures with Pitcher Plants (video)
Bats that live in Pitcher Plants
Conservation, Parks & Reserves
The Borneo Project
Crocker Range National Park
Kinabalu National Park
Poring Hot Springs
Danum Valley Conservation Area
Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
Rainforest Discovery Centre
Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre
Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary
Geology & Geography
Geological history of Borneo
Map of Borneo
History & Culture
History of Borneo
Culture of Borneo
Foods of Sabah
Helpful Travel Websites
Kota Kinabalu International Airport (BKI)
National Passport Information Center
Homeland Security Real ID Act
U.S. Department of State International Travel Information - Malaysia
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
U.S. Department of State International Travel Information – Malaysia
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Malaysia
Canada Travel Advice and Advisories - Malaysia
Travel Health Pro (UK) - Malaysia
Foreign Exchange Rates
Electricity and Plugs - Malaysia
Date, Time, and Holidays – Malasia
Photo credits: Banners: Orangutan on Borneo (NJ Stock), Blue-throated Bee-eaters (NJ Stock), Blue-banded Pitta (Andrew Eagle via Creative Commons), Borneo Scenic (NJ Stock), Gliding Tree Frog (Chun Xing Wong via Creative Commons), Borneo Pygmy Elephants (Denis Luyten via Creative Commons) Thumbnails: Hooded Pitta (NJ Stock), Pygmy Elephant (NJ Stock), Red-naped Trogon (NJ Stock)