Malaysia and Borneo offer a fascinating blend of cultures, natural beauty, and adventure that attracts tourists from all over the world. From the bustling cities of Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu to the pristine beaches of Langkawi and the rainforests of Sarawak, the region has something for everyone.
Planning a travel itinerary around Malaysia and Borneo can be an exciting but daunting task, as there are countless destinations and activities to choose from. This requires careful research, budgeting, and time management to ensure a memorable and stress-free journey.
We had always wanted to visit Borneo – even more so than Malaysia. So when we found reasonably priced flights departing from Amsterdam, we didn’t hesitate to snap them up, and started working on a Malaysia and Borneo travel plan.
We found our flights from a really useful website that specializes in last-minute flight deals. HolidayPirates is one of our top resources when searching for long-haul flights to the far east, as well as to many other destinations.
Our Borneo & Malaysia Travel Plan
Once the flight was booked, the real planning started, beginning with maps. From the start, it was clear that the trip would be divided into 2 sections:
- The Malaysian peninsula: We would be arriving (and leaving from) Kuala Lumpur.
- Borneo: The third-largest island in the world, shared between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
This being our first extended trip to Malaysia, we wanted to experience the different aspects of the country without frantically trying to see everything. We also wanted to give ourselves enough time to relax in each place we visited, and not spend all of our time travelling.
The number of days available was a critical factor. We had exactly 21 days for the whole trip, including the long-haul flights at the start and end of the journey. This translated into 19 nights accommodation that we would require.
As much as possible, we also wanted to get off the beaten track to find some secluded out-of-the-way places where we could enjoy both sea and jungle. Of course, this would mean extra travelling, but we planned to vary our modes of transport to keep it all interesting.
We would be arriving in Kuala Lumpur, but we would also have to fly from there to get to Borneo (there was insufficient time to take a boat). The broad plan was therefore to spend the first 10 days of our trip in Malaysia, and then return to Kuala Lumpur to take a flight to Borneo, where we would spend the second half of the trip.
Since Malaysia has some beautiful islands, we checked to see which locations would be viable from Kuala Lumpur within our available time frame. The place we kept reading about was Tioman island, located 30 kms off the east coast. It’s quite a journey to get there, but if we could stay there a few nights, it might be worth it.
On the way to Tioman, we could take a short detour north up the east coast to visit Cherating. Here there are reported to be fabulous wide sea beaches and great accommodation. After Tioman, we could then visit the city of Kuantan, before taking a flight over to Borneo via Kuala Lumpur.
… Then Borneo
Borneo is a huge island with a multitude of fascinating destinations. During our 10 days there, we of course wanted to experience the jungle and see the unique and indigenous wildlife. We also heard about the possibility of white-water rafting on some spectacular stretches of river.
Finally, as this would be our last few days in the tropics, we wanted to find a quite place by the sea, something rustic but comfortable, with good local food and places to explore on foot.
Armed with our wish list, we narrowed our choices to a set of 8 destinations that could be combined into an interesting and viable route:
1. Kuala Lumpur to Cherating
2. Cherating to Mersing
3. Mersing to Tioman
4. Tioman to Kuantan
5. Kuantan to Kota Kinabalu
6. Kota Kinabalu to Kuala Penyu
7. Kuala Penyu to Sandakan
8. Sandakan to Kuala Lumpur
Our Travel Plan Budget
We divided our budget into 3 categories, based on two people sharing:
♦ Flights: Both international and domestic.
♦ Pre-booked accommodation.
♦ Daily cash allowance for everything else.
International Flights: We booked 2 return flights from Malta (our home base) to Eindhoven, Holland with Ryanair for €262. We then planned to take a train from Eindhoven to Zaventem in Belgium, where we could pick up our return flight tickets from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur (€1,042 for 2 persons), travelling with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines This price included the high-speed Thalys train from Zaventem to Amsterdam.
Domestic Flights: Four weeks before departure, we went to the Malaysia Airlines website and booked our domestic flights around Malaysia and Borneo. This came to 3 one-way flights for 2 people, with a total cost of €344.
Pre-booked Accommodation: Also three to four weeks before departure we went to the Agoda website and booked all of our accommodation in the various places we had decided to visit. This came to €858 on the basis of 2 people sharing. In all but one place, this also included breakfast plus a full-board, 4-night stay in one location. We spent a lot of time researching our accommodation possibilities. From experience, this really can make or break a trip.
Daily Cash Allowance: Typically in a trip around S. E. Asia, we would be looking to spend around €25 per person per day after all the above expenses were accounted for. On this particular trip, we would have 19 nights in Malaysia, but a total trip duration of 22 days. We therefore calculated our cash requirement as 22 days x €25 per person, for a combined requirement of €1,100.
The budget for our entire trip came to a total of €3,606. The only other cost not accounted for was our holiday insurance (€116). Adding this makes a grand total of €3,722.
So how did we do?
Kuala Lumpur to Cherating
Although Kuala Lumpur was our entry point to Malaysia, it would also be our exit point. We therefore decided to postpone our exploration of the city until the end of the trip. Arriving from a wintry Europe, we would be too keen to get some sun and sea before settling down to more cultural activities.
Our plan was therefore to spend our first night in a hotel in downtime Kuala Lumpur, and then head out early the next morning by coach. Our destination would be a highly-recommended beach resort on the opposite coast, close to Cherating.
We would spend a couple of days there to acclimatize, before heading south down the same coastline in search of some island fun.
Cherating to Mersing
From Cherating, we planned to travel south down the coast for a few hours, and then take a ferry across to the island of Tioman. To do this we would need to take a coach, either from Cherating or more probably from Kuantan. Our destination was a small town called Mersing, from where we could catch a ferry over to the island.
As we would be arriving in Mersing sometime late afternoon, with no clear information about the ferry timetable, we would have to book a hotel there for one night. From our research online, this stopover would not be the highlight of our trip, but without a confirmed ferry booking we were left with little choice.
Mersing is known largely as a transit stop for tourists travelling to and from Tioman and the other smaller islands. Since we planned to stop over for the night, we would try and find out what else this small town has to offer.
The following day, we should also have some time in the morning for sightseeing before making a fairly leisurely crossing over to Tioman.
Mersing to Tioman
As with the other destinations on this trip, we pre-booked our accommodation in Mersing and in Tioman. We even contacted by email the owner of our accommodation – 1511 Coconut Grove, Juara – in Tioman to ask for directions. He advised us that when we arrive at Tekek jetty on the island we just needed to take a taxi and pay RM35 for the drive across the island to Juara.
Tioman to Kuantan
We took a lot of care choosing our accommodation in Tioman since we were booking ourselves in for three nights.
From everything we read, we couldn’t go wrong choosing 1511 Coconut Grove, Juara, and we were really looking forward to it. For 3 days, we would have a bungalow on the beach, with immediate access to the jungle behind. This is exactly the type of experience we were looking for early in our trip.
After this short stay we would head back to the jetty and catch the ferry back to Mersing. This time, however, we were not planning to spend more time in Mersing: Instead, we hoped to catch a bus back up the Malaysian east coast as far as Kuantan.
We booked a hotel for just one night in Kuantan. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t have time to discover Kuantan city as we had an early flight out the following morning… to Borneo, and the second part of our trip.
Kuantan to Kota Kinabalu (Borneo)
We couldn’t fly directly from Kuantan to Kota Kinabalu. All Malaysia Airlines flights go via the hub in Kuala Lumpur. We therefore booked a flight from Kuantan to Kota Kinabalu with a transit through Kuala Lumpur (effectively, 2 flights).
We made these bookings online via Malaysia Airlines website. We booked the flights 3 weeks before the travel dates. The sooner you can book, the cheaper it is. These one-way flights cost RM321 per person (around €80).
We’d found and booked the Oceania hotel in Kota Kinabalu, and had emailed them to arrange a pickup from the airport (RM35). Hopefully, we would have a little time to look around the city before taking a coach the following day to Kuala Penyu.
Kota Kinabalu to Kuala Penyu
Our first primary destination in Borneo was the Borneo Tempurung Seaside Lodge, located not too far from Kuala Penyu. We chose this place because it is on the sea with a jungle backdrop. It is also within easy distance of the Padas river at Beaufort, where we were hoping to arrange a rafting expedition.
This would be the 2nd of our principal stays in Malaysia, so we allocated 4 nights in Kuala Penyu.
Kuala Penyu to Sandakan
Our last destination in Borneo had to be in the area around Sandakan, renowned for the rain forest experience and orangutans. To get there we booked another Malaysia Airlines flight from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan (RM99).
From Sandakan, we arranged a hotel pickup (RM40) to take us to the Sepilok Jungle Resort.
This resort actually wasn’t our first choice: Even booking four weeks in advance, we were unable to book the Borneo Nature Lodge.
The reports about the Jungle Resort weren’t stellar, but there was little other choice if we wanted to stay close to the Orangutan Center. We therefore decided to book just 2 nights there, and extend our stay later in Kuala Lumpur by 1 extra night.
In retrospect, this was the right decision (see later).
Sandakan to Kuala Lumpur
The final leg of our journey was a return to Kuala Lumpur, with just 2 days to discover the capital city. We booked flights back from Sandakan to Kuala Lumpur via Kota Kinabalu (RM210). There were no direct flights back to Kuala Lumpur with Malaysia Airlines.
In Kuala Lumpur we took especial care to find a good hotel, centrally located, with an outdoor pool. The pool was important to us: We were in the city but wanted to end our holiday with a splash!
We chose the Vivatel Kuala Lumpur (EUR55 /USD76 per night for a double room). This was at the upper end of our daily budget, but we were hoping it wouldn’t exceed our overall budget for the trip.
All that remained after Kuala Lumpur was the long haul back home. That would conclude our overall plan.
So, with a detailed route and budget sorted we started fine-tuning the plan. When travelling independently, it can help a lot if you can visually identify landmarks or areas in advance (using photos or Google Earth). Downloading city maps, checking bus routes/terminals, and finding recommended eateries is also helpful to really take control of your trip.
Understandably, this level of micro-management is not suited to everybody, and it’s always fun to leave sections of the trip open to chance. It all depends how much you enjoy the planning process.
How Our Journey Played Out
With three weeks still to go before departure, we had plenty of time to pack as economically as possible, including the usual essentials when travelling around South-East Asia.
Check the links below to follow how the trip actually went (includes some excellent recommendations as well as some absolute no-no’s).
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