Adventurous travel is probably the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to Borneo. If you’re a family traveling with kids, you may be hesitant to add it to your bucket list if you’re not sure about some family-friendly activities on this big island.
Known for its breathtaking nature and wildlife, the third-largest island in the world offers numerous educational opportunities for your kids. Borneo areas are split into three countries: Indonesia, Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak), and Brunei. Each area has something to offer, and there are various family-friendly activities no matter which part of Borneo you go to!
Now, let’s dive into why you should visit Borneo and many things to do in Borneo with your family. From exploring the lush rainforest to planning a beach getaway, here’s what you need to know about traveling to Borneo as a family!
This is a guest post by Marya from The Beau Traveler – Find more of our South East Asia Family Guides here
#1 Visit Orangutan Sanctuaries
There are only two islands in the world where you can see orangutans in their natural habitats: Sumatra and Borneo. If that reason can’t convince you why a trip with your family to Borneo isn’t complete without visiting an orangutan sanctuary on the island, I don’t know what will.
You can find numerous orangutan sanctuaries in Borneo spread in the Indonesian and Malaysian parts of the island.
If you travel to the Indonesian part of Borneo, Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Kalimantan is dubbed the world’s largest orangutan conservation. However, some other orangutan sanctuaries in Indonesia exist, including the one at Kutai National Park in East Kalimantan and Gunung Pulung National Park in the western part of the island.
You can also visit orangutan sanctuaries in Malaysia, as the country has several natural conservations in both Sarawak and Sabah states. Just an hour from Kuching city center in Sarawak, you can visit Semenggoh Wildlife Center to see orangutans roaming around the rainforest.
If you’re heading to Sabah state in the Malaysian part of Borneo, you can also go to the Kinabatangan River where you can cruise on a boat trip to see orangutans in the wild!
The serenity of the rainforest combined with the soothing sounds of wildlife in Borneo is like no other; it’s a great destination to visit when you want to take your family to be close to nature!
You and your family can explore numerous national parks spread over the three countries in Borneo to enjoy nature at its finest. Explore the wildlife at Bako National Park, where your family can get on a day trip to enjoy the wildlife at the oldest national park in Sarawak. If you’re lucky, you can see some exotic animals in their natural habitat, including proboscis monkeys and Bornean bearded pigs!
If you prefer the off-the-beaten-path destination to visit with your family, head to Ulu Temburong National Park in Brunei instead. The 50,000-hectare pristine rainforest is known for its rich biodiversity, where you can get the rare opportunity to witness nature’s untouched beauty. It’s also home to various rare plant and animal species, where your kids can wander around while learning firsthand about the tropical biodiversity in Borneo!
In the Indonesian part of Borneo near the border between West Kalimantan and Sarawak in Malaysia, you can also explore some endemic flora and fauna at Betung Kerihun National Park while doing some fun activities in Borneo with your kids, from hiking to camping!
#3 Learn More About the Rich Culture in Borneo
Apart from the beautiful nature on the island, Borneo is also renowned for its rich and diverse culture. It’s home to indigenous communities like Dayak in Indonesia, Iban and Bidayuh in Sarawak, Orang Ulu in Brunei, and Kadazan-Dusun in Sabah. Each community has its own culture and traditions, so why not learn a thing or two about them?
There are numerous cultural villages in Borneo where your family can enjoy educational opportunities to learn more about their culture. Not so far from Ulu Temburong, you can visit Sumbiling Eco Village in Brunei to learn about the Iban community and join the cooking class to enjoy their traditional dishes.
In the Malaysian part of Borneo, you can join a day trip from Kota Kinabalu in Sabah to visit Mari Mari Cultural Village. Nestled in the tropical jungle, you can learn more about the different ethnic races in Sabah while getting a chance to visit the traditional houses of five indigenous tribes in the region: Kadazan-Dusun, Rungus, Lundayah, Bajau, and Murut tribes.
Indonesia plans to move its capital city from Jakarta to East Kalimantan in Borneo in 2024. Around two hours from the soon-to-be capital city in Nusantara, you can visit Pampang Cultural Village where your family can enjoy the traditional performances through dances and music from Dayak tribes!
#4 Enjoy the Culinary Scene of Borneo
You’ll be surprised to find out that Borneo is a haven for delicious food. Wherever you go in Borneo, you’ll be spoiled by various dishes you can try on this big island!
Enjoy the fusion of Chinese-Indonesian dumplings choi pan in West Kalimantan. The harmonious balance of aromatic herbs, garlic, ginger, and vegetable fillings in the dumpling is mouthwatering for anyone who’s lucky enough to try it!
If you’re already familiar with laksa in Malaysia or Singapore, you’ll be surprised by how different they are from Laksa Sarawak in the Malaysian part of Borneo. Some say that Laksa Sarawak tastes even better than their peninsula counterparts. Nonetheless, add the dish to your family’s bucket list in Borneo to find out!
When you get a chance to visit Brunei, don’t miss out on trying their national dish, ambuyat. The sago-based dish is best served when you share it with your family. You may find the chewy texture a bit weird on the first try, but mix it with the sauce and side dishes like grilled fish or veggies, and you’ll see why this iconic dish is a must-try in Borneo!
#5 Attend Cultural Festivals in Borneo
With the rich culture in Borneo, it’s also home to various cultural festivals that you can experience firsthand when traveling to the island.
Two weeks after Chinese New Year, Singkawang in the Indonesian part of Borneo hosts the annual Tatung Festival, which is a unique event combining elements of Taoist spirituality, Chinese folklore, and traditional Indonesian culture. The small city in West Kalimantan has been named the most tolerant city in Indonesia for a few consecutive years due to its diverse culture and population, and you can see the assimilation of the rich cultures in the city during this festive celebration.
If you plan to visit Borneo during summer in June, make your way to Bario in East Malaysia as this secluded town celebrates the rice harvest festival every year. Known as Pesta Nukenen, it’s a 3-day food festival where local people in Kelabit Highlands host a feast by celebrating their harvest and farming heritage in the heart of Borneo.
As a small country with a strong Islamic culture, Brunei Darussalam celebrates the Eid holiday to the next level as the sultanate country has a tradition where the Sultan’s residential palace, Istana Nurul Iman, opens for the public for three days to celebrate the feast together. Who knows? Maybe your family will get a chance to meet the Sultan in person!
#6 Explore The Water Villages of Borneo
Water villages in Borneo are a fascinating aspect of the island’s cultural heritage. There are several water villages on the island, with Kampong Ayer in Brunei being the most notable one.
Kampong Ayer in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital city of Brunei, has become home to several thousand people over generations for centuries. The village has a rich cultural heritage, with houses on stilts, wooden walkways, and a network of boats and water taxis for transportation to Bandar and its surroundings.
In the Malaysian part of Borneo, you can visit Tanjung Aru Water Village, located not too far from Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. Meanwhile, if you plan to visit Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Kalimantan of Indonesia, you can also make your way to Sei Sekonyer Water Village, where the majority of inhabitants come from the indigenous Dayak Ngaju tribe.
#7 Get On A River Cruise in Borneo
Borneo is an island that comprises abundant streams and rivers. Kinabatangan river cruise in the Sabah state of Malaysian Borneo is probably the most popular one, as you can join the river safari while exploring the rainforest and witnessing the wildlife in the surrounding area.
In Brunei, you can join the sightseeing cruise for a couple of hours to explore the river scene in this tiny country from the capital city in Bandar Seri Begawan. The river cruise in Brunei can offer you insights into the local way of life, as you can see the traditional water villages from afar while observing the traditional fishing methods and the local markets along the riverbanks.
A similar activity can also be done in Pontianak, the capital city of West Kalimantan province in Indonesia. Home to Kapuas River, the country’s longest river, you can join the dinner cruise, where you can spend around 2 hours cruising through the river while enjoying the sunset from the boat. If you want to experience something different, make your way to South Kalimantan, where you can also visit the Muara Kuin Floating Market through the Barito River in Banjarmasin.
#8 Visit Borneo’s Signature Landmarks
Landmarks in Borneo are probably less popular compared to the more popular ones in Southeast Asia like Merlion Statue in Singapore or KLCC Tower in Kuala Lumpur. However, some landmarks in Borneo are worth visiting as they offer rich and diverse experiences for your family.
From exploring the island’s unique natural wonders to delving into its cultural and historical heritage, there is so much more to gain from visiting notable landmarks in Borneo.
Starting with the Indonesian part of Borneo, Pontianak in West Kalimantan is home to the Equator monument. The landmark stands at a latitude of 0°, precisely on the equator line. During the equinox in mid-March and September every year, there’s an intriguing phenomenon where there is virtually no shadow at solar noon in the area within the equator line, and the city government hosts various events to demonstrate this phenomenon in these periods.
In Brunei, you can visit Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque as one of the most popular landmarks in the country. You can admire its stunning gold-domed design, as the building is an architectural marvel that’s become a symbol of this Muslim country. The magnificent mosque is located not too far from the Eco Corridor Park, where you and your kids can enjoy various activities, from strolling through the riverbank along the Kedayan River to renting a bike for a fun family ride!
Head to the Malaysian part of Borneo, where you can visit natural wonders like Mount Kinabalu in Sabah or the Pinnacle trails of Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak. Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Borneo, while Gunung Mulu is known for its unique karst formations with extensive cave systems that offer so many learning opportunities for your kids!
#9 Relax on the beach
If visiting a beach is more your cup of tea, Borneo is home to many beautiful beaches you can visit with your family!
Sabah is known as one of the most popular holiday destinations for Malaysians, and for a good reason. The Malaysian state of Borneo is home to hundreds of islands with stunning beaches that offer various family-friendly beach activities. You can go island hopping in Sabah from Kota Kinabalu or book your stay at one of the resorts on one of the islands to make the most of your time on some of the most beautiful beaches in Borneo.
Brunei is also home to some peaceful beaches on the island. While the beaches in this tiny country may not be as popular as those in the neighboring countries, Brunei offers some of the most beautiful sunset views on the island. Visit Tutong Beach to enjoy the pristine yellow sand and the view of the South China Sea from afar!
In the Indonesian side of Borneo, you can also visit the “Maldives of Indonesia” on Derawan Maratua Island. Situated on the north coast of East Kalimantan Province, your family will be spoiled by various beach activities around the island. Whether you want to relax on the pristine beach or go snorkeling in one of the best diving spots in Indonesia, a visit to Maratua Island is surely rewarding!
#10 Go on a family-friendly adventure in Borneo
There are endless family-friendly activities you can do no matter which part of Borneo you visit with your kids!
From riding an ATV at Katimahar Agri Park in Brunei and ziplining on the island in Sabah to diving and admiring marine lives on the Derawan Islands in Indonesia, Borneo is definitely the best place to wake your family’s adventurous side!
About the Blogger
Marya is the blogger at The BeauTraveler. She spent 4 years working in the aviation industry, but ironically got to travel more right after quitting the industry in 2015. Born and raised in Indonesia, she’s been working remotely since 2017. While she stays mostly at home, she also regularly spends 2-3 months traveling to a new place every year.
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