The land of river and palm

Borneo is the third largest island in the world, covering an area of 745,000 hectares. The Northern region is divided into Sabah and Sarawak under Malaysia with Brunei in between, and Kalimantan in the South which is under Indonesia.

The natural environment of lush rainforests, winding rivers, national parks, world heritage sites, intricate cave systems, rugged mountains and rich wildlife provides an exciting and excellent diversity for an array of leisure's, sports and adventure activities.

Borneo offers visitors a bewildering array of ethnic composition, societies and religions in this melting pot of culture. Traditional arts, culture and crafts are kept alive by the communities. Colorful festivals are celebrated throughout the year, attracting locals in the region and tourists.

People

Bahasa Malaysia is the official language spoken in the Sabah and Sarawak. Other widely spoken languages include Chinese (Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, Hakka, Hainan, Foochow), Tamil and English. Borneo’s indigenous peoples, known as Dayaks, belong to more than 50 different ethnic groups that speak about 140 languages and dialects. They live along the coasts, some live along the remote area of great rivers. Some Dayaks tribes still practiced headhunting few generations ago, but today many Dayaks are well-consolidated into the modern life.

The most distinguished feature of Dayak life is the longhouse which is an entire village under one seemingly interminable roof. The houses are raised above the damp jungle floor on hardwood stilts and built on or near river banks.

Religion

The religion of Islam entered the island in the 10th century, following the arrival of Muslim traders who later converted many indigenous people in the coastal areas, but traditional Dayak was animism. It was various from tribe to tribe, and the most important was the spirits associated with virtually all places and things. Ancestor worship plays a large part as well. After death, Dayaks join their ancestors in the spirit world. Nowadays, most Dayaks belong to the mainstream Protestant Groups, evangelical denominations, and the Roman Catholic Church.

Landscape

Borneo is surrounded by the South China Sea in the north, the Sulu Sea in the North East, the Celebes Sea and Makassar Straits in the East and the Java Sea in the South. Borneo’s highest peak is Mount Kinabalu, located in Sabah, Malaysia. This also makes Borneo the sixth highest island in the world.

The state of Sarawak occupies the North West coastal region of the island. It is home to some of natural wonders, including the longest network of caves in the world.  State’s capital is Kuching with a population of around 450,000. This modern city owns the charm of its past as a trading town.

Sabah occupies the top portion of the beautiful island of Borneo. It is home to some of the world’s oldest jungles, and the magnificent Mount Kinabalu, which is the highest mountain peak in South-east Asia. The capital of the state is Kota Kinabalu, with a population of around 300,000 it is a relatively new city as the original was destroyed during the Second World War. Sandakan is the old state capital and is located on the East Coast. It is home to the world’s largest Orangutan Sanctuary at Sepilok, which is around 15 minutes’ drive from the town. For Dive enthusiasts, Sabah has some of the best dive sites in Malaysia, Sipadan Island for one is a word that is on the lips of any diver who has explored the waters of Borneo.

Brunei is on the North West of the island with the South China Sea running along its coastline. About 70% of Brunei's land area is covered by unspoiled rainforest, and is home to many types of flora and fauna endemic only to the island of Borneo.

Climate

Borneo is great to visit anytime of the year. Typically hot and humid it can be wet at any time, although most rain falls between November and January and less so between June and August. Temperature fluctuates little throughout the year; the average is between 21 C and 32 C. With few activity exceptions Borneo is a year round destination that is outside the Pacific 'Ring of Fire' so does not suffer from earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or even tropical cyclones.

Peak Tourist season is June-August so some areas may be busier during these months.

It is warm and delightfully fresh all the year round. The dry season is in mid-April to September but in the wet season is still a time of clear, sunny skies with a few sudden, tropical showers.

History

Borneo was once under the control of the Brunei Empire from the 15th to 17th Century, after the fall of Malacca. Later, the British gained control of the North through James Brooke in Sarawak and the North Borneo Company in Sabah. The Dutch, meanwhile, controlled the South. During World War II, the Japanese occupied Borneo, and caused much hardship for the population. Later, it reverted back to colonial control. However, when Sabah and Sarawak became part of Malaysia in 1963, Indonesia declared war and Borneo became the center of conflict for the Malaysia-Indonesia Confrontation. It was resolved peacefully later. In the past, there have been territorial claims against Malaysia on parts of Borneo, but most have been resolved in Malaysia’s favor by International Courts.

Lifestyle

Eating

The island’s variety ethnic groups and cultural backgrounds make the cuisines wide-ranging and delicious. Don’t leave the island until you try the spicy sambal at Indonesian eateries, smoky chicken stay at Malay night market stalls, and fresh seafood from South China Sea is something to die for. Once you travel further to visit Borneo’s indigenous groups, don’t forget to sample the sublime cooking of Kelabit people, Bario rice and pineapple curry, bamboo chicken, and midin jungle fern of Dayak is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted.

Shopping

Borneo is an excellent place for arts, crafts and curios. Modern shopping malls and boutique centers provide a wide range of choice souvenirs from handicrafts to gold, branded clothes to electrical and audiovisual equipment, famous Sarawak pepper products. Source for high quality, reasonably priced and unique gifts. The most popular souvenirs are rattan pleated bags, hats, and attractive wall decorations. Those who love stone, Martapura is the place to head to. Jewelry shops and diamond polishers line the road, where diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, topaz, amethysts, jade, turquoise, can be found easily.

Shopping

Borneo is an excellent place for arts, crafts and curios. Modern shopping malls and boutique centers provide a wide range of choice souvenirs from handicrafts to gold, branded clothes to electrical and audiovisual equipment, famous Sarawak pepper products. Source for high quality, reasonably priced and unique gifts. The most popular souvenirs are rattan pleated bags, hats, and attractive wall decorations. Those who love stone, Martapura is the place to head to. Jewelry shops and diamond polishers line the road, where diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, topaz, amethysts, jade, turquoise, can be found easily.

Etiquette

In Brunei, they apply the Islamic code strictly. The laws mainly apply to Muslims, but non-Muslims can also be charged for certain offenses, including drinking alcohol in public, adultery and homosexual acts committed with a Muslim. During Ramadan, all eating, drink or smoking in public is prohibited during daylight hours.

In Sabah and Sarawak, avoid:

  • Pointing with your feet
  • Eating with your left hand
  • Letting your emotion in flames.

A common gesture in Malaysia is the touch of hand to heart to signify gratitude. When visiting a longhouse or tribal village, ensure to show deference to the elder. Muslim women may choose not to shake hand. During Ramadan, if you’re traipsing through jungle, try not to drink or eat in front of your guide as Muslims continue to work on very little food and fluid for a whole month.

Kalimantan is heavily Muslim, so ensure you not to wear skimpy clothes in places of worship, remove shoes when entering someone’s house. When visiting tribal village, refrain from giving money or sweets to kids.