As with anywhere, you could spend months in Malaysian Borneo and still not have seen everything. So, putting together a 2 week Borneo itinerary was actually harder than it sounds…
Truth be told, we spent a total of 5 weeks in Malaysian Borneo!
But, this included a bit of downtime (since we’re travelling full-time for 2 years, we need to plan in some “normality” here and there to avoid travel burn out and to stay sane!)
It also included a few mistakes which unnecessarily extended the time spent in some places, and caused us to backtrack on ourselves more than we needed to…
Based on our experiences and mistakes, I’ve put together the ultimate 2 week Borneo itinerary for you!
If we were to do it all again, this is the route I would take.
Obviously, this 2 week Malaysian Borneo itinerary is fully adaptable and could easily also be done in the opposite direction too.
Let me know what you think and if you have any specific questions, I’d be happy to answer them for you if I can!
PS – This post may contain affiliate links: That means that if you purchase through my link, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Of course, I only recommend products/services that I have used and believe are great! Please read my disclosure for more info.
Day 1 | Fly to Sandakan (likely from KL)
Yes, there are probably cheaper flights that will get you to Kota Kinabalu, but in the end you’ll waste both time and money travelling back and forth.
With limited time, you don’t want to be backtracking on yourself like we did. So trust me on this one. Avoid our mistake and fly directly into Sandakan and start your 2 week Borneo itinerary there.
Multiple airlines fly from KL to Sandakan numerous times a day. I personally like to check both Skyscanner and Vayama for the best deals. We’ve found that Air Asia and Malindo Air often work out the cheapest but it’s worth doing a bit of research.
Sandakan airport is about a 25 minute drive from central Sandakan. A Grab is really your only option as there are no public buses anymore. A Grab from the airport into town will cost you RM12-13.
A taxi is an alternative, but they seem to be about twice the price! Definitely make sure you have the Grab App downloaded and get yourself a Malaysian SIM so you can easily get online. (P.S. For these and other useful tips, check out my 33 Things To Know About Malaysia Before You Go post!)
Sandakan itself is definitely not a place to write home about… Hence, my suggestion of simply staying here overnight and only using it as your base for your Kinabatangan River trip!
Where to stay:
For a cheap and cheerful option, OYO London Hotel is perfectly adequate for a night since you’ll be picked up relatively early the next morning.
If you do decide to hang out a bit longer in Sandakan, the Four Points by Sheraton is the nicest hotel in town but does come with a price tag to match.
Where to eat:
Along the riverfront, there are a few eateries. Check out Harbour Bistro right down the end for a cheap meal although some dishes are nicer than others (I enjoyed the butter prawn).
If you’re in the mood for Western food, the Balin Roofgarden Bistro & Bar is a good spot for food and a drink! It’s a bit hard to find as it is at the top of OYO Nak Hotel and doesn’t seem to have any signs but just take the lift to the top floor and then take the stairs to the rooftop.
Day 2 – 3 | Kinabatangan River Cruise
Although we did a 3 day/2 night river cruise, I would actually suggest simply doing a 1 night trip to the Kinabatangan River.
Obviously, you’ll have less opportunity to see the animals you came to see, but equally, we found that there’s a lot of “free time” on day 2 of the 3 day trip. This really felt a bit wasteful, especially if you have limited time to spend in Borneo. There is nothing you can really do during the downtime, other than wait around for the afternoon river cruise.
Of course, see what works best for you based on your own priorities. You could cut a day out from Kuching at the end of your 2 week Borneo itinerary, or simply extend your itinerary by an additional day if you do want to do two nights on the river.
Your accommodation will provide a detailed itinerary but generally they follow a similar setup;
Morning pick-up from your hotel in Sandakan
2 hour drive to Kinabatangan River, stopping for lunch on the way (included)
Afternoon river cruise (this is where you’ll hopefully see lots of monkeys and maybe even an orangutan!)
Optional night walk
Early morning river cruise (you’ll mostly see birds this time of day, and maybe a crocodile if you’re lucky)
Departure back to Sandakan (or Sepilok!)
Where to stay:
I’m actually not going to make a recommendation here. We stayed at Bilit Adventure Lodge but found them lacking when it came to the actual river cruise. The accommodation and food were good but the tour guides were not fully engaged. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any orangutans during our 2 night trip, despite other groups seeing them on two separate occasions on just a 1 night trip… Yes, nature and animals are unpredictable and a lot of it is down to luck, but when your guides spend more time looking at their phones than trying to spot the wildlife you’ve paid a lot of money to come and see, it’s pretty disappointing.
Where to eat:
Your accommodation will most likely include all meals. There certainly aren’t any restaurants around! They may also sell snacks and/or beer but at a mark-up. I’d suggest bringing any luxury items with you from Sandakan! Treated drinking water should be provided though.
Day 3 – 4 | Sepilok
Your river cruise package will include a drop-off in Sandakan at the end of your stay. But you can easily request that they drop you in Sepilok instead as it’s on the way.
You’ll head off from the river around 8:30 am, which means that you have most of Day 3 at your disposal in Sepilok!
Drop your bags off at your accommodation and head over to the Sunbear Conservation Centre.
After a quick lunch, spend a couple of hours at the Sun Bear Conservation Centre.
Although it’s not that large, we really enjoyed watching the antics of the numerous rescued sun bears! There are lots of really knowledgeable and friendly park guides around who will happily answer any questions you might have.
We were quite lucky on our visit as it had rained a lot the night before, and apparently sun bears don’t much like the wet! So, they were very active and many were climbing into the trees showing off their acrobatic skills!
At 2 pm, head to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. It is closed between 12 – 2pm so there’s no point rushing there any earlier.
Head to the outdoor nursery first to see the young orangutans being fed and encouraged to climb and swing between the platforms.
You’ll have about an hour to enjoy the youngsters before heading to the main feeding platform where food is brought out at 3pm.
Note: During fruiting season you may not see many (or any!) grown orangutans at the feeding platform.
The cost for the Sunbear Conservation Centre is RM31.80 per person while the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is RM30 per person.
After breakfast on Day 2, book a Grab to the Rainforest Discovery Centre. This will only set you back RM5, and means you can save your energy for walking around the rainforest rather than getting there in the first place.
Entry to the Rainforest Discovery Centre is RM15 per person and definitely worth the money!
Here you have the chance to spot wild orangutans! (If you’re lucky!)
Either way it’s a beautiful bit of rainforest where you can easily while away many hours spotting birds (including hornbills!), squirrels, civets, macaques, and perhaps a leech or two!
Where to stay:
Sepilok Forest Edge Resort is the perfect spot for a night or two in Sepilok. Whether you’re looking for a cheap dorm room or a bit of pampering in a private chalet, you’ll be able to find it here. The location is awesome too, and within easy walking distance to the Orangutan and Sunbear centres. Plus, there’s a lovely little plunge pool set in the resort’s beautiful gardens!
Where to eat:
Definitely head to Kafeteria Sepilok for lunch. It is surprisingly cheap and their fresh orange juice is the best we’ve had in Malaysia! For dinner, simply stay put at Sepilok Forest Edge Resort. Breakfast is also included in your stay there.
Day 5 | Bus to Kinabalu Park
Make your way by grab from Sepilok to Sandakan and get the long distance express bus from Sandakan headed to Kota Kinabalu. There are multiple buses a day, although little information is available online.
The cost is around RM43 per person, and the full journey takes about 6 hours.
For the next step of this 2 week Borneo itinerary, you’re headed to Kinabalu Park.
This means that you will want to get off 2 hours before the end destination of Kota Kinabalu! Just mention to the bus driver that you want to go to Kinabalu Park Entrance.
Where to stay:
J Residence is super handy as it is within easy walking distance to Kinabalu Park entrance. Since you’re here to do hiking, you don’t want to be spending all your energy getting to the park in the first place! And trust me when I say there isn’t any public transport around… The accommodation at J Residence is roomy and bright, with a double and single bed, a private bathroom and even a balcony!
Where to eat:
Panataran Restaurant is right across the road from Kinabalu Park entrance. While not gourmet, the food is fine and cheap! They also do a packed lunch for only RM16 which is a great option if you’re heading out on a full-day hike. Alternatively, Liwagu Restaurant is within the park itself. It’s a bit pricier but a good alternative for lunch to mix things up.
Day 6 | Hiking at Kinabalu Park
Check out my detailed post on hiking at Kinabalu Park for when you’re not planning on hiking the summit of Mt Kinabalu.
Of course, if this is your plan, that’s awesome! Check out the official website here for further details. Bear in mind that you will need a minimum of 2 days to do the overnight hike to the top.
If you’re not hiking the summit, my suggestion is to hike the Liwagu River Trail to Timpohon Gate, and back down via Mempening Trail.
There is a fee of RM15 per person per day for entry into Kinabalu Park.
Day 7 | Kota Kinabalu
On the morning of Day 7, get a transfer to Kota Kinabalu. This might not seem as straight forward as it sounds, but I’ve got you covered!
Since there aren’t any set buses from Kinabalu Park to Kota Kinabalu, I’ve put together a post with all the information you’ll need on how to get to Kota Kinabalu from Kinabalu Park!
Getting to Kota Kinabalu from Kinabalu park will set you back about RM25 per person including luggage, and will take around 2 hours.
If you get a transfer reasonably early in the day, you’ll get to Kota Kinabalu in time for lunch.
Kota Kinabalu isn’t really a very large city so it’s easy to explore on foot! Definitely check out the covered market on the waterfront! It’s where the locals go to buy fresh produce and is a fun experience. The variety and size of some of the produce is just mind boggling!
I also enjoyed the Pillars of Sabah, showcasing 30 threatened animals that are found in Sabah! But then again, I’m a sucker for street art!
Where to stay:
H2 Backpacker 2 is definitely our top choice in Kota Kinabalu! We stayed there on two separate occasions and were welcomed back the second time like long lost family! The young couple that run the hostel are super friendly (and very chatty! Be prepared to carve out some time for this!) There are both dorm rooms and private room options either with or without a private bathroom.
Where to eat:
For a true local experience, head down to the waterfront night seafood market! If you’re a seafood fan, you’ll be in paradise here! For us, it was a fun and different experience, picking out our fish and deciding how we wanted it cooked (with the help of the friendly staff… We have no clue how to prepare parrotfish! haha!)
If you’re not into seafood, Mother India serves fantastic authentic Indian food! A bit pricey by Malaysian standards perhaps but well worth it if you ask me! You’ll find it on the waterfront side of Oceanus Waterfront Mall.
Day 8 | Kota Kinabalu Island Hopping
After a simple breakfast (which is included in your stay at H2 Backpacker 2) head over to Jessleton Jetty. Once there, go to the ticketing hall and book onto a day trip to one or more of the islands just off the Kota Kinabalu coast for some sun, sea and snorkelling.
There are a few different islands to choose from for your day trip. And, depending on your preference, you can choose to spend the day at just one or get transfers between multiple islands.
The base price of visiting just one island is RM30 per person, plus an RM20 conservation fee per person. Once you pay this once, it is valid for all the islands you visit that day. Any additional island will set you back RM10 per person.
We opted for a two island trip. I wouldn’t suggest doing any more than two unless you get easily bored.
Mamutik Island is the smalles of the islands you can visit from Kota Kinabalu. We only spent about an hour here and although we saw a few fish, it was a bit crowded with people for our liking.
Manukan Island is the second biggest and perhaps most popular island. This is where we spent most of our time. We did a couple of sessions of snorkelling and even saw a reef shark as well as a puffer fish!
Unfortunately, all the islands around here have a lot of dead coral. But, there are plenty of fish to see, including lots of parrot fish (Beware! They can get a bit aggressive! Both Omer and I got nipped by one and I still have the scars to prove it!)
Top Tip: Unless you have your own equipment, opt to rent a mask and snorkel from your boat operator. This cost us RM15 each and means you don’t have to waste time on the island organising your snorkelling gear.
Day 9 | Fly From Kota Kinabalu To Mulu National Park
Book a Grab to Kota Kinabalu Airport (about RM10) for your flight to Mulu at 1pm.
Currently there is just one flight a day from Kota Kinabalu to Mulu.
Your flight will get you in to Mulu at 2pm. I’d suggest checking with your accommodation about airport pickups as most will include both pickup and drop off. Otherwise, there should be paid transfers available for RM5 per person.
Check out my detailed post on how to make the most of your time at Mulu National Park for suggestions on how to divide up your time here.
Most likely, you’ll join an afternoon tour to visit Deer & Lang caves combined with watching the Bat exodus that evening.
Where to stay:
Again, I’m not going to make a specific recommendation here as we weren’t happy with Kenny’s B&B where we stayed. You’ll be able to find a range of accommodations on booking.com depending on your budget.
The Marriott is certainly the higher end option, with beautiful rooms and a swimming pool to cool off after a day of exploring the caves at Mulu National Park.
Where to eat:
Mulu Cafe at Park HQ is a great option for all your meals. It serves both Asian and Western meals and is open from 7.30am – 8.30pm. We ate lunch and dinner there most days as the food is good and prices very reasonable.
Day 10 | Mulu National Park
Of course, you should pick whichever tours, caves and walks that suit you! But, if you want some input, you’ll find a good outline in my proposed Mulu National Park itinerary.
There are show caves and adventure caves to choose from, as well as hikes as short as 1 hour or as long as 4 days!
Your 5 day entry pass to Mulu National Park will cost RM30 per person. Any guided activities will be charged on top of this.
Day 11 | Fly From Mulu To Kuching
As I mentioned, your accommodation will likely include a transfer back to Mulu Airport. Check in for your 2.20pm flight to Kuching, which will take just over 1.5 hours.
Once again, you’ll be relying on a Grab to get you from Kuching Airport to the city. This is about a 25 minute drive and should cost around RM10-12.
If possible, try to make your stay in Kuching coincide with the weekend. On Friday and Saturday nights, there is a fountain show with music and lights that is worth seeing if you get the chance.
Where to stay:
Check In Lodge is a really clean, bright and friendly hostel. We felt so at home there! A simple breakfast is included, and Jenny who runs the place will happily give recommendations on where to eat and what to do around Kuching.
Where to eat:
Bombay Riverside – This place might not look like much but I swear it has the absolute best roti in town! We went here for lunch most days… But then again, we can never get enough of roti!
The Granary is a lovely spot for a slightly fancier dinner paired with a glass of wine
For a good vegan/vegetarian option, try Indah. Meals are very reasonably priced although portion sizes are a tad small in my opinion.
Day 12 – 13 | Kuching
To stick to a 2 week Borneo itinerary I’ve limited the time here to just two days. But, you could very easily spend more than just two days in Kuching…
We really enjoyed just walking around the city. The waterfront walk along the Sarawak River is nice both during the day and at nighttime, and gives you a great view of the spectacular DUN government building.
Cross the funky S-shaped (for “Sarawak”) Darul Hana pedestrian bridge to the other side of the river and visit the free Orchid Park.
Kuching means “cat” in Malay, and you’ll find plenty of cat sculptures, fountains and paintings around the city!
If you’re not completely natured out from the numerous national parks in this 2 week Borneo itinerary, take a day trip to Bako National Park for some hiking. You’re likely to spot some proboscis monkeys here too! Aim to leave Kuching early (7.30- 8am) so you you can make the most out of your day at the park.
Or, if you weren’t lucky enough to spot any orangutans in Sepilok or at the Kinabatangan River, you could get another chance at Semenggoh Nature Reserve. At only RM10 per person, it’s a bargain!
The setup is similar to the conservation centre in Sepilok, with feeding times twice a day for the semi-wild orangutans.
Day 14 | Departure Day (back to KL)
As sad as it is, your 2 week Borneo itinerary comes to an end here…
Once again, you’ll find multiple flight options to take you back to KL, or to wherever you’re headed next! Depart at your leisure 🙂 Check out Skyscanner for the best flight deals from Kuching.
Optional Additions If You Have More Time
If you have the flexibility, there are a few additions to this 2 week Borneo Itinerary that would certainly be worthwhile.
Before heading on your Kinabatangan River Cruise, you could add on a couple of days and head to Semporna for some diving and/or snorkelling. We didn’t end up getting the chance to do this ourselves, but have heard fantastic things about the islands around Semporna.
In reality, these are likely more beautiful than snorkelling the islands off the Kota Kinabalu coast. But, it will add both time and cost to your Borneo itinerary.
A bus from Sandakan to Semporna will take 6+ hours and cost RM 42per person.
If you’re set on visiting Brunei, you can head there from Kota Kinabalu by bus, ferry or plane. It’s certainly an interesting place to visit although I wouldn’t recommend more than two nights in Brunei as there isn’t a whole lot to do there.
If you do head to Brunei, you will likely need to catch the bus to Miri and then fly to Mulu National Park from there instead. After that, follow the above itinerary as suggested from Day 9.
Kuching National Parks
Finally, in Kuching, you could opt to do an overnight trip to Bako National Park to make the most of your hiking there. Since Bako National Park is located 37 km from Kuching, and the last ferry back from the park is rather early, staying overnight is actually perferable!
Kubah National Park is also nearby (about 40min by car) and is an easy day trip from Kuching.
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