Getting Around Borneo – Complete Transportation Guide
If you are planning to travel to Borneo, It’s good to know how to get around.
In this guide, I’ll show you the best ways for getting around Borneo.
I will cover all of the main modes of transportation in Borneo and let you know what to expect with each one.
If you are also heading to mainland Malaysia, be sure to check out our article about getting around in Malaysia.
Modes of Transportation in Borneo
Getting around in Borneo is not quite as easy as getting around in mainland Malaysia. The transportation infrastructure is nowhere near as modern. It is not well funded or well maintained and the cities can be quite clogged with traffic. That being said, it’s always an adventure traveling from one place to another in Borneo and the things you can see and do make it worthwhile.
Many people in Borneo speak english well and are happy to help you figure out where to go. Malaysians use a phonetic alphabet with Roman characters, so it’s not hard to figure out what a sign means or how to pronounce something.
There are some unique challenges to getting around Borneo and some very out of the way places. Some of the major tourist destinations are only accessible by plane and other places can only be reached by four wheel drive. Luckily, however, air travel is easy and affordable.
The main forms of transport for travelers in Borneo includes:
- Rental vehicles
In the next sections, I’ll go into detail about each kind of transportation and how you can utilize it for getting around Borneo.
Traveling by Plane in Borneo
Getting around Borneo by airplane is cheap and fast. Most importantly, it’s safe. There are airports close to all of the major attractions in Borneo.
Overland travel can sometimes take ridiculous amounts of time, so I recommend flying when it’s possible so you can maximize your time seeing the cool stuff.
What to Expect When Traveling by Plane in Borneo
Domestic flights in Borneo aren’t much different than flying domestic elsewhere, with a few exceptions.
Don’t expect any frills on the flights in Borneo, but don’t worry, the longest flights are about an hour. Seating on domestic flights within Borneo is standard and amenities are few.
Depending on where you are going, you can expect to travel on some small propeller driven planes and land at runways that aren’t much more than a strip of concrete with a small building for the terminal. Personally, I love going to these airports.
Examples of these tiny airports include Lahad Datu, and the Lawas Airport.
What is Check-in Like for Domestic Flights in Borneo?
Checking in for domestic flights in Borneo and making your way to the gate is a pretty quick process but there are some things you should know to make sure you give yourself enough time.
If you are traveling between Sabah and Sarawak or to Labuan, you need to budget some extra time to go through immigration. This is also true if you are heading to peninsular Malaysia from Sabah or Sarawak. The reason for this is that both Sabah and Sarawak are semi-autonomous states of Malaysia and they have their own immigration procedures.
The immigration process usually takes about 5 minutes. There is rarely a line, but occasionally there is.
If you are traveling between states, you should plan to arrive at the airport at least 1.5 hours in advance just to be on the safe side. If you are traveling within Sabah or within Sarawak, you can arrive as little as 1 hour before the flight and still have plenty of time. As always, give yourself as much time as you feel comfortable with.
What is Security Like for Domestic Flights in Borneo?
Going through security for domestic flights in Borneo is pretty easy. The wait to go through security is not usually long. The staff is typically jovial and helpful, as well.
What are the Airports Like in Borneo?
Airports in Borneo come in two flavors: Medium sized airports that are busy and modern and small regional airports that are basic but functional.
Kota Kinabalu International Airport is Borneo’s busiest airport and has an assortment of convenience stores, gift shops, and restaurants. Somewhat smaller, yet equipped with restaurants and other conveniences are the airports in Tawau, Sandakan, Miri, and Kuching.
Where Can You Fly in Borneo?
One of the great things about Borneo is that most of the awesome attractions have an airport somewhere nearby. This makes things much easier, particularly if you are on a schedule.
I have provided you with a list of the most popular travel destinations in Borneo and the nearest airport.
|City – Click to see Location||Domestic Airlines||Nearby Attractions||Domestic
|For Airports in Peninsular Malaysia, Click Here.|
There are a host of airports offering domestic connections to Peninsular Malaysia as well. I have listed those here to help you with your planning.
Domestic Airlines Serving Borneo
There are four airlines providing domestic flights within Borneo: Airasia, Malaysia Airlines, MASWings and Malindo. When flying in Borneo, sometimes you will have a choice of airlines, but in some cases there is only one airline that serves the location.
Luckily, all of the airlines are affordable for flights within Borneo.
AirAsia will often be the cheapest choice for getting around Borneo. AirAsia is Malaysia’s budget airline and it’s busiest.
The base price for AirAsia tickets is usually the cheapest. However, if you have baggage to check, you might find that other airlines are similar in price.
AirAsia Destinations Within Borneo
- Kota Kinabalu
Carry on Baggage
AirAsia’s carry on baggage policy is standard. They allow a carry on bag and a personal item (laptop bag, purse, etc.). The carry on bag weight limit is 7kg or about 15 lbs.
In Borneo, the enforcement of the carry on policy is not typically strict.
Airasia charges for checked baggage. The base price ticket does not include any checked baggage, however, when you buy your ticket online you do have the option to add baggage.
If you book your checked bags ahead of time, the rates are reasonable. If you wait to add you baggage until you get to the airport check in, the price is higher.
AirAsia does not provide any complimentary in-flight amenities such as food, entertainment, or wifi. All of these are available but you will have to pay.
As far as food goes, if you want to buy a snack, a meal, or a drink on the plane, the price is reasonable. You also have the option to book a meal ahead of time when you purchase your ticket, which is usually a bit cheaper than buying during the flight.
The flights in Borneo don’t last much more than an hour, so the lack of amenities isn’t something to worry about. The longest domestic flights you can expect are from Borneo to Penang and Kuala Lumpur, and those clock in at about 2.5 hours.
Many of AirAsia’s planes offer wifi for a fee. I have not personally used their wifi so I can’t really say much about it.
Domestic Airasia flights offer upgrades to what they refer to as “hot seats”. Hot seats are typically the first few rows of seats on the plane and the exit rows. They have slightly more legroom and recline slightly more than the standard seats.
In my opinion, there isn’t anything too special about the “hot seats” on AirAsia flights. However, the one nice thing about hot seats is that you get to board the plane first and get off the plane first.
Malaysia Airlines serves many flights within Borneo. Their prices are typically higher than AirAsia’s prices, but they do include baggage.
Malaysia Airlines tends to be the priciest option for flights, but sometimes they have deals, which make the cost And on a few occasions Malaysia Airlines will have cheaper rates.
Despite being slightly more expensive, Malaysia Airlines does offer some perks. One of the major perks is free checked baggage. With that in mind, make sure you factor baggage into your equation when you are comparing prices.
Malaysia Airlines Destinations Within Borneo
- Kota Kinabalu
Carry on Baggage
Malaysia Airlines has the standard limits for carry on luggage, which is 7kg.
Malaysia Airlines standard domestic ticket, “Economy Basic”, comes with a 20kg checked baggage allowance. Business class passengers are allowed 40kg of checked baggage.
As of February 20, 2020, Malaysia Airlines updated their baggage policy with an economy pricing tier called “Economy Lite” which includes no checked baggage. Make sure to keep an eye out for that.
Malaysia Airlines offers basic beverages and refreshments on their flights within Borneo. This is typically peanuts and juice. Occasionally, it’s a bit more than that.
In-flight entertainment on flights within Borneo on Malaysia Airlines is hit and miss. Sometimes the plane is equipped with it and often it is not.
In-flight wifi is a rarity with Malaysia airlines. In fact, I have not been on a domestic flight with Malaysia Airlines that offered wifi.
Malaysia Airlines offers upgrades to business class for their domestic flights. Malaysia airlines business class comes with the perks you would expect. This includes, comfier seats, priority boarding, more generous baggage allowance, and fancier in-flight foods and beverages.
MASWings is the airline you will fly if you are heading to Mulu or Danum Valley. Additionally, MASWings can get you to some really out of the way places in the interior of Borneo.
MASWings is a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines and operates small propeller driven planes to regional airports within Borneo. MASWings is the sole provider for many of the destinations they serve, but luckily their prices aren’t outrageous
MASWings flights can be booked on the MASWings website or through Malaysia Airlines.
MASWings tends to be a bit more expensive than AirAsia. Sometimes they are the only option, so if you are looking to fly to a place like Mulu National Park, they will be the only carrier and you are stuck with that price. Luckily they don’t gouge on the prices.
MASWings Destinations Within Borneo
- Kota Kinabalu
- Lahad Datu
- Tanjung Manis (Serikei)
- Long Akah
- Long Banga
- Long Lellang
- Long Seridan
- Labuan Island
Carry on Baggage
MASWings allows the standard 7kg carry on limit.
All MASWings flight tickets come with complimentary checked baggage. For the larger planes, the checked baggage limit is 20kg; however, on their smaller planes, that limit is 10kg. If this will affect you, make sure to check first.
MASWings offers complimentary refreshments. In my experience, this is peanuts, fruit juices, coffee, and tea. Occasionally, MASWings will serve Malaysian style pastries on their flights.
MASWings does not offer in-flight entertainment or wifi.
MASWings no longer offers business class on their flights. Upgrades with MASWings are only in the form of flexible tickets.
Malindo Airlines offers a small selection of flights in Borneo. Those flights are only between Sandakan, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Labuan, and Peninsular Malaysia.
Malindo’s ticket prices usually fall somewhere in between AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines. However, I have occasionally found Malindo to be the cheapest option.
MASWings Destinations Within Borneo
- Kota Kinabalu
Carry on Baggage
Malindo allows one cabin bag and one personal item for carry on. The weight limit for these items is 7kg.
Malindo strictly enforces their carry on bag weight limit. Be ready for the check-in staff to tell you your carry on luggage is too heavy even if it is a fraction over 7kg. This is ridiculous, I know. I have had to deal with it and it was not pleasant.
Malindo offers several price tiers with varying luggage allowances:
- Super Saver – No checked baggage
- Economy Value – 20kg checked baggage
- Economy Flexi – 30kg checked baggage
- Business Promo – 30kg checked baggage
- Business Flexi – 40kg checked baggage
One of the great perks of Malindo Air is that they offer personal in-flight entertainment systems on all of their domestic flights. In my opinion, it’s not a huge perk for the short flights in Borneo, but it is certainly nice to have that option.
For economy class tickets, Malindo offers free drinking water. Other snacks and beverages are available for purchase. For business class tickets, Malindo offers complimentary snacks and beverages.
In-flight wifi is available on select Malindo Air flights. It is not apparent to me which flights are currently equipped with wifi.
Business class seats are equipped with charging plugs.
Malindo Air offers upgrades to business class for their domestic flights. Business class comes with priority boarding, roomier seating, and a more generous baggage allowance.
How to Buy Plane Tickets in Borneo
The best method for buying plane tickets is to buy online. All of the airlines in Malaysia offer online ticket buying through their websites. It is also possible to find domestic tickets through travel search sites such as Skyscanner.
If you plan to buy online, I recommend buying directly from the airline. The reason for this is that it makes it much easier if there is a cancellation or delay. That being said, the airlines are pretty reliable and timely.
If there is some reason you cannot buy online, both Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia have a few ticketing offices located in Borneo. You can search for those offices using the links below:
Conclusions on Getting Around in Borneo by Flying
Flying is my recommended method of getting around Borneo, if the option is available. The road infrastructure in Borneo is not great and flying can cut a lot of time and hassle out of getting from one place to another. Best of all, it’s not expensive to fly. It might cost a bit more than taking the bus, but in my opinion, it’s worth it.
Traveling by Bus in Borneo
Traveling by bus is the second best option for getting around in Borneo. There are two types of buses for traveling overland in Borneo: coach buses and mini buses, also known as shared taxis. Typically, the coach buses operate the longer routes and the shared taxi buses operate over shorter distances.
In some cases, both shared taxis and coach buses operate to the same destinations. One primary difference is that shared taxis leave when they are full and coach buses leave at set times.
When deciding whether or not to travel by bus, there are a few things to consider.
Firstly, the conditions of the roads are not great. In some places, they are quite bad. Subsequently, travel times between places can be quite long and the ride can be rough.
On the other hand, bus travel can lead to a more personal experience as you may meet some friendly locals.
If you are up for the adventure and you aren’t on a tight schedule, getting around Borneo by bus is a good option.
What to Expect When Traveling by Bus in Borneo
Generally speaking, buses in Borneo are older and well used. The roads here in Borneo don’t do the buses any favors.
You can expect a bumpy ride and the drivers seem to drive too fast. Most overland routes have at least one rest stop where you can use the restroom and buy snacks and drinks.
What to Expect When Traveling by Coach Bus in Borneo
As I mentioned above, the coach buses in Borneo are well used. They aren’t ancient, but they aren’t new. The buses here experience occasional breakdowns, however, based on my experience it isn’t overly common.
Generally speaking, the bus will be fairly roomy and they don’t fill the bus above the seating capacity. The buses are equipped with air conditioning, which can be downright frigid sometimes.
At the beginning of your trip and as you get close to your destination, expect the bus to make a lot of stops as they pick up and drop off passengers who live on the outskirts of town.
Many of the coach buses in Borneo are equipped with a television. I have seen a number of different types of movies shown, from Malay language films to hollywood blockbusters.
What to Expect When Traveling by Shared Taxi in Borneo
Shared Taxis in Borneo are usually some type of minibus. These buses typically serve shorter routes. Sometimes they will be available for routes which coach buses do not travel.
The primary thing to expect with shared taxis in Borneo is a cramped ride. Shared taxis fill every seat before they leave and unlike coach buses, you are packed into bench seating. Additionally, there is a lot of luggage and not much room to store it.
Shared taxis are usually equipped with air conditioning. I have found that the air conditioning keeps the temperature reasonable, but it never gets cold. Some travelers may find the temperature warm in a shared taxi ride.
Despite the cramped quarters, the good news is that your ride in a shared taxi won’t be more than a couple of hours.
What to Bring on a Bus Ride in Borneo
It’s important to bring water and snacks with you on a bus ride in Borneo. It can be a long time between stops, particularly on a coach bus. Make sure to pack something to cover up with in case the bus gets too cold.
Coach buses usually make at least one pit stop. For shared taxis, it really depends.
Are there Bathrooms on the Buses?
Every coach bus I have ridden on in Borneo has been equipped with a bathroom. Those bathrooms are often smelly. Additionally, the rough road might make using the bathroom a challenge. That being said, the bathroom is there if you need it.
Shared taxis do not have bathrooms. If it is an emergency, the driver will stop for you. I have been on many shared taxis in which the driver stopped for someone to relieve themselves.
It’s important to note that occasionally, the bathrooms on coach buses in Borneo are closed off. This has happened to me once. If the lack of a bathroom on the bus would cause a potential issue for you, make sure to ask in advance.
How is the Ride?
The road system in Borneo is not in great condition. The Malaysian government and local governments have been working diligently to improve the conditions, but it will be a while yet.
When you travel between cities, you can typically expect bumpy roads and occasional patches of unpaved or broken up roads.
All of the overland travel routes are two lane roads. This means that slow moving vehicles will inevitably slow traffic down on multiple occasions during your bus journey.
Where to Catch the Bus in Borneo
Figuring out where to catch the bus in Borneo isn’t usually difficult. Buses usually leave from a central bus terminal. In some places, such as Kota Kinabalu, there are multiple coach bus terminals and those terminals are in a different location from the shared taxi terminal.
It is best to make sure you know where your bus is leaving from beforehand. Most desk staff at hotels and hostels in Borneo can help you figure out where you need to be.
Sometimes, the bus terminal isn’t exactly in a convenient place. What I mean is that the terminals can be located on the outskirts of town or in a suburb. If that’s the case you can take a taxi there or catch the city bus (if there is one).
And finally, if you are in a small town or a place like Sepilok, you might have to wait by the side of the road to catch the bus. If you have to do this, it is best to have someone help you arrange your seat on the bus beforehand. There is nothing more disappointing than waving down a full bus that drives right past you. The staff at your accommodation are a good resource for helping you book a ticket.
Bus Terminal Locations
To make things easier for you, I’ve assembled this list of bus terminal locations in the most popular destinations in Borneo.
|City||Terminal Name (Click to see location)||Notes|
|Kota Kinabalu||Long Distance Taxi Station||This is the hub for shared taxis to locations nearer to Kota Kinabalu such as Mount Kinabalu, Kudat, Beaufort, Ranau, Kenningau, and Tambunan.|
|Inanam Bus Terminal (City Bus Terminal – North)||Bus Terminal for departures to Sandakan, Lahad Datu, Semporna, and Tawau. Buses usually depart early morning and in the evening.|
|City Park Bus Terminal||Bus Terminal for departures to Sarawak and Brunei.|
|KK Sentral||KK Sentral is the newly built, centrally located bus terminal for Kota Kinabalu. At the moment, very few bus companies have begun to operate from this terminal.|
|Sandakan||Sandakan Bus Station||This bus station is more or less a parking lot where several bus companies operate from as well as shared taxis. From here you can catch a bus for Kota Kinabalu, Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu, Semporna, and Tawau.|
In the Malay language this is said as Batu tiga puluh dua. It is sometimes also called checkpoint 32.
|Batu 32 is the crossroads point where the main road splits. One direction heads for Kota Kinabalu, one for Sandakan and one for Lahad Datu and Kinabatangan.
It is possible to catch a passing bus here for your destination as many buses pass by. Note that although this is a cross roads with a few petrol stations and restaurants, it is common for people to catch the bus here.
|Lahad Datu||Lahad Datu Bus Station||This bus station is more or less a parking lot where several coach bus companies operate, similar to Sandakan. The station is just around the corner from the offices for Danum Valley tours.|
|Stesen Bas Lahad Datu||This is the station for shared taxis.|
|Semporna||Semporna Bus Station||Coach bus and shared taxi station.|
|Semporna – Tawau Shared Taxi Station||Shared Taxi Station for departures to Tawau.|
|Kudat||Shared Taxi||Shared Taxi spot for trips to Kota Kinabalu. Shared taxis run daily.|
|Kudat Bus Station||Coach buses from Kudat to Kota Kinabalu leave from this stop. Coach bus service is inconsistent.|
|Ranau||Ranau Bus Stop (Perhentian Bas Ranau)||This location is served by both coach buses as well as shared taxis. Note that this is a stopover point for coach buses traveling between Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan. Departure times are subject to whether the bus is on schedule or not.|
|Tawau||Stesen Bas Express – Shared Taxi Terminal||Shared taxi terminal. From here you can get a shared taxi to Semporna or out to the coach bus terminal.|
|Sri Indah Regional Bus Terminal||Tawau has strangely moved their bus terminal about 15km out of town. Coach buses depart from here for Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Lahad Datu and other long distance locations.|
|Keningau||Keningau Food Court Center||Coach buses for Kota Kinabalu and Tawau stop at this bus terminal. There are ticket counters to buy your tickets.|
|Beaufort||Terminal Bas Daerah Beaufort||This station is primarily serviced by shared taxis.|
|Kuching||Kuching Sentral Bus Terminal||Conveniently located just next to the airport, Kuching Sentral is a new and modern bus terminal that includes plenty of amenities.|
|Miri||Miri Bus Terminal||Basic bus terminal with some eateries and supplies. Overland bus trips depart from here.|
|Bintulu||Terminal Bas Bintulu Sentral||Bintulu’s central bus terminal. The terminal contains a shopping center as well.|
|Sibu||Sibu Bus Terminal||Main bus terminal for Sibu. Located in the city and adjacent to a shopping centre.|
|Sarikei||Terminal Bas Ekspress Sarikei||Main bus terminal for Sarikei. Contains some convenience stores and food stalls.|
|Mukah||Bus Stand Mukah||Daily departures for Kuching. Mukah is a small town, as is the bus terminal.|
|Lawas||Terminal Bas Lawas||Lawas is the first town in Sarawak after the Sabah/Sarawak border.|
|Bandar Seri Bagawan||Bus Departure Point||Long Distance buses to Kota Kinabalu, Miri, and Kuching leave from this wide spot in the road next to the waterfront..|
|For bus stations in Peninsular Malaysia, Click Here.|
How to Buy Bus Tickets in Borneo
There are several ways to buy bus tickets in Borneo. I’ve listed those below with some tips. Note that your best bet is to either buy from the bus terminal or ask the staff at your accommodation to assist you. In the case of shared taxis, it is first come first serve, so you pay to ride when you arrive. For shared taxis, getting there bright and early in the morning is your best bet to quickly get a ride.
Buy Your Bus Ticket From the Sales Counter at the Bus Terminal
In my experience, buying your bus ticket directly from the sales counter is the best way to do it. Simply go to the bus terminal, find the booth selling the route you want and purchase the ticket from them. Buying from these booths means you are buying directly from the company, so you can be sure you are getting the market rate.
Buy Your Bus Ticket With Help From Your Hotel Staff
If you are not sure about how to get the bus you want, your hotel staff in Borneo are a great resource. They can either help you arrange your ticket or give you instructions on where to go to purchase your tickets.
Buy Your Bus Ticket Online
Buying your bus ticket online is a relatively recent development for bus companies in Borneo. Some bus companies don’t have an option to buy online, but many do. I have not personally used this method for bus rides in Borneo.
There are a fair amount of routes available on easybook.
If you have success with this method, I would love to hear about it.
Traveling by Ferry in Borneo
There are limited options for traveling by ferry in Borneo, but there are some popular routes with regular schedules. Ferry travel in Borneo is primarily associated with getting to and from the duty free island of Labuan, but there are a few other routes as well, including small boats that regularly run far inland in Sarawak.
In this section, I’ll discuss the ferry routes in Borneo, what to expect, and how to book.
For ferries in peninsular Malaysia, check out our article about getting around in Malaysia. There are currently no ferries that operate between peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo.
This article doesn’t cover ferry travel in Indonesian Borneo. Indonesia has an extensive network of ferries.
What to Expect When Traveling by Ferry in Borneo
Domestic ferries in Borneo are pretty basic. The journey times aren’t too long. The longest ferry routes are 3-4 hours.
All in all, expect only the basics when you travel on a ferry in Borneo.
What to Bring on the Ferry in Borneo
Make sure to bring some snacks and drinks with you when you ride the ferry. Additionally, if you suffer from motion sickness, make sure to bring motion sickness medicine along.
Many of the domestic ferries operating in Borneo offer basic food and beverages for sale. If the ferry you are on offers this service, expect snacks, instant noodles, canned drinks, coffee and tea.
Are There Bathrooms on the Ferry?
There are typically restrooms on the ferries in Borneo except for the boats that head upriver on some routes in Sarawak.
How is the Ride?
The seas around Borneo are usually pretty smooth, however, an afternoon storm might make for a rocking boat. Generally you can expect a pretty smooth ride, but be prepared for the occasional rain storm making for some choppy water.
What are the Ferry Terminals Like in Borneo?
Although the ferry terminals in Borneo might be basic in nature, many of the ones you would probably use are located at or near the center of the city. The Kota Kinabalu and Labuan ferry terminals are located right in the heart of the city.
Ferry Routes in Borneo
Below, I have put together a map of many of the common and popular domestic ferry routes in Malaysia.
It is interesting to note that Sarawak has a number of water taxi routes that ferry passengers far into the interior on large rivers. These ferry routes can deliver you to out of the way places, through an interesting river system.
How to Buy Ferry Tickets in Borneo
For ferry travel in Borneo, there are few ways to get tickets. Unfortunately, buying online isn’t really an option. I have highlighted some ways to buy tickets below.
Buy Your Ferry Ticket at the Ferry Terminal
In many cases, buying your ticket at the ferry terminal might be your only option. Luckily, the ferry terminals are usually located near the city. During non-holiday times, you should be able to purchase your ticket the day of your trip. If there are local holidays occurring, you should buy ahead of time. Generally speaking, it’s good practice to buy a day ahead.
Buy Your Ferry Ticket From a Travel Agent or Your Accommodation
If the ferry terminal is not an option, or you aren’t sure about your options, a local travel agency or your accommodation may be able to help you arrange ferry tickets.
Buy Your Ferry Ticket Online
Online options for buying ferry tickets for travel within Borneo are sparse. Buying in person or through an agent are better options.
Traveling by Rental Car in Borneo
Getting around Borneo by rental car is a good option. It gives you a lot of freedom when it comes to getting around.
The road conditions can be rough, but they are able to be navigated by car.
One thing to note is that the rental car policies in Borneo may limit you to stay in the state where you rented the car, so traveling from say, Kota Kinabalu to Kuching may not always be viable; however, if you plan to visit Sabah or Sarawak, there are enough places in either state to fill a multi-week itinerary.
What to Expect When Traveling by Rental Car in Borneo
Here in Borneo, people drive on the left side of the road. The majority of cars you will see will be the two Malaysian car brands: Perodua and Proton. They are nothing special, but they will get you from point A to point B and if they don’t, every mechanic knows how to repair them.
Expect any cheap rental car to be no frills. If you opt for a 4 wheel drive, expect the price to increase significantly.
How are the Roads in Borneo?
The roads in Borneo aren’t great. The Malaysian government is working on improving the highway system, but completion is a long ways off. This means lots of rough roads, sections with no tarmac, and two lane roads everywhere except in the bigger towns.
Navigating between towns is not too difficult. There is plenty of signage and oftentimes there is only one road that connects between the two. Additionally, Google Maps and Waze work well for navigating and phone coverage along roadways is quite good.
What is the Traffic Like in Borneo?
Traffic in Borneo is somewhat like you would expect. The large towns and cities can experience traffic congestion during the rush hour times. Kota Kinabalu is particularly bad during rush hour.
Outside of towns the traffic moves along. There is a lot of truck traffic traveling between towns in Borneo. Oftentimes you will find yourself stuck behind a slow moving truck with a lot of cars backed up behind it. Passing options can be limited, especially on the interior roads, but an opportunity to pass will eventually present itself.
In conclusion, the traffic isn’t horrible, but don’t expect to be able to set the cruise control (if your car even has it).
Renting a Car in Borneo
Where to Rent a Car
Most of the bigger towns in Borneo have some sort of car rental. As you would expect there are car rental companies at the major airports like Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, and Kuching. There are some major car rental companies in Borneo, but expect them to be more expensive than a local outfit.
Traveling by Train in Borneo
Getting around in Borneo by train won’t get you too far, but it is a heck of an adventure. There is only one train line in Borneo. It is located in Sabah and is known as the Sabah State Railway.
The train line runs parallel to the coast from Kota Kinabalu to Beaufort and then heads inland to the town of Tenom.
If you are looking for a unique experience, the train ride from Beaufort to Tenom is it. The train follows the Padas River into the jungle. Along the way, you pass through villages which are only accessible by this train line.
Finally, if you want to take a step back in time, you can ride the North Borneo Railway from Kota Kinabalu to Beaufort. This train uses the old steam engine and old train cars giving you a feel for what it would have been like in the past.
What to Expect When Traveling by Train in Borneo
Trains in Borneo are typically older models. You won’t find new, fancy trains, but it is understandable because the routes aren’t too long and the amount of passengers can fluctuate greatly.
The train ride can be bumpy at times and there are many twists and turns. Limited food and beverages are typically available for purchase from sellers carrying their goods in buckets.
What to Bring on a Train Ride in Borneo
Make sure to bring along some snacks and water when you ride the train in Borneo. Additionally, if you are traveling from Kota Kinabalu to Beaufort or vice versa, bring along a sweatshirt or blanket in case the air conditioning is too cold.
What are the Train Stations Like in Borneo?
The train stations in Borneo are very basic. Most stations are nothing more than a platform.
Train Routes in Borneo
There are essentially two train lines. The first operates from Kota Kinabalu to Beaufort and the second train operates from Beaufort to Tenom.
The Kota Kinabalu to Beaufort line uses slightly more modern cars, most of which are air conditioned. The line that operates from Beaufort to Tenom has one air conditioned passenger car. The rest of the cars on the Beaufort to Tenom line are non air conditioned passenger cars and converted box cars that have some seats.
In my opinion, the ride from Beaufort to Tenom is an amazing experience. The train slowly meanders up through a mountain river valley. All the doors are wide open and you get great views of small villages, dense jungle, and a rather large river.
I have provided this illustrated map indicating the train route in Borneo so you can get a picture of where the train can take you
How to Buy Train Tickets in Borneo
For train travel in Borneo, you must buy your ticket either at the counter, or if there is no counter, you can buy from the conductor when you have boarded the train. The cost is very minimal.
If you are looking to take a ride on the vintage North Borneo Railway, you need to book ahead of time through a local travel agency.
Final Thoughts on Getting Around Borneo
There is no shortage of options for getting around Borneo. Overland travel can be time consuming and slow, but it does allow you to get a feel for what Borneo is really like. My recommended method for traveling long distances is by flight, particularly when traveling between states.
Enjoy your trip in Borneo!
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