Borneo is split in terms of ownership, with around 30% of Borneo (‘Malaysian Borneo’) part of Malaysia; the other ~70% belonging to Indonesia. I’ve decided to discuss Borneo under it’s own heading, in an attempt to make the information below a little clearer. Feel free to comment below with anything I’ve missed 🙂
FROM THAILAND TO MALAYSIA
We plan to head to Malaysia after working our way down from Thailand (after Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia). There are a couple of ways to reach Malaysia from Thailand; boat, bus, train or flight! Many people opt for a flight as airlines such as Air Asia and FireFly offer flights from Bangkok or Krabi/ Phuket (where we will probably be) for as little as £30. Flights tend to be cheaper when booked further in advance, so it’s probably one of the least flexible options – but a good one if you know what date you want to leave and is a lot quicker than a train or bus. Wonderful Malaysia has some more information about the different options.
We haven’t decided yet where in Thailand we will be leaving from or where in Malaysia we want to arrive, so planning our mode of transport is not a top priority just yet. However, we want to be pretty flexible with where we go and when, so knowing what our options are is definitely a good start! Originally we had planned to head to the Eastern Thai islands (Koh Tao/ Koh Samui etc) first, then the West (Krabi/ Phuket/ Koh Phi Phi etc) on the way down to Malaysia. Leaving from Krabi, there is actually the option (depending on the season) to island hop or take a ferry down to Langkawi, an archipelago of 104 islands North West of Malaysia. However, since doing a bit of research, this may not actually be the best option. A better option seems to be covering Krabi/ Phuket first before heading up to the East Islands. From there we can get to Surat Thani where there is a direct sleeper train (number 35) to Butterworth (for Penang by ferry) which leaves at 1.26am and arrives 1pm. Once again, Seat 61 is going to be your best friend when planning any overland travel!
If taking the bus or other non-direct train routes, you will more than likely stop and change in Hat Yai on the way. Hat Yai is a Thai town very close to the Malaysian border, which is a major hub between Thailand and Malaysia. Many coaches, minibuses and trains head to Hat Yai on the way to Penang or other areas in Malaysia or Singapore. Many people are cautious about travelling through this area; although mostly fine, Hat Yai has increasingly become a target of terrorism, with multiple bombings occurring there over the last 10 years. For those cautious about avoiding Hat Yai, a ferry from the West islands or a flight is probably going to be your best option. This train map for South East Asia makes it a little easier to visualise!
WHERE TO GO?
There are lots of amazing places to see in Malaysia, from malls in Kuala Lumpur to the rainforests of Borneo. We plan to see and do as much as possible in 3-4 weeks!
Kuala Lumpur – Capital of Malaysia, KL has a mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian backgrounds, which means there is a staggering array of local foods to try! As for the sights, you can opt to visit the Petronas Towers, the Perdana Lake Gardens, and Menara KL Tower and plenty more. Check out Lonely Planet or KL Travel Guide for more information on things to do!
Penang – On the West Coast of Malaysia, colonial city Georgetown (capital of the state of Penang) was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has a lot to offer; from museums and historic homes to world-famous food (I feel like I’m going to be doing a lot of eating in Malaysia!). TimeOut has a guide for 50 best things to do in Penang!
Taman Negara – Malaysia’s oldest National Park and one of the world’s oldest tropical rainforests. You can enjoy waterfalls, trekking, rafting, wildlife-spotting (wild elephants!) and a long canopy walkway. Check out the website for more information.
Perhentian Islands – A small group of beautiful, coral-fringed islands off the coast of north-eastern Malaysia, not far from the Thai border. There are two main islands, Kecil (‘Small’), popular with the younger backpacker crowd, and Besar (‘Large’), with higher standards of accommodation and a quieter, more relaxed ambiance. It’s very easy and cheap to hop between the two! See Lonely Planet and the Island website for more info.
Langkawi – For more pristine beaches with clear blue sky and white sand, head to Langkawi! A collection of islands with excellent diving opportunities! For the Top 10 things to do, go to the Langkawi Information page.
Cameron Highlands – One of Malaysia’s most popular destinations and most extensive hill station; a sea of green bumps, tea plantations, small towns and white waterfalls nesting 1500m high amongst the mountains. During your peaceful stay, opt to trek, go tea tasting or visit local agrotourism sites. See here, here or here for more information!
Malacca – Third smallest state in Malaysia, Malacca is known as the ‘Historic State’ and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site rich with heritage buildings, ancient landmarks and colonial structures. Every evening the famous Jonker Street night market is buzzing with tourists from all over the world. See Wonderful Malaysia and 10 Best Things To Do!
Much of our plans for Borneo will be decided whilst on the road, but the information below has helped us explore our options! Malaysian Borneo is made up of two states; Sarawak and Sabah.
Kuching: The capital of Sarawak – highlights include Sarawak Museum, and the excellent Semenggok Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, one of few places in Sarawak where you can see orangutans.
Bako National Park: Covering 27 square kilometres, this is Sarawak’s smallest and oldest national park. Easily accessible by boat from Kuching, this coastal park can be explored by boat or by foot and is home to an array of wildlife, including bearded pigs, over 150 species of birds and the rare proboscis monkey.
Damai Beach: Meaning ‘Beach of Peace’, Sarawak’s best beach is a short distance from Kuching on the tip of the Damai Peninsula. Nearby, the Sarawak Cultural Village has some excellent examples of minority village houses and displays of traditional costumes.
Batang Ai: The tips of treetops still emerge from the surface of the lake, a visual reminder of the valley that was flooded in the 1980s to create the reservoir. Longtail boat trips upstream from the reservoir are a particular highlight.
Danum Valley Conservation Area: A two-hour car journey from the nearest town of Lahad Datu, you’ll find 438 square kilometres of relatively undisturbed forest with an extensive diversity of tropical flora and fauna, including such species as the rare Sumatran rhinoceros, orangutans, gibbons, mouse deer, clouded leopards and over 270 bird species. Activities offered are jungle treks, river swimming, bird watching, night jungle tours and excursions to nearby logging sites and timber mills.
Gaya Island: Pulau Gaya derived its name from the Bajau word “Gayo” which means big, with an area of 15 km² (3,700 acres) with an elevation of up to 300 metres. Gaya Island is the largest island of the five islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park which lies 10 minutes off the coast of Kota Kinabalu. The island has superb beaches; walking trails through the rainforest where you will see an array of bird life, wild boar, monitor lizards and possibly some macaque monkeys and great snorkelling. The resort here also has a dive centre where you can arrange to do some diving around the other islands of the marine park.
Kinabalu National Park, Borneo: Famous as the location of Southeast Asia’s highest peak, there are also many lowland trails through the rainforest, an area boasting more than 1,000 species of orchids, carnivorous pitcher plants and rare rafflesia – the largest flowering plant in the world.
Turtle Island: Also known as Selingan Island, it is named after the turtles which come ashore to lay their eggs once the sun has set.
The places listed above are just a few of the places we’d like to see – there are many more though! See the links below for more information and ideas.
Anyway, that’s our rough plan for Malaysia and Borneo! Hopefully it will come in useful for those of you planning a similar trip and looking for some inspiration. Lots more info will be added when we are mid-adventure and actually able to provide first hand knowledge and top tips 🙂