Malaysian Borneo is only a two-hour, super cheap flight from Bali or the Malaysian mainland. It’s rural, wild and full of adventure and best of all – you’re almost guaranteed to see an orang-utan. Although Borneo is much more expensive than other places in South East Asia such as Thailand, budget adventures in Cambodia and Laos, it’s still very cheap. I only spent an average of $35 USD per day (including my activities)! If you are already going to Bali or Malaysia, you might as well pop on over to amazing Borneo. Here’s 8 tips to help make your trip to Borneo a lot cheaper.
1. Fly from Denpasar in Bali or Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia with Air Asia
Both of these airports I managed to find flights for around $25-$50 USD with Air Asia. For a 2 hour flight you don’t need luxury so just go for the cheapest. If you’re flexible with your dates it’s easy to find flights as cheap as $18USD. You can fly to Both Kuching or Kota Kinabalu (KK) for these prices. Keep updated on specials by signing up to their email list. For cheap flights within Borneo fly with MASwings.
2. Either stay in Borneo for a long time or pre-book everything
This is going to be the best way for you to save money. I would recommend staying a long time and only pre-booking things that are really needed like diving in Sipadang. I just turned up to most of my activities and that meant I didn’t have to pay ridiculous prices for tours booked online. If you’re short on time check out my article on which popular activities are needed to be booked with a guide.
3. Drink alcohol at the Underground Supermarket Bars
These hidden treasures are the Holy Grail of drinking in Borneo. Due to Malaysian Borneo being a predominantly Muslim country you’ll often find these illegitimate bars disguised as supermarkets or restaurants. They don’t hide the alcohol though so you’ll know it’s a bar because there will be happy Borneans sitting outside drinking canned beer. Tip: if you go to the Karaoke bars or bar/restaurants you are going to start spending A LOT more money.
4. Eat at delicious Chinese takeaway restaurants
Oh wow. The food in this country is so amazing! Because a quarter of the Malaysian population is of Chinese descent there are A LOT of Chinese restaurants in Borneo. Next to every restaurant declaring “no pork!” there will be a Chinese Porkeria. It’s awesome, and cheap and delicious. And while you’re there have a Teh Tarik (pulled tea) yum! Just a quick FYI: generally the food markets aren’t any cheaper than the restaurants in Borneo but they’re full of colour and have delicious new foods like this grilled stingray (my new favourite dish)!
I am a huge fan of CouchSurfing. Not only do you get to meet awesome friendly locals but you also get a nights’ accommodation for FREE. I found the Borneans to be some of the friendliest and outrageously helpful people I’ve met on my travels. Most Malaysians in general speak really good English and all of them are constantly trying to improve so that’s another win-win. As always with CouchSurfing make sure your host has a decent amount of positive recommendations, which won’t be hard to find with these amazing people.
6. It is not necessary to do any of the all-inclusive tours with Guides
A lot of people (myself included) thinking of going to Borneo are under the impression that, due to how remote the island is, the only way to be able to get around and see Borneo is to do a tour. I even had a friend who did only tours from bottom to top. Despite the lack of information on the subject I decided to just turn up and see if it was achievable. I was met with a long week of frustration trying to organise my time there until I met with an actual tour guide who explained to me exactly what you could do with and without a tour. My article: ‘Activities in Borneo’ explains everything you need to know about the popular tours.
7. Always book buses directly at the bus terminal
If you book at a tour agency or hotel you might end up paying twice as much for the same bus. Though you may not get on a bus immediately after you arrive at the terminal, you will save a lot of money by just going to the bus terminal and buying there. Local buses are the same; just turn up to the depot and you will soon be on a super cheap and fun Malaysian bus adventure.
8. Take the pre-organised Malaria Tablets
Yes Borneo is a malaria area. Be ready and start taking malaria tablets before you get there. There are two types of Malaria tablets. One you need to start taking two weeks before arrival in infected area (these ones are much cheaper) and the ones that start working straight away. I made the mistake of buying the latter, costing me RM200 for a packet of 12 (trust me, that’s expensive).
Country: Borneo, Malaysia
Currency: Malaysian Ringgit
$1 USD = 3.27RM
I was there: August 2013