This post came about from trying to figure out what could I do with or without a tour in Borneo. When I arrived in Malaysian Borneo I was met with an incredible frustration. I was sitting on my computer in my hostel trying to figure out what things I NEEDED to do with a tour guide and what things I could do by myself. I wanted to keep costs down and the tours were really expensive! Borneo, incredibly, has somehow managed to make it appear as though every activity you might want to do is in dire need of a guide to even think about doing it! Awesome for them, but if you don’t have the money it’s pretty crap. Every single piece of information I read on the Internet and even the hostel receptionists and information offices told me that I would need a tour guide for almost everything. This is completely untrue. Yes, some places of Borneo are remote but Kinabalu Mountain is the only place where by law you must go with a guide. Here I de-code some of the most popular tours and tell you wether you need a guide or not. I mainly inhabited Sabah, the northern state of Malaysian Borneo, but I also popped over to Sarawak to visit Mulu National Park for seven days.
Travel within Malaysian Borneo is cheap and easy. For day trips there are local buses that cost almost nothing. Just turn up to the terminal and ask; the next bus will probably be leaving within a few minutes. For longer trips air-conditioned express buses are super comfortable and relatively safe. You can get from place-to place for around RM33 for a five hour trip. For flights within Borneo check out MASwings. They have incredibly low prices and fly to the most remote areas in Borneo and to Brunei as well.
Kinabalu Mountain, Sabah
Price with Guide: RM196 for one day to RM1, 630 for 3D2N
Yes you do need a guide for Kinabalu Mountain. However, here’s the good news: you DO NOT need to book your hike through any of the really expensive Tour Offices or websites. You can simply catch a local bus from Kota Kinabalu to Kinabalu Mountain Lodge Hotel near the park entrance and book a guide through the park. A useful article on this day-trek was written by Kristin of BeMyTravelMuse.
Sepilok Orang-utan Sanctuary, Sabah
Price with Guide: About RM300 for day trip
Price Solo: RM30 for park entrance fee
You definitely do not need a guide for the Sanctuary. There are Hostels located within a short walk away and a local bus can be caught from Sandakan to the park entrance easily. There is loads of information within the centre about orang-utans so a guide really, really isn’t necessary.
Selingan Turtle Island, Sabah
Price with Guide: RM650-855 for 1N
Price Solo: Unclear – cost of ferry and accommodation
Turtle Island is a tricky one. While researching the tour I found that you can do Turtle Island solo. However, there is a catch. Only 60 people are allowed on the Island per day and I “heard” that the tour companies will almost completely book out these spots before anyone else gets a chance. They then charge high prices for the convenience of last minute bookings. So here it depends on what you want to do. If you want to do it solo you can just turn up to Crystal Quest at around 9am at Sabah Parks Jetty and perhaps you will get lucky if there is space. If you have the time I would recommend this. But if you’re short on time and Turtle Island is a MUST DO I would suggest booking as early as possible with STW Adventure (they were the cheapest I found).
Kinabatangan River, Sabah
Price with guide: RM330 2D1N Dorm to RM380 3D2N Dorm
Price Solo: Accommodation in Sakau RM20 and RM40 per boat trip with guided tours
For the Kinabatangan River you do not need a guide. But I did do a tour and here’s why: I wasn’t going to save THAT much doing it on my own and with the tour I had everything included (even a pick up from my hostel in Sepilok) so I could just sit back in the boat and wait to see awesome wildlife. And that’s what was most important to me. To maximise your chances of seeing the most variety of wildlife I would recommend at least four trips during the day and one at night on the boats. Here is a comprehensive guide on doing Kinabatangan on the cheap from PleaseNotAnotherTravelBlog.
Diving in Sipadan National Park, Sabah
Price with Guide: RM800 for 1D3Dives to RM2, 070 for 3N10Dives
Only 120 people are given permits to dive on Sipadan per day (as of April 2013). This greatly reduces your ability to dive last-minute. The Sipadan Island Permits will be done on your behalf by either the resort/hotel you choose to stay at or the dive operator you dive with. If they run out of permits you may be able to obtain permits from other hotels/operators at an extra cost. The dive operators for Sipadan can be money-hungry and hard to deal with so make sure you pick an operator who has good reviews and who can ensure you will get a permit. Planning ahead and research is a is a must.
Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak
Price with Guide: Around RM600 for 3D2N depending on the accommodation you choose
Price Solo: RM35 pn for Dorm and RM30 for 5-day Mulu park pass
No, no and no you do not need a fully guided experience for Mulu National Park, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! Sure the tours can offer you to stay with a family in a traditional long house or what have you but the truth of the matter is you can cut your costs by two-thirds by doing it on your own. And you will still have a fantastic experience I promise. Here’s how it works: catch a flight to Mulu (MASwings was cheapest I found). Once you get there either your pre-booked accommodation will pick you up from the airport or you can hitch a ride with any of the other pickups for a small cost. Walk into the park. Pay for the five day entrance fee of RM30 and then pick which day trips and treks you want to do. Some of them you MUST do with a park guide such as the ‘Garden of Eden trek’ and the caving, so they will cost. A lot of the treks you can do alone and that will keep your costs down. I had no problems getting into any of the activities but if you are wanting to do the three day ‘Pinnacle trek’ make sure you book in advance. Info
Country: Borneo, Malaysia
Currency: Malaysian Ringgit
$1 USD = 3.27RM
I was there: August 2013