Beautiful Borneo! It’s a massive, magical island in the far reaches of South East Asia offering incredible wildlife, lush rainforest scenery, a tropical climate, idyllic beaches, and an extremely warm welcome from the locals. For many, this is a true bucket-list family travel experience. The flight is long (anything between 19 and 28 hours), but the rewards more than make up for it.
Our family holidays here concentrate on the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak where you’ll be wowed by wildlife (not just the orangutan) and enchanted by jungle life. With boat trips and river treks and the largest cave system in the world, there are just SO many ways to enjoy Borneo with your children.
Our Borneo with kids top 10 activities
1. Hang out with the orangutans at Sepilok
Get up close and personal with orangutans at Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre and help to protect their future, too. Feeding sessions start at 10 am (although the 3 pm session is quieter and more intimate) and you can also watch the baby orangutans in the newly built nursery. There’s also now a Sunbear Centre and Rainforest Discovery centre there too. Alternatively at Semenggoh Rehabilitation Sanctuary in Sarawak, although sightings are not guaranteed, you can enjoy an encounter with far fewer visitors in a more natural environment. Visit Semenggoh on our three-week Borneo in Depth itinerary.
2. See monkeys, pygmy elephants, crocs and more in the wild
The lodge on the banks of the Kinabatangan River offers a range of early morning and evening cruises during which you can spot wild orangutans, proboscis monkeys, and numerous other types swinging through the trees. You’ll also spot the herds of Pygmy elephants, crocodiles, hornbills, and (our kids’ favourite) giant water monitor lizards, which slither about everywhere. There are a number of other amazing locations in Borneo to enjoy incredible wildlife encounters such as the Danum Valley, Tabin Wildlife Reserve, and Bako National Park – take a look at our Places to Visit in Borneo.
3. Climb Mt Kinabalu
At over 4,000m, climbing the highest mountain in South East Asia is not for everyone. However, if you and your children are fit, active and up for a challenge, this two-day expedition is the ultimate Borneo with kids experience that could provide you with the adventure of a lifetime. Read our team member Helene Cooper’s experience of summiting Mt Kinabalu with her young kids and see a 360˚ view of the mountain.
4. Get a front-row seat at Selingan (Turtle Island)
Kids and adults alike will be transfixed watching the turtles as they laboriously crawled ashore to lay their eggs here. Depending on the time of year you visit the aptly named Turtle Island (Selingan), you may also witness the baby hatchlings as they’re released into the sea. Children are given front-row spots for both events and will never forget being sprayed with sand by the mother’s fin or guiding a baby down the beach. If you’re lucky, you might even get to snorkel with them too, from the idyllic beaches of this Robinson Crusoe Island.
5. Explore Mulu National Park
This absolute gem of a park is the epitome of the jungle experience and the perfect place to kick off a Borneo with kids’ itinerary. You fly into a tiny airstrip cut out of the dense rainforest before heading deep into the heart of Borneo. Our kids loved discovering stick insects the size of branches, bright red millipedes, luminous frogs, dancing fireflies, deafening cicadas, and geckos of all sizes that line the trails. Check out our recent Borneo customer reviews for more on Mulu and family-friendly activities in Borneo.
Other activities we recommend are watching the evening bat procession from Deer Cave and experiencing the incredible underground rock formations inside Lang Cave. Further highlights include taking a forest canopy walk and cooling off beneath Paku Waterfalls. Be warned, though, you’ll find that bedtimes go out of the window, especially when there’s a night safari by torchlight on offer!
6. White-water raft, tube, or head out on a river cruise
Borneo offers two white-water experiences. One is very gentle and suitable for 4 yrs+ and the other is a little more adrenaline-fuelled, which can also be combined with a trip on an old steam train. Both options boast stunning scenery, and it’s great fun learning something together as a family – you can even try bodysurfing at suitable spots. Or how about an exciting tubing adventure from the Borneo Rainforest Lodge in the Danum Valley? Floating along looking up at the primary rainforest above you is simply magical. For a slightly calmer experience why not head out on a river cruise in the Kuching Wetlands National Park in search of the elusive Irrawaddy dolphin?
7. Experience local life on a homestay visit
Enjoy a genuine cultural encounter by spending a few days in a rural mountain village on your holiday to Borneo with the kids. Dine with the family on mouth-watering home-cooked food. Kick a ball around with the local kids. Pop into the infant school and get your children to lead an English class. Take a gentle hike to a river for a refreshing swim/water fight! At the Sarawak Cultural Village near Kuching, you can learn about the various crafts and customs and enjoy watching traditional tribal dances at this fascinating living museum.
8. Try your hand at batik painting on a tea plantation
Sometimes due to the heat and humidity during a Borneo with kids trip, it can be good to have some ‘downtime’. We visit a tea plantation with stunning views of Mount Kinabalu where you can take a tour around the tea factory, learn survival skills from a bush guide (including how to use a blowpipe!), and the art of painting a batik. It’s a great way of spending a quiet hour whilst allowing you to take home a souvenir you made yourself. Visit the Sabah tea plantation on our Active Borneo family itinerary.
9. Meander the waterfront at Kota Kinabalu
Before heading home, stocking up with souvenirs is a must. There’s a huge array of exotic fruits, vegetables, and fish on display on the Kota Kinabalu waterfront, with a Filipino market, too. Kuching in Sarawak offers a genuine authentic Asian experience. Here you can meander along the riverside to Chinatown to witness the fountain water show, enjoy a sunset river cruise or take a gentle bike ride out to the picturesque rural outskirts of this friendly and easy-going town.
10. Island-hop in search of that perfect beach
There are lots of islands you can visit off Kota Kinabalu, just hop on a water taxi and choose your spot! Swim in turquoise waters, take an exhilarating zip wire over the sea, snorkel to your heart’s content amidst the colourful fish and chill out beneath swaying palm trees at a luxury resort hotel before taking the short boat transfer back to the mainland. For somewhere totally remote why not enjoy time on Survivor Island – Pulau Tiga. Which kid wouldn’t love a mud volcano?! Read more in our Where to Stay in Borneo.
Holidaying in Borneo with kids – next steps
All our holidays are tailor-made, so any of the top 10 activities in our Borneo with kids blog can be incorporated into our holidays – see our example Borneo itineraries which are a good starting point if you would like to start planning a trip.
You can also explore our Borneo family holidays section for more ideas on what you and your children can do here and also see places to visit in Borneo. We also offer itineraries that combine Borneo & Mainland Malaysia as well as Mainland Malaysia with Singapore.
If you’d like to chat with us about a trip to Borneo with the kids, please do ring us at 01728 752751 or email us using our contact form. We’d love to hear from you.
Liddy Pleasants, MD Stubborn Mule Travel
I’m always interested to hear about your travels so do email me with your feedback and experiences of holidaying in Borneo with kids.