Borneo has a wide range of accommodation, particularly in Sabah and Sarawak. It's a good idea to book ahead for July and August. In smaller towns, on outlying islands and in the hinterlands, your options may be limited to very simple lodgings. Room-sharing services have gained in popularity.
- Hotels These run the gamut from international-standard hotels with air-con, pools and room service to modest local hotels.
- Hostels & Guesthouses Particularly prolific in KK and Kuching, though BSB now also has a range of budget guesthouse chains.
- Longhouses These range from mod-con central to atmospheric wood-and-palm structures deep in the jungle.
- All of Borneo's major cities have hotels with the full range of mod cons and amenities, but standards vary, from top-notch in Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, Bandar Seri Begawan and Balikpapan to close-but-no-cigar in places such as Miri and Sibu.
- Many of the island's top hotels are now run by international chains and are well acquitted to the needs of business travellers.
- Booking online is the way to go at most of these places, and you'll often find offers well below rack rates – in Malaysia excellent rooms can be found for less – sometimes much less – than US$100 per night, and in Kalimantan luxury comes even cheaper.
- In Brunei most room prices include the 10% service charge, while in Malaysia a 10% tourist tax is added to the price. If you're unsure if your rate is all-inclusive, ask if the quote is 'plus-plus' – a 'yes' means that the service charge and taxes have not been factored in.
- The island's small hotels – in Malaysia often run by people of Chinese ancestry – have long been the mainstay of the domestic hospitality market. The more salubrious ones are a decent option for budget travellers (some that we don't mention double as brothels). Starting at about US$25 for a double room in Sarawak and Sabah, they're generally fairly spartan.
- Showers and toilets are usually en suite, but may be down the hall for cheaper rooms.
- Some places ask you to leave a deposit for the TV remote.
- Some places that style themselves as 'resorts' have plenty of seaside (or jungle) activities and impeccable service, but others cater mainly to the domestic business-conference market.
- For a relaxing, resort-style holiday in Sabah, you can choose among several excellent seaside resorts in and near KK, or head to an offshore island such as Pulau Mantanani, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Tiga or Layang Layang, or the islands of the Semporna Archipelago.
- Sarawak's best-known resort area is the Santubong Peninsula.
- Brunei will blow you away with the over-the-top Empire Hotel & Country Club, or you can relax at the jungle lodge in Ulu Temburong National Park.
- Kalimantan has a few resorts, limited mostly to private islands in the Derawan Archipelago, and a handful of large hotels with resort notions in the bigger cities.
Guesthouses & Backpacker Accommodation
- Malaysian Borneo's main tourist cities offer laid-back accommodation designed for visitors on a budget. Ideal for meeting fellow travellers, these places generally offer a choice of dorm beds or small private rooms (usually with shared bathrooms) and also have a common area for lounging, an internet terminal or two, a basic kitchen and, if you're lucky, a washing machine and a rooftop garden for hanging out in the evening. Some rent bicycles and conduct tours of local sights, and for many it's a point of pride to provide up-to-the-minute travel information (eg regarding transport).
- Dorm beds start at about US$9 per night, while private rooms go for US$18 and up. If you want your own room, cheap hotels often offer better value.
- Because many guesthouses (especially in Kuching) are situated in converted commercial buildings and old shophouses, not all rooms come with windows.
- Kalimantan does not yet have a hostel scene, so backpackers looking for cheap digs usually bed down in an inexpensive hotel or losmen.
Until the last decade or two, passers-by were always welcome to stay overnight at longhouses, the age-old dwellings of many (but not all) of the indigenous peoples of Borneo. While this is changing, especially in Malaysia, it's possible to organise longhouse stays through reputable local guides and tour companies.
- Sabah and Kalimantan have plenty of welcoming homestays offering good value and a local vibe.
- Brunei's homestays tend to cater to tour groups and domestic tourists with their own cars.
- Some of Sarawak's homestays are superb (eg in the Kelabit Highlands), while others have run-down facilities, hosts who speak no English, and nothing to do.
- In many national parks, camping is permitted only near park headquarters.
- If you pitch your tent in the vicinity of a longhouse, residents may get the impression you're spurning their hospitality. Some travellers set up their tent on the longhouse's covered verandah.
- A two-season tent with mosquito netting is ideal, and a summer-weight sleeping bag or just a bag liner will usually suffice unless you intend to hike at altitude. If it's dry season, a pop-up mosquito-net tent will often do.