- 1 Week
Borneo's most sophisticated city is surrounded by first-rate nature sites that can easily keep you occupied for a week or more. A renewed focus on the heritage of the Brooke family, Sarawak's White Rajahs from 1841 to 1946, is showcased in Kuching's interesting galleries and museums.
Spend your first day in Kuching, tuning into the vibe of the city's kaleidoscopic mix of cultures and cuisines. After exploring the narrow streets of Old Chinatown, ride a tiny passenger ferry or walk across the city's spectacular Darul Hana pedestrian bridge to the English Renaissance–style Fort Margherita. Inside the fort the excellent Brooke Gallery presents the thrilling story of the Brooke dynasty, while back across the river, the Ranee Museum presents the fascinating life of Margaret, Lady Brooke and Ranee of Sarawak. End the day with a sunset stroll along Kuching's Waterfront Promenade, stopping to snack at the various food stalls along the route. If a giant rafflesia flower happens to be in bloom in Gunung Gading National Park, drop everything and rush over before it starts to spoil. On the way back explore the Wind Cave and Fairy Cave, near the provincial town of Bau. Back in Kuching experience the flavours of Sarawak's indigenous communities at Lepau restaurant, before plugging into the city's after-dark energy in the bars around Jalan Wayang.
Be sure to also allow half a day to spot orangutans at Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, then drive further inland to the longhouse community of Annah Rais, where you can stay overnight before returning to Kuching. From here take a bus then a boat to Bako National Park, keeping an eye out for proboscis monkeys, cheeky macaques and pitcher plants. For the best opportunity to experience Bako, stay at least a night at the national park's simple but comfortable accommodation and spend a day or two hiking around the peninsula. Back in Kuching balance the ledger between relaxation and exercise by enjoying more of the city's fine eateries and buzzing nightlife. On your final day relax on the beach or enjoy fresh seafood around the Santubong Peninsula, then spend the sunset hour on a cruise around Kuching Wetlands National Park, keeping alert for fireflies and crocs.
- 3 Weeks
Strolling city streets, climbing tall peaks, relaxing on beaches, hiking through rainforest and diving deep into the ocean – most highlights of this beautiful state can be covered in a three-week trip. Book diving in Semporna and accommodation on Mt Kinabalu well in advance, particularly for high season.
Arrive in Kota Kinabalu (KK) and spend a couple of days exploring. Visit the Sabah Museum to get a taste of Borneo's indigenous cultures, sample the city's diverse dining scene at the A-Square Night Market and elsewhere and spend a day island hopping and possibly diving in Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park.
Next, head to the Tip of Borneo for a couple of days of relaxing on beaches and visiting friendly Rungus villages, with an extra day or two if you want to visit remote Pulau Banggi and the caves and beaches of adjoining islands. If you have your own wheels and are set to climb Mt Kinabalu, you can drive to Mt Kinabalu National Park via a new road from Kota Marudu.
Allow two or three days for the mountain – there's the climb itself, and the day of rest you'll need afterwards, which you can spend around Poring Hot Springs.
Allow yourself three days at Deramakot Forest Reserve for some excellent wildlife-spotting opportunities before heading to Sandakan for a day's exploration of the city's historical sights and eating its great seafood. Next, spend a day watching orangutans and sun bears at Sepilok before heading to the Sungai Kinabatangan for two days of river cruises and more glimpses of Borneo's fabled wildlife.
Head south to Semporna for some of Borneo's best diving in the Semporna Archipelago, then chow down on Sabah's best seafood in Tawau. Finally spend a couple of days looking for pygmy elephants and other wildlife on the Softwoods Plantation and in Tawau Hills Park. If not a diver, skip Semporna and spend four to five days exploring Borneo's 'Lost World' in the Maliau Basin before returning to KK.
If you're more into indigenous culture than nature, an alternative to the Maliau Basin is a three- to four-day stay at Orou Sapulot, immersing yourself in Murut culture, swimming in waterfalls and trekking in the jungle. Both Maliau Basin and Orou Sapulot trips can be arranged from KK or Tawau.
Kuching to Brunei
- 3 Weeks
With stops at some of the world's best caves and traditional longhouses, this trip across Sarawak and Brunei by road, river and air passes through remote rainforests and modern urban centres.
Fly into Kuching and spend a few days exploring this multicultural city, delving into its scrumptious cuisine scene for breakfast (Sarawak laksa), lunch and dinner. Take day trips to nearby national parks in search of orangutans, proboscis monkeys and exotic flora. Then hop on the daily express ferry to the river port of Sibu, where you can continue to eat well – don't miss the Foochow specialities on offer in the vast Central Market and the river city's excellent night market.
Sibu serves as the gateway to the mighty Batang Rejang (Rejang River). Board an early morning express boat and head upriver to Kapit, a bustling trading centre founded in the days of the White Rajahs. If the river level is high enough, continue on to back-of-beyond Belaga, jumping-off point for hikes to a number of Orang Ulu longhouses.
A jarring 4WD ride will get you down to the coastal city of Bintulu, Borneo's natural-gas capital. Avoid the city centre and head straight to the beaches, rainforest trails and bungalows of Similajau National Park, which stretches along the coast for 30km.
Hop on a bus heading northeast to Batu Niah Junction, situated just a few kilometres from the vast caves, chirping bat colonies and prehistoric archaeological sites of Niah National Park. Next stop is the shiny petroleum city of Miri, home to some excellent dining options. Chilling here amid mod cons is a great way to spend a day or two before flying into Borneo's interior for a few days – prepare to be wowed by the epic caves and pinnacles of Gunung Mulu National Park and the indigenous hospitality in the gorgeously green Kelabit Highlands.
After flying back to Miri take a bus to Bandar Seri Begawan, the surprisingly laid-back capital of the tiny, oil-rich sultanate of Brunei. Several museums showcase Bruneian culture, and international culinary creations can be enjoyed at BSB's numerous excellent restaurants and hawker centres. End your Bornean odyssey back in the primeval rainforest by taking a speedboat, a car and finally a longboat to the pristine jungle of Ulu Temburong National Park.
- 4 weeks
Kalimantan is big and cloaked in jungle, with many places accessible only by boat. With a bit of planning, however, it's possible to pack a great deal into a four-week journey.
Start at Balikpapan, where you can get your visa on arrival, before flying to Berau. From there explore the nearby Derawan Archipelago, home to some world-class diving. You can spend the night swapping stories with travellers on Pulau Derawan, or head to the little-touristed outer islands such as Pulau Maratua or the islands of Nabucco and Nunukan, home to high-end dive resorts.
Once back in Berau, head south via karst mountains and the village of Merabu to Kutai National Park, where chances of spotting a wild orangutan are high. Continue on to riverside Samarinda, gateway to the Sungai Mahakam (Mahakam River) and home to an eye-popping mosque. Head upriver by kapal biasa (public boat) via Tenggarong, with its resplendent keraton (palace), to Muara Muntai at the centre of the lake country, where you can hire a gaily coloured ces (longtail canoe) for an unforgettable backwater journey across Lake Jempang to Mancong. Continue up or down river as far as you – the kapal biasa goes as far as Long Bagun – before returning to Balikpapan.
Take a bus south to the pleasant market village of Kandangan, from where you can visit the water buffalo herders of Negara. Or hop on a pickup truck bound for Loksado, a quiet hamlet in the foothills of the Meratus Mountains, where you can equally enjoy hiking, bamboo rafting or simply relaxing. Continue on to Banjarmasin and visit the floating market in the early hours before travelling to Palangka Raya and the peat swamps of Sebangau National Park. Next stop is Pangkalan Bun or Kumai, the bases for visiting Tanjung Puting National Park, where you can cruise the Sungai Sekonyer in search of wildlife and watch orangutans feed at one of Indonesia's most popular ape-spotting destinations.
With your final week, fly north via Pontianak to Putussibau to visit Kalimantan's oldest longhouses and least-explored forests in the wild Kapuas Hulu, before capping off your tour of Indonesian Borneo by floating thorough the stunning seasonal wetlands of Danau Sentarum National Park.