Borneo has a long way to go in the area of accessible travel. Most buildings, tourist destinations and public transport in Borneo are not wheelchair accessible, though Sepilok in Sabah is more wheelchair friendly.
Navigating Malaysian Borneo's city centres in a wheelchair can be tricky due to high kerbs and footpaths of varying heights. Infrastructure is much less developed than on mainland Malaysia. In addition, accessible accommodation options are limited to more upmarket hotels. However, if you are willing to be flexible – think being lifted onto boats and into vehicles, and having makeshift ramps built for your hotel – and to accept the generous help that the more laid-back and friendly East Malaysians are likely to offer, travel to Sabah and Sarawak is possible.
Most tour companies offering trips to the interior do not accommodate people with physical disabilities.
If you’re thinking of travelling to Brunei in a wheelchair, you should reconsider your plans unless you have no other option. You can get a wheelchair-accessible transfer to your hotel, but thereafter you will be limited to your hotel and shopping malls. Pavements (sidewalks) are often inaccessible, most shops and buildings – including official buildings such as police stations, consulates and the national airline office for example – have steps to enter. Even the main mosque can only be entered via a flight of stairs. Blind and vision impaired visitors – and those using a cane or mobility aid – will struggle with extremely high kerbs, lack of tactile paving and completely unplanned wayfinding.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Some bargaining is permitted at markets and over hotel room prices outside high season. In shops you're largely expected to pay the set price.
Dangers & Annoyances
- At research time there was some risk of kidnapping by Filipino terrorists in the islands, dive sites and coastal areas of eastern Sabah, including the Semporna Archipelago and Sandakan Archipelago; some incidents of piracy also.
- In villages and logging camps things can get dodgy when alcohol enters the picture.
- Saltwater crocodiles are a real danger, especially in muddy estuaries. Never swim near river mouths.
- In Kalimantan, transport standards on land, water and air are dodgy, with roads and bridges frequently washed out. Many drivers, particularly riders on scooters, are a menace to themselves and other road users.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots:
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
- British Foreign Office (www.fco.gov.uk)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca)
- US State Department (www.travel.state.gov)
Kalimantan (Indonesia) uses European-style plugs with two round prongs. Sarawak and Sabah (Malaysia) and Brunei use UK-style plugs with three large rectangular pins.
Embassies & Consulates
All embassies and high commissions are in Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) or its suburbs unless otherwise noted.
New Zealand Consulate Honorary consul.
Emergency & Important Numbers
Country codes for Borneo:
Entry & Exit Formalities
Entering Borneo is very straightforward for most travellers, though to enter Kalimantan most visitors require a visa (which can be obtained on arrival in designated airports and seaports).
- Tourists to Malaysia and Indonesia can bring up to 1L of liquor and 200 cigarettes duty free.
- Non-Muslim visitors to Brunei, provided you're 18 or older, are allowed to import 12 cans of beer and two bottles of wine or spirits for personal consumption. The importation of tobacco is forbidden.
- For travellers coming from Malaysia, Singapore's duty-free liquor allowance is zero. Travellers to Singapore, whatever your port of embarkation, must declare all cigarettes they are carrying.
Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your date of entry and, if you'll be travelling overland through Brunei, that you have enough pages for lots of entry stamps. Holders of Israeli passports may not enter either Brunei or Indonesia; Malaysian visas are only granted in exceptional circumstances.
Visas are issued on arrival for Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia (Balikpapan, Tarakan, Pontianak or Tebedu–Entikong). Obtain Indonesian visas in advance for other Kalimantan entry points.
- Americans and travellers from the European Union, Switzerland and Norway get a free 90-day visa on arrival, while visitors from New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia and a few other countries score 30 days at the border. Canadians and Japanese get 14 days. Israelis are not permitted to enter the country.
- Australians don't need to apply for a visa in advance, but do have to pay B$5 (payable only in Brunei or Singapore dollars) for a three-day transit visa (you need to show a ticket out), B$20 for a single-entry visa valid for two weeks, or B$30 for a multiple-entry visa valid for a month (this is the one to get if you'll be going overland between Sarawak and Sabah).
- People of most other nationalities must obtain a visa (single/multiple entry B$20/30) in advance from a Brunei Darussalam diplomatic mission – unless, that is, you'll just be transiting through Brunei (defined as arriving from one country and continuing on to a different country), in which case a 72-hour visa is available upon arrival.
- For more information, see the website of the Immigration Department (www.immigration.gov.bn).
- Tourists from 61 countries, including Australia, Canada, the EU, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and the US, can receive a 30-day Indonesian visa on arrival (VOA) at four entry points to Kalimantan: the Tebedu–Entikong land crossing between Kuching (Sarawak) and Pontianak (West Kalimantan), Balikpapan (Sepinggan Airport), Pontianak (Supadio Airport) and Tarakan (both seaport and airport).
- The cost is US$35, payable in US dollars (at the Tebedu–Entikong crossing, at least, ringgit and rupiah may not be accepted). Once in the country, a VOA can be extended by another 30 days for US$35.
- If you arrive in Kalimantan – by land, sea or air – from outside Indonesia at any other entry point, or if your passport is not from one of the designated VOA countries, you must obtain a visa in advance. You might also want to apply for a visa ahead of time if you know you'll be staying in Kalimantan for longer than 30 days.
- In Sabah, Indonesia has consulates in KK and Tawau, and in Sarawak there's a consulate in Kuching. A 60-day visa costs RM170; bring a photo, your ticket out of Indonesia, and a credit card or cash to show that you've got funds. Visas are generally issued the same day.
- For a full list of the countries whose nationals score a VOA and details on the entry points at which they are issued, see https://consular.embassyofindonesia.org.
Sabah & Sarawak
- Visas valid for three months are issued upon arrival to citizens of the US, Canada, Western Europe (except Greece, Monaco and Portugal, whose nationals get one month), Japan, South Korea and most Commonwealth countries.
- One-month visas are issued on arrival to citizens of Singapore, most countries in Latin America and most countries in the former Soviet Union.
- Israeli passport holders are issued Malaysian visas only with permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs.
- For complete information on visa types, who needs them and how to get them, see the website of Malaysia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.kln.gov.my) – under 'Our services', click 'Visa Information'.
Sabah & Sarawak Passport Stamps
Under the terms of Sabah and Sarawak's entry into Malaysia, both states retain a certain degree of state-level control of their borders. Malaysian citizens from Peninsular Malaysia (West Malaysia) cannot work legally in Malaysian Borneo (East Malaysia) without special permits, and tourists travelling within Malaysia must go through passport control and have their passports stamped whenever they:
- Arrive in Sabah or Sarawak from Peninsular Malaysia or the federal district of Pulau Labuan.
- Exit Sabah or Sarawak on their way to Peninsular Malaysia or Pulau Labuan.
- Travel between Sabah and Sarawak.
Note: When you enter Sabah or Sarawak from another part of Malaysia, your new visa stamp will be valid only for the remainder of the period left on your original Malaysian visa.
- Malaysian visas can be extended in the Sarawak towns of Kuching, Bintulu, Kapit, Lawas, Limbang, Miri and Sibu, and in the Sabah towns of KK, Keningau, Kudat, Lahad Datu, Sandakan, Semporna, Sipitang, Tawau and Tenom.
- In general Malaysian visas can be extended for 60 days. Bring your departure ticket and be ready to explain why you would like to stay longer and where you'll be staying; a photo is not required. Approval is usually given on the same day.
- Extensions take effect on the day they're issued, so the best time to extend a visa is right before the old one expires. If your visa still has a month of validity left, that time will not be added to the period covered by the extension.
- Some travellers report they've been able to extend their Malaysian visas by going through Malaysian border control at the Brunei border and then, without officially entering Brunei, turning around and re-entering Malaysia. Others do visa runs by crossing from Sarawak into Indonesia at Tebedu–Entikong.
- Overstaying your visa by a few days is not usually a big deal, especially if you're a genuine tourist and have no prior offences. However, at the discretion of immigration officers, any violation of Malaysia's visa rules can result in your being turned over to the Immigration Department's enforcement section and, if you're in Sarawak, taken to Serian, 60km southeast of Kuching, for questioning.
- Greetings Local men will typically shake hands with foreign men, but sometimes not women. Muslim women sometimes won't shake hands with foreign men. Handshakes are typically a soft press of the hands, with the right hand then raised to touch your heart. If not shaking hands, it's fine to touch your heart in greeting instead.
- Eating If eating with your hands, never touch the food with your left hand; according to Islamic beliefs, that's the 'unclean' hand used for toileting.
- Bathing Swimwear is fine at beach resorts, but if you stay with an indigenous community, you're expected to cover up while bathing (swimming in shorts and T-shirt is fine).
- Shoes Remove your shoes before entering a house or longhouse. Bathroom thongs (flip-flops) are usually provided.
- Visiting indigenous communities Always pay your respects to the chief of the longhouse first.
- We do not recommend travelling without travel insurance. Before you buy a policy, check the fine print to see if it excludes 'risky' activities such as scuba diving, mountain climbing or caving. If you'd like to do overnight trekking, or visit remote areas such as Sabah's Maliau Basin Conservation Area, make sure your plan covers emergency helicopter evacuation.
- Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
- Wi-fi is available at virtually all top-end and midrange hotels and at backpackers' guesthouses, at least in the lobby.
- Internet cafes are practically nonexistent due to the proliferation of smartphones and mobile internet.
- Western-style coffee shops and an increasing number of restaurants are wired for wi-fi.
- Areas without internet access of any sort include many of Borneo's offshore islands and huge swathes of the interior (unless you have a local SIM card and mobile data).
- In Malaysia certain drug crimes carry a 'mandatory death sentence', and when entering Brunei you'll see signs reading 'Warning: Death for drug traffickers under Brunei law'. Indonesia also has harsh penalties for the smuggling or possession of drugs.
- Gambling and the possession of pornography are punishable by severe penalties.
- It is illegal to work without a proper working visa.
- The sale and public consumption of tobacco and alcohol are forbidden in Brunei.
- Under Indonesian law you must carry identification at all times.
- Malaysia is a socially conservative society and 'out' behaviour is looked upon disapprovingly; we strongly suggest discretion. Homosexual acts between males are illegal and penalties technically include corporal punishment and long prison sentences, though these are rarely enforced. Homosexual acts between women can also include imprisonment.
- In Brunei homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death. It's a good idea to keep a low profile if you're a visitor.
- Homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia, but 'out' behaviour is a very bad idea.
Small-scale road maps of Borneo, some available from Amazon, are published by several companies:
World Express Mapping Sdn Bhd (www.wems.com.my) Based in Johor Bahru, Peninsular Malaysia. Publishes serviceable 1:900,000-scale maps of Sabah and Sarawak (sold in most bookshops in Malaysian Borneo) that include insets of major cities.
Periplus (www.periplus.com) Publishes 1:1,000,000 maps of Sabah and Sarawak that include city and town maps.
Globetrotter (www.newhollandpublishers.com) Has a 1:1,300,000 map covering both Sabah and Sarawak.
Nelles Verlag (www.nelles-verlag.de) Based in Munich. Produces a 1:500,000 map of the entire island entitled Indonesia: Kalimantan, East Malaysia & Brunei.
Reise Know-How (www.reise-know-how.de) Publishes a 1:200,000 map of the entire island (1st edition 2011).
Maps.me A very useful (and largely up-to-date) smartphone app; more reliable for urban than rural areas.
- Getting hold of accurate, up-to-date topographical maps of Borneo is nearly impossible. Brunei doesn't officially release any of its maps to non-Bruneians, and accurate maps of Kalimantan are simply impossible to get.
- The most user-friendly map of Brunei is the tourist office's free Official Map of Brunei Darussalam.
- Google Earth (www.google.com/earth) is a very useful resource, providing a fairly clear overview of river and road networks, particularly along the northern coast. For those planning a trek, it offers the best way to check the extent of remaining jungle cover.
- OpenStreetMap (www.openstreetmap.org) is also useful.
- The coverage of Borneo by Google Maps (www.maps.google.com) is poor.
Almost all of Malaysia's and Indonesia's print media is owned or controlled by pro-government factions, so they're not the place to look for explosive exposés. In Indonesia many reporters self-censor to avoid running afoul of anti-blasphemy laws.
- Newspapers There are two English-language newspapers published in Borneo: Borneo Post (www.theborneopost.com), based in Kuching, is the main English-language daily in Sabah and Sarawak; and New Sarawak Tribune (www.newsarawaktribune.com.my). Also available in Malaysian Borneo is the Kuala Lumpur–based New Straits Times (www.nst.com.my). In Brunei the Borneo Bulletin (www.borneobulletin.com.bn) pens pro-government and pro–royal family pieces.
- TV Top-end hotels usually have satellite-TV relays of CNN, BBC, Star and other English-language stations.
ATMs widely available in cities and larger towns. Credit cards usually accepted at top-end establishments. Tipping is not practiced much in Borneo.
Sabah & Sarawak
- Malaysia's currency is the ringgit (RM, for Ringgit Malaysia, or MYR), which is divided into 100 sen. Banknote denominations are RM1, RM5, RM10, RM50 and RM100.
- ATMs are widely available in cities, towns and big-city airports, but not in rural areas. Some ATMs do not take international cards. Many banks are able to do cash advances at the counter.
- Credit cards can be used at upscale hotels and restaurants, though some places may only take cards with embedded SIM chips.
- US, Australian and Singapore dollars and pounds sterling are the easiest to exchange. Moneychangers, some of which also take other currencies, can be found in cities and large towns, and even smaller towns often have a shop that will change foreign currency.
- The Brunei dollar (B$) is available in denominations of B$1, B$5, B$10, B$50, B$100, B$500 and B$1000 and, believe it or not, B$10,000. The Brunei dollar is tied to the Singapore dollar and the two are used interchangeably, both in Brunei and almost everywhere in Singapore.
- For currency exchange, moneychangers are generally a better bet than banks, though some places in BSB have a pretty hefty spread between their buy and sell rates.
- ATMs are widely available, though not all take international credit/debit cards.
- Major credit cards are widely accepted.
- Indonesia's currency is the rupiah (Rp). Banknotes come in denominations of 1000Rp, 2000Rp, 5000Rp, 10,000Rp, 20,000Rp, 50,000Rp and 100,000Rp (sounds like a lot, but it's worth just US$7). Coins you may see include 50Rp, 100Rp, 200Rp, 500Rp and 1000Rp; newer ones are lightweight aluminium, older ones are either bronze-coloured or bi-metal.
- ATMs can be found in most urban areas (even in tiny towns), but are not available in the Upper Mahakam and the Derawan Archipelago.
- All major cities have exchange bureaux and/or banks that handle foreign currency.
- In general credit cards are accepted at midrange and top-end hotels, as well as at the most fancy restaurants.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
- Hotels In high-end hotels, a small tip per bag is appreciated; gratuity for cleaning staff completely at your discretion.
- Restaurants High-end restaurants may add a 10% gratuity to your bill; otherwise tipping at your discretion.
- Taxis No tipping required.
- Tour guides Tips at the end of a tour not expected but highly appreciated.
All businesses in Brunei close from noon until 2pm on Fridays. In all of Borneo business hours may be shorter during Ramadan.
- Banks 10am–3pm or 4pm weekdays and 9.30am–11.30am Saturday
- Restaurants 11.30am–10pm
- Cafes 6am or 7am until early or late afternoon
- Shops 9.30am–7pm (10am–10pm for shopping malls)
- Opening hours for eateries vary widely. Many proper restaurants open from around 11.30am to 10pm or so. Kopitiam and kedai kopi (Borneo's ubiquitous 'coffee shops', ie no-frills restaurants) that cater to the breakfast crowd open very early – well before dawn – but may close by mid-afternoon or even before lunch.
- Bars usually open around dinner time and close at 2am, though some open for afternoon drinks also.
- Shop hours are variable, though small shops are generally open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 6pm. Major department stores, shopping malls, Chinese emporiums and some large stores are open from around 10am until 9pm or 10pm seven days a week.
- Government offices are usually open Monday to Friday from 8am to 4.15pm, and on Saturday from 8am to 12.45pm. Most close for lunch from 12.45pm to 2pm; in Sarawak the Friday lunch break is from 12.15pm to 2.45pm to accommodate Muslim prayers at the mosque.
- In Brunei, Friday prayers are obligatory for Muslims and all restaurants, parks, malls etc are closed by law between noon and 2pm this day.
- During Ramadan business and office hours are often shortened and Muslim-owned restaurants may close during daylight hours. In Brunei many offices end the day at 2pm from Monday to Thursday and at 11.30am on Friday and Saturday.
Never photograph potentially sensitive sites, such as airports, army bases and bridges. Always ask before photographing indigenous people and respect their wishes if they decline.
In Brunei drones are generally banned, unless it's for commercial purposes and you've obtained permission in advance. Drones are allowed in both Malaysia and Indonesia without a permit, unless you're shooting commercially, though various rules apply. As a general rule:
- Do not fly your drone over people or large crowds.
- Do not fly your drone over airports or in areas where aircraft are operating.
- Fly only during daylight hours and only in good weather conditions.
- Do not fly your drone in sensitive areas, including government or military facilities.
- Do not fly higher than 150m (490ft).
- Do not fly over temples.
The Brunei postal service (www.post.gov.bn) is generally reliable and efficient, both inside the country and if posting overseas.
Malaysian postal service, Pos Malaysia (www.pos.com.my), is reliable and efficient and overseas mail takes a week or two to reach its destination.
Malaysian postal tariffs for a 20g letter or a postcard:
- ASEAN countries: RM1.20
- Australia & New Zealand: RM1.40
- Rest of the world: RM2
Every major town in Kalimantan has a post office and sending postcards abroad is inexpensive but slow.
The dates of Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu holidays, as well as some Christian festivals, follow lunar or lunisolar calendars and so vary relative to the Gregorian (Western) calendar. Muslim holidays fall 11 or 12 days earlier each year; their final dates are determined by the sighting of the moon and, therefore, may vary slightly relative to the dates listed here. The dates we give for some other religious holidays are also approximate. Many religious celebrations begin the night before the dates that appear in this section.
For details on public and religious holidays (as well as cultural events), see the events calendars posted by Sabah Tourism (www.sabahtourism.com), Sarawak Ministry of Tourism (www.mot.sarawak.gov.my) and Brunei Tourism (www.tourismbrunei.com).
Sabah & Sarawak
New Year's Day 1 January
Chinese New Year 25 January 2020, 12 February 2021
Federal Territory Day (Pulau Labuan only) 1 February
Good Friday 19 April 2019, 10 April 2020, 2 April 2021
Labour Day 1 May
Wesak Day (Buddha's Birthday) 19 May 2019, 7 May 2020, 26 May 2021
Harvest Festival (Sabah only) 30 & 31 May
Gawai Dayak (Sarawak only) evening of 31 May to 2 June
Birthday of Yang di-Pertuan Agong 1st Saturday in June
Hari Raya Puasa (Eid al-Fitr) End of Ramadan; 4 June 2019, 24 May 2020, 14 May 2021
Independence Day 31 August
Hari Raya Aidiladha (Eid al-Adha) 11 August 2019, 30 July 2020, 19 July 2021
Sarawak Head of State's Birthday (Sarawak only) 8 September
Malaysia Day 16 September
Awal Muharram (Islamic New Year) 31 August 2019, 19 August 2020, 9 August 2021
Sabah Head of State's Birthday (Sabah only) 1st Saturday in October
Malaysia Day 23 October
Deepavali (not in Sarawak or Pulau Labuan) 27 October 2019, 14 November 2020, 4 November 2021
Maulidur Rasul (Prophet's Birthday) 9 November 2019, 28 October 2020, 18 October 2021
Christmas Day 25 December
30 New Year's Day 1 January
Chinese New Year 25 January 2020, 12 February 2021
Brunei National Day 23 February
Israk Mikraj (Prophet's Ascension) 22 March 2020, 27 May 2021
First Day of Ramadan 6 May 2019, 23 April 2020, 12 April 2021
Royal Brunei Armed Forces Day 31 May
Gawai Dayak (Iban only) Evening of 31 May to 2 June
Nuzul Quraan (Koran Revelation Day) 22 May 2019, 10 May 2020, 29 April 2021
Hari Raya Aidil Fitri End of Ramadan; three-day holiday begins 4 June 2019, 24 May 2020, 14 May 2021
Sultan of Brunei's Birthday 15 July
Hari Raya Aidiladha 11 August 2019, 30 July 2020, 19 July 2021
Awal Muharram (Islamic New Year) 31 August 2019, 19 August 2020, 9 August 2021
Maulidur Rasul (Prophet's Birthday) 9 November 2019, 28 October 2020, 18 October 2021
Christmas Day 25 December
Tahun Baru Masehi (New Year's Day) 1 January
Tahun Baru Imlek (Chinese New Year) 25 January 2020, 12 February 2021
Isra' Mi'raj Nabi Muhammed (Prophet's Ascension) 22 March 2020, 27 May 2021
Hari Raya Nyepi (Balinese Day of Silence) 25 March 2020, 14 March 2021
Wafat Yesus Kristus (Good Friday) 10 April 2020, 2 April 2020
Waisak (Buddha's Birthday) 19 May 2019, 7 May 2020, 26 May 2020
Kenaikan Yesus Kristus (Ascension of Jesus Christ) 30 May 2019, 21 May 2020, 13 May 2021
Idul Fitri End of Ramadan; 4 June 2019, 24 May 2020, 14 May 2021
Hari Proklamasi Kemerdekaan (Independence Day) 17 August
Idul Adha 11 August 2019, 30 July 2020, 19 July 2021
Tahun Baru Hijriyah (Islamic New Year) 31 August 2019, 19 August 2020, 9 August 2021
Maulid Nabi Muhammed (Prophet's Birthday) 9 November 2019, 28 October 2020, 18 October 2021
Hari Natal (Christmas Day) 25 December
- Smoking Brunei's tough anti-smoking laws ban puffing in all public spaces and importing tobacco is illegal. At the time of writing, a new tobacco bill was being drafted in Malaysia to raise the age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Taxes & Refunds
In Sarawak and Sabah a 10% tourist tax is added to all accommodation.
Cheap prepaid SIM cards make it easy and remarkably inexpensive to keep in touch. Your phone must be able to handle 900/1800MHz and be unlocked. Some international phone companies offer free roaming in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Sabah & Sarawak
- Malaysia's country code is 60. When calling Malaysia from overseas, dial the international access code followed by 60, then the area code or mobile-phone access code (minus the initial zero) and the local number (six to eight digits).
- Within Malaysia the access code for making international calls is 00.
Sabah and Sarawak have three networks on which various companies buy air time: Celcom (www.celcom.com.my), DiGi (www.digi.com.my) and Hotlink (www.hotlink.com.my).
In Sabah, Celcom is fine for cities, while DiGi and Hotlink have more extensive coverage of more rural areas.
In Sarawak, Celcom generally has the best coverage, making it possible to phone home from places such as Bario (in the Kelabit Highlands). A prepaid SIM card, available at shops and kiosks in all but the tiniest villages (as well as at Kota Kinabalu airport, Miri airport and Kuching airport), costs just RM10. It takes about 10 minutes to activate; you'll have to show your passport. A typical SIM card package costing RM40 will give you 25GB of internet, plus 30 minutes of local calls, valid for 15 days. Calls cost just pennies per minute whether they're local or to landline phones around the world (calling mobile phones usually costs a bit more).
- Brunei's country code is 673. There are no area codes.
- Within Brunei the access code for making international calls is 00.
Bruneian prepaid SIM card starter packs cost B$35, and are available from its two networks: DST (www.dst.com.bn) and Progresif (www.progresif.com). Both have outlets at the airport and around the city. Starter packs include local minutes and 3GB of data. Progresif has better deals, but DST reportedly has better network coverage.
Local calls cost B$0.05 to B$0.30 a minute, depending on the time of day. For international calls, using the access code 095 ('IDD 095') is cheaper than 00. Calls to Australia, the UK and the USA cost B$0.30 to B$0.50 a minute.
If you have a Malaysian SIM card, it will not work in Brunei unless you pay astronomical roaming charges.
- Indonesia's country code is 62. When calling Indonesia from overseas, dial the international access code followed by 62, then the area code (minus the first zero) and local number.
- Within Indonesia the access code for making international calls is 001.
Prepaid SIM cards can be bought anywhere for about 15,000Rp and can be activated on the spot by the shop owner. Telkomsel (www.telkomsel.com) SIM cards have the best coverage and faster data speeds in the cities. In more remote areas, Indosat (https://indosatooredoo.com) may have better coverage.
Calls, SMS and data all deduct from your 'pulsa', which can be topped up anywhere phonecards are sold. Many Indonesians carry two phones and will commonly reply to you on a different number if it will use less pulsa. All major companies offer cheap international calling using special codes. For Telkomsel dial 01017 plus the number; for Indosat dial 01016 plus the number.
The introduction of 4G internet, available in most major towns, has killed off the internet cafe. Purchasing a prepaid packet (around 100,000Rp for 3GB for one month) is cheaper than using your pulsa directly.
- Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei are all eight hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT/UTC+8). They do not observe daylight-saving time.
- Kalimantan is divided into two time zones: Indonesian Western Standard Time (GMT/UTC+7), which is observed in West and Central Kalimantan; and Indonesian Central Standard Time (GMT/UTC+8), which is observed in East, North and South Kalimantan.
- You'll find a lot of squat-style toilets in Borneo, particularly in public bathrooms.
- Western-style seated toilets are the norm in hotels and guesthouses. You may be expected to flush using water from a plastic bucket.
- Toilet paper is often unavailable in public toilets, so keep a stash handy. In urban areas you can usually discard used toilet paper into the bowl without causing clogging, but if there is a wastepaper basket – as there often is in rural toilets – it's meant to be used.
The best sources of information are often guesthouse owners, guides, tour agencies and, of course, fellow travellers.
Sabah & Sarawak
- The two state tourism authorities, the Sabah Tourism Board (www.sabahtourism.com) and Sarawak Tourism Board (www.sarawaktourism.com), have excellent websites with details on festivals, all major sights (with admission times) and events.
- Tourist information offices in larger cities generally have helpful staff and entire walls filled with up-to-date information.
- Sabah's national parks are run by Sabah Parks (www.sabahparks.org), which has an information office in KK.
- Sarawak's national parks are run by Sarawak Forestry (www.sarawakforestry.com), which has an especially informative website, publishes useful park brochures and runs very helpful offices in Kuching and Miri. Staff even answer the phone! Accommodation at certain national parks can be booked at its offices, through its website or via http://ebooking.com.my.
Brunei Tourism (www.tourismbrunei.com) has a very useful – though not necessarily up-to-the-minute – website.
The Ministry of Tourism website (www.indonesia.travel) has an eclectic collection of travel titbits.
Travel with Children
- Malaysian Borneo and Brunei are great for family travel, especially if the kids like monkeys, flowers, bugs and vibrantly variegated temples, food and fauna. Babies will attract a lot of adoring attention.
- Destinations with facilities and activities for children include Kota Kinabalu, Sepilok and the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, and Kuching, the Santubong Peninsula, Bako National Park, Semenggoh Wildlife Centre and Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak.
- In Malaysia children receive discounts for both attractions and public transport.
- Cots are not widely available in cheaper accommodation. Some top-end places allow two children under 12 to stay with their parents at no extra charge.
- In Kalimantan only Balikpapan has hotels that specially cater to children.
- Baby food, formula and nappies (diapers) are widely available, but stock up on such items before heading to remote destinations or islands.
- Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children is packed with useful information.
Voluntourism has become a booming business in Borneo, with travel companies co-opting the idea as a branch of their for-profit enterprises. Although you give your time for free, you will be expected to pay for food and lodging, and you may also be asked to pay a placement fee. Try to find out exactly how much of your placement fee is going into Borneo, and how much is going towards company profit and administrative costs. Fees paid to local agencies tend to be much lower than those charged by international agencies.
When looking for a placement, it is essential to investigate what your chosen organisation does and, more importantly, how it goes about it. To avoid the bulk of your placement fees going into the pockets of third-party agencies, it’s important to do your research on the hundreds of organisations that now offer work, and to find a suitable one that supports your skills. If the focus is not primarily on your skills, and how these can be applied to help local people, this should ring alarm bells.
For any organisation working with children, child protection is a serious concern – organisations that do not conduct background checks on applicants should be regarded with extreme caution. A three-month commitment to programs with children is recommended by child-safe tourism experts.
Following is a list of organisations offering opportunities to volunteer with wildlife in Borneo. Lonely Planet does not endorse any organisations that we do not work with directly, so it is essential that you do your own thorough research before agreeing to volunteer with any organisation.
- Pay-to-volunteer programs are available in Sabah at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (see www.travellersworldwide.com), in Sarawak at the Matang Wildlife Centre (www.orangutanproject.com) and through Talang-Satang National Park's Sea Turtle Volunteer Programme (contact the national park booking office in Kuching).
- The Mescot Initiative (www.mescot.org), run by Kopel Ltd, protects the forest habitat and wildlife of the Lower Kinabatangan in Sabah; contact it to get involved with its inspiring conservation program.
- In Kalimantan the Great Projects (www.thegreatprojects.com/indonesia) offers one-month opportunities to help at IAR and Samboja orangutan rehabilitation centres.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures The metric system is used across Borneo.
- Borneo is a relatively easy and pleasant place for women travellers. Things are considerably more laid-back and liberal in Borneo, including Kalimantan, than, say, in northeastern Peninsular Malaysia or Java. Brunei is more conservative than Sabah or Sarawak.
- Although many local women (especially ethnic Chinese) wear shorts and tank tops in the cities, it's a good idea to have your knees and shoulders covered in Muslim areas and to cover up when visiting a mosque (robes and headscarves are sometimes provided).
- Sanitary products are widely available in cities and towns across Borneo, but less so in Kalimantan and remoter parts of the island, so bring your own stash of tampons or other sanitary products.
Malaysian companies are only allowed to hire foreigners if they can prove they cannot find skilled Malaysians to fill those jobs. Likewise, Indonesia will only employ foreigners to fill jobs for which they cannot find Indonesians. In Malaysia expats mostly tend to work for international companies in finance and business fields, as well as the oil industry, while in Indonesia expats teach English, or are employed as consultants, engineers and developers in the mining, oil and gas industries, or else in the tech start-up and e-commerce sectors.