Backpacking Borneo: 7 days in Sabah, Malaysia on budget

The One Who Wanders backpacking Borneo, Sabah, Malaysia on budget

To be honest and make things clear before I start, when my friend Silvia told about a cheap flight to Kota Kinabalu, I didn’t know, where is it. So I opened a smart buddy called “Google maps” and realized that Kota Kinabalu lies at the coast of Malaysian part of Borneo. Wuuheeey, the level of excitement has grown rapidly and I couldn’t wait.

Jungle in Sepilok

Slovak chicas – my travel buddy Silvia 🙂

Although, backpacking Borneo may seem expensive, in this article I would like to give you few hints of possible activities we’ve done, seen, visited with a tiny budget.

Day 1 & 2 Kota Kinabalu

We flew to Kota Kinabalu and booked Sensi backpackers hostel for 2 nights. The first 2 days were dedicated to food discoveries and work (yeah, clients won’t wait, a job has to be done). The second morning Silvia has met in the kitchen Naomi, a traveler from England who helped us to plan the whole trip, so things became clear and we could start to arrange it.

In Kota Kinabalu you can easily find affordable places where to stay – check it out here!

I love Kota Kinabalu

Let’s get back to the food topic. I bet that upcoming few posts on your Instagram account would contain #foodporn hashtag.

Tip no.1: I definitely recommend a night market held on evenings next to the Merlion. If you are a seafood lover, this place will seem like a heaven on the Earth. Conventional eaters won’t be disappointed as well, a wide range of classic Asian food is being sold here.

Tip no.2: Kedai Kopi Yee Fung – located at Jalan Gaya, offers 5 kinds of the meal for a precious price. Here comes the confession: My name is Michel and I am addicted to laksa. Hard to resist, I ate laksa here twice a day, colossal portion and superb taste only for 7 MYR! That’s a bargain.


Laska lovers

Laksa lovers #oneselfiestickisnotenough 🙂

Chicken laksa

Day 3: Transfer to Sepilok

Since my early age, I adore monkeys. Then, of course, one of Borneo’s must do activities for were orangutans. We took a bus from Inanam bus station (from KK center there is a direct bus, cost 1,50 MYR) to Sepilok junction, which took us more than 6 hours and cost 43 MYR. Locals know the arrivals of buses, so there is always at least one driver who will drive you to the village of Sepilok (5 MYR per person).

Our accommodation was a literally gorgeous – the brand new Nature Lodge Sepilok is a silent complex surrounded by a jungle with friendly staff. 10-minutes walking distance local Ibu (in Bahasa Malay: mother, the way to show respect) cooks delicious meals (try Nasi Goreng Sayur, Noodle soup, both 7 MYR per portion, or Roti Kosong 1,50 MYR per piece). The only disadvantage is that she closes around 7 pm, so if you wouldn’t bring any food, you’d have to adjust the budget and eat in the resort nearby.

Jungle Kid

Day 4: Orangutans in Sepilok

I felt an unbounded level of excitement when we entered the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center (entrance fee 30 MYR). Before I’ve read that the similarity of orangutans and human is 97%, so I was wondered how the reality will be.

The feeding time starts at 10 am and 3 pm, the entrance ticket allows to see both. Even though we’ve been told that orangutans are wild, I found more interesting a nursery where we observed young orangutans. All of them were between 5 – 11 years old.

Orangutan's feeding

An experience to remember! Watching them eating, climbing, walking made me speechless. I was amazed by their gestures, shape of arms, fingers, legs, the way they grab food and eat. I could observe the behavior of these incredible animals for hours and I’m so happy that I have had a chance to see them.

The entire complex is nestled at the beginning of the jungle and part of it is a jungle trail. Altogether, the distance is about 4 km.

Bridge in the jungle

Sepilok jungle

The Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) is another complex next to the Sepilok’s jungle (entrance fee 15 MYR). The main aim of RDC is to create awareness of rainforests. The most amazing part of RDC are canopy walks, giant steel paths with towers (35 m high) to observe the unique birds nestles in the jungle.

Day 5: Kinabatangan river cruise in Sukau

It’s time to leave Sepilok and head to Sukau. Transfer by public transport is way complicated, so we decided to pay a driver (50 MYR per person) who dropped us directly in front of accommodation RD Lodge in Sukau.

We decided what kind of tour we prefer (accommodation, dinner, breakfast and afternoon cruise = 95 MYR) and at 4 pm we were already sitting in the boat excited to see wild animals. Locals told us we were extremely lucky because during one cruise we’ve seen wild orangutans on the top of the tree, wild elephants moving along the river, at least 3 meters long crocodile, Proboscis monkeys, Macaques, and many wild birds.

Seen a crocodile during the cruise

Eventually, we got closer, but I wasn’t brave enough to take pictures not even to move 🙂

River Kinabatangan

Kinabatangan river cruise

Day 6: Transfer to Semporna

The morning in Sukau, before our transfer to Semporna, was serene and calm. These moments just naturally push you to turn off the brain for a while and enjoy the nature which surrounds you, sit in the hammock and observe flowing river.

The morning in Sukau

Unfortunately, it’s time to move. Public buses are passing only main roads since Sukau is an hour drive from the main road to Semporna, we hired a driver (20 MYR) who dropped us at the junction and there we caught a public bus (40 MYR).

Direct buses from the junction to Semporna are leaving since 8 am until approx.. 9:30 am. We were late because of our terribly slow driver, so we had to take a bus which dropped us at the junction and from there another bus directly to Semporna.

After this long journey (approx. 6 hours) we have found our hostel and arranged a snorkeling trip for the next day (130 MYR).

Here comes the confession: Since I’ve almost drowned as a kid, swimming in the deep water and open sea terrifies me to dead, so you can imagine the greatness of challenge I’ve actually committed to.

Day 7: Snorkeling

“Alright, things are getting serious here”, I was thinking while sailing towards our snorkeling adventure. The first stop was Tetagan island to see the Sea Gypsies living in the houseboats built atop the coral reefs. When our boat got closer to the settlement, dozens of wooden boats with children and adults has surrounded us, shouting “Hello, hello”, waving their hands and expecting food or sweets.

Afterwards, we moved towards Bohey Dulang island to hike the Bohey Dulang Peak (353 meters) and to see the view over the blue lagoon. 353 meters doesn’t seem a lot but the tropical climate made it more difficult. After 20 minutes we reached the peak and the view was truly breathtaking.

Entrance to the Bohey Dulang island

An entrance gate to the Bohey Dulang island

Bohey Dulang island view

Bohey Dulang me and the guides

Slovak and Czech crew at the top of Bohey Dulang island

Slovak and Czech crew at the top of Bohey Dulang island – we are everywhere! 🙂

Finally, the snorkeling part is coming and I couldn’t be more scared. My skills are doubtful so I put on a life vest and jumped into the water. This experience made me realize what kind of beauty I was denying for years. Thanks to help of the guide, eventually I dropped the vest and broke my fears 🙂


The last stop was Sibuan island with turquoise water and white sandy beaches. Totally one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever visited in my life.

sibuan island

Sibuan Island Semporna

Day 8: Kota Kinabalu and return back

It wouldn’t be fun without any troubles. After snorkeling, we caught the night bus back to Kota Kinabalu (50 MYR). After approximately 2 hours of the trip, the bus got a flat tire, so we were stuck for 1,5 hour.

I couldn’t sleep almost the whole night, because of the insanity of our driver. No jokes, I was thinking that this is my last hour! After 12 hours, when the bus was finally turning to Inanam bus station in Kota Kinabalu, I was the happiest person in the world that this ridiculous ride is over.

The last yummy laksa and I had to catch a bus and head to the airport.

I’m not saying goodbye Borneo, but see you soon!



  • Reply
    Rok 2016: čože si mi priniesol? | The One Who Wanders
    31. December 2016 at 10:40

    […] apríli sa mi podarilo splniť si veľký cestovateľský sen – navštíviť Borneo a vidieť orangutany. V lietadle som si spomenula na časy, keď som ako malé dieťa blúdila […]

  • Reply
    14. March 2018 at 7:12

    Ahoj Míšo, díky moc za inspiraci z tvého článku. Okopírovali jsme od tebe skoro celou cestu a je to super. Jen se tě chci zeptat v jakém hostelu jsi byla ubytovaná v Semporně. Náš hostel má snorkeling tours celkem drahé tak hledáme něco levnějšího. Díky moc! Tom

    • Reply
      Michel Struharova
      14. March 2018 at 7:52

      Ahoj Tomas, parada, velmi sa tesim, ze clanok pomohol 🙂
      Bola som v hosteli Borneo Global Sipadan Backpackers – je blizko pristavu. Ked pojdete smerom k hostelu, budete prechadzat okolo dive centier, v kazdom sme sa spytali, kam na druhy den vyrazaju. My sme chceli na Bohey Dulang. Trip este s dalsimi 2 ostrovami nakoniec bol za 130 MYR.

  • Reply
    5. May 2018 at 14:03

    Hi Michel. Please do some research on Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation centre before recommending it to other tourists. There are studies that prove the negative effects on orangutans of this type of centres where they are in semi-direct or direct contact with humans. Wildlife should be left to be wild. I am not trying to give you a lesson or tell you what to write – simply please please check the real impact of the activities you praise because you may be (unknowingly) contributing to the degradation of exactly what you say you love.

    • Reply
      Michel Struharova
      5. May 2018 at 19:09

      Hi Pab, thank you for your comment. Could you please provide me with those studies you have mentioned?

  • Reply
    22. August 2018 at 4:48

    Hi, in Semporna did you stay on the islands or in Semporna itself?
    Also the trip you mentioned was it an island hopping type trip?
    Thank you 🙂

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