Borneo: Sarawak or Sabah?

“I am going to Borneo” would be like saying “I am going to Europe”.  Will you visit Ireland, Lapland, former socialist countries bordering Russia or the Mediterranean islands?

Borneo is the world’s third biggest island divided between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. The diversity touches all the spheres of life from culture and food to people and nature. WWF says that on average three new species are found in Borneo each month. WWF further estimates that over 170 languages are spoken in the island. Talking about re-inventing the word “diversity”!

There really is a lot to see in Borneo and that’s why we would have to smart about how to best use our precious ten days. So, where to begin? I started posting on travel forums and asking friends if they know anyone who has been to Borneo. Responses started to direct me toward Sabah but I remained intrigued by Sarawak. Ever since I discovered a great article on Kutching (the capital of Sarawak), published by the Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2017/jan/21/kuching-borneo-malaysia-city-guide-hotels-restaurants-bars I could not help but feel that Sarawak is The One. I read more and purchased the Borneo guide book by Lonely Planet. What I gathered from my extensive research was that there are two main differences between Sarawak and Sabah: the latter has better beaches and Borneo pygmy elephants. Orangutans can be seen in both states, which was important to us. I returned to travel forums to ask a strategic question: Why does everyone go to Sabah? Is Sarawak so much less interesting? The responses reassured me. I was told that Sabah is more developed and more known, but that Sarawak is like this rough diamond that hasn’t been fully discovered, with as much to offer as its more famous sister state (and more because Sarawak has famous caves).

To be honest, the fact that Sarawak is only 1 hour and 15 minutes by plane from Singapore (as opposed to Sabah, which is 2.5 hours away), was a key factor to us. The idea of being so close to Singapore in case there was an emergency comforted us. Yeah, we had never before chosen a travel destination even partially based on its proximity to a big city, but traveling with a child follows its learning curve…. I told some of our friends who insisted on Sabah that we will be a bit more adventurous next time. One step at a time. After all, this was our second exotic trip with our daughter. Even if Sri Lanka had been a piece of cake, Borneo was one step crazier.

But there was another practical reason. Sarawak is more compact than Sabah and we would be able to be based in one place (Kuching) and do half and full day trips from there. In Sabah we would have to visit Kota Kinabalu for the beaches. From there we would have to drive or fly to Sandakan for the orangutans and the Kinabatangan river safari (this is where you see the pygmy elephants). Ideally from Sandakan we would have to continue to Danum Valley for amazing rain forest and more orangutans and the Semporna Archipelago for some of the world’s best dive sites. Current warnings against traveling in the Eastern parts of Sabah worried us too. There was no need to take additional risks, especially when traveling with a precisious three-year old blond.IMG_0168I know we could have combined Sarawak and Sabah but it just felt like too much. So we purchased Singapore-Kuching-Singapore tickets by Scoot, but until the day of our departure I kept wondering if we made the right choice about visiting only Sarawak. Would we be disappointed by the beach? Will there be enough to see in Kuching and in the surroundings?

Follow our journey to find out more! Pearlspotting is also on Facebook and Instagram.

Previous posts:

May travel dilemma

2 thoughts on “Borneo: Sarawak or Sabah?

    1. Miia Post author

      Thank you for your kind comment! I hope information becomes useful to some other people thinking of visiting Malaysian Borneo.

      Like

      Reply

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