Johnny's Guide to BORNEO: Apes, Monkeys, Scuba Diving

Larissa and I decided to take a 3 week trip to the Jungles of Borneo to see some monkeys, endangered species, apes, and animals.  We needed to make a visa run anyways, and Borneo was actually a lot easier to get to than previously thought...although I'll share with you guys some mistakes that ended up costing a few hundred dollars so you don't do the same.

Here is my complete guide to traveling Borneo.

Where the heck is Borneo and How to Get there?

The island of Borneo is actually divided up by 3 countries, Malaysian Borneo, Indonesia and Brunei. For this trip we focused on East Malaysia as there is incredible scuba diving and some animals like the Proboscis monkey in the cover photo above that aren't found anywhere else.

First off, it turns out you can direct flight from Chiang Mai to Kuala Lumpur which is awesome not having to go through Bangkok.  But if you do go through BKK you can fly Malaysian Air which despite their recent bad lunch with planes is still 100x better than flying Air Asia. (more on that later)

If you are going diving, you can fly into TWU (Tawau Airport) which is the closest airport to Semporna, Mabul and Sipadan (the islands you'll want to dive at)  If you are climbing Mt. Kinabalu first, fly into Kota Kinabalu (KK) and if you want to skip the mountain and go straight into the jungle, fly into Sandakan which is the closest airport to Sandakan.

Confusing?  A bit, but trust me it's worth it.

borneo map
Air Asia - Chiang Mai  (CNX) to Kuala Lumpur (KLIA) to Sandakan (SDK) via Air Asia. 

Day 1: Sepilok Jungle Resort

Went the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre and saw the world's smallest bear.  Entry was 30RM which is $9.10US and although it's just a single viewing platform and a short video, it was well worth it as these things are sure rare.

Spent the night at SJR in one of their standard fan rooms which is only a 10 minute walk to the Sunbears and Orangutans.  The room was around 75RM a night which $23US.

We also went to the Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC) which was 15RM ($4.50US) which is nice for people to spot birds, but we didn't love it.

Day 2: Orangutans at the Sepilok Rehabilitation Center

We spent the entire day watching Orangutans, it was incredible as they live wild and just come in twice a day for the feedings.  The cost was 30RM ($10US) and was good for the entire day and absolutely worth it.  To breakup the day, we hung out by the pool at the Jungle Resort for a few hours in between.

Day 3: Proboscis Monkeys

Even though we loved the Orangutans the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary was AWESOME. We took a shuttle there (40RM $12US round trip, per person) and spend the entire day there. Entrance was 60RM ($18US) but absolutely worth it.  Proboscis monkeys are only found in Borneo and are some of the strangest animals in the world but also very cool, extremely active and interesting to watch.

Their huge noses, permanently erect penises, and pot bellies make them by far the strangest monkey I've ever seen. But they surprisingly are strong and run like panthers as well.  Such a cool animal that everyone needs to see in person.

Day 4 - 6: Four Points Sandakan

We decided to break up our trip by having a few work/rest days in between so we could make money during the trip and not dip too much into savings.  Since we knew we would be spending the entire day at the hotel, we decided to splurge a bit and stay the the Four Points by Sheraton which was around $70US a night through Agoda.  We booked for 3 nights and was make enough money with current drop shipping stores to cover the last week of the trip as well as have time to research a new niche that Larissa and I are planning on starting a store in.

Our room had an ocean view, an extremely comfortable bed and the actual hotel itself had a ton of features that we took advantage of including a nice pool, and a business center where we worked from.  The wifi was decent by the pool but was much faster in the business center, where they had proper desks and nice office chairs.  We also took advantage of the gym, and had some good food at their restaurant.  My favorite thing about staying at the Four Points which is a SPG (Starwoods) hotel is that everything was thought of including having universal outlets built into our room.

Day 7: Nature Lodge Kinabatangan

After a few days to let our clothes dry, catch up on some work, and get excited to start doing nature stuff again, we made our way to another jungle resort, this time by the river.  We went from a baller hotel room with an ocean view to an ultra basic cabin but it was incredible.  We spent a total of 3 days 2 nights at the Nature Lodge and saw wildlife in their natural habitats while cruising down the river on a safari boat.  

There was also supposed to be a night walk and longer jungle treks but they were canceled because there were wild elephants roaming near by camp and the mothers are very protective of their children. A tourist was trampled a few years ago for getting too close.  The good news is, we got to go on a few more bonus river cruises and got to see some really amazing wildlife!

Here's a 3 Minute Video of What we Saw!

Life in the Nature Lodge:

I don't know why I didn't even bother to check but turns out there is no internet or even roads anywhere near NLK.  I kind of just assumed either my 3G would work or there would be wifi.  But luckily, we happened to book our dates to fall over the weekend so I didn't actually need to fulfill orders or answer any emails. It ended up being a nice break from the computer and being online, and good news is when I finally did get online again, my inbox was full of new orders for my dropshipping stores, which basically paid for the entire 3 nights.  

The other things I wish I brought with me to NLK was mosquito spray and long pants.  They had binoculars and mud boots to rent, and leech socks for sale.  At 20RM ($6US) it was absolutely worth renting the binoculars for the trip.  We ended up each getting a pair so we wouldn't have to pass them back and forth and end up missing out on any fast moving birds or wildlife.  

The only thing we didn't end up seeing in the wild were the Orangutans but we saw a ton of awesome birds including Kingfishers, Storks, and Proboscis Monkeys.  We even got extremely lucky and got to see a herd of 20 wild Bornean Pygmy Elephants which are shown in the video above.

Scuba Diving Borneo

The best scuba diving spot in Borneo and possibly one of the best in the world is Sipadan. To get there you'll want to stay either in the port town of Semporna, or on the islands of Mabul or Kapalai. We stayed at Scuba Junkie Borneo on their Mabul Beach Resort as I worked there as a dive master in the past and knew they were the best for the money.

Other dive shops in Borneo are either super expensive and ultra luxury, or they are cheap and really crap. The other good thing about Scuba Junkie Borneo is that on their Mabul Resort they have a house reef that is actually one of my favorite dive sites due to the ease of jumping off the jetty, and the weird stuff you can find in the sand. Here's a video of diving the Mabul house reef:

Scuba Diving in Sipadan 

Definitely amazing diving and one of the few places on earth you are almost guaranteed to see 40 turtles and 40 sharks on a  single dive. Great coral, clean, beautiful. It's amazing. However, it's also expensive and hard to get a permit for. Unfortunately as much as I love Scuba Junkie, unless you book 2-3+ months in advance, the chances of you getting a Sipadan permit through them is very low as they just don't have that many to give out.

From what I've found here are the number of Sipadan Permits each company has to give out. Leave a comment below and let me know if you've found an update.

Dive Resort's allocation of Sipadan permits:

Borneo Divers Mabul Resort: 14 permits
Kapalai (Pulau Sipadan Resort): 14 permits
Sipadan Water Village Resort: 14 permits
Sipadan-Mabul Resort (Mabul Water Bungalows): 14 permits
Seaventures Dive Resort: 11 permits
Celebes Explorer (Sipadan Liveaboard): 13 permits
Mataking (The Reef Dive Resort): 7 permits
Roach Reefs Resort: 6 permits
Bharman Sipadan: 6 permits
Borneo Jungle River Island Tours: 7 permits
Scuba Junkie (Mabul Beach Resort): 7 permits
North Borneo Dive: 7 permits

So if you plan on going to Sipadan, either book with Scuba Junkie 2-3 months minimum in advance, or go through one of the more expensive or crappier dive shops as they'll definitely have availability even a few day or a week before.  Here's a video of me diving in Sipidan and what I saw:

Borneo Tips and Tricks:

If you're in Chiang Mai, I'd go with Air Asia using the route I mentioned up top. But if you're coming from anywhere else and need to go to Bangkok anyways, I would personally have paid a tiny bit extra and went with Malaysian Airlines from BKK through KL to Tawau.  Even with the airlines back luck recently, it's still a hundred times better than Airasia and you won't end up getting screwed by hidden fees, ridiculously check in lines and policies, poor customer service, and you'll actually get served something to eat and drink on your international flight.

Also make sure you note that there is a time zone change when flying from Thailand to Kuala Lumpur which we didn't realize and caused us to miss one of our flights.  You'll also need a power adapter so either bring one with you, or pick one up at one of the large supermarkets when you land. We got ours for 3RM ($1US) 

Either way, make a plan to come out to Borneo as it's incredible.  The wildlife here is unique, and can't be seen anywhere else in the world.  Write this trip down as a goal, get your business up and running, and know that even though managing an online business while traveling through Borneo is tough, it's doable.  

Read the book to find out how you too can easily travel the world, be location independent and start enjoying the life you've always dreamed of.  Find the book on Amazon or at: 

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Still to Come: 
More Animals
Video Clips
More Photos
More Adventure
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