Have you ever wanted to take a Borneo family holiday to see orangutans in the wild? It has long been a dream of mine to do this. While researching the possibility of a trip, I quickly became overwhelmed with the logistics necessary for travel on this small island. Tourism infrastructure is in place but not on a large enough scale to make solo travel cost efficient like most other areas of SE Asia.
As always I turned to my trusty guide while planning a trip, Intrepid Travels tours. I often look to their tour itineraries as a guide on what all is possible in a country. Their tours are a perfect example of what I like to achieve in a trip – nature, adventure, culture and local experiences. It was then that I noticed they offer family tours and had the perfect 11 day Borneo family holiday available.
I took a tour with Intrepid to China in 2001 and have gushed about the experience ever since, so I was excited to give it a go again with my son in tow.
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Borneo Family Tour with Intrepid Travel
Borneo is the 4th largest island in the world. The island is split in three – with Indonesia taking a large portion of the southern half of the country, Malaysia controlling the top half with a small bit for the the country of Brunei. Intrepid’s family tour of Borneo is on the Malaysian side of the island. Most visitors from the US, Canada, Europe and Australia do not need visas in advance. Please check on your own to make sure of the current requirements for entry.
As with most tour operators, Intrepid requires you to have travel insurance for the entirety of your trip. Typically American insurance is not inclusive enough to count, but definitely check with your provider before researching other options.
My insurance is not valid, so I always purchase coverage through World Nomads. They offer the most affordable basic travel insurance out there. We have been happy with their service so far, but haven’t actually made any claims to this point!
What to Pack for an Intrepid Borneo Holiday?
Packing for a trip across the world can be daunting. Packing for Borneo is quick easy only because the weather is pretty consistent throughout the year. It is hot and humid all year long with sporadic rain even outside of the rainy season. If you want suggestions for what to pack for a trip like this, check out my Southeast Asia packing list. In general however, my must-have items for a trip to Asia in any season include light breathable clothes for the heat and humidity, light layers for cool nights, rain gear, and good water shoes that can be used on the beach and jungle hikes.
Where Do You Go?
Over the span of 11 days, we visited quite a few destinations on this Borneo family holiday tour. The tour did not visit the entire Malaysian side of the island, however, in the time provided, the family holiday offered the best of the best on Malaysia’s side of Borneo which included:
- Kota Kinabalu
- Kinabalu National Park
- Kinabatangan Eco Camp
- Sepilok for a Borneo Orangutan tour
- Pulau Tioga National Park
Note: The itinerary for this trip has changed since my trip. It now takes families to the Chinese village of Sandakan, Turtle Island and to a beach resort outside of Kota Kinabalu where guests will take a day trip to an island off the shore for snorkeling. Visit Intrepid’s Borneo page for up to date itineraries as they do change based on weather and new activities that pop up.
On most Intrepid Family tours, there is plenty of time for families to relax poolside or choose activities of their own interest, however this trip is pretty packed most days. There were only a few days were we had time off in the afternoons, but we quickly filled this in with adventures around the hotels or towns.
Who is on the Borneo Family Holiday Tour with You?
In general the travelers on any Intrepid family holiday tour will range from families with both parents and their children to solo parents with their children. On this tour we had two families with only one parent and one family with both parents. The guests hailed from Australia and the US. The kids ages ranged from 7-12 years old.
Note: If you are flexible on your dates, you can ask Intrepid when booking the tour what the ages of the other children are if you want to have a good mix or want to try to get kids close to your child’s age.
Who is the Guide on an Intrepid Borneo Trip?
Our tour leader, Nostalya was a great ambassador for Borneo. She was so knowledgeable about the country always available to answer our many questions. She was always ready to give us the low down of the day’s plan and what we needed for the next day.
Intrepid’s tour leaders are essentially tour facilitators. They take care of all the logistics of the trip, offering suggestions on places to eat and optional activities in each destination. Having these tour guides by your side makes the trip so much easier than it would be on your own.
As always a tour guide can make or break your trip. The start of our trip was a little rocky as this was Nostslya’s first family tour and it took a minute for her to adjust to the differences between families and the 20 somethings she was used to, but ultimately we had an amazing trip and it was in part thanks to her great guidance.
How Will You Get Around in Borneo?
The majority of travel on this tour was done via private mini bus. This made the hours in-transit quite comfortable, and made it easy for all of us to chat and get to know one another. Occasionally we even had two buses which meant the kids went in one and the parents were in another. This was super fun for the kids and for us grownups to have some quiet time!
There is also a boat ride to the jungle eco camp as well as one flight (with a 15kg bag weight requirement).
Where Will You Stay?
Most of the family focused tours with Intrepid are “original style” which means clean and simple accomodation options. Typically guests stay in 2-3 star hotels and guesthouses with a focus on providing a local feel. On this tour, the accommodation ranged from rustic jungle lodges with no electricity to a local style longhouse to several nights in comfortable resort type hotels.
Overall, there was a good range of accommodation options, but I have to say the few nights with no AC was harder on me than others in the group. I am not a fan of no air conditioner, but it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined it might be in a tropical climate.
At the longhouse we had shared restrooms and showers which was a surprise, but again for the kids it was such a fun unique experience that I was willing to sacrifice for a night! If you ask my son, his highlight was the jungle lodge with no electricity and the longhouse where we had shared bathrooms.
Note: For families requiring a bit more comfort, Intrepid does offer a Comfort Borneo Family Holiday for 10 days that takes in the major sites without the jungle lodge with no electricity!
What Will You Do on This Borneo Family Holiday?
- Visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
- Hike at the Mt Kinabalu National Park (lower trails)
- Poring Hot Springs
- Sunset wildlife boat trip on the Kinabatangan River
- Cooking class
- Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary
- Snorkeling day trip (with gear)
- Mari Mari Cultural Village
As I mentioned previously there were also a few opportunities to choose additional activities during down periods. While this trip doesn’t have a ton of optional activities, there were a few including:
- Sun Bear Center (We highly recommend this!)
- Orchid Conservation Centre at Poring Hot Springs
- War Memorial
Our Thoughts on the Activities & Itinerary
Overall we loved the itinerary and activities included on this Borneo family holiday. Even though Intrepid warns of long travel days, we found that overall it didn’t feel like we were in transit too much. The days were full, but not overwhelming. The mix of jungle and towns was great. For families there wasn’t a ton of history lessons to bog children down. Rather the itinerary was filled with plenty of opportunities for the kids to explore, get energy out and experience Borneo.
We loved the time at Pulau Tiga Island, but that is no longer included in the itinerary. My son says he would trade that for the chance to see nesting turtles however. The time spent snorkeling was a highlight for everyone and was the first time my son successfully snorkeled due to the warm welcoming water.
The stay at the tea plantation was super interesting for the kids and offered them freedom to explore on their own.
The only dud on the itinerary in my opinion was the visit to Poring Hot Springs. The springs are man-made and not all that inspiring, although we did enjoy walking around the grounds and the few hanging bridges. However, if it was up to me, I would cancel that and spend more time at the mountain area.
If I were to plan the trip on my own, I would add in time in the Kuching area of the island as well as an additional day in the jungle for more opportunities to see pygmy elephants. There are so many things to do in Borneo, that I would definitely try to visit again as well!
Do I Recommend This Borneo Family Holiday Tour?
100% YES! Overall, this was a really great tour. The only downsides I can think of are that it could be a few days longer to visit more of the island. Additionally, I would have loved to see one or two nicer hotels thrown in to balance the nights of very basic hotels that provided the more local experience. That said, I knew what I was getting into and could have opted for the Comfort tour.
While the tour wasn’t exactly as I would have planned it on my own, it offered all the things I love most about travel – nature, adventure and culture. We were able to see the highlights of Borneo that we had on our to do list without the hassle of organizing it on our own. We also loved our tour group and made friends we hope to have for a long time.
Thanks to the mix of destinations on the itinerary, I feel like this tour offers a great overview of the country and I would highly recommend it for anyone wishing to visit this far flung island to realize their dreams of seeing orangutans in their natural habitat.
Book your Borneo Family tour with Intrepid now!
Why Travel with Intrepid?
When I first chose to travel with Intrepid in 2001 to China, I choose the company based on their unique ability to mix bucket list items with local cultural experiences. I loved that we got off the beaten path even in heavily touristed locations or sights. In Borneo this was just the same as I experienced in China all those years ago.
However on this trip, I was excited to learn more about Intrepid’s mission and focus on responsible and sustainable travel. We found the initiatives of our tour guide, the hotels we stayed in and the company to reduce single use plastics greatly needed especially in this region where plastics in the ocean is rampant. Intrepid gave us a cloth bag and encouraged to not use plastic bags. Additionally they provided safe clean drinking water at all of our destinations without the use of plastics which we loved.
This is a company we feel we can strongly stand behind based on the tours they offer as well as their sustainable travel practices.
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