Malaysia & Borneo Travel Notes

Malaysia Visas

No visa is required for North American or U.K. travelers to Malaysia. Regardless of if you require a visa or are exempt, do remember that you need to have a passport that is valid for 6 months after your departure date, so if you arrive on the 1st of the month and leave on the 30th of the month, the passport should be valid for 6 months from the 30th of the month.

Weather & Climate

Borneo climate is as tropical as it gets, with high humidity and temperatures ranging from a cool 72 F (22 C) in the evenings to a steamy 93 F (34 C) in the daytime. In East Malaysia, Sarawak receives significant rainfall (averaging 78-98 inches, or 200-250cm, per year). The Landas, as locals call the monsoon rains, fall between November to February.

In mid- to late-September, tropical Kuala Lumpur sees its low rainfall with any precipitation limited to afternoon showers. It is still in the high season—the dry season—and Kuala Lumpur is as busy as ever. Cloud cover does increase in the course of the month, though, as the weather makes its way toward the eastern monsoon season, starting in October. Warm, year-round emperatures average mid-70sF° at night and warming to nearly 90 degrees at midday.

Sabah is less wetter than Sarawak due to location just below the typhoon belt (known as the ‘land below the wind’). However, the monsoon period should not deter your travel as rains are periodic and the weather warm and humid.

Recommended Packing for Malaysia & Borneo

☐ A backpack works best as rolling luggage is difficult on poor road and sidewalk surfaces
☐ day pack, smaller bag to carry during the day
☐ khaki or other light pants
☐ bandanna(s)
☐ sunscreen (Bullfrog waterproof spray recommended) and sun proof lip balm
☐ gel hand cleaner or wipes, such as ‘Wet Ones’ or antibacterial (to clean hands before eating)
☐ comfortable walking shoes – bring some shoes that are sturdy and comfortable
☐ electrical outlet conversion plug (to British 3-prong type—right)
☐ thin or quick drying towels (that dry quicker in the humid climate)
☐ light fleece for cooler morning weather and air conditioned buildings
☐ a light waterproof, foldable jacket/poncho for periodic rainfall
☐ over-the-calf socks or anti-leech socks to protect from leeches
☐ small, extra bright LED flashlight with extra batteries
☐ insect repellent (we like 3M's Ultrathon in a spray bottle or Repel’s plant based lemon eucalyptus insect repellent lotion www.repel.com)
☐ white cloth gaiters for leeches
☐ plastic bags in various sizes (to keep clothes and gear dry in case of rain)
☐ small compact umbrella (for sun and rain protection)
☐ sunglasses
☐ water bottle
☐ basic first aid kit (band aids, mild antiseptic cream, wipes)

Also see our general packing list

Books on Malaysia

Borneo Travel Books

Into the Heart of Borneo, by Redmond O'Hanlon
O'Hanlon has adventured into some of the most remote jungles of the world, including Borneo, the Amazon, and the Congo. In 1983, the author and a friend (the poet James Fenton) journeyed into the center of Borneo, a trip not attempted for over 50 years.  

Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo by Eric Hansen
“Eric Hansen was the first westerner ever to walk across the island of Borneo. Completely cut off from the outside world for seven months, he traveled nearly 1,500 miles with small bands of nomadic hunters known as Penan. Beneath the rain forest canopy, they trekked through a hauntingly beautiful jungle where snakes and frogs fly, pigs climb trees, giant carnivorous plants eat mice, and mushrooms glow at night.

At once a modern classic of travel literature and a gripping adventure story, Stranger in the Forest provides a rare and intimate look at the vanishing way of life of one of the last surviving groups of rain forest dwellers. Hansen's absorbing, and often chilling, account of his exploits is tempered with the humor and humanity that prompted the Penan to take him into their world and to share their secrets.” —Amazon

Orchid Fever (A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust and Lunacy) by Eric Hansen
Whether you happen to be an orchid lover, or merely a curious bystander, "Orchid Fever (A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust and Lunacy)" will have you by turns helpless with mirth and seething with indignation, or else simply agog with incredulity from start to finish. An absolutely stunning piece of investigative journalism, dressed up as a tale of personal obsession and eccentricities. Written using plain language and with an outstanding witticism, it makes for compelling reading throughout, whether or not you know anything about orchids, or the orchid-growing and trading communities that it explores. —Amazon

Children

Little Sibu: An Orangutan Tale by Sally Grindley
Little Sibu, an orangutan, lives happily with his mother Hati and little sister Baka in tropical rainforest, swinging through the treetops and eating fruit. Yet when he turns seven years old, Little Sibu must learn to make his way in the world alone, as all male orangutans must. Sally Grindley's portrayal of orangutan life is factual, while the illustrations of rainforest life by John Butler are vivid and accurate. LittleSibu can make the endangered orangutan - and its equally endangered rainforest habitat - accessible to young readers.

Borneo Travel Books

Into the Heart of Borneo, by Redmond O'Hanlon
O'Hanlon has adventured into some of the most remote jungles of the world, including Borneo, the Amazon, and the Congo. In 1983, the author and a friend (the poet James Fenton) journeyed into the center of Borneo, a trip not attempted for over 50 years.  

Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo by Eric Hansen
“Eric Hansen was the first westerner ever to walk across the island of Borneo. Completely cut off from the outside world for seven months, he traveled nearly 1,500 miles with small bands of nomadic hunters known as Penan. Beneath the rain forest canopy, they trekked through a hauntingly beautiful jungle where snakes and frogs fly, pigs climb trees, giant carnivorous plants eat mice, and mushrooms glow at night.

At once a modern classic of travel literature and a gripping adventure story, Stranger in the Forest provides a rare and intimate look at the vanishing way of life of one of the last surviving groups of rain forest dwellers. Hansen's absorbing, and often chilling, account of his exploits is tempered with the humor and humanity that prompted the Penan to take him into their world and to share their secrets.” —Amazon

Orchid Fever (A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust and Lunacy) by Eric Hansen
Whether you happen to be an orchid lover, or merely a curious bystander, "Orchid Fever (A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust and Lunacy)" will have you by turns helpless with mirth and seething with indignation, or else simply agog with incredulity from start to finish. An absolutely stunning piece of investigative journalism, dressed up as a tale of personal obsession and eccentricities. Written using plain language and with an outstanding witticism, it makes for compelling reading throughout, whether or not you know anything about orchids, or the orchid-growing and trading communities that it explores. —Amazon

Children

Little Sibu: An Orangutan Tale by Sally Grindley
Little Sibu, an orangutan, lives happily with his mother Hati and little sister Baka in tropical rainforest, swinging through the treetops and eating fruit. Yet when he turns seven years old, Little Sibu must learn to make his way in the world alone, as all male orangutans must. Sally Grindley's portrayal of orangutan life is factual, while the illustrations of rainforest life by John Butler are vivid and accurate. LittleSibu can make the endangered orangutan - and its equally endangered rainforest habitat - accessible to young readers.

Packing Strategy

-If traveling up country in Borneo, please pack light. You will be moving around from car to small boat, and teh weather will likely be warm and humid.
- Pack at least twice as much clothes and underwear than normal. The humidity will leave you showering a few times a day while changing clothes just as often. After each outing, you'll likely return to your hotel soaking wet.
- In your day pack, include some dry clothes in plastic bags in case of getting soaked.
- Travel boat open boat is drenching, have your rain jacket or poncho handy and plastic bags ready to cover your camera gear.
- For most day trips, bring swimming gear to cool down from the tropical heat.
- A sarong (obtained in country) is a perfect and comfortable wrap for many occasions.

Everyday Attire

In the hot and humid tropical climate you should pack light, comfortable cotton shirts. Casual dress is typically with t-shirts and shorts (though lightweight pants like khakis offer sun and mosquito protection). Cotton fabric is best, such as modest shirts, t-shirts, pants, jeans, long skirts and knee length skirts. Casual clothing is acceptable in most parts of the country but not too revealing in this conservative, largely Muslim nation. When in the jungle, leeches are prevalent, dress appropriately and tuck in clothes so they do not wiggle onto skin (more on avoiding leeches).

Footwear

Most trips require a significant amount of walking and we recommend sturdy trail shoes. A pair of flip-flops is convenient for short strolls.

Malaysia Money Matters

The currency for Malaysia is the Ringgit ("MYR," around 3 to 1 U.S. dollar). As in most Asian countries, it is easiest to convert your currency in the airport upon arrival or in any of the main cities. U.S. dollars can be exchanged at some of the larger hotels, however exchange rates are typically poor. Credit cards (MASTERCARD & VISA are most accepted and AMEX rarely so) are typically not accepted in smaller town's local shops, restaurants and markets, so please bring enough currency for incidental expenses when outside larger cities. Note that some retailers add a 2–3 percent surcharge for the privilege of using plastic – so ask first before paying. As with everywhere in the world, be watchful of credit card fraud. ATMs exist in larger towns, but may not be reliable with foreign cards with differing pin schemes.

Tipping
A range for tipping is USD$20-30 per day for your guide and about half that for your driver.

Health & Immunizations

According to several resources (below), the risk of malaria for travelers visiting Peninsular Malaysia is low with insignificant risk in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and all other major cities. However, in East Malaysia, the risk of malaria is present throughout the year though in these regions, there is risk mainly off the coastal plains and towards the border areas.

Generally, a malaria prophylaxis is recommended for those visiting Sabah or Sarawak (see below), but please check with your medical professional.

Medical Facilities in Malaysia

Most major hotels and resorts provide some medical service for minor ailments. Larger towns have a government hospital and major towns and cities have private clinics and hospitals. Doctors, nurses and other medical staff mostly speak English, and many professionals having obtained their qualifications from Western medical universities. Pharmacies, many of which are in department stores, close at 9.30pm. A licensed pharmacist is usually on duty weekdays from 10am–5pm.

Street & Other Food

If you have a sensitive stomach, be cautious when ordering food and drink from hawker stalls. Though the tap water is chlorinated, drink boiled or bottled water. Curries and spicy foods may bring on stomach issues as well.

Sunburn

Borneo and other parts of Malaysia are located near the equator where there are stronger UV rays all year round. A bad sunburn may occur in only minutes. Please consider long sleeve shirts, wide-brim hat, sunglasses a stronger sunscreen than usual, and avoid sunbathing.

Malaria Risk in Malaysia & Borneo

Note: The information on malarial risk provided here is for reference only, please use it to compliment your own research and consultation with your physician or travel clinic.

West Malaysia Malaria Map
East Malaysia (Borneo) Malaria Risk Map
Source: Fit For Travel

Malaysia Security & Crime

Malaysia is a conservative and safe country (murder and drug trafficking are punishable by death). However, as in any country you are advised not to stay out too late or explore alone. Petty theft occurs in popular tourist areas, and some consular warnings point to a high rate of credit card fraud and snatch thieves. Advisories:

  • Don’t accept drinks from strangers.
  • Don’t carry large amounts of money in your wallet (leave in your hotel room along with your passport).
  • Don’t wear expensive jewelery.
  • Don’t leave your bags, phones or cameras lying around unattended, such as cafe tables. • When visiting crowded places, beware of pickpockets.
  • Dress in a conservative manner.
  • Avoid popular western night clubs and discotheques

Malaysia Electrical & Telecommunications

Malaysia has 220-240 current, acceptable to almost all devices such as camera adapters, iPads, and laptops chargers. However, anything from home with a motor (such as hairdryer) is compatible only with 110 volts with short circuit.

In the jungle, expect to have very limited or no Internet or mobile phone access. Malaysia uses a "GSM" network compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile phones who operate GSM networks while Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and several smaller carriers such as U.S. Cellular use the "CDMA" network, which has less worldwide coverage than GSM. You'll want to check with your service provider regarding international coverage and make sure you understand exactly what you'll be charged for making calls and, if you have a smart phone, for using data (email/Internet). Rates can be extremely expensive and we've all heard horror stories of travelers returning home to find massive bills for using their phone while traveling. To avoid this, recommend you unplug or use your cell phone while traveling for emergencies only. Your guides will be able to give you the best options for calling home and loved ones can contact you using the local phone numbers we provide on your final itinerary.

Read CNET's World Phone Guide

Language

Malay (Bahasa Malaysia) is one of those rare languages that has not only very memorable words but you may read aloud from a phrasebook and people will understand you. Learn a few basic words and expressions here. Aside from Malay, English is widely used to communicate throughout Malaysia and Indonesia.


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