Welcome to Part 2 of my Borneo Travel Guide. My husband and I spent two weeks exploring Malaysian Borneo.
My husband and I spent two weeks exploring Malaysian Borneo in July 2015. We had a great time, and would definitely recommend it. We had a few ups and downs, mainly due to the environmental damage we saw pretty much everywhere, it was terribly sad to see so much deforestation. I probably wouldn't have noticed it if I was traveling with anyone else, but Farmboy was an environmental consultant is his former life and so was more aware than me (I thought there was a lot of green but what I thought was natural vegetation was 9 times out of 10 palm oil plantations). We also knew very little about Borneo (apart from the fact that it is one of the last places where you can see Orangutan in their natural habitat), and actually ended up deciding to go there because it had the cheapest flights and seemed like a very unique holiday destination.
You may be thinking of heading to Borneo soon (or sometime in the future) so to help you plan your trip, I have put together this travel guide, as well as some tips from our stay. Please keep in mind that my husband and I may travel very differently to you, and have different likes and preferences for things. I prefer the more luxurious path, while Farmboy would stay in a hammock for the entire trip if it was up to him. So we plan accordingly, and of course, try to stick to the budget.
We spent the first part of our holiday in Kuching (2 days), moving onto Bantang Ai lake (3 days), then Kota Kinabalu (4 days) and then onto Semporna (2 days) & Mabul Island (4 days). As there is so much to say about our trip I am breaking up these posts into different parts. In this part I will be talking about Bantang Ai Lake. In Part 3 I will be talking about Kota Kinabalu and finally in Part 4, I will write about Semporna & the scuba diving we did on Mabul Island.
After spending 2 nights in Kuching (click here for Part 1 of this travel guide), we headed off early the next morning to try and see the Orangutan feeding at the Semengoh Rehabilitation Centre (blogged about in Part 1). Unfortunately, due to our own time restraints, we only had two hours to spend there and none of the resident Orangutans came down to feed while we were there. We tried not to be too disappointed, sightings are never guaranteed, and heading to catch our shuttle to the Hilton Batang Ai. We were able to arrange for the private shuttle to pick us up at the Semengoh Nature Reserve (which saves you the 45 minute drive back to Kuching). The Hilton offers a daily shuttle service which leaves from the Hilton Kuching at 08h00 and then makes the return journey from Batang Ai back to Kuching at 13h00 for $30pp. We weren't able to make 08h00 shuttle, and so organised a private shuttle to collect us at Semengoh. It was more expensive than taking public transport or the set shuttle, but it was definitely worth it for us due to our tight schedule.
We arranged for the Hilton Batang Ai to fetch us from Kuching in their private shuttle. I spent many sleepless nights trying to decide on the best way to get from Kuching to Bantang Ai and in the end, the Hilton shuttle was the least stressful option considering our time frame. It cost us $80 for the private shuttle, which picked us up right from where we were in Kuching and dropped us off at the Batang Ai dock. The trip took about 4 hours. In my initial travel plan, I wanted to head to the actual Batang Ai National Park. I had read that it is one of the few places left where you have a real chance of seeing the elusive Orangutan in the wild. I had read this forum which detailed the journey from Kuching and made mention of a longhouse that you could stay in but which couldn't be booked before hand. We only had a 2 day window to get to the national park (and were just going to hope that there was a place for us to stay that night) before our booking at the Hilton. Our plan was to make our own way to the National Park from Kuching (this would have involved buses from Kuching to Sri Aman and then change for another bus to Lubok Antu. From Lubok Antu we would have had to hire a boat to take us to Batang Ai National Park). It seemed possible, but not something to risk with only 2 days. I do hope to return one day to visit the Bantang Ai National Park,
I looked into hiring a car and us making the 5 hour journey from Kuching to Bantang Ai Lake ourselves, but this would have meant missing out on the Semengoh National Park (click here to read my guide on Kuching and the Semengoh Orangutan sanctuary) but we really wanted to include that in our stay in Kuching. I also looked at public transport (buses) which was definitely an option. If you do hire a car (this also seemed very easy to do as you can leave your car in a secure area at the docks where the Hilton boat picks you up), you need to keep in mind the boat schedule as the last boat leaves from the mainland to the Hilton at 17h30. It's only a 20 minute journey by boat to the Hilton Hotel.
The Hilton Batang Ai
We spent 3 nights at the Hilton Longhouse Resort only because we found a great special on Agoda. We paid $80 a night which included a buffet breakfast. I'm not sure we would have stayed there had the rooms been at their usual price ($130). The place itself is rather old, and even though they have tried to keep the decor as authentic to the traditional fell of a Longhouse, there are a lot of things they could update. Even though everything felt and looked rather old, we really enjoyed our stay. It was a complete break from technology (there is no wi-fi and the only internet is on an old PC in the corner of the reception hall which took about 4 hours to boot up). We weren't quite prepared to be so cut off from the world, but it was a welcome break! Especially considering just how much time I spend every day online. It was a really great break from everything.
The swimming pool was one of the highlights of our stay, as was the jungle trek & visit to the traditional longhouse. The hotel offers a variety of excursions (at extra cost) so that is something to bear in mind. Each of these activities cost around $25 a person, but were really worth it. We did notice a lot of private tours could be organised with outside companies which would pick you up at the Hilton Jetty and take you to the Batang Ai National Park or onto a wide variety of other adventures.
When you stay at a resort like the Hilton, it's important to keep in mind all the extra costs. The only place to eat was the hotel restaurant. We were advised by our shuttle driver to pack some snacks and beers from one of the roadside stores we stopped at on our journey from Kuching. This was GREAT advice as the price for a beer was triple at the Hilton. So we had a secret stash of beers and chocolates to keep us going throughout the day. We also tried to eat as much of the buffet breakfast as possible to last us until dinner. Breakfast was included in our booking which definitely was an added bonus. Each excursion we did with the Hotel included a picnic lunch (usually a sandwich, apple and a sweet dessert) so this definitely helped us keep our costs down too.
What to pack for Bantang Ai Lake
- long sleeve cotton shirt for Jungle trekking
- closed shoes for jungle treks
- swimming costume (you can't actually swim in the lake itself, but the swimming pool is wonderful)
- hat & suncream
- casual clothes for everyday wear (plus a more formal dress if you want to dress up for dinner)
We had a great stay at the Bantang Ai Hlton and were well rested for the rest of our stay in Borneo. We caught one fo the regular scheduled boat shuttle back to the mainland, and then arranged for the 13h00 shuttle to take us back to Kuching. The cost of the trip back to Kuching was MYR 260. The trip back took around 4.5 hours and we arrived in good time before our flight from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu at 20h35. I think 3 nights is a good amount of time to spend at the Hilton Bantang Ai resort, and any longer would bee too much. A lot of people only spend 1 night but having those extra two nights means you really get to relax and enjoy the beautiful surrounds (especially the sunsets from the jetty!).
If you're planning a trip to Malaysian Borneo, make sure you read other parts of this travel guide by clicking the link or images below. Soon to come is a guide for Kota Kinabalu & scuba diving with ScubaJunki in Sipadin & Mabul Island.