One of the best things about visiting Borneo, apart from the amazing nature and wildlife of course, has to be the fact that it’s super cheap. Even tours are relatively inexpensive compared to many other popular tourist spots we’ve visited on our travels in Asia, making it easy to travel in Borneo on a budget.
Most of you reading this blog will know that whilst we’re pretty budget conscious and certainly don’t splash the cash, we’re not extreme budget travellers. We like to have a few beers of an evening and the odd luxury like a nice meal or a cheap flight of an 8 hour bus journey. We’ve learnt from our mistakes. I think they call it flashpacking? Anyway, our Borneo itinerary was based on seeing as much as possible, as quickly as we could without rushing too much, on a fairly low budget.
To help anyone else trying to visit Borneo on a budget here’s a breakdown of our costs for 6 nights and 5 days. You can also read the details of our full Borneo itinerary here.
Transport Costs in Borneo
Starting off, we’ll look at the costs of getting to Borneo and getting around once you’re there. We were already in South East Asia which makes it a lot easier to get cheap flights and we found the best deals (understandably) were from Kuala Lumpur, which is the main hub for Air Asia flights.
We also chose to take flights while we were in Borneo as whilst they were a lot more expensive than taking local buses we wanted to save some time and also had a couple of safety concerns prior to our visit. Whilst it turns out that from a safety point of view we probably had nothing to worry about, we definitely appreciated using a more efficient mode of transport. Getting to Brunei from Kota Kinabalu by land, for example, takes at least 6 to 8 hours and you get something like 8 stamps in your passport, whilst the bus from KK to Sandakan is around 8 hours as well. Flights are between 20 minutes and 40 minutes for the equivalent journeys and check in was quick and painless in our experience.
Overall our flight costs looked like this – all including two tickets with at least 15kg checked luggage:
Kuala Lumpur > Sandakan £80.00
Sandakan > Kota Kinabalu £46.00
Kota Kinabalu > B.S Begawan (Brunei) return £160
Our flights to and from Brunei would have been £120 if we’d booked when we first saw them instead of dithering. We also decided it was worth the premium for the novelty of visiting a new country!
When it came to getting around we used uber and taxis as well as buses. There’s no uber in Brunei or Sandakan, but in Sandakan there’s a decent bus system for the main tourist attractions and in Brunei we used regular taxis, which was an expensive necessity.
Our total transport costs were £286 for flights and £51 for buses and taxis between two of us.
Accommodation Costs in Borneo
This was really cheap and allowed us to save plenty of money. We stayed in two hostels, as well as a jungle lodge as part of our Kinabatangan tour, and were in private double rooms with breakfast.
Sandakan Sea View Backpackers cost us 143MYR or £26 for two nights and Akinabalu Hostel was 190MYR / £34 for three nights. They were basic but comfortable and staying in hostels allowed us to save money on accommodation as well as helping us secure some cheap tours. If you’re travelling Borneo on a budget hostels are the one!
Tours & Attraction Costs in Borneo
We were pleasantly surprised by how cheap the main attractions were in Borneo. In Brunei everything we did except the river cruise was free, and costs for tours and day trips in Sandakan and KK were very budget friendly.
In total we spent £193 between two of us and did so much with that budget. Full details…
Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary – 31.80MYR pp
Sunbear Sanctuary – 32.80MYR pp
Afternoon Tea at The English Teahouse – 55MYR
Kinabatangan 2D1N River Cruise – 329MYR pp
Brunei 1 Hour Boat Tour – 40BND
Kinabalu Park & Botanic Gardens – 35MYR pp
We spent a bit of additional money on a couple of extras like Renton binoculars on our jungle trip, but they were worth spending on for so little extra. Overall, cost effective attractions, like accommodation, were a big help when it came to travelling Borneo on a budget.
Food & Drink Costs in Borneo
We found food and drink very cheap in Sandakan, fairly cheap in Brunei and mid range (for Malaysia) in Kota Kinabalu. I’d say that an average meal with drinks for two people at a regular low to mid range restaurant costs around 60MYT / 10GBP on average. A beer tends to cost about 7MYR for context so a decent proportion of our food budget was invested here!
Our total spend for two of us on food and drink was £98 which isn’t bad for 6 days and includes some airport coffees as well. It helped that our jungle tour was all inclusive and hostels included breakfast.
The Grand Total
Overall we spent £664 in total for two people for just under a week in Borneo and found this very comfortable – especially considering it included a beer or two most nights and the luxury of travelling by plane instead of long haul buses. Our flights cost £286 out of this budget which is a decent chunk that could easily be sacrificed if you don’t mind a fair amount of extra travel time.
Our verdict: It’s super easy to travel Borneo on a budget, and if you wanted to shave the costs down even further you definitely could.