Ever considered a Borneo cycling holiday? 

To be honest, a cycling holiday might not be the first kind of holiday that springs to mind if you’re going to Borneo, a country whose reputation is dominated by orangutans, Mount Kinabalu and rainforest. 

However, it turns out that cycling in Borneo is a lot of fun – and an excellent way to discover this beautiful country. 

Looking for a family trip with our 7 and 10 year old, we decided to go on an organised Borneo bike tour (rather than a DIY trip) for three main reasons:

  • it was a last-minute getaway so we didn’t have much time for research (and info on cycling in Borneo is scarce!) 
  • there was lots we wanted to see in a short space of time 
  • with two young kids, we wanted the luxury of a guide and support van. 

We chose Paradesa Borneo to help us and we had a superb visit (we paid full price for our trip and didn’t disclose the Epic Road Rides connection until we were part of the way through it). I thought it would be helpful to share our experiences. As this was quite a short and niche multi activity trip, on mountain bikes and incorporating non cycling activities too, this article is more of a traditional blog post than our usual “travel guide” style. However, I hope it gives a sense of what cycling in Borneo is all about and that it inspires others to try Borneo by bike!  

Want Paradesa Borneo to help you plan your trip? Make sure you use the code below!

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Borneo bike tour: our itinerary

Our bike tour in Borneo focused on the area around Kuching, the capital of the Sarawak region of Malaysian Borneo. From here, we headed south and east, towards the border with Indonesia. The map below shows the different regions of Sarawak, and you’ll see Kuching in the southwest corner. There’s more information on the location of Sarawak within Borneo and Malaysia, in this part of the article.

Map of the regions of Sarawak Borneo

Map of the regions comprising Sarawak, which is part of the island of Borneo, Malaysia

As we were on a family bike tour, the distances we covered each day were very modest and our trip also included hiking, kayaking and cultural experiences.

  • If you’re looking for a similar itinerary to our trip, check out Paradesa Borneo’s tour here.
  • If you’re looking for something a little more cycling focused and demanding, Paradesa Borneo certainly offer this kind of trip, check their website here.

They’re kindly offering our readers a lovely discount, so don’t miss the code below.

Day 1: Kuching 

Our trip began with an early evening potter around town, taking in some of the sights, sounds and tastes of Kuching.   

Kuching is the capital of the Sarawak region of Borneo (more on the geography below). We started at the Kuching Museum and heard the history behind Sarawak’s elaborate burial poles. They are traditionally carved by one person in the village, as they are sent a dream by the dead person as to what the pole should look like. They have pots placed at high height containing the bones of the deceased person. We got the impression that Sarawak’s cultural traditions seem very relevant; less history and more current practice.  

From the food market, we left the bikes (our guide was totally relaxed about leaving our bikes unlocked!) and went on foot into some of the local shopping streets and a clothes market, followed by the city’s brand new floating mosque (completed in 2020), with an impressive open door policy that includes allowing homeless people in overnight. 

After a break at the market (the frighteningly green, gula apong ice-cream is a must), we headed off on a loop around the villages hugging the sluggish Sarawak River. With ominous grey clouds above, we spun our pedals through Kuching’s ‘burbs, with a mix of more or less busy roads.

As we approached the Astana and our “sunset cruise” (read rickety wooden ferry boat) back to our hotel, the heavens opened and we all got thoroughly drenched. Unbelievably (and somewhat embarrassingly), given the number of times I’ve written about the need to pack rain jackets (packing lists here!), we totally forgot to pack any jackets!

More info 

  • We stayed at Marian Boutique Lodging House – more hostel than hotel, our room was diminutive. Cold coffee and a meagre breakfast (cereal or toast) also did nothing to endear itself. However positives include the charming building itself, a restored 19th century mansion, and its location in central Kuching and situated above the funky Granary Kitchen and Bar. 
  • We ate dinner at Commons by Food Journal Group, within what was the former colonial government administration buildings (known as the Old Courthouse). Housed in a flood lit, colonnaded, whitewashed building, the exterior is spectacular but the hugely high ceilinged interior also feels very curated, with a red leather seated rickshaw, cane chairs and over-sized dark down-lighters. The food was tasty and, though we ran out of time to try them, the cake selection looked impressive! One tip: bring a jacket if you feel the cold; we found the air con a little on the generous side! 
  • It’s worth mentioning that we enjoyed a gorgeous 5-10 minute walk here from the hotel, through Chinatown. On a damp Thursday night, Carpenter Street was definitely not buzzing, but we passed some trendy looking bars that looked like they could be a lot of fun with the right crowd on the right night.  

Day 2: Kuching to Permai Rainforest Resort 


A forgettable first 10km or so out of the suburban drawl and traffic of Kuching until turning onto the quiet roads and lanes between Kuching and our lunch stop at Kampung Buntal.

Coasting along flat roads on good tarmac, highlights included a gravel track section alongside sleepy jungle waterways accompanied by a graceful, white sea egret, tasting crunchy, bitter rose apples from an obliging village tree (best cut up and dipped in soy sauce according to our guide) and a frisson of excitement on hearing stories of man-eating crocodiles at Long Beach, Kampung Pasir Panjang. (Not just a story judging by the signs…). 


Lunch was at Lim Hock Ann Seafood restaurant in Kampung Buntal with a view out to the estuary and beyond it the South China Sea. We crunched on fried oyster pancakes, steamed red snapper with ginger, noodles and delicious mixed vegetables.

After lunch we opted to cycle the 14km to the hotel, including the very lumpy 5km, which I got the impression our guides would have rather we avoided. On the way to the sunset waterways cruise, we came across a very nasty moped accident on a corner at the bottom of one of the hills in the lumpy 5km; perhaps our guide was wise to have warned us off this section…

The evening estuary cruise was excellent. Within minutes we had spotted a 3+ metre long  crocodile eating its prey in the water. Quite a thrill. Further on, against a backdrop of majestic rainforest clad peaks, we spotted pods of Irrawaddy dolphins searching for their dinner in the bay. With eagles soaring and searching for fish and baby monkeys to snatch away, we spotted brown proboscis monkeys darting between trees in the mangrove trees. We learnt about the stilted village of Palau Salak on the banks of the Batang Salak river, the life of the fishing families and the importance of the mangrove swamps in protecting the towns and villages from killer tsunamis. As night fell, we were treated to a display of darting firefly magic.   

More info 

  • Our two bedroom villa at the Permai Rainforest Hotel was spacious, air-conditioned and felt very much in the middle of the jungle; trees, creepers and flora all around. I woke to clawing and scratching on the roof and was convinced there must be monkeys about to descend; but, sadly, no sign! We did however spot two silverleaf monkeys very close to the reception area as well as a long, green, pit viper! 
  • We ate dinner at the Permai Hotel café, a lovely spot in the trees above the beach (but be warned, it’s alcohol free). With two tired children, we tucked into western fare: fish and chips, burgers and club sandwiches were the order of the day! 


Day 3: Bako National Park to Serian 


An unfortunate start to the day when strong winds whipped up the sea to such an extent that our boat to Bako National Park had to do a U-turn and head back to shore. After a bit of delay, we connected with the boat again closer to Bako and enjoyed a much calmer crossing to Bako. After admiring the famous sea stacks, we alighted at an idyllic cove, to a performance from an obliging group of proboscis monkeys performing dare-devil leaps from tree to tree. We were told it’s unusual to see more than a couple of adults together, so this was a rare treat.   

A 30-minute walk along an efficient (some might say overly-efficient if they were hoping for something a bit more wild!) path, board-walked and stepped in all the tricky places, took us to Bako National Park HQ.

It’s from the board-walks here that we spotted troops of confident silver-leaf monkeys, munching on leaves and flowers and playing in the trees. Most delightful of all was spotting a baby silver-leaf monkey scampering around and being carried by its mother. The mothers keep their babies well away from the tourists, but their orange-coloured coats make them spottable in amongst all the green foliage. 


A boat back from Bako, past fishermen tending their nets, before a quick bus transfer to another jetty for a boat ride over to Beliong island. We had a fabulous, flat 14km ish ride around this quirky place which is almost 100% mopeds only and very quiet. We cycled past palm oil groves, banana tree farms and coconut plantations. We pedalled along single track concrete paths through villages. We admired a Taoist temple, learnt about coconut processing and even found ourselves being pulled into a game of musical chairs at a wedding! 

Back on the mainland, it was a short ride through more villages to our end point. It was then an hour long transfer in the van to the Roxy Hotel in Serian. 

More info 

  • On day three of our Borneo bike tour, we stayed at the rather bland two star Roxy Hotel, with a bathroom that could have done with a more thorough clean and a “typical” breakfast (read more on “typical breakfasts” below). 
  • Dinner was at an apparently well-known local Chinese restaurant whose speciality was frog… Yep – as you might expect, tastes a bit like chicken!

Day 4: Serian to Annah Reis 


A quick tour around the Serian daily market with truly fresh produce at every turn, mostly delicious-looking (bright pink dragon fruit, scaly snake fruit, bunches of fat peas and knobbly green durian fruit) but also a few less delicious picks as a bucket of wriggly Sago worms with bulbous black heads (apparently edible dead or alive…). 

Riding for the day commenced a few kilometres out of town under a scaldingly bright blue sky. Today’s 40km was along divine roads, through lush fertile green rainforest, peppered with mountains, long houses and bright kampongs (villages). The terrain undulated as we headed into the Borneo highlands but the road surfaces remained good throughout. 

Around 30km in we stopped at a beautiful spot in the shallow stream where we cooled our feet under a canopy of green trees.  

The final 8km to the homestay was tough, with short, sharp ups and downs. On road bikes it would have been far easier, but the knobbly MTB tyres didn’t make for quick progress on the short, sharp hills. Arriving at Annah Reis, our hosts, Karum and Louis, provided us with a delicious, much-needed lunch. 


In the afternoon, we were shown around the village by knowledgeable local, Arthur Borman. He grew up in the village, a time when villagers used to get to Kuching by boat not road. He regaled us with stories of his childhood, from poaching fish to life as a young man living in the village.  We heard about village festivals and farming, about the wide terraces between the houses, whose bamboo construction allows for crops to be dried, and of course about the tribe’s headhunting tradition.

Before dinner, another trip to the river for a cooling swim, and a wonderful end to the day with a performance by Arthur on his handmade Bratuong.  

More info

  • Day four of our Borneo cycling tour was a homestay with Karum and Louis in their home at Annah Reis longhouse. I’d expected Annah Reis to be much smaller than it was and for there to be individual bamboo built longhouses clustered around a central larger longhouse. In fact, the longhouse is one big raised village, with terraced houses built on either side of a central “street”.  Some of the buildings are bamboo clad and the central street is covered in bamboo, but there’s also a lot of cement and tin roofing around too.
  • This is a modern day longhouse that’s still a living community (albeit an ageing one) and has of course moved with the times (albeit slowly). The community buildings are the “X” which is where they store the skulls, ceremonial drums and is the focus of traditional ceremonial life; but don’t worry, you won’t be sleeping here!
  • All this to say, the photos we saw from the internet almost put us off visiting, but I’m glad they didn’t. Yes, there’s no air-con and no option for western food, but for us, these minor inconveniences were worth it; it was an absolutely fascinating place to visit.

Day 5: Bengoh dam 


This was a non-cycling day. Shock horror! 

A quick ten minutes by van took us to the Bengoh dam. We were picked up by Uncle Wes, the owner of our homestay, and whizzed across the lake to the start of our hike. The lake covers nine square kilometres and is surrounded on all sides by forested hills. We were told that in places the lake is 80m deep and hidden under its glossy waters are at least two entire villages. The river was dammed in 2010 and just 50 households remain around the lake; these are the families from the Bidayuh tribes that didn’t want to leave their land and their native customary rights over it. 

The same households now take visitors on hikes to the impressive waterfalls on the far side of the lake. They also maintain the tracks, steps and numerous bamboo bridges needed to make it easier for tourists to get to the waterfalls.

Some of the bridges are particularly impressive – one is quite a long suspension bamboo bridge over a stream; given how bouncy it is, you’d be well-advised to listen to the advice to go across it one at a time… Also keep an eye out for where you’re walking – we came across three or four giant, hairy white and black millipedes. Apparently not poisonous but capable of giving you a nasty sting!  

The first two waterfalls are together, the Curtain Waterfall and Pe’en Waterfall (1.2 km from the boat drop off). Here we swam in the pools our guide advised were safe and the cool waters were gorgeously refreshing. Just under a kilometre or so further on (and up!), we came to the gob-smackingly beautiful Jurassic Waterfall, whose powerful torrents set amid the lush rainforest and hanging lianas looked seriously Jurassic-like. 


In the late afternoon, Wes took us up to Kampong Sting. The vertical, ladder-like stairs are quite a test in the heat – no wonder only 9 “doors” or households, remain. However, the view at the top is stunning; you can climb a very tall, slightly rickety looking bamboo structure to admire the view or drink it in from a number of other lookout spots.  

We stopped off at Wes’ farm on the way to (try and) catch sunset. On the lake side, he showed us how to pick tapioca leaves and how to harvest tapioca root. He then nipped off up the 35 degree slope to pick more choice leaves. Unfortunately, it seemed a wild boar had been through the farm since his last visit; tapioca roots being one of their favourites, they’d pulled over quite a few plants so it was slim pickings remaining. A stark reminder of the hard way of life. 

As we got to the sunset point, the sun decided to hide behind the clouds. It’s a good job we gave up on it appearing and set off when we did as the winds picked up and the heavens opened into an absolutely torrential rainstorm, just as we got back to base.  

More info 

  • Uncle Wes’ homestay occupies a serene spot, high above the lake. It’s much bigger than I’d expected, with at least four or five bedrooms, and built from wood, apparently much of it salvaged from his old house before the village was flooded.
  • We’d wondered whether the homestay would be too basic for us all – but in fact an outside toilet and generator-based electrics was a small price to pay for the experience of a touch of Bidayuh life. 
  • Dinner was an absolute delight, with bamboo shoots Wes had harvested on the way back from the waterfall, chicken cooked inside a bamboo stem stuffed with tapioca leaves from the farm, green beans and rice.


Day 6: Bengoh dam to Kuching 


An amazing pink sunrise on the morning we left the homestay. Despite the no-frills accommodation, we were sad to leave this very special and tranquil spot. 

Our next stop was quite a contrast: the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre. Here we boarded an electric golf buggy to take us into the heart of this 1,613 acre (653 hectare) release site for orangutans (and other wild animals) that have been injured, orphaned or confiscated. As this is a release site rather than a rehabilitation centre or a zoo, there’s no guarantee you’ll actually see an orangutan.  

After 50 minutes of waiting in the feeding area, where bananas were left on platforms in sight, but some way away from the visitors, we thought it was going to be one of the unlucky days. However, just as a few people had started drifting off, we were told one of the rangers had found an orangutan, so off we set into the forest.  

It was quite an incredible moment coming up to a mother and her baby being fed by one of the rangers in a dense area of forest. The mother didn’t seem overly perturbed but the baby soon hot footed it up the tree. 

There was a slight sense of discomfort as we were one of roughly 60 (!) others doing the same. But, nonetheless, being metres away from this awesome beast was incredible and in spite of the number of visitors, everyone was suitably hushed. While feeding the orangutan, the ranger also noticed a ping pong ball sized growth on one of the orangutan’s legs. Having the opportunity to check the animals in this way must be useful. 


From here we went to the Fairy Caves. Be prepared to walk up lots of stairs! The external staircase that winds up to the cave entrance is an unspectacular gateway to the impressive cave you find inside. The light that filters through the entrance has allowed many ferns and plants to grow, creating a Jurassic style scene of glistening, damp cave walls, white rock teeth and twisted stone formations set amongst ferns, mosses and, according to a sign, Monophyllaea.  

The cave has become known as the Fairy Caves because, depending on the strength of your imagination, many of the stalagmites look like fairies and people. Venturing into the Dark Cave was unexpectedly dark… the head torches provided at the start were actually necessary. Take care on the uneven surfaces! We also spotted snails and a scorpion as well as the bats and swifts nesting above. 

The 20km bike ride to the Kuching Buddhist Village was lovely – undulating hills, lush vegetation, and small villages. We also passed a former gold-mining area. This finished commercially in the 1950s/60s, but locals still attempt it, despite access now being prohibited after some horrible recent deaths. We rode through the village of Siniawan, a town that superficially looks like a film set (watch The Edge of the World to get a feel). It was built by the Chinese gold miners and after several fires, the current facades date from around 1910. It might look quiet if you ride through on a weekday like we did, but apparently this place really gets its groove on come the weekend market, with food and performances bringing it to life. 

More info 

  • Our stay at the Buddhist Village, on day six of our Borneo bike adventure, was memorable. The rooms and breakfast were basic (more on what we mean by basic below!), though the room did sport air con and a fridge, both major mod cons in the context of the last few days! What made the Buddhist Village special was the complex itself – staying in a peaceful Buddhist temple complex is certainly a first for me. However, be aware that it seems that it’s not possible to book a stay at the Buddhist Village without a guide.
  • Dinner was back in the old Siniawan town in a pub run by a charming Brit and Malay couple. 

Day 7: Buddhist Village to Kuching 

The final day of our Borneo cycling trip started with kayaking down the relaxed Sungai Sarawak Kanan river. No white water capers here!   

The afternoon bike ride started with a deluge; riding in the rain here is like riding under a monsoon shower head. It gets to the point where you can’t really see (even if you’re wearing glasses) and you just have to take cover and wait for it to pass. With the rain cleared, we headed off down the rollercoaster road, with farms and rainforest all around, through villages with barking dogs, kids playing football and even the odd game of kick volleyball. In no time we were back at the Buddhist Village, at the end of a memorable eight days of exploring wonderful Sarawak. 

Cycling Borneo: fact file

Where were we?! 

The island of Borneo is made up of three different countries: Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. 

We were in the Malaysian part of Borneo. We flew from Singapore to Kuching. Kuching is the state capital of Sarawak, on the north coast of western Borneo. 

Malaysian Borneo is divided into Sarawak and Sabah. Sarawak is in the south, Sabah is in the north. Kuching is near the mouth of the Sarawak River delta to the South China Sea. It’s an area of many waterways along the coast and mountains inland, which divide Malaysian Borneo from Indonesian Borneo. 

Confused?! This map should help!

Map of Malaysia including Sarawak in Borneo

Map of Malaysia, including Sarawak and Kuching

What to do before or after your trip 

We spent a few days just outside Kuching before our trip started. This was enjoyable as it gave us time to stay at Cove 55, with its gorgeous pool, but also to visit the Sarawak Cultural Village. They’ve built and rebuilt traditional houses from the region. These are bought to life by staff who teach tourists local dances, spinning tops, how to use a blow pipe, cook food and demonstrate local crafts. You should easily allow half a day here. Bring small change so you can partake in these. The cultural performance is worth catching, if only to luxuriate in the air-conditioned theatre after having sweated around the Village! 

Guides for cycling Borneo 

Our Borneo cycling trip was bought to life by our guide, who was able to spot flora and fauna to tell us about and also give us little nuggets and insights into the local way of life. We also loved the thoughtful range of restaurants we visited and the side trips that broke up the cycling – the hiking day (day 6) and the trip to the orangutan reserve for example.  

Do you need a tour guide to cycle Sarawak/Malaysian Borneo? No, probably not. Everyone we met was extremely kind and willing to help. The roads we saw were in pretty good condition and Malaysia has Grab taxis if you get in a real pickle. However, for us, with two children in tow, having a private tour was brilliant. There’s no way we could have done as much as we did, with all the side trips too, without a guide or having spent months planning.  

Where to stay in Borneo

Other than for Cove 55 at the start of our trip, the accommodation we stayed in was all basic. Our two homestays were the most basic of all, but in fact we enjoyed staying here more than the two/three star hotels. If you can tolerate very basic, possibly slightly dirty wash facilities and mattresses on the floor, homestays give you a very special insight into life in rural Borneo. I am sure our memories of these places will linger longer than the nights spent in low end hotels. 

Breakfast was not a highlight of any of the hotels we stayed in, other than Cove 55, particularly those where I’ve noted that we had a “typical breakfast”. Expect cheap, white bread, jam and a lukewarm Nescafe. In contrast, the bathrooms and air-conditioning might have been lacking in the homestays, but the food was excellent! 

When booking hotels, be aware that some do not serve alcohol. If this is an issue for you, check before you book.

Bikes for cycling Borneo 

We were supplied with mountain bikes with front suspension. There were a few stretches of off-road on the route, but I think a gravel bike would have sufficed for those and the on-road riding would have been faster with narrower, less knobbly tyres.   

Restaurants, shops and bike hire in Borneo 

Outside of the main towns, food shops are limited to small stalls and markets. Don’t expect village 7-11s and restaurants as in other parts of the world. Come prepared with enough water and food.  

Being vegetarian in Borneo is difficult. It’s not obvious on the menu and sometimes when we ordered what appeared to be veggie food (or even when we specifically checked there wouldn’t be meat), they accidentally included small pieces of chicken. There are some vegetarian restaurants (as there are small populations of Buddhist and vegetarian Hindus), but they are certainly not everywhere. 

We didn’t see any bike shops while in Borneo (though we weren’t really looking). We also saw only one group of road cyclists out riding in our time here. Apparently cycling in Borneo became more popular with locals during Covid, but we didn’t see much obvious evidence of that during our stay.  

Phone coverage 

Don’t expect to have mobile data everywhere. It’s often intermittent in the highlands due to the huge limestone outcrops. There was also no coverage in the Bengoh Dam area. Around Sungai Dug (south of the Semenggoh Nature Reserve) our guide expected to have data coverage but a mast was down and so there was none.  

Road surfaces 

From what we saw, road surfaces are really pretty good, even on the small roads in the countryside. A gravel bike might be more prudent than a road bike, but we did see groups of roadies out at the weekend. 


Even during dry season there can be really heavy downpours (see our photos from day 7 above!). It’s debatable whether carrying a rain jacket is worth it as the rain tends to be so heavy that there’s nothing to be done but take cover while it passes. However, a jacket or umbrella could certainly come in handy if it decides to really rain just when you’re heading out for dinner.   

When it’s not raining, Borneo is seriously hot and humid. Pack accordingly and remember sun screen and your mosquito repellent of choice. You might also want to pack electrolyte tablets as on a sunny day it would be easy to get heatstroke in Borneo. 

We wished we had bought a length of string/rope suitable for making a washing line. Given the climate, even if you bring new kit for each day of your trip, you’re likely to need to dry out sweaty or wet kit from that day. 

Wildlife and health 

There are lots of dogs in the villages. None of the ones we came across attempted to bite or give chase, but rabies is an issue here so take care.  

Healthcare is not what you’d expect at home. Do your reading and be prepared. 

Highway code and travel information

As ever, it’s a good idea to check current travel information before you book and travel. For UK visitors, the UK government travel information pages for Malaysian Borneo are here.

You should also read and follow Borneo’s highway code.

Have you cycled in Borneo?

We’d love to hear your experience of cycling in Borneo – please share your tips and advice in the comments below!


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Clare Dewey

Clare Dewey is a cyclist with a passion for travel. She set up epicroadrides.com in 2018 to help make it easy for cyclists to explore the world by bike. Today her mission is still inspiring cyclists to discover new places on two wheels – and doing what she can to make sure they have the best possible time while they’re there. Clare has visited 50+ destinations around the world, many of them by bike.

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