Wild Borneo 2023

Orangutans, pygmy elephants and the Rafflesia Flower

Trip Scholar: Dr Michael Brooke

Strickland Curator of Ornithology, University of Cambridge Museum of Zoology
Available to Alumni of Oxford and Cambridge, family and friends

10  day tour
Price from £2,990

Discover the lushly forested island of Borneo, one of the most untouched wildlife habitats in Asia. Home to orang-utans, proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants and a superb array of birds, the island also boasts a fascinating colonial legacy.

Beginning with Kuching, historical home of Sarawak’s unique White Rajahs, learn about the city’s heritage then search for rare proboscis monkeys and Irrawaddy dolphins on the nearby Santubong River. Explore Bako National Park which boasts seven complete eco-systems. Flying to Sabah, visit Kota Kinabalu National Park, a botanical haven, with pitcher plants, orchids and the very rare Rafflesia plant.

There will also be a visit to Sepilok, renowned for its orang-utan rehabilitation centre, and a chance to look for some of the many beautiful butterfly species in the area.

The final highlight is the Kinabatangan River, navigating the backwaters by boat in search of the endangered pygmy elephant, wild orang-utans, macaques, monitor lizards and scores of tropical birds.

With like-minded fellow travellers and Cambridge naturalist Dr Brooke’s insightful lectures, there can be few better ways to explore this wonderful region.

Tour highlights

  • Discover the colonial charms of Kuching, with its Chinese temples and historic shophouses
  • Take a longboat to Bako National Park in search of proboscis monkeys, wild boar and monitor lizards
  • Explore the montaine rainforest flora at UNESCO Listed Kinabalu Park and attempt to find a rare flowering Rafflesia
  • See Orang-Utang rehabilitation at work at Sepilok, and find out about the endangered Sun Bear
  • Spot pygmy elephant, hornbills and darters with boat trips on the Kinabatangan River
Rafflesia Keithii Flower Wikimedia Commons cc Steve Cornish

Itinerary at a glance

Day 0:    Those on Temple World’s recommended flights depart the UK today | Overnight flight via Kuala Lumpur
Day 1:  
 Arrive at Kuching | Check in at hotel | Rest of the day at leisure | Overnight Kuching
Day 2:    Kuching City Tour | Borneo Cultures Museum – Santubong Mangrove & Irrawaddy Dolphin Watching | Overnight Kuching
Day 3:    Bako National Park walking trails  |  Boat excursion to sea stack formation  |  Overnight Kuching
Day 4:    Morning at leisure  | Fly to Kota Kinabalu | Short Kota Kinabalu City Tour | Overnight Kota Kinabalu
Day 5:   
Nabalu Market | Poring Hot Spring and Raffelsia walk | Kinabalu Park Orchids and Butterflies | Overnight Kota Kinabalu
Day 6:    Fly to Sandakan | Afternoon Rainforest Discovery Centre | Canopy Walkway and Guided Night Walk  | Overnight Sandakan
Day 7:    Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary | Lower Kinabatangan River Sanctuary | Guided night walk | Overnight Abai Jungle Lodge
Day 8:    Trip to Pitas Oxbow Lake | Cruise to Sukau village | River cruise to the Menanggul River | Overnight Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge
Day 9:    River trip to Ox-bow Lake | Afternoon river cruise  | Overnight Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge
Day 10:  Boat to Sandakan | City tour and lunch | Tour ends/extensions begin  | Those on TW flights fly home overnight
Day 11:  Only for those purchasing Temple World’s recommended flights – arrive back to London at 05:00.

Dates and Prices
Prices are in UK£, per person, based on double occupancy

14-23 August 2023
Room TypePriceSingle SupplementOptional Flight from LondonAvailability
Standard£2,990£595£1100-£1300 return approxAvailable

Share of twin or double bedded room with private bathroom, domestic flights from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu and from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan, full board (except lunches on days 4 and 6, and on the arrival day when only dinner is included/departure day when the tour ends after lunch), all excursions mentioned with local guides and transport, all entrance fees to sites mentioned, group arrival and departure transfers if taking Temple World’s recommended flights from London (private transfers available for small supplement),  talks by expert lecturer.

International flights to Kuching and departing from Sandakan, drinks, lunches on days 4 and 6, breakfast or lunch on Day 1, dinner on the final day, visa charges if applicable, travel insurance, tips to drivers and guides, items of a personal nature. Note: Most rooms at Abai Jungle Lodge and Kinabatangan River Lodge are fan-cooled (ie not air-conditioned).  A limited number of air-conditioned rooms are available for a total supplement of £50 per person.

Optional flights
Temple World can arrange group flights for approximately £1100-£1300 return inc. taxes from London with Malaysian via Kuala Lumpur. The price of the flights will depend on availability at the time of booking.  We can hold flights from London without a deposit until your tour balance is due, on request.  The timings of our recommended flights are as follows:

13 Aug 23   MH0003    Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur    departing 10:00    arriving 07:15 next day
14 Aug 23   MH2520    Kuala Lumpur to Kuching      departing 11:00    arriving 12:50

23 Aug 23   MH2669    Sandakan to Kuala Lumpur   departing 18:30   arriving 21:20
23 Aug 23   MH0002    Kuala Lumpur to Heathrow   departing 23:30   arriving 04:55 next day

Booking your own travel
You are most welcome to book your own flights to coordinate with this tour. The start point is Kuching, and there are no activities on the first day until our group meets for the first time for an introductory drink and dinner, so that guests can arrive at any time that day.  The end point of the tour is Sandakan (or Lahad Datu if adding the optional extension to Danum Valley) and you can book flights to depart any time after 12:00 on the last day, although later in the afternoon is better.   We can arrange private transfers to meet any flight (supplement applies).

*Very important! Those who plan to book their own flights should not make any binding or non-refundable arrangements until their place has been confirmed in writing on the tour and Temple World has confirmed that it is a guaranteed departure


NHS Fit For Travel advises travellers to Malaysian Borneo are not usually recommended to have any special immunisations other than ensuring that childhood vaccinations and boosters are up to date and to confirm courses or boosters for anything else usually recommended for life in the UK due to age or medical conditions such as annual flu vaccinations.  Depending on your personal health circumstances, your GP may sometimes recommend one or more of the following vaccinations: Diphtheria, Tetanus, Hepatitis A, Typhoid and Rabies. 

Malaria risk is present throughout the year in Sabah and Sarawak. In these areas the risk is not high enough to warrant antimalarial tablets for most travellers, however, it may be considered for certain groups who may be at higher risk.  Avoid mosquito bites by covering up with clothing such as long sleeves and long trousers especially after sunset, using insect repellents on exposed skin and, when necessary, sleeping under a mosquito net.

Yellow Fever vaccination proof is required for all travellers arriving from a country with a risk of Yellow Fever (such as parts of Africa or South America).

This country is categorised as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. The illness is usually mild and many have no symptoms, but infection during pregnancy may lead to babies being born with birth defects. The NHS currently recommends those who are pregnant or considering starting a family within 3 months should not travel to this region.


Entry Regulations
If you have a British Citizen passport you can enter Malaysia (and Malaysian Borneo) as a tourist for up to 3 months without a visa.  You must also have an onward or return ticket.

Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Malaysia.

All Covid entry requirements have now been lifted and at present you can enter Malaysia without needing to show proof of vaccination or a Covid test.

Fitness Guideline

We have graded the fitness level required for participation in this tour as Moderate. This is a busy itinerary with a number of hotel changes and a full schedule of sightseeing without much free time during the tour.   There are no hikes but lots of forest walks along boardwalks and canopy bridges – some of the rainforest paths are slippery so decent balance and the ability to walk at a reasonable pace is required. Whilst sightseeing we might be ‘on the go’ for several hours at a time, without breaks to sit down and rest.  It is important that everyone has a decent general level of fitness for walking so they will be able to keep up with the group.  We will also be going on a number of boat safaris in both Sarawak and Sabah, in small river boats taking 6-8 people each – you need to be able to climb in and out of these boats from jetties, and the boats can be unsteady whilst loading or unloading passengers.

Tour participants over 80 will be asked to provide a letter of fitness from their GP. Please contact us for a full fitness briefing or more detailed information about the terrain day by day.  Due to the nature of this busy group tour and some of the terrain, we feel this itinerary is not suitable for those who require walking aids, but we are always happy to quote for a privately guided version of this itinerary on different dates (using a local guide/without trip scholar) which can be tailored to suit the pace and requirements of wheelchair users or those requiring walking aids.

Trip Scholar
Dr James Brooke

After completing a seabird DPhil at Oxford while employed as warden of Skokholm Bird Observatory, Michael Brooke did post-docs at Oxford and then Cambridge.  From there, he was  absorbed onto the staff of the Cambridge University Zoology Department on a part-time basis. This trajectory allowed him scope to travel to some of the world’s most wonderful places, including a 15-month sojourn in the Pitcairn Islands, and to undertake consultancy projects.  While serving as Curator of Birds in the Cambridge University Museum Zoology, Michael has continued to travel the world, mostly working at the interface of island conservation and seabird research. The latter has been aired in his acclaimed book “Far from Land”, published by Princeton University Press in 2018.  Dr Brooke is distantly related to Sir James Brooke and the dynastic ‘White Rajahs’ of Kuching,  who founded and ruled the Raj of Sarawak, in Borneo, from 1841 to 1946. 

Lectures during our tours
All our tours are accompanied by an academic ‘trip scholar’ as well as local guides. The local guide or guides provide the day-to-day guiding on our tours, whilst the trip lecturer will give regular lectures on his/her specialist subject throughout to provide an academic overview. Lectures/talks usually last 30-40 minutes including questions and answers (if applicable). These are generally held in the evenings before dinner and attendance is optional. We don’t usually specify before travel which days the lectures will be given (for operational reasons) but guests can expect them roughly every other day as a minimum, with some lecturers giving some kind of talk or presentation more frequently.

Private extensions in Borneo

For those who have more time, we would be delighted to arrange additional private extensions before or after the main tour.  Our top recommendation is a 2-3 night stay in the untouched Danum Valley region, one of the few places in the world to see Orangutans in the wild.  Alternatively, we can arrange wonderfully relaxing beach stays on Gaya Island or a city stay in Kuala Lumpur either before or after the main tour (since the flights route via KL anyway).  Our tailor-made team can also arrange any further travel (hotels, transfers, guiding when/where needed) throughout Peninuslar Malaysia and the rest of S E Asia.  If you opt to add our group flights from London, these can also be amended to match your extension itinerary and dates. Below you’ll find just a few ideas and costs for your consideration, but the options are almost unlimited.

Danum Valley 2 nights/3 days or 3 nights/4 days








We highly recommend adding a 3 night private extension to Danum Valley after the tour, if you have time to extend your trip.  The Danum Valley is the best area of Malaysian Borneo (if not the world) to see Orangutans in the wild.  You will be staying at Borneo Rainforest Lodge, which is a little bubble of rustic luxury located deep within the untouched virgin rainforest of Danum Valley – reached via 2-3 hour 4×4 transfer from Lahad Datu, the nearest major town.

One of the most biodiverse areas in Asia,  the Danum Valley is home to the full range of Sabah’s lowland fauna, including the rare Sumatran Rhinoceros, Clouded Leopards, Pygmy Elephants, Orangutans and around 275 species of birds.  The supremely comfortable lodge focuses on sustainability and respecting the ecosystem. The small collection of chalets and villas are rustic but stylish, each with ensuite bathroom, ceiling fan and a built in natural cooling system. Each room is equipped with its own Nespresso coffee machine.  Deluxe chalets have a balcony with river or jungle views plus some have their own outdoor hot tub or even a private plunge pool. The excellent staff provide warm and personalized services as part of the experience, and some of the finest wildlife guides in the country.  One of the main highlights of a stay here is the lodge’s multi award winning canopy walkway, spanning 300 meters with several viewing platforms at different heights. The highest platform is 26 meters above ground level and its zig-zag design showcases the different tiers of the pristine rainforest in a 360 degree view.  And after a hard day of exploring, you can relax in the open-plan restaurant and bar, take in the views and enjoy a sundowner whilst listening to the sounds of the forest.

Note: Borneo Rainforest Lodges only allow guests with a minimum of two doses of an approved Covid vaccine to stay, so proof of vaccination is required.

Suggested itinerary

23 August   
After departing the Kinabatangan River this morning, our group will be transferred to the town of Sandakan. Whilst the main group has lunch and a short city tour, those on the Danum Valley extension will instead travel straight to Sukau jetty by boat and afterwards by road to the small town of Lahad Datu, in order to register with the National Park authorities and have a briefing at the Borneo Nature Tours (owner of the Borneo Rainforest Lodge) office.  Afterwards,  depart for the overland 4×4 journey to Danum Valley and the Borneo Rainforest Lodge, a journey of 2-3 hours.  Arriving at the lodge, enjoy a welcome drink while you are briefed on the facilities available at the lodge and surrounds. Check in to your rooms, and have lunch at the lodge.  After lunch, there is a slide presentation to introduce you to the wildlife you may see during your stay, before your first guided exploration. Enjoy an afternoon trek through the lodge’s nature trails and the tree top canopy walkway,  allowing a close-up observation of the rainforest.  Return to the lodge for dinner, then enjoy an optional night drive in an open-top vehicle to look out for some of the area’s nocturnal animals.

24 August
Breakfast at the lodge, before a morning jungle trek to the Kadazandusun burial site known as ‘Coffin Cliff’, for a bird’s eye view of the area from the top of the escarpment. There will be plenty of wildlife to spot along the way.  Coffin Cliff is so named because it was once used as a tribal burial site, and descending,  you will see holes carved into the cliff and the remains of the chief’s coffin.  Historically, it was customary to carve your own coffin from ironwood (known as Berlian locally), including a meaningful motif, usually an animal.   At the base of the cliff you’ll find a ‘natural Jacuzzi’, which is a small pool fed by a waterfall, and enjoy a dip if you’d like to cool off.   Return to the lodge for lunch.  Enjoy an afternoon jungle trek or choose a relaxing session of “tubing” down the Danum River – a brilliant way to experience the area.(subject to weather and water level condition). Dinner at the lodge will be followed by an optional guided night walk this evening.

25 August
Breakfast at the lodge. Today we recommend you take a trek to Fairy Falls and Serpent Falls. Both waterfalls are very scenic, with natural rock pools, and as ever, your guide will be helping you look for some of the region’s superb flora and fauna. More than 340 bird species have been recorded here, along with 124 species of mammals, 72 species of reptiles, 56 species of amphibians, and there is a staggering biodiversity of 200 plant species per hectare.   Individual wild orangutans frequently nest in the vicinity of the lodge, so walking the trails surrounding the lodge and keeping quiet and still is one of the best ways to find them. Return to the lodge for lunch.  This afternoon, relax at the lodge, perhaps book yourself a spa treatment, or for the active there is always the option to add an additinal trek today along the Segama River.

26 August 
Breakfast at the lodge and time to pack before checking out and heading by 4×4 to Lahad Datu Airport (2-3 hours by road) for your onward flights (Malaysian Airlines flies from Lahad Datu to Kuala Lumpur from where there are numerous onward international connections).

Price: The price of this 4 day/3 night Danum Valley extension is approximately £2430 per person, based on two people sharing.  A shorter two night version is available at around £1715 per person.

Beach/relaxing extensions (3-7 nights)

Malaysian Borneo has one or two really lovely island beach hotels should you wish to end your tour with some relaxing time at the beach. To reach these we would fly you back to Kota Kinabalu from Sandakan at the end of the tour, and from there a 20 minute speedboat would take you to Gaya Island in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park.  We particularly like the Gaya Island Eco Resort, a tranquil and luxurious island haven surrounded by rainforest where macaques roam the grounds.  Kayaks, snorkels and stand-up paddleboards are available to explore the island, and there is a beautiful pool for lounging around.

Price: from £650 per person for a five night stay at Gaya Island Resort, including breakfast daily, flight from Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu, airport transfer, speedboat to/from the resort, based on a Canopy Villa, based on two people sharing a room.

Kuala Lumpur pre or post-tour stopover – 2 nights/3 days








The vibrant city of Kuala Lumpur is where most visitors to Malaysian Borneo stop to change planes enroute to and from their final destination, and it makes an excellent place to base yourself for a few days before or after our main tour.  You can also visit the historic city of Malacca as a day excursion. We especially recommend this stop-over before the main tour so you have time to relax and acclimatise to the weather and time-zone of the region before starting the tour. A suggested two night itinerary could look like this:

Day 1: Land in Kuala Lumpur mid-morning. You’ll be met in the arrivals hall and transferred in a private vehicle to your hotel downtown.  Check in and enjoy the afternoon at leisure, before meeting your guide in the lobby this evening for an initial foray into the city to get your bearings.  Choose from EITHER a visit to the Petronas Towers to watch sunset from the skybridge followed by dinner at Atmosphere 360 restaurant on the top of the KL Tower, OR a join a specialist foodie guide for an evening walking tour in Chinatown to embrace the stories and history of the city while discovering its local culinary delights. During the tour, you’ll smell and taste delicious snacks and dishes including Indian Rotis, the famous Claypots Chicken Rice and colourful pastries from a 4th Generation bakery, discover hidden laneways containing interactive murals, and try an expertly mixed fusian cocktail at a sophisticated speakeasy.

Day 2:  Today, choose between a full day privately guided walking tour through Kuala Lumpur’s contrasting neighbourhoods with local lunch, OR for an additional £80 per person, a private full day excursion to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Malacca, 90 minutes from Kuala Lumpur by car (also includes lunch). Discover the diverse cultures of this former colonial outpost including the Peranakan culture, unique to the straits of Malaysia.

Day 3: Enjoy breakfast at your hotel before meeting your transfer agent in the lobby for a transfer to the airport in time to catch a late morning flight to Kuching to start the tour. Most of the other tour participants will be on the same flight and you will be met on arrival and will take the group transfer to the first tour hotel together.

Price: This two night/three day extension costs around £430 per person based on two people sharing a room, to include private transfers, private guiding as mentioned, and hotel accommodation on a bed and breakfast basis at the Majestic Hotel. Incudes dinner on Day 1 and lunch on Day 2.  Upgrade to the Ritz Carlton Hotel for an additional £65 per person. For a more relaxed version of the above trip why not add on a third night and either spend your first day at leisure, or split your sightseeing into two half day excursions with time at leisure on both days.  A wide selection of other day trips and excursions can be recommended depending on your interests.

Please contact Lia, our group tour co-ordinator at lia@templeworld.com for advice or a quote on any private pre or post tour extensions.

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Eating together as a group most evenings was like going to a dinner party every night, and travelling with a group that had so much in common and common experiences from university to share was brilliant. S. Keevil – Oberammergau

Congenial Companions

Our small group tours are exclusively available to alumni of Oxford and Cambridge universities and their friends and family, making for a wonderful atmosphere amongst like-minded individuals.

Expert Lecturer

All our small group alumni tours are accompanied by a university lecturer as well as local guides, with illuminating lectures given throughout the tour to enrich understanding of the destination.

To reserve a place on one of our small group alumni tours, contact us for availability then send us a signed booking form and deposit.

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