Visiting Borneo is so exciting! If you are like us, the allure of diving, orangutans, and Dayak culture is too much to pass up. But, before plunging into this holiday, you’re probably a little worried about is Borneo safe? We can totally relate! We tend to overthink every destination we visit to make sure we will come back safe and healthy.
In this article, we will cover off many of the concerns we have confronted and hopefully answer any questions you have. This year alone, we have been to Borneo two times and survived both trips unscathed!
Is Borneo safe for tourists?
The answer to this question in our mind is always more about you than it is about the destination. How much you have travelled in developing nations and in Indonesia will provide a general idea of the level of comfort in Borneo. In several times, we have visited, we have never had a single issue. That being said, the flight into Borneo can be quite bumpy depending on the time of year so consider bringing some Dramamine.
Is the food safe to eat in Borneo?
If you are familiar with Indonesian food (not the stuff in the mall food court), then you will be prepared for the menu here. We found little difference between the food in Java to the food in Kalimantan (Indonesia Borneo). If you are headed to Kumai, I would recommend looking for places recommended by your guide or with other Indonesians eating there. I did see several rats wandering the streets, so there is a bit of caution to be had in where you eat. If you have a tour guide or you have a scooter go to Pangkalan Bun to have more variety, and it is more hygienic in our experience. There is even a KFC and other western food if you need a fix in Pangkalan Bun.
If you are taking a Klotok (riverboat) on your journey, you should expect the same foods that are prepared in local warungs in Indonesia. They will be made by a cook on the boat and really are quite delicious. In my experience, they will cook with bottled water that they have brought along with them. We have never gotten sick from any of the food prepared aboard the klotok – even if we were a bit apprehensive.
If this is your first trip to Indonesia and you are not overly experienced with the food in developing nations or Indonesia here are a few pointers. Firstly, you will probably fly into Bali, Jakarta or Kuala Lumpur. If you can, spend a few days here trying local Warungs. Get out of your hotel and go out in the street to find some dinner. You’re looking for places that look like this:
Try anything that they have sitting on the plates! Don’t worry if it doesn’t look like your food back home, I promise you will get used to it an even love it. The spiciness level depends on your experience, and you can ask them to “Sedikit bumbu” (or put a little seasoning in Indonesian). Sade wrote a brief guide on Bali food (which is mainly Javanese) that may help you.
Beer and other alcohol will be hard to come by in Borneo. It is illegal to consume by locals in Kalimantan. There is a black market for beer in Borneo, but please be considerate of the situation you are putting your guide into.
Bottom line, if you’re worried about food safety in Borneo just eat where the locals are eating! Drink bottled water, and you’ll be fine.
What injections do I need for Borneo
Were not experts here – but being the overly cautious travellers that we are we always get whatever shots we are advised. If your coming from Australia, your GP and the Smart Traveller https://smartraveller.gov.au/Countries/asia/south-east/Pages/indonesia.aspx website should be able to provide you with all the answers. If you’re entering from the United States, the CDC will give you a list of everything necessary. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/malaysia Keep in mind as well that you may need to have an International certificate of vaccination from WHO book with you when travelling through certain countries. This book is a list of your vaccinations and we have had to show this in Thailand (when coming from Tanzania).
Both times this year, we have taken malarial pills, although I am told from the locals on the ground that most areas do not have the disease. The pills do make me feel a little bit sick, so it’s always a toss-up.
I would recommend you bring with you a few other items that always make me feel safe. Usually, I feel like this is overkill, but in Borneo, I was grateful I had this kit with me. Basic first aid kit, hand sanitizer, tropical bug spray and a face mask. On the last trip, I got a pretty nasty bug bite that swelled up the size of a grape. I used the alcohol-based hand sanitizer and a band-aid to cover the lump. (Don’t pop it!) I have never used a face mask, but given how quickly smoke can cover the area due to farming practices, it may be advisable. I also bring a water purification straw with us as well just in case the worst should happen. The supply of water is primarily shipped in from Java so it could be a real concern if the boats stopped.
You’re a tourist here, so you’re going to stand out! From the clothes you wear, the way you act, talk and look everyone knows your a tourist. So with that in mind, be prepared to get stared at by the locals. If I ever feel uncomfortable, I just think what it would be like for a local to show up in my home neighbourhood!
I have travelled solo to Borneo with no concerns whatsoever. I have walked down the streets alone and organized my own transportation when necessary. It is worth noting that neither GO-JEK or Grab operate here, so you will need to work a little harder. I have also seen several families travelling with young children and were seemingly happy.
Our recommendation for travelling safely in Borneo is to hire a guide. It’s not that is unsafe without one but rather that you may not be adequately prepared for the language barriers. Depending on the person you talk to, they may speak Javanese, Malay, Indonesian or Dayak. If your heading to Kumai in the Indonesian portion of Borneo we would highly recommend our guide, Andi. He speaks excellent English and plays a wicked guitar! Contact us if you’d like his details.
We hope this helps and if there are any other questions about safety, please let us know!