This article is part of our “DIY Adventure Travel in Borneo” series. We crossed the northern part of the island from Kota Kinabalu in Sabah (Malaysia) to Pontianak in Kalimantan (Indonesia), crossing Brunei and the Malaysian state of Sarawak, in a combination of bicycle touring (mostly), boats and train (very short one).Although the stereotypes of wilderness most people have about Borneo will crash against the sea of palm oil plantation, the third largest island in the world is still worth visiting. Adventure can still be experienced and people here are amongst the most amazing we ever met.
This is the detailed description of the 1st part of our itinerary. Links to the other parts are at the bottom of this page, together with a map of the route with elevation profile, and a street level photo map of the journey.
Here are some general things to know travel Borneo on a Budget.
We begAn our bicycle tour of Borneo in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah state, in the north-east of the island. Kota Kinabalu itself is not a great city, there’s a beach but a stream of sewer cut it in half, I won’t bath here. The good beach is inside the university campus, a beautiful and big green area with some real rainforest and a white sand beach. You may be asked the documents at the gate but the security will hardly make any problems. Other things worth checking out are the City Mosque and the so-called Filipino Market.
From the hills around the city is possible to get a good view of Mt. Kinabalu, the highest mountain in South East Asia (4,095 meters). Unfortunately climbing it is incredibly expensive (not less than 100USD per person), check rates, prices and fees here. Our friend John says it’s possible to bypass the checkpoint and climb it free, but you’ll need the help of a local and, of course, it’s illegal.
Opposite KK there are a few Island, Palau Gaya being the biggest, apparently beautiful but with a dubious reputation.
from Kota Kinabalu to Tenom: the Crocker range – 171km
We decided instead to try a kind of climb we are more akin to, a bike one, across the Crocker Range. Many locals said we were crazy in trying this, and well, it was a very tough one!
Just outside Kota Kinabalu the road (road 500) is suddenly in a nice countryside, following a small stream where we can bath, it’s 40 Celsius, as always in Borneo.
Around 12km out of town the road begins to go slightly uphill, becoming steeper at km20 and really steep at km25. There are almost no places to camp, we pitch our tent after 5 more km, between a few dragon fruit plants along the road, careful not to touch the spikes. No places to eat or shops in this area either.
Still 13 more km of steep downhill to reach the town of Tambunan, where there’s a supermarket. We crossed the Crocker!
Tambunan to Tenom
The next 20km are an easy flat, with not much to see but the beautiful sky of Borneo, which never disappoints. Then is up and down for 36km to Keningau, a fairly large town with everything you need. This stretch offers some free camping spot, we opted for a bridge to be sheltered from the night rainfall. Terrible noises though.
Past Keningau there are 10km of climb which themselves are not so hard, but the achy legs and upcoming fever made quite a nightmare to us. On the top of this hill, there are market stalls to buy fresh fruit.
The downhill is not so relaxing, still some up and down for ten km, before the last flat 20 to Tenom.
Of the 55,000 population, 60% is ethnic Murut, in the center there’s a statue to Ontoros Antonom (1885–1915), who in 1915 led the Muruts against British colonists in the Rundum village of Tenom.We visited the Yit Foh coffee factory, had some great coffee for free and saw how they toast the beans in the traditional way: in iron cylinders hand-rolled on wooden fires.
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pt1: from Kota Kinabalu to Tenom, crossing the Crocker range (you are here)
pt2: Jungle Train, from Tenom to Beaufort
pt3: crossing Brunei by bicycle
pt4: around Miri, Lambir Hills and Logan Bunut national parks and Tusan Beach
pt5: the caves of Niah National Park
pt6: from Belaga to Kuching by boat
pt7: Kuching and Bako National Park
pt8: Rafflesia in Gunung Gading National Park
pt9: Overland Border crossing from Sarawak into Kalimantan, the secret Aruk border
pt10: Sambas, the wooden Venice of Indonesian Borneo
Chap Go Meh in Singkawang:
piercing yourself with swords to please your Gods
Hydroelectric devastation in Borneo
part 1: Interview with SaveRivers
part2: a visit to Sungai Asap
here are some general hints to budget travel in Borneo (by bicycle or not)