Home Borneo 17 facts you didn’t know about Borneo

17 facts you didn’t know about Borneo

by James Wilmshurst
With wild forests and ancient tribes shrouded in mystery, we thought it’s time to share a few unknown facts about this beguiling island. 

Water colour map of Borneo

Which part of Borneo most appeals to you?

1. It’s not a country

Borneo is an island and is composed of three different countries: Indonesia, Brunei, and Malaysia, with the Malaysian part being divided into the two states of Sarawak to the west and Sabah to the east. The Indonesian portion is known as Kalimantan and Brunei’s section is between Sabah and Sarawak on the coast.

2. It’s the third-largest island in the world

Borneo is over three times bigger than the UK. Greenland and New Guinea are a little larger.

View from the hills of Bungaraya Island Resort on Gaya Island

Borneo has some amazing off shore islands to relax on

3. Borneo has the world’s oldest rainforest

At an estimated 130 million years old, Borneo’s rainforest is two times as old as the Amazon rainforest in South America.  There are a variety of rainforest experiences you can have as well so it’s important to work out which is right for you.

Aerial Photo of the Kinabatangan River in Sabah

Explore the snaking Kinabatangan River in Sabah

4. It’s one of two places in the world where you can see Orangutans in the wild

Orangutans are endemic to Borneo and Sumatra in Indonesia. These are the only two places you can see them in their natural environment and there a number of places to see them in semi-wild and wild environments.

Borneo is the best place in the world to see orangutans in the wild

5. Over 100 of the animals are endemic to Borneo

Endemic means you can only find the animal in that particular place, so for Borneo to have more than 100 of these animals is remarkable. Examples of these animals include Proboscis monkeys, Bornean clouded leopards and Bornean rhinos. More species are being found on a daily basis by biologists researching in the country so it’s a very exciting time to see wildlife on the island. Click here for ideas for luxury holidays to Borneo with great opportunities to see the endemic wildlife of the island.

2Proboscis Monkeys which are endemic to Borneo

Proboscis Monkeys are endemic to Borneo – check out their noses!

6.  It is home to some of the world’s biggest caves

The Sarawak Chamber in Gunung Mulu National Park is the world’s largest cave chamber and is capable of accommodating 40 Boeing 757 aeroplanes inside of it. The iconic Deer Cave, with its Abraham Lincoln silhouette, is also the world’s largest cave passage. Caves like Gomantong also have a sense of immense grandeur.

One of the most beautiful caves of Borneo Gomantong that they live in a lot of cockroaches and bats. Malaysia

Explore the huge caves of Mulu if you’re feeling adventurous

7. Borneo has the highest peak in Southeast Asia

At 13,438ft (4,096 metres) above sea level, Mount Kinabalu is the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia.

Mountain kinabalu, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Do you want to summit one of the highest mountains in South East Asia?

8.  There are estimated to be 170 ethnic languages in Borneo

The island is home to hundreds of ethnic groups with distinct cultures and traditions. The Dayak people largely populate the island and are composed of river-based and hill based communities. You can live with them in a traditional longhouse to get an unprecedented insight into their way of life.

portrait de grand pre iban tribe in Borneo

Borneo is home to a number of tribal communities

9. Borneo has some of the world’s most accessible off-the-beaten-track experiences

Kuching (Sarawak) and Kota Kinabalu (Sabah) are the gateway cities with direct routes to Bali, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and more. This means you can move from metropolis to mangroves, cities to canopies in a relatively short time.

Permai rainforest resort beach close to Kuching in Mount Santubong in the background

Relax on quiet, rugged beaches

10. It is home to the world’s biggest flower 

The Rafflesia lives in the forests of Borneo and is a parasitic plant whose flower gives off a horrific smell. It’s often referred to as the “corpse flower” because of this! Whilst it produces this smell to attract insects, it’s not carnivorous (so won’t eat them or you!) The insects help pollinate the plants so they can reproduce.

The Rafflesia is one of the biggest flowers in the world

Why not see one of the biggest flowers in the world for yourself?

11. The island is one of the few places in the world where there are only 50 miles between a mountain and a beach

It’s little more than 50 miles from the base of Mount Kinabalu to the exotic Gaya Island, so you can combine a two days mountain climbing adventure with a relaxing beach holiday – the perfect luxury and adventure spot.

Aerial View of over water villas

Not a bad place to relax…

12. Borneo is home to ninja slugs (yes, ninja slugs!)

This species, discovered in 2012, fires ‘love darts’ at its mate – hence it was named “ninja slug”.

Ninja slug found in Borneo

Watch out…

13. It’s home to the monkey with the biggest nose in the world

The male Proboscis monkey has the biggest nose in relation to its body on Earth. The females have little sub-noses so are rather overlooked.

14. It’s home to the world’s most ugly pig

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the bearded pigs of Borneo are rather ugly.

Bearded pig in Bako National Park, Sarawak


15. In 1970, around 75% of the island was covered in rainforest, but now it’s just 50%

The forests are being cut down for timber, to grow lucrative crops like palm oil, rubber and to mine for valuable minerals.

Misty rainforest

There has to be a balance between economic benefits and conservation of the environment

16. Indonesia and Malaysia are two of the biggest producers of palm oil in the world– an export worth more than $40 billion

There is currently an insatiable global demand for palm oil, so lots of forests are being cut down and replaced with plantations of palm oil.

Oil palm plantation in the south of Thailand.

Palm oil has positive and negative impacts on the environment and economy

17. Borneo has the largest stretch of rainforest left intact in Southeast Asia, and the third-largest rainforest on earth

The Heart of Borneo is the name given to this large stretch of intact rainforest on the island. You can visit the Danum Valley, Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Deramakot Forest Reserve, Kinabatangan River Basin and the Maliau Basin that all form part of the Heart of Borneo in Sabah. Danum Valley and Derakmakot in particular give you a fantastic insight into the conservation work going on in Borneo – be a catalyst for positive change! Prince William and Kate went to Danum on their Jubilee tour of Borneo and had a wonderful time.


Try getting out of the rainforest…

For more resources on Borneo check out our:

You can talk to one of our Borneo experts on 020 7924 7133 . There are absolutely no obligations and we’re here to offer advice for any stage of your holiday planning. 

Travel Guide to Borneo


If you’d like to discover more, why not download the Curious Traveller’s Guide to Borneo? This is where you’ll find our experts’ edit of hotels, experiences and beaches. We also break down the best time to visit Borneo by month and share more information about our approach to conservation in-country.


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