Borneo is the third largest island in the world after Greenland and New Guinea. Straddling the equator, it covers 750,000 square kilometers (290,000 square miles), more than twice the area of the British Isles or more than Texas and Louisiana combined, and measures about (1290 kilometers (800 miles) from north to south and 800 kilometers (500 miles) from east to west. Borneo, embraces: 1) Kalimantan, Indonesia in the south; 2) the states of Sabah and Sarawak of Malaysia in the north; and the 3) Sultanate of Brunei on the northcoast of Borneo between Sarawak and Sabah. The island has have unique history, some modern resorts, unique ethnic groups, rain forests and mountains.

Borneo is part of an archipelago called the Greater Sunda Islands. The northern 25 percent of Borneo is occupied the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, and the Islamic sultanate of Brunei; and the southern 75 percent is occupied by the Indonesian state of Kalimantan. Borneo is thinly populated and covered by mountains and rain forests. Most of the cities and towns are along the coast. The soil is poor. Large areas of the coast are made up of marshes and mangrove swamps. Most of the interior consists of rugged mountains interspersed with deep gorges. This area is laced with clear and whiskey-colored streams. The highest point 13,455-foot-high Mount Kinabulu in Sabah. In Kalimantan few areas rise above 3,000 feet. The highest point, in the central range there is 9,582

The rain forest on Borneo covers an area about the size of France but is shrinking all the time as logging, palm oil and mining interests penetrate deep into its interior. Valuable ironwood, teak, ebony, sandalwood and plywood-producing rain forest trees have largely been harvested. Crops grown on Borneo include rubber, palm oil, rattan, hemp, sago, pepper, sugar cane and rice. Oil and natural gas, much of it offshore, has been found in the east and north. There are also large coal reserves. Gold is panned from the rivers and iron ore, antimony, lead, zinc, arsenic, copper, mercury, chromite and silver are all found here but are generally too expensive to mine profitably.

Borneo was once connected to the Southeast Asian mainland and the plant and animal life in both places are similar. There are orangutans, gibbons, monkeys, honey bears, giant butterflies, and black hornbills (sacred to the Dayaks), clouded leopards, wild pigs and,a few elephants and rhinos. They are no tigers. Freshwater dolphins live in Mahakam River in east Kalimantan. Crab-eating monkeys and crocodiles live in the marshes. Typically in Borneo you find 100 or different tree species in one hectare and 200 or 300 plant species in an area the size of a living room. Even though there over 3,000 tree species on Borneo dipterocarps make up half of all the giant canopy trees. Hundreds of orchid species are found in Borneo.

Borneo doesn’t have as pronounced rainy and wet season as other places in Southeast Asia have. Rain falls steadily throughout the year. rainfall amounts are often high. The people of Borneo traditionally raised dry rice, sago, tapioca, ad sweet potatoes and hunted, fished and gathered wild plants from the forest. Because the terrain is so rough and waterlogged there are few good roads. Rivers have traditionally provided the main transportation routes.

About 19 million people live in Borneo with roughly 75 percent of them in Indonesia and 25 percent in Malaysia and Brunei. The original inhabitants are Dayaks, a tribe that only recently gave up head hunting and were once referred to as the "wild men of Borneo." The coastal areas are dominated by Muslim Malays. Some of them are Dayaks who began converting to Islam after the 15th century. Other group such as the Javanese, Sudanese, Madurese, Chinese and Bugis from Sulawesi arrived mostly in the 20th century, particularly in the last three decades as part of Indonesia's transmigration program. The Dayaks are now greatly outnumbered by Malays and Indonesians from

Origin of the Name Borneo

It is said word Borneo originated from a remark made by Pigafetta, who traveled with Magellan on his journey around the world in1521 He gave the name ‘Burne’ to the entire island because it was extremely island as it took the sailors three months to circumnavigate it. This story is a myth for several reasons.

The name Borneo is derived Brunei, the present-day country which was kingdom in the 16th century kingdom when Europeans first came in contact with it. The name Brunei possibly derives from the Sanskrit word váru, ), meaning either "water" or Varuna, the Hindu god of rain. Indonesian natives called it Kalimantan, which was derived from the Sanskrit word Kalamanthana, meaning "burning weather island" (to describe its hot and humid tropical weather).

In earlier times, the island was known by other names. In 977, Chinese records began to use the term Bo-ni to refer to Borneo. In 1225, it was also mentioned by the Chinese official Chau Ju-Kua. The Javanese manuscript Nagarakretagama, written by Majapahit court poet Mpu Prapanca in 1365, mentioned the island as Nusa Tanjungnagara, which means the island of the Tanjungpura Kingdom.

History of Borneo

The British, Dutch and Portuguese made attempts to colonize Borneo beginning in the 17th century but found little exploit. Much of the interior remained unexplored until fairly recently. Regular contract between Borneo and European did not take place in earnest until the mid 19th century when the British became interested in protecting the safety of its trade routes though the South China Sea.

In the 1840s, the British established a presence in northern Kalimantan (North Borneo), where James Brooke made himself the first "White Rajah" of Sarawak. A British charter company. the Brooke Raj, was established in 1881. It ruled northern Borneo until 1946. Alarmed by such developments, the Dutch initiated policies of colonial expansion in the Outer Islands, which brought all the land area of modern Indonesia, with the exception of Portuguese Timor, under their control.

Despite Dutch predominance in Java and islands crucial for the spice trade many areas of the archipelago—including Bali, Lombok, Aceh and Borneo—remained largely independent. Fighting periodically flared up. Hundreds died in the Banjarmasin War (1859-1863) in southeastern Borneo ( Kalimantan), where in 1860 the sultanate of Banjarmasin had been dethroned and replaced by direct colonial rule .

The naturalist Alfred Wallace and novelist Joseph Conrad were among this who wrote about Borneo and drew attention to it. The current division between Indonesia and Malaysia has roots in the rivalry between Britain and the Netherlands. The present borders between Indonesia and Malaysia were established by the British and Dutch in 1891, After World War II the Brooke family turned over its holdings in Borneo to the British government and both Sarawak and Sabah came under British control. When Malaysia became independent n 1957 Sarawak remained under British control.

Konfrontasi and the Struggle Between Malaysia and Indonesia Over Borneo

Indonesia President Sukarno bitterly opposed the creation of Malaysia in 1963, which called a "neo-colonial plot" and perceived as a means of continuing British influence in the region and off shutting off Indonesia from the rest of the word. He saw Indonesia as the rightful leader of the Malay people and thought it was a British plot to surround Indonesia. British firms were sized by the government and mobs were allowed to attack and burn down the British embassy.

Sukarno provided training to the anti-Malaysian, Chinese guerillas of the Sarawak People’s Guerilla Force, which attacks on Malaysian forces in Borneo. The Dayaks the instability to begun hunting heads again. In 1965, some American interests were seized y the government and American government offices were attacked.

Hostility to Malaysia, which was established on September 16, 1963, as a union of states of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore, and the North Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak, sprang from Sukarno's belief that it would function as a base from which Nekolim forces could subvert the Indonesian revolution. Malaysia's conservative prime minister, Tengku Abdul Rahman, had agreed to the continued basing of British armed forces in the country, and Sukarno could not forget that the government of independent Malaya had given assistance to the PRRI rebels in 1958. In the wake of Malaysia's creation, a wave of anti-Malaysian and anti-British demonstrations broke out, resulting in the burning of the British embassy. PKI union workers seized British plantations and other enterprises, which were then turned over to the government. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Indonesia opposed the Federation of Malaysia. For a number of years it supported guerilla attacks against Sarawak, Sabah and Malaya. In 1960, the northern states of Borneo, , which bordered on Indonesian Kalimantan, were somewhat reluctant to join Malaysia. Indonesian President Sukarno saw himself as the true leader of the Malay people. Indonesia supported an attempted revolution in Brunei and railed against British imperialism. The Indonesian army increased its budget. British forces provided assistance to Malaysia in their fight against the Indonesians. A brief war—known as Confrontation (Konfrontasi) —soon involved Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, and China and eventually settled rival claims in Borneo.

The Indonesian government led by Sukarno contended that the new federation of Malaysia was a neocolonialist plan to prevent Indonesia and Malaysia from combining into a Greater Malaysia, an entity that Malaysian leaders had previously supported. Soon after the Federation of Malaysia was established, Indonesia attempted to spark a popular revolt in the fledgling country by engaging in acts of terrorism and armed confrontation in various places. However, these actions strengthened popular support for Malaysia, and in 1964 Australia, Britain, and New Zealand sent troops and military aid to Malaysia.

Sukarno was backed by the powerful Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI). Indonesia backed a Communist insurgency in Sarawak, mainly involving elements of the local Chinese community. The Indonesian army mounted offensives along the Kalimantan — Malaysia border and the PKI demonstrated in the streets in Jakarta. Indonesian irregular forces were infiltrated into Sarawak, where they were contained by Malaysian and Commonwealth of Nations forces.

On September 23, 1963, Sukarno, who had proclaimed himself President-for-Life, declared that Indonesia must "gobble Malaysia raw." Military units infiltrated Malaysian territory but were intercepted before they could establish contact with local dissidents. When the UN General Assembly elected Malaysia as a nonpermanent member of the Security Council in December 1964, Sukarno took Indonesia out of the world body and promised the establishment of a new international organization, the Conference of New Emerging Forces (Conefo), a fitting end, perhaps, for 1964, which Sukarno had called "A Year of Living Dangerously."

The period of Konfrontasi—an economic, political, and military confrontation—lasted until the downfall of Sukarno in 1966. An abortive coup attempt in 1965 forced Sukarno to step down, and on August 11, 1966, Indonesia and Malaysia signed a peace treaty.

Extraordinary Biodiversity in Borneo

Borneo—the world’s third largest island after Greenland and New Guinea—holds six percent of the world’s species of plants and animals. Shared by Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, it is home to about 2,000 types of trees, more than 350 species of birds, about 150 types of reptiles and 210 mammal species, including 44 only found on the island. Many animals such as pygmy elephants, Sumatran rhinos, orangutans as well as the clouded leopard, the sun bear and the Bornean gibbon top the list of Borneo’s endangered species.

A total of 361 new species were discovered between 1995 and 2005. Lewis Smith and Lucy Alexander wrote in The Times, “The remote and inaccessible forests in the heart of Borneo are one of the world’s final frontiers for science and many undiscovered species are still waiting to be found.” WWF reported in April last year that at least 361 species had been newly identified on the island between 1994 and 2004, a rate of three animals and plants a month. Borneo’s estimated total of 15,000 plants is thought to be the highest plant diversity of any region on Earth. It has the highest documented tree diversity in the world, at 1,175 species in a 52-hectare plot. The island is one of two places where the orang-utan still survives, though they are threatened with catastrophic population loss because of deforestation. [Source: Lewis Smith and Lucy Alexander, The Times, December 18, 2006 /]

On hunting on Borneo in the 1840s, Henry Keppel wrote in “Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido for the Suppression of Piracy”: “But, while on the subject, I may mention that of pig- shooting, which I found an amusement not to be despised, especially if you approach your game before life is extinct. The jaws are long, tusks also, and sharp as a razor; and when once wounded, the animals evince a strong inclination to return the compliment: they are active, cunning, and very fast. I shot several at different times. The natives also describe a very formidable beast, the size of a large bullock, found further to the northward, which they appear to hold in great dread. This I conceive to be a sort of bison ; and if so, the sporting in Borneo altogether is not so bad.” [Source: “The Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido For the Suppression of Piracy” by Henry Keppel and James Brooke (1847)-]

See Asian Animals

Borneo Rainforests Full of Rare Species

Diyan Jari and Reuben Carde of Reuters wrote: “About three years ago, wildlife researchers photographed a mysterious fox-like mammal on the Indonesian part of Borneo island. They believed it was the first discovery of a new carnivore species there in over a century. Since then, more new species of plants and animals have been found and conservationists believe Borneo, the world’s third-largest island, is a treasure trove of exotic plants and animals waiting to be discovered. [Source: Diyan Jari and Reuben Carder, Reuters, March 29, 2006 \~/]

“The new finds were all the more remarkable after decades of deforestation by loggers, slash-and-burn farming, creation of vast oil palm plantations, as well as rampant poaching. Conservationists hope that Borneo will reveal many more secrets, despite the myriad threats to its unique flora and fauna. “There is vast potential,” said Gusti Sutedja, WWF Indonesia’s project director for Kayan Mentarang national park, a sprawling reserve on the island where the new mammal, nicknamed the Bornean Red Carnivore, was photographed in a night-time camera trap. The animal itself is so rare, it’s never been captured. \~/

“In 2003, we conducted joint operations with Malaysian scientists and discovered many unknown species of lower plants. Three frogs discovered are being tested by German researchers. We also recorded five new birds in a forest survey in 2003.” Some conservationists believe Borneo could be the next “Lost World” after the recent discovery of a host of butterflies, birds and frogs in another Indonesian jungle on the island of New Guinea.” \~/

Borneo has more species of tree shrew than anywhere else on the world. Tree shrews are not shrews and most species do not live in trees. They are generally hyper creatures that belong to their owner order (Scandentia). The local Bahasa Indonesian word for them, tupai, is the same word used for squirrels.

Wildlife and Plants in Borneo

The rain forests of Borneo are among the most ecologically diverse in the world, with about 15,000 types of plants, more than 600 species of birds and an animal population that also includes the clouded leopard and pygmy elephant.” Nick Meo wrote in The Times, Borneo “is a biological treasure that staggers scientists newly arrived from Europe. It is home to thousands of tree frogs, bats and orchids. More than 1,000 insects have been identified in a single tree... Charles Darwin, who explored the giant island before writing The Origin of Species, called it “one great untidy luxuriant hothouse made by nature for herself”. [Source: Nick Meo, The Times, February 3, 2006]

Borneo's vast biodiversity boasts:: Plants: 15,000 species. Over 60 percent of plants found in Borneo are endemic to the island, and over 360 new species to science have been discovered in recent times.

Mammals: 220 species, including: Bornean Orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus) classified as Endangered by IUCN. An estimated 1,000 individuals are resident within the Lower Kinabatangan floodplain; 9 species of the 13 primates are found in the Kinabatangan area: Proboscis Monkey (Nasalis lavatus); Western Tarsir (Tarsius bancanus); Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis); Pig-tailed Macaque (Macaca nemestrina); Dusky, Silver-leaf and Maroon Langurs; Bornean Gibbon (Hylobates muelleri) and Slow Loris (Nycticebus menagensis) Bornean Pygmy Elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) classified as Endangered by IUCN, is a sub-species genetically distinct from mainland Asian Elephants with an estimated population of 200 individuals found within the Lower Kinabatangan Floodplain.

Birds:: Over 434 species of breeding birds out of a total of 622 species recorded, including the Storm’s Stork (Ciconia stormi) classified as Endangered by IUCN Borneo's 8 species of Hornbills that can all be found in the Lower Kinabatangan; including the Rhinoceros (Buceros rhinoceros) and Helmeted Hornbills (Rhinoplax vigil).

Reptiles and Amphibians: Over 250 species

Travel in Borneo

Most travel is done by river boat. Finding wildernesses with virgin rain forest is getting harder to find and requires penetration further and further up the rivers and deeper into the forest. To reach the wilderness areas can be expensive and time consuming. The Malaysian provinces of Sabah and Sarawak occupy northern Borneo and Indonesia’s provinces of East and Kalimantan occupy southern Borneo.

The large rivers are the Kapuas, Brtio and Rajand, which serve as major transportation routes to the interior. There are few railways or paved roads. To get to Kalimantan from other parts of Indonesia you more or less have to fly. There is no other real alternative. The best time to travel is the rainy season when they rivers are deep enough to navigate and leaches are a problem. Dangers in Borneo include turbulent rives with whirlpools and poisonous centipedes.

Guides are necessary for negotiating the hiking trails which are crossed by hip-deep mud and difficult-to-cross rivers. Maps of this area were left blank until recently and still have exclaimers like "Your Guess is as good as mine" and "relief data irreconcilable." About the only inhabitants of the interior are Dayak Indians, a tribe of former head hunters.

Book: “Into the Heart of Borneo” By Redmond O’Hanlon.

Bus Between Kalimantan (Indonesia), Sarawak and Brunei

Indonesian state-run bus firm Damri has served the Pontianak-Kuching-Brunei route since 2008. The Damri Transport Company was appointed by the Indonesian government to operate on the route. The Brunei government appointed JPS company to serve the reverse route Brunei-Kuching-Pontianak. Eight buses each from the two countries have been prepared to serve the route. One-way trip from Brunei to Kuching to Pontianak is 1,200-kilometer long and takes 35 hours. [Source:]

There are plenty of bus companies between Pontianak and Kuching. The cost of a return economy class ticket is about IDR380,000 (USD38, 40-50 seats per bus), IDR 200,000 for one-way (At some places it is also possible to pay in MYR since most of the companies are malaysian). While a more comfortable Super Executive class is IDR300,000 (USD32) for return trip (larger size 20-25 seats per bus). As of September 12th, buses will depart and arrive at Sungai Ambawang bus terminal. Most of the bus companies' offices are at Jl. Sisingamangaraja No.155-159 and this is maybe the major point. (The office of one of the major Malaysian companies - SJS, is there. Tel. (0561) 734626,739544,765651.) Also you may check for info at BusAsia (Tebakang Express; other major Malaysian company) web page. There are buses in the morning and in the evening. In evenings the journey from Pontianak usually starts around 9.00 PM WIB (Waktu Indonesia Barat - Western Indonesian Time) with all buses traveling in convoy, the journey is comfortable as drivers are driving moderately. Reaching the border check-points between 4.00 - 6.00 AM WIB (with one or two rest stops in between) just as the checkpoints open their gate. The journey from checkpoints to Kuching is another 2 hours at moderate driving, reaching Kuching regional bus terminal at 7.00 - 9.00 AM Malaysian Standard Time (1 hour ahead of Western Indonesian Time). Buses from Kuching regional bus terminal to Pontianak leave on two schedules, Economy class leaves at 7.00 AM and 1 PM Malaysian Standard Time, while Super Executive class leaves at 11.00 AM Malaysian Standard Time. [Source: Wikitravel]

Daily bus services between Kuching and Pontianak. Journey is 8-10 hours. Immigration point in Teledu. No bus services from Pontianak to Banjarmasin. Kuching To Pontianak, Indonesia. RM 45.00, 8 hours. Buses depart from Kuching's Penrissen Road Terminal. Biaramas/Tebakang Express (Tel: 456999) at 7.30 am.. SJS (Tel: 456999) at 8 am and 1.00 pm. The up market SJS 'Super Executive' departs 11.00 am and costs RM 70. This bus has more leg room and meals are included. Kirata Express departs 7.30 am Sapphire Pacific at 11 am Sri Merah Express at 7 am and 10 am - book through Vital Focus Transportation (Tel: 453190 or 461277) or Borneo Interland (63 Main Bazaar, Tel: 413595). ATS (Tel: 457773) departs 7.30 am, Eva Express (Tel: 576761) at 7 am (economy) and 11 am (super class, RM 70) and Damri (Tel: 572098) at 8 am, 11.30 am and 1 pm. [Source:]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons,

Text Sources: Malaysia Tourism websites, Malaysia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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