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Thailand and Borneo - Any Tips?

(35 Posts)
PenguinsRabbits Wed 04-Sep-19 21:05:35

Planning next year's summer holiday and at the moment just booked direct flights in and out of Bangkok as could get a good deal. We know weather will be mixed and not bothered.

Was initially thinking of just Thailand but then we would need to take an internal flight for that and for same price can get flight to Borneo with Malaysian Airlines to Sandakan which is really tempting to do for a week as we all love wildlife.

Has anyone been to area near Sandakan and got tips? What local companies have you used to book via. Don't want to use UK companies as price goes up. I've discovered a trip to see turtles overnight and that looks best booking with Crystal Quest. Then there's the sanctuaries in Sepilok (sun bear, proboscis monkey etc) and Kinabatangan river which seems full of wildlife. We can stay overnight there or do as day trip. Any hotel recommendations? How did you get around. We don't want to drive, I can't. Was it safe enough - FCO seems to have warnings but think if careful would be OK.

Thailand thinking of River Kwai area and Bangkok couple of nights. Did consider Ko Samui or Chiang Mai but Borneo option looks better, not beach people and wildlife better in Borneo. Trying to do on a budget but can do one off expensive things just not everyday. One child ASD so preference for able to get WIFI and western food for them or they won't eat but will give up both for wildlife.

Thanks very much.

OP’s posts: |
HappyHolidays75 Thu 05-Sep-19 08:07:02

We loved Borneo, although easily spent 16 days there. I'll find my old post and share this evening.
I'd be inclined to skip Thailand and just do Borneo.

Yesitwasmethistime Thu 05-Sep-19 08:22:30

We loved Borneo. We booked through a UK company but know the name of the local operator who were fantastic.
Apparently the tour we did was bespoke to the UK operator but I think some of the ones of the list are very similar.

We did two nights at My nature resort in Sepilok and two nights at Abai river lodge. My nature resort was lovely, Abai was very basic but clean and friendly. Food was good at both.

Guides were amazing at both lodges, transfers were seamless (picked up and dropped off at Sandakan airport) and between the lodges.

Sepilok orangutan sanctuary is great although not as ‘natural’ as Semangogg at the other side of Borneo. Sun bear sanctuary and Rainforest discovery centre (RDC was not organised, we went by ourselves) well worth it. My nature resort does free afternoon shuttle so you can go back after the organised tour.

River trips from Abai were best for ‘wild’ wildlife, we saw several orangutan, loads and loads of proboscis monkeys, fireflies, lots of birds plus the usual macaques all around the lodge.

Definitely worth going to Borneo!
Have fun planning smile

Yesitwasmethistime Thu 05-Sep-19 08:23:30

We also spent 12 days in Borneo, but in different locations, very easy to do smile

PenguinsRabbits Thu 05-Sep-19 12:36:17

Thanks so much - really helpful, Borneo looks amazing. I'm having fun researching it all.

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IsThisNameTaken Thu 05-Sep-19 12:41:50

Can't help with Borneo but would definitely recommend River Kwai and Chiang Mai and/or Chiang Rai if you decide to spend some time in Thailand.
Can I ask who you're flying with? I'm looking at return to BKK for next summer as well but can't see anything particularly good at the mo. Thanks.

PenguinsRabbits Thu 05-Sep-19 12:59:45

Thanks very much - I think I will go with Borneo plus River Kwai / Bangkok with more time in Borneo as we all love the wildlife. Really like look of River Kwai and fly into Bangkok so makes sense to at least spend a day there.

I looked up BA flights to start with and they were very pricey so then went on Skyscanner to look. I got direct flights for 4 of us with EVA Air in the end which came to £1975 return for August (kids 13 and 14 then). I have never heard of EVA Air and am normally super cautious who I fly with but they are ranked in top 10 for safety in the world and product range has a 7/7. Their cheapest fares includes 30kgs of luggage each. Have to pay for seats reservation if you want that which I did so overall total was £2186 I think. Appears to be Taiwanese.

OP’s posts: |
IsThisNameTaken Thu 05-Sep-19 13:02:23

Thanks, will have a look at that. Have flown there with EVA before and was great.

PenguinsRabbits Thu 05-Sep-19 13:06:06

Chiang Mai looked nice but I feared the culture would be lost on the kids and we would have moaning about old people's activities so maybe when they've left home. I wondered for the elephants but there are elephants in Borneo and they are pigmy elephants which to the kids is better. If we had more time and money would do whole lot.

Did you stay in the River Kwai area? The Float House place looks amazing but pricey and a bit too sophisticated for my two. I like look of Resortel which is cheaper, love the Jungle Rafts but there's no WIFI which is the kids number one essential. hmm Though tbf I prefer it on holiday too to know where I am going next etc.

OP’s posts: |
PenguinsRabbits Thu 05-Sep-19 13:07:06

I booked via EVA website though Skyscanner had different options for buying.

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MardAsSnails Thu 05-Sep-19 13:34:38

We stayed at Sukau rainforest lodge, flying into sandakan and doing a few days organized tour.

Was fantastic.

Have also stayed at the float house River Kwai in kanchanaburi, where you can do similar tours or DIY. Preferred sukau for wildlife (obviously), and float house for historical stuff and waterfalls

Friends of mine have stayed at jungle rafts and thought it good. Consider the transfer time and cost though for either that or float house - was around 5,000 baht each way and took over 3 hours

IsThisNameTaken Thu 05-Sep-19 13:39:45

I can't remember where we stayed in Kanchanaburi, it was a few years ago... nowhere fancy though I remember that! A lot of the museums and Death railway stuff is pretty harrowing (not surprisingly) but definitely worth it. Erewan Falls is lovely, but you need to be careful in the wet season.

Yesitwasmethistime Thu 05-Sep-19 13:55:27

Just a warning that Pygmy elephants are a very rare sighting in Borneo. We didn’t see any and our guide had only seen them in May and then the previous Summer. So don’t go expecting them as there is no guarantee at all.

Have fun planning! We also did different bits of Borneo as well as that area.

HappyHolidays75 Thu 05-Sep-19 17:30:36

In answer to some of your questikns.
Book directly. No agent needed.

2/3 nights 2 days in sepilok jungle resort.
Varied menu.
Day 1 - sepilok morning feeding, swimming, sepilok afternoon feeding.
Taxi from sandakan airport (prepay counter inside airport) £10.
Day 2 - rainforest discovery centre early or late, then sun bear sanctuary.

Trip to kinanbatangan river - tonnes of options but worth doing 3 day 2 night trip whichever you go for. All pick up in Sandakan.
We did Abai village homestay. Very basic, fabulous food (No choice), river trips, fishing, village visit. Massive highlight.
Booked directly.
Picked up from sandakan market (We had a night in sandakan before hand - stayed at sandakan backpackers which suited us well. There's a smart hotel with roof pool nearby).

Turtle island people are hard to get hold of. We didn't do this, but had info and provisional place through sandakan backpackers (emailed direct and they were far more responsive than crystal quest).

Then to kota kinabalu - 1 day white water rafting (look up riverbug trips) 1 day in marine national park snorkelling and doing island to island zip wire, Sunday market, eating freshly caught fish on water front.

That would probably fill your 12 days!

We also did 4 days on mantanani island for beach and snorkelling.

How did you get around. Taxi-super easy and cheap.

Was it safe enough - totally. Single parent + 3 kids 8-14. No problems.
Do check FCO for Turtle island as it was fco no go. Might invalidate travel insurance evrn if something unrelated happened there.

Budget - 16 days doing everything we wanted, but staying in cheaper (but safe and friendly) accommodation was £1700.

Yesitwasmethistime Thu 05-Sep-19 20:41:51

Wow happyholidays you got a bargain, that is a small fraction of what we spent!

PenguinsRabbits Thu 05-Sep-19 21:22:01

Thanks so much for all the really helpful replies.

I just checked FCO again and looking more closely I think Turtle Island might be in the advise against all but essential travel sad Thanks for the warning on that. I had no problem getting them to reply and they were lovely but can't book until October for next August. If that's the FCO advice though and that invalidates travel insurance I think its a no-go unfortunately. Will keep checking. But lots of other wildlife to see.

I am provisionally planning on first 2 nights in Bangkok maybe at Novotel as has a pool and central largely to rest from flight and a quick look at Bangkok. That's £120 a night ish including breakfast. Then fly out to Sandakan next day.

Thinking couple of days in the Sheraton there as also has a pool (DS and I are not good in heat and both love swimming, DS is ASD and will only eat his regular food). Seems well located and around £100 a night for bed and breakfast. From there you can get taxis from hotel to Orangutan place /sun bear etc in Sepilok very cheapily £31 plus low entry fees so £75 or so for all that for all of us. Sepilok places appear unavailable not sure why but later dates are available.

Then I've just e-mailed Sakua Backpackers for couple of nights - DS wouldn't cope with homestay due to ASD but isn't fussed about fancy hotels. They do a package for £87 each including transfers, 2 nights accommodation, all meals, 4 river cruises, 1 jungle walk for that. Its basic but has AC and private bathrooms with shower. They also do a special trip for elephants but not sure if will need another night for that though 1 night is £50ish so no big deal and elephant trip is 800myr for 4 of us. (£154.) Not sure if will do that or just 2 nights, current plan is 2 nights though elephants is tempting.

Then 2 more nights at Sheraton so DS can eat again grin and maybe trip to monkeys which should be cheap, maybe £100 if that.

Then back to Bangkok - stay 1 night as late flight and 3 nights in River Kwai - may do bamboo rafting and canopy there. Not sure where will we stay - maybe the hotel where canopy is - think transfers if go to one of Float House chain are £300 but people have mentioned cheaper transfers but assuming £300.

Then a last night in Bangkok before heading home. So should be able to do for £6k including the £3k on flights including seats reservations and all meals, transfers, accommodation and trips which is great.

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TheGonnagle Thu 05-Sep-19 21:25:18

Have a look at Oriental Kwai in Kanchanaburi. We stayed there a few years ago and it was lovely.

HappyHolidays75 Fri 06-Sep-19 14:59:41

Accommodation always under £30 so saved a fortune compared to some places over the 16 days. And eating locally. Meals never over £15. 3 day River tour was £400 and 5 day island similar so those were our splurges.

PenguinsRabbits Sun 08-Sep-19 13:15:13

The Oriental Kwai does look nice, there's quite a few lovely hotels in that area.

DH wasn't keen on the backpacker hotel and said to pay more for somewhere nicer. So I e-mailed a hotel which is really highly rated but on said not available and they have availability so going there for 4 nights. Its The Last Frontier Resort and it also does Belgian food which will be perfect for DS. They offered to reduce rates if kids shared with us so I have it at £225 a night including a lovely room, boat trips and jungle walk and all the food so not raised overall costs that much. Should still be able to do everything for £6k ish.

Rejigged so going to Thailand first and staying in the Hotel Phutoey with River View apartment, includes hot springs, kayaks, pool and pedal boats and breakfast.

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StaggeringOn Sun 08-Sep-19 14:34:09

The Danum Valley conservation area is at the heart of the the rain forest. Absolutely amazing! Look at Audley travel for descriptions.

karala Sun 08-Sep-19 14:37:42

I stayed at the Rainforest Lodge in the Danum Valley and it was completely amazing - also did the Kinabatangan River and saw elephants

Liz3 Mon 09-Sep-19 11:27:20

Really useful thread as considering Borneo or Thailand for summer 2020 too. Does anyone have any advice on the best flight route for Borneo and how much a approximately a flight is likely to be?

PenguinsRabbits Mon 09-Sep-19 11:43:42

Sandakan seems to be one of the main airports used - if you go on Skyscanner and put in London to Sandakan that shows main routes - depends who want to fly with. Only Malaysian Airlines fly to Sandakan I think, sometimes its listed as Emirates or Qatar operated by Malaysian Airlines.

We are flying direct to Bangkok - that's £2k return for 4 of us (£2186 including luggage and seat reservations, £1975 with no seats reserved) with EVA Air. That's 12 hours ish. Onto Borneo is a further 6.5 hours including gap as two planes and about £870 for 4 of us (all classed as adults) Adding seats is about a further £200 roughly.

Flying from London to Borneo seemed about same price but an hour quicker if not using Bangkok. Some go via Singapore, some via KL and some via Middle East. Think the cheapest was Malaysian Airlines, I was trying to avoid them but its the only way on. EVA had never heard of but is in world's 10 safest airlines. Normally don't go via Bangkok.

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PenguinsRabbits Mon 09-Sep-19 11:45:23

I did look at Danum Valley, looks lovely but out of our league price wise - one of options was £4000 per night. shock

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Yesitwasmethistime Mon 09-Sep-19 12:20:53

We flew via Singapore, most people we met had flown via Singapore or Kuala Lumpur.

We flew via Frankfurt with Lufthansa on a Singapore airlines codeshare. No idea of cost as it was part of a package but cheaper than booking directly with Singapore Airlines. Others flew on Etihad which broke the flights into two 6-7 hour flights rather than one very long one.

Air Asia do loads of local cheap flights and we found them good.

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