Despite Borneo’s “wild” reputation, you’ll find plenty of comfortable places to lay your head.
The hotels and resorts in this list cover Malaysia’s Sabah and Sarawak states and the small nation of Brunei Darussalam. You’ll find the best of Borneo encapsulated in these hotels and their amenities: including luxury “seven-star” stays, throwback accommodations in 19th-century shophouses, and back-to-nature overnights on mountainsides and within rainforest clearings.
The Empire Brunei
This hotel claims to have “seven-star” luxury, and you can easily see where they got the extra two stars. Fastidiously-dressed greeters, a $500,000 Baccarat crystal camel at the lobby, five swimming pools, a world-class golf course, and 522 guestrooms spread out across 445 acres of manicured coastal land facing the South China Sea only hint at the Empire Brunei’s regal appeal.
Moneyed guests can pick between two different room locations: near the private beach or close to the Grand Lagoon. Golfers favor the latter location, as it’s closer to the 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course.
16 expansive villas represent the crème de la crème of an Empire Brunei stay, with private gardens and balconies overlooking the ocean. Beyond their luxuriously-appointed quarters, guests can relax all across the grounds with activities like bowling at the eight-lane alley, watching movies at the three-screen cinema, or unwinding with a spa treatment.
Capital Residence Suites
One of Brunei’s most reliable budget-to-mid-range hotel choices, the Capital Residence Suites stands in the middle of a residential district in Bandar Seri Begawan. Opened in 1968, the hotel has only been perfunctorily refurbished since: air-conditioned rooms offer only basic creature comforts, the lobby looks uninvitingly bland, and the buffet is nothing to write home about.
However, the Capital Residence Suites’ central location in Brunei is its greatest asset: guests stay close to the city’s key attractions but still enjoy a measure of privacy despite the urban location. Thanks to its convenient location, the hotel offers a free shuttle service to the city’s main tourist attractions.
With its central location in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, and 72 capacious service apartments, the Rimbun Suites & Residences serves business visitors and families with a taste of home for short durations.
Accommodations at the Rimbun Suites are distributed over three mid-rise blocks in a five-acre urban complex. Each of the units (which are identical in size, at approximately 3,050 sq ft) offer adequate creature comforts for large family groups of up to seven people—complete with air conditioning, large TVs with satellite access, WiFi, and a fully-furnished kitchen.
The grounds provide access to a gym, swimming pool, jogging track, and children’s playground. The E’Trigue Cafe & Lounge abuts the swimming pool and offers casual refreshments for guests.
Gayana Marine Resort
Fancy staying in an over-water villa within a marine park? Gaya Marine Resort obliges with 45 villas perched over Malohom Bay on Gaya Island, located in Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park near Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia.
A villa stay here lulls you instantly with all-natural sights and sounds—the crash of surf beneath you and the sight of Mount Kinabalu far in the distance. All of Gayana’s villas are air-conditioned and offer luxury amenities; only some of them have their own private pool.
To see the Park’s indigenous nature up close, visit the resort’s Marine Ecology Research Centre, and learn about their work propagating endangered giant clams and damaged reefs. You can go even further and arrange snorkeling, diving, or jungle trekking adventures at the 24-hour reception area.
Scheduled ferry transfers to Kota Kinabalu’s Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal are free of charge for resort guests.
Sutera Sanctuary Lodges
Mount Kinabalu hikers and upland climate enthusiasts will enjoy a stay at Sutera Sanctuary Lodges, its 2,000 masl elevation, and the resort’s range of accommodations. Budget visitors can book a berth at the dorm, while moneyed visitors can stay at a suite or lodge onsite.
Premium lodges exude a quaint throwback charm, with hardwood everything and large windows looking up at Mount Kinabalu. Lodge stays are recommended for large groups, as these accommodations have up to two bedrooms and a living room with a fireplace. The lodges have no Wi-Fi, though.
The Sutera’s auspicious location places guests right at the base of Kinabalu Park, within easy walking distance of the park’s Mesilau Nature Trail. Staying here doesn’t oblige you to ascend to the peak of Malaysia’s first UNESCO Heritage Site; just hunt for the world’s largest pitcher plant amidst the nearby forest cover, or trek to Kiau Gap View to take in breathtaking valley vistas.
Shangri-La Tanjung Aru
This luxury hotel occupies a peninsula jutting off Tanjung Aru, overlooking the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. High-end travelers and visiting families will find plenty to love in this 492-room establishment: easy access to the airport, manicured gardens, access to a golf course, and one of the world’s finest spas.
Rooms are generously sized and are divided between two wings. The Tanjung Wing hosts the larger and more expensive guestrooms overlooking the sea. The Kinabalu Wing offers the hotel’s cheaper rooms due to views facing Mount Kinabalu.
The resort has its own private island, Pulau Bayu, which houses the CHI Spa and health club, its Villas, and an open Yoga Pavilion. You can explore the other islands nearby through the STAR Marina office.
Hilton Kota Kinabalu
The Hilton’s executive-class accommodations—with a choice of 302 rooms and suites—suits Kota Kinabalu business and luxury travelers perfectly with massive rooms furnished with all the usual creature comforts. The interior design favors minimalist themes with modern finishes; the effect is more futuristic than traditional, with an abundance of mirror surfaces and brightly-colored fabrics.
The Hilton’s rooftop pool podium is the largest in all of Sabah, occupying 9,000 square feet with a 80-foot-long swimming pool. After doing laps, you can hit the Rooftop Poolside Bar & Grill for post-swim seafood meals with an unobstructed view of Kota Kinabalu before you.
Sepilok Forest Edge Resort
It’s the most luxury you’ll find in the middle of nowhere: a nature retreat located in the jungle near Sandakan in Sabah, mere minutes away on foot from the Sepilok Orangutan Reserve. Far from the city, you’ll be lulled to sleep by the chittering sounds of the rainforest at night, and come daylight, enjoy immediate access to the rainforest, and several nature reserves in the vicinity.
The resort’s village-style chalets come in several types, starting with a standard chalet for singles, superior chalets for added luxury, and family chalets for larger groups. The chalets are built from recycled houses and come with rustic Malay-inspired finishes. Some chalets come with outdoor bath and toilet setups.
The Sepilok Forest Edge Resort is only 10 miles away from Sandakan Airport and some 16 miles from the Sandakan city center. Wi-Fi is available, but only from the lounge and restaurant area.
Kuching’s Golden Triangle represents the business and cultural heart of Sarawak’s capital—one that can be accessed right from Pullman Kuching’s doorstep. With its charming location on Jalan Mathies, the Pullman is just beside everything of note: the Hills Shopping Mall stands right next door, the Kuching Waterfront is just five minutes’ walk away, and Kuching’s other attractions are just a short stroll or taxi ride away.
The Pullman’s 389 spacious, contemporary-styled rooms are perfectly suited for business guests and their needs. The rooms’ interior decor is modern and utilitarian. Without leaving the complex, guests can enjoy the hotel’s restaurants, pool, luxury spa, and conference facilities.
Culvert Hotel Kuching
The name gives the theme away: 40-odd cabins crafted out of concrete drainage pipes. These may be the strangest accommodations in Malaysia’s Sarawak State, but they’re certainly not lacking in comfort despite all appearances.
This eco-friendly hotel-resort in Santubong, Kuching, manages to cram a surprising amount of amenities into their barrel-shaped guest cabins. The rooms include queen-size beds, air conditioning, and personal tablets to watch Netflix or surf the web on. Speedy internet is available for free around the resort.
Amenities include two swimming pools, a sauna & spa, a restaurant, a bar, and access to a private beach. Beyond the resort, a wide variety of adventures await, including hiking up near Mount Santubong, diving off Satang Island, and visiting Bako National Park and Kuching Wetlands National Park face-to-face encounters with Irrawaddy dolphins, orangutans, and proboscis monkeys.
Ranee Boutique Suites
Given the Ranee Boutique Suites’ location in the middle of Kuching’s Old Town, it will surprise no one to reveal the hotel’s origin as two separate 19th-century shophouses, craftily combined and refurbished into a 24-room boutique hotel that focuses on Sarawak’s storied past.
As you might guess from the retro-inspired hotel room interiors, the antiques scattered around the public spaces, and the gift shop selling locally sourced jewelry and books, heritage is at the heart of a stay at The Ranee Boutique Suites. No two rooms are the same, and each reflects a different facet of Sarawak culture.
Don’t be fooled: prices at the Ranee are a bit high, considering the lack of four-star creature comforts like a swimming pool, business center, or full-service restaurant. They do have a mini-garden, cafe, in-house tour desk, and bar that serves the Ranee Tuak, the establishment’s take on Sarawak’s favorite alcoholic drink!