A Guide to Airports in Borneo

passengers waiting to board an airplane on the tarmac with a tree-covered mountain in the background
Scott Biales / 500px / Getty Images

Most of the airports in Borneo stay busy. Given the island’s rugged interior, flying is often the only practical option for covering long distances. Those torrential showers that keep the rainforest pleasantly green also frequently delay the small planes that service domestic routes. You’ll need to keep a flexible itinerary when flying into difficult-to-reach places such as Mulu National Park or the Derawan Islands.

Fortunately, most of the biggest airports in Borneo are conveniently located close to the action. You can probably get to your hotel in less than 15 minutes by taxi when arriving in Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, and Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei).

Kota Kinabalu International Airport (BKI)

  • Location: Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
  • Best If: You plan to visit Mount Kinabalu, Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, or the west coast of Sabah.
  • Avoid If: The purpose of your trip is to see the orangutans at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.
  • Distance to Gaya Street: The airport is around 5 miles south of Gaya Street, the tourist strip of markets, restaurants, and guesthouses. A taxi takes less than 15 minutes.

Kota Kinabalu International Airport is the busiest of all the airports in Borneo and second-busiest in Malaysia, but it operates efficiently enough. Although BKI is typically the default airport for flying into Sabah, the location is inconvenient if you’re most interested in orangutans at Sepilok or cruising the Kinabatangan River to see wildlife.

Sandakan Airport (SDK)

  • Location: Nine miles northwest of Sandakan in East Sabah
  • Best If: You’re interested in visiting Sepilok, the Rainforest Discovery Centre, the Kinabatangan River, or Turtle Islands National Park.
  • Avoid If: You plan to stay in Kota Kinabalu.
  • Distance to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre: Sandakan Airport is a 30-minute taxi east of the Sepilok area that is home to the Rainforest Discovery Centre and popular eco-hotels.

Flights from Kuala Lumpur (KUL) to Sandakan Airport (SDK) are surprisingly inexpensive and only take around three hours. If your visit to Sabah is mostly about experiencing the rainforest, you’ll save time and money by flying directly to Sandakan instead of connecting in Kota Kinabalu.

Sandakan Airport is too small for lingering long. Sandakan Memorial Park, restaurants, and other sights of interest are only 10 minutes away by taxi.

Tawau Airport (TWU)

  • Location: Around 45 minutes northeast of Tawau, Sabah
  • Best If: You plan to go to Sipidan, Mabul, or Kapalai for diving. Tawau Hills Park is also nearby.
  • Avoid If: You aren’t planning to go diving and snorkeling in East Sabah.
  • Distance to Semporna: Tawau Airport is around 1.5 hours by car west of Semporna, the jump-off point for Mabul and Sipidan.

Tawau Airport is small, busy, and consistently operates over its intended capacity. An expansion is planned to handle all the international divers who fly in to visit Sipidan and neighboring islands, some of the best diving in the world.

Kuching International Airport (KCH)

  • Location: Around 7 miles south of the center of Kuching
  • Best If: You’re visiting the Sarawak Cultural Village, Bako National Park, or coming to see orangutans at the Semenggoh Nature Reserve.
  • Avoid If: Your primary destination is Mulu National Park.
  • Distance to Kuching Waterfront: The airport is 20 minutes by taxi from the waterfront.

Kuching’s pleasant airport is conveniently located close to the city and stays busy. Like many airports in Borneo, passenger demand is outpacing the intended capacity. KCH is the default airport for visiting Sarawak; however, if you’re on a mission to explore Mulu National Park, opt to fly into Miri instead.

Although Sarawak is a Malaysian state, they maintain immigration autonomy. You’ll need to pass through immigration at the airport when arriving and departing, even if flying on to other points in Malaysia.

Miri Airport (MYY)

  • Location: Six miles south of Miri in the northern part of Sarawak
  • Best If: You plan to visit Mulu National Park (flight required), Lambir Hills National Park, or Niah National Park.
  • Avoid If: You’re arriving in Sarawak for the Rainforest World Music Festival.
  • Distance to Lambir Hills National Park: 30 minutes by car.

Miri Airport operates overcapacity, but things really get busy during the Borneo Jazz Festival hosted in Miri every summer. Most travelers flying through Miri are interested in exploring national parks in the northern part of Sarawak while avoiding the arduous overland journey from Kuching (15 or more hours). Miri is a hub for flying to and from Mulu National Park (airport code: MZV) and the Bario Highlands.

Same as when arriving in Kuching, you’ll need to pass through Sarawak immigration control in Miri Airport.

Brunei International Airport (BWN)

  • Location: Four miles north of Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei
  • Best If: You plan to explore Brunei.
  • Avoid If: You aren’t interested in Brunei.
  • Distance to Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque: BSB’s most famous mosque is only 15 minutes from the airport by taxi.

Brunei’s international airport couldn’t be any more convenient—you land only 10 minutes from the heart of the capital. Like much of the infrastructure in Brunei, the airport also operates efficiently. Despite beautiful beaches and the well-maintained Ulu Temburong National Park, tourist arrivals are relatively low at BWN compared to other airports in Borneo.

Balikpapan Airport (BPN)

  • Location: The eastern edge of Balikpapan in East Kalimantan
  • Best If: You want to see Balikpapan or fly to many other points in Kalimantan.
  • Avoid If: You’re visiting East Kalimantan for the Derawan Islands.
  • Distance to the Mangrove Center: Around 9 miles (45 minutes).

The official name for the airport at Balikpapan is Sultan Aji Muhammad Sulaiman Sepinggan International Airport. With a new terminal and lots of room, Balikpapan’s airport functions nicely. That’s a good thing—BPN is the second busiest airport in Borneo, and Balikpapan is considered the financial center for Kalimantan.

Syamsudin Noor International Airport (BDJ)

  • Location: Around 15.5 miles north of Banjarmasin, the provincial capital of South Kalimantan
  • Best If: You want to explore the capital, see a large floating market, or are interested in gem trading.
  • Avoid If: You’re trying to reach national parks in Kalimantan.
  • Distance to the Floating Market: Around 20 miles southeast.

Banjarmasin’s airport is among the busiest airports in Borneo so be prepared for crowds.

Iskandar Airport (PKN)

  • Location: Around 5 miles east of Pangkalan Bun in Central Kalimantan
  • Best If: You intend to visit Tanjung Puting National Park.
  • Avoid If: You aren’t visiting Tanjung Puting.
  • Distance to Kumai Port: The boats for accessing Tanjung Puting National Park are based at Kumai Port, around 6 miles east.

Many of the small airlines servicing Pangkalan Bun operate on irregular schedules and can’t be booked online. They often cancel or delay depending on weather and passenger volume. Your best bet for getting into Tanjing Puting is to wait in Jakarta for a connecting flight to PKN, which is also a military base.

Kalimarau Airport (BEJ)

  • Location: Six miles west of Tanjung Redeb, the capital of Berau in East Kalimantan
  • Best If: You intend to visit the Derawan Islands.
  • Avoid If: You aren’t going to the islands.
  • Distance to Tanjung Batu: Going overland to the jump-off point for the Derawan Islands takes at least five hours.

Although an airport on Maratua Island will one day allow faster access to the Derawan Islands, for now, you’ll need to fly into Kalimarau Airport and buckle in for a five-hour drive to access one of the most biodiverse marine areas in the world.

Supadio International Airport (PNK)

  • Location: About 11 miles south of Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan
  • Best If: You want to visit Pontianak or connect to other points in Kalimantan from Kuching.
  • Avoid If: You can find a direct flight to smaller airports.
  • Distance to the Equator Monument: A little over 15 miles.

Properly called Sungai Durian Airport, PNK is a busy airport in a busy capital city.
If you have time before flying out, Khatulistiwa Park, better known as the “Equator Monument,” allows visitors to stand with one leg in the Northern Hemisphere and the other in the Southern Hemisphere!

Juwata International Airport (TRK)

  • Location: Tarakan Island in North Kalimantan
  • Best If: You’re connecting to other points in Kalimantan from Tawau (Sabah).
  • Avoid If: You can get a direct flight to your final destination.
  • Distance to Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary: Close to 2.5 miles.

Juwata International Airport’s strategic location in North Kalimantan makes it a connecting hub for getting passengers deeper into Kalimantan. The airport was also the objective of two bloody battles during World War II.

If you find yourself waiting for a connecting flight at TRK, go see the proboscis monkeys living among the mangroves only 10 minutes away by taxi.

Tjilik Riwut Airport (PKY)

  • Location: Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan
  • Best If: You’re going to Sabangau National Park.
  • Avoid If: You want to reach Tanjung Puting National Park.
  • Distance to Jembatan Kahayan Bridge: Eight miles.

Palangkaraya is a good hub in Central Kalimantan and the closest of airports in Borneo to Sabangau National Park.