Borneo is the jewel of Malaysia, an island steeped in history. There's something for everyone, from the laid back town of Kota Kinabalu, to the tropical islands, to the exotic rainforests which home the orangutans and the rare proboscis monkey.
Head off the backpacker trail and into traditional, indigenous communities to live and work alongside some of the world’s most remote cultures and wildlife. Think longhouses, hammocks, and Bear Grylls.
Spend 4 weeks over on the Philippines to experience the unique and contrasting Filipino culture on just a few of it's 7000 islands.
Be prepared to feel intrepid as you embark on an 'off the beaten track' Asian adventure.
The adventure begins in the Malaysian Borneo state of Sarawak. Known to locals as Bumi Kenyalang ("Land of the Hornbills") Sarawak doesn't struggle to live up to its title as the region 'where adventure lives'.
The cosmopolitan capital Kuching retains fantastic old quarters that were spared from World War Two bombing, packed full of trendy cafes and lodges on Sarawak river.
Rural Sarawak is another world entirely, and for many it's the Borneo that they had expected to see. Vast rivers, the Rejang and the Baram, drain the highland interior west to east all the way to the coast some 600km away.
This is a fantastic opportunity to experience the eastern state of Malaysian Borneo - Sabah. Once covered in towering tropical rainforest, much of the lowland forest was cleared in the 70's and 80’s for oil palm plantations, although some high-value areas were preserved as national parks and wildlife reserves.
The western part of Sabah is generally mountainous, containing the three highest mountains in Malaysia. At a height of 4095m, Mount Kinabalu is the tallest of the lot and sits within the Kinabalu National Park - named a World Heritage Site in 2000 because of its richness in plant diversity combined with its unique geological, topographical, and climatic conditions.
Your placement will be nearby one such reserve, Tawau Hills National Park. After a couple of days acclimatising to the heat and humidity of the tropics in Tawau, you'll hit the road bound for your next volunteering project.
As you fly over marooned slicks of sand in the middle of the ocean your initial feeling would be this is a beach bum's paradise but look a little closer and you’ll dip into sprawling mega-islands, pounding with music and casinos and islands ready to serve up lashing of adrenaline - surfing, white water rafting, wakeboarding, fishing, trekking and zip lines to test the bravest – so get ready.
You’ll spend up to four weeks here, exploring several of the islands, trekking to the top of the mighty Bulusan Volcano, living with local families to experience Filipino life first hand and helping local and international NGO’s with their development projects, which include reforestation, refurbishing community buildings and teaching English.
In rural Sarawak, more than three hours away from the local capital of Kuching, you'll live in remote villages and longhouses in a part of the world that receives few outside visitors. Whilst satellite dishes and cars gradually move into rural Sarawak as the economy and infrastructure develops, traditional life continues much as it has done for centuries.
Whilst there you'll help with the renovation of community buildings and the laying of a gravity feed water pipe some 2kms long. You'll also have the chance to teach English to adults and children, build community vegetable gardens and help survey the area for future eco-tourism activities.
A short one-hour transfer from Tawau is the Plantation Village School, run by Borneo Child Aid (BCA). This NGO was set up 10 years ago to provide education to the thousands of children born inside the palm oil plantations who are not entitled to state education – it's an inspirational story of what can be achieved with few resources.
You’ll have the chance to assist members of the teaching community with everyday work within the schools as well as helping improve the infrastructure around and within it. There will be opportunities to assist with the cooking and to teach English to the pre-school kids (if you can get them to sit down for long enough!).
Next up you’ll make a 4-hour road trip across East Sabah to Sepilok, home to the world-famous orang-utan rehabilitation centre, a fabulous forest retreat, where you can visit the orang-utans, sun bears and the Rainforest Discovery Centre. (A day’s visit to the orang-utan sanctuary is included in the cost, but the Sunbear and Discovery Centre is a (very small) extra.
After Sepilok, you’ll travel the short distance to visit the nature lodge at Kinabatangan. Here you will experience a river safari with the hope of seeing much of Borneo’s famous wildlife; proboscis and leaf monkeys, macaques and gibbons, beautiful birds and insects and, with luck, a wild orang-utan and the pygmy elephants of Borneo.
Kudat is the new must-see destination in Sabah, with its empty beaches and perfect snorkelling. Lupa Masa is our favourite of these beaches and home to our small community project, which involves living in a traditional Rungus tribal longhouse, learning how to make traditional handicrafts and jewellery and helping with regular community beach clean-ups.
Here you can also go fishing, hiking until sundown on the hilltops and, with luck, experience some exceptional marine bioluminescence on certain nights of the month.
You’ll fly into Legazpi City, to reach the small town of Bulusan in the Sorsogon Province, dominated by the active Bulusan Volcano. Bulusan’s slopes (about 3672 hectares) are covered in virgin rainforest, crystal clear crater lakes, waterfalls, hot springs and rare, endemic animal species. Here you’ll live within a local community who’ve learned to live in harmony with nature, 2 to 3 volunteers per house, experiencing first hand the local culture, cuisine and handicrafts.
The Bulusan Volcano Natural Park has been fortunate to receive support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Bantay Kalikasan, GIZ Germany, Oxford University, and The Foundation of the Philippine Environment. Together with the Local Government Units, they have helped with reforestation, repairing native huts, and developing the community roads – all of these projects are ongoing and will greatly appreciate your help.
Next stop - Ticao Island, to live and work with an island community in the Masbate province. Being so far from the mainland, the people of Ticao have learned to survive based on what the land and ocean can provide. Very little government support comes to this area so any developments on the island are a result of donations from NGOs or private companies, with whom you will help.
Your projects in this area will include creating a waste management system for the local community and providing English lessons to both children and adults.
Of course, on your time off, you’re perfectly placed to island hop around the islets of Ticao; around San Miguel and Udoc islets, which are rich in coral gardens, fish life, and macro critters. Again we have arranged for you to live with local families in the fishing villages called Dalacit and Recudo so you can experience first hand this amazing culture. (2 to 3 volunteers per family).
Whilst you're still in Sabah, it’s time to crack out the antiperspirant and ‘rumble in the jungle’ at the Lupa Masa jungle camp near Poring Hot Springs. Here you will spend a couple of nights in the camp learning survival skills before heading off for a four-day trek in the surrounding forests.
With your local guides you'll learn just how comfortable you can make yourself in the jungle with almost nothing; learn to navigate (without your iPhone), sleep in hammocks, build fires... it's camping at its most wild. Included in the program cost.
At 4095m, Mt Kinabalu is one of the tallest mountains in Southeast Asia. Thousands of tourists visit Kinabalu National Park each year with the sole intention of climbing Mt Kinabalu.
Fortunately, it's also one of the easiest peaks in the world to conquer. It can be tackled in just a couple of days, and climbers needn't have any previous experience at mountain climbing. At sunrise, the views from the summit at Low's Peak are spectacular, making all the effort worthwhile.
A three-day, two-night all-inclusive climb is a popular optional extra with Leapers, costing £300 for the whole experience.
If you've always wanted to learn to scuba dive, this is your chance. Borneo is one of the best places in the world for diving, and represents amazing value for money too. This four-day optional extra is just £250 - about 50% cheaper than a similar course in the UK.
Be aware that as an extra, which you're most likely to do when close to Kota Kinabalu (KK), participation may involve taking time away from the project location on your program itinerary. But if diving in one of the world's top spots is your dream, it's a small price to pay.
Gunung Mulu National Park is a spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site. Packed with natural marvels such as the Pinnacles, a forest of razor-sharp limestone spires, beautiful old-growth tropical rainforests and some of the most amazing caves on earth - where you can see the spectacular evening bat exodus.
Travel around by longboat on the stunning rivers, or walk the canopy skywalk. Included in the program cost, but the Garden of Eden day walk (highly recommended) is extra.
The project ends in the capital city of KK - back to civilisation with bars, nightlife, and waterfront restaurants. Just around the corner you’ll find long sandy beaches, paradise islands, virgin coral reefs, tropical rainforests, and the mighty Mount Kinabalu a mere 90 minutes away.
This is the perfect time to do some classic backpacker stuff - check out KK’s Chinese temples, explore the night markets... or just rest up on the beach.
A great physical challenge to summit Bulusan’s volcano, assisted with the help of local guides to transport everything you need – food, camping equipment etc. for a 3 day and 2 night adventure snaking through the virgin rainforest, past crystal clear lakes, waterfalls and hot springs to reach the lunar landscape at the top. A great trek. A great challenge. Included in the program cost.
Every day on The Leap will be different but generally you can expect to carry out projects five days per week with weekends free to do whatever you please. There are dozens of places to explore and things to do at all stages of our programs, so you'll never be short of ideas.
Both Sabah, Sarawak and the Philippines are very well-connected to each other and other countries like Indonesia and Singapore – all great add-ons if you plan to extend your stay in the region. Borneo is not the cheapest destination in Southeast Asia but local food and transport remain good value. Expect to pay $10 - $15 for a night in a hostel (which are only really found in the main towns, outside of these expect $20 or so for a cheap hotel room). The Philippines is better value and super easy to get about between the labyrinths of islands.
Your project leader can advise if required, but some of the activities Leapers have done previously during weekends include: exploring rainforests, spotting orangutans, jungle trekking, climbing mountains, kayaking, paragliding, parasailing, banana boating, snorkeling, white water rafting, scuba diving, horse riding and wildlife tours.
We have four different teams departing each year in January, April, July and September. Typically programs are ten weeks long, taking in all the sights and experiences you'll find described on this page with plenty of downtime for you to explore the country as you please.
The exception to this is the July departure date, which is a six-week program and aims to pack as much into that shorter period as possible. It's an ideal fit for that gap between A-Level exams and results day, or for those on university summer holidays.
Want to join a ten-week program in January, April, or September and leave early? No problem, get in touch and we'll help you sort something out.