Intrepid families who are keen to make a genuine contribution to wildlife conservation will love this volunteer project in Borneo. Immerse yourselves in the stunning Borneo rainforest, living and working alongside local people, helping to protect their natural environment and the creatures within it. This is a fantastic hands-on and educational trip for children and adults alike.
Duration: 7 days
Dates: See project dates
Eligibility: General level of fitness required. The work can be physical and the humidity is high
Age: Recommended for children aged 8+
- Head well off the beaten track and immerse your family in a completely different way of life
- Live amongst the Orang Sungai, “the people of the river” and taste their delicious home cooked food
- Get real conservation experience that makes a genuine contribution
- Witness orangutans, pygmy elephants and much more on the daily boat trips
- Enjoy a shared experience with your family, which will be memorable for a lifetime
Join other like-minded families volunteering in Malaysian Borneo’s beautiful rainforest. Become part of the small local community, helping to preserve their flora and fauna for generations to come.
Once an island covered by rainforest, the Malaysian government are now having to take special measures in Borneo to protect dwindling natural habitats. This conservation project is located in one of these newly protected areas known as the Corridor of Life. Home to a proliferation of wildlife including orangutans, pygmy elephants, proboscis monkeys, macaques, singing gibbons and sun bears – not to mention the birds – this riverside location is a nature lover’s paradise. This project is all about keeping these species and their habitat protected – and this is where you and your family come in.
Your Borneo family trip involves spending time on the river, enjoying the beautiful surroundings and spotting the incredible wildlife. The project is divided into two main roles:
- Reforestation work: Families become immersed in tree planting projects on the banks of the Kinabatangan river. Increasing the jungle coverage means that more creatures can live and survive in the wild. This is rewarding work, as even after an hour or two you will see the tremendous contribution that you have all made. Children are often the most avid workers on this part of the project, loving to get mucky and stuck in. It is a real thrill to know that the work you are doing will help generations of orangutans and other animals live here in safety.
- Wildlife watching: Head out onto the river in traditional boats to monitor the wildlife that you encounter. This is a thrill for all the family – there will be a real competition for who is the first to see an orangutan, elephant and monkey! Observations and sightings are noted down, and the information shared with the local wildlife authorities – this is essential to know as it helps to maintain the area’s importance as a conservation area.
In addition to these principal daily activities, other tasks and activities can include:
- Community engagement: spend time with the local community to learn about their way of life and help them to promote positive environmental work. Examples of this include making fishing nets and growing tree saplings.
- Local education programme: get involved in the local school to help with English and environmental education. This is a great experience for children especially, as they can meet children of the same age as them, learn about their lives and overcome any language barriers with flair! Please note, this relies heavily on the school calendar and might be replaced with another activity if necessary.
- Jungle walk: head into the rainforest to explore life in the wild. This is a fantastic way to really contextualise the work that you have been doing here.
It’s not all about being a Borneo volunteer – we also include a day of responsible tourism to round off your Borneo family holiday. On your last day you will enjoy:
- Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre: Visit the world-renowned Sepilok orangutan rehabilitation centre to understand more about the rehabilitation process. See orangutans up close and living in their natural habitat.
- Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre: learn more about the world’s smallest bear, the threats it faces and the amazing work that is being done to conserve the species.
- Rainforest Discovery Centre: Explore the rainforest from up high on a treetop walkway. A great opportunity to stretch the legs and take some amazing pictures.
This project is located in the Corridor of Life, a protected wildlife area in Borneo. The village is home to a river tribe known as the “Orang Sungai”, and you will live alongside these welcoming people, becoming immersed in village life. You will be located about 3 hours from the port-side town of Sandakan, far off the beaten track. You and your family will gain complete cultural immersion, living, working and playing alongside the local people.
- First night in a lovely rainforest guest house on the outskirts of Sandakan
- Main project accommodation is in the village of the Orang Sungai people on the Kinabatangan river
- Stay in a riverside guesthouse, sharing a room or neighbouring rooms with your family
- Linen, mosquito nets and fans provided
- En-suite bathroom with western toilet and hot-cold shower
- Last night in a cosy guest house in Sandakan
- Three meals per day provided at the project site
- Breakfast generally consists of eggs, rice, toast, spreads, tea and coffee
- Lunch and dinners are mainly provided by the local community
- A real highlight of this project is to eat in the homes of the local villagers – the food is delicious!
- Differing dietary requirements can be catered for, but do be aware that village life is very simple and so “picky” eaters are harder to cater for!
- Your final night is spent in Sandakan, where dinner is at your own expense so that you can choose your favoured type of cuisine
- Access to your own personal ‘My Oyster’ account – our online portal where you can find out much more about the program and manage your booking
- Dedicated contact time with an experienced destination manager to discuss the project, answer any of your questions and for us to find out more about you
- Help and advice from our UK office before arrival and whilst you are away
- In-country support
- Pre-departure information covering medical, safety and project advice
- Gold level, 24/7 Pharos crisis management and incident support cover
- Financial protection: ATOL (if we book your flights); IPP (if we don’t book your flights)
- Thorough orientation on arrival
- Accommodation (see the ‘accommodation’ section above for details)
- Advice on visa requirements
- Oyster plants a tree in Africa with TreeAid to help reduce the impact of global carbon emissions
- All meals except last night dinner in Sandakan
- Project and airport transfers
- Entrance fees to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Center and Rainforest Discovery Centre
On your return:
- Welcome home pack
- Certificate of Recognition (on request)
- References (on request)
- Flights – as an ATOL bonded company, Oyster can book flights for you
- You need a valid passport that meets the requirements of the country you will be travelling to
- Insurance (covering your time with Oyster and any planned independent travel)
- Any costs associated with changing your return flight date if you need to
- Independent travel costs
- Home country travel costs
- Spending money for additional trips, food and entertainment
- Camera fees
- Last night meal
Updates released with country reopening as of April 2022 (please check government website for latest amendments to entry)
Prior to departure,
All volunteers are required to :
- download and complete the steps in the MySejahtera app. For individuals under 18 years old, the accompanying adult will need to register them as dependent in the app.
- take a RT-PCR test within 2 days of departure. Results are to be brought along and shown at the point of entry into Malaysia. Please send a copy of the results to Oyster
- purchase travel insurance with a minimum coverage of US$20,000. This coverage is to include quarantine, treatment, and hospitalisation costs related to COVID-19.
Should a volunteer test positive for COVID-19 during the RTK-Ag test upon arrival, there is a mandatory quarantine period based on the vaccination status of the person. After the quarantine period, the volunteer may opt to join the project. If the project has commenced, volunteers will join the project at the project site based on whichever day the project is on. There will not be an extension of the programme for the days missed due to quarantine. Volunteers will need to arrange for their own transportation and/or bear the cost of transfer from the quarantine hotel to the project site. Please also note that all medical and logistical costs during quarantine are to be borne by the participant
Project specific requirements
All volunteers are required to source for comprehensive insurance to cover their entire journey, travel as well as healthcare & treatment expenses for COVID-19. Volunteers are required to provide a copy of the document via e-mail no later than 30 days before the start date.
Every volunteer on the BWS project and every person above the age of 18 on the BWS-F project is required to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19. Every volunteer on the SB project is required to show proof of vaccination + booster against COVID-19. Volunteers are required to provide a copy of the document via e-mail no later than 30 days before the start date. The original has to be brought along and sighted by the project coordinator on orientation day.
Face masks and hand sanitizer
All volunteers are expected to bring enough face masks and hand sanitizer for personal use during the project.
Please check home country restrictions at time of travel
Families love taking part in this project for a multitude of reasons. Stepping off the beaten track and well away from the hustle and bustle is great not only for adults but children as well. Real highlights have included seeing children overcome the language and cultural barriers and making friends with local children, as well as experiencing their contentment at seeing a good job well done in the rainforest regeneration programme.
Seeing animals living in the wild is an important lesson, and a wonderful experience. Family holidays to Borneo should involve nature, orangutans and community, and this trip gives you all of those important aspects.
Whilst late-availability is possible, we would advise booking as soon as you can to guarantee your ideal dates. Our projects are very popular and spaces can fill up several months in advance, especially for the months of June to September.
Typically you will start the day early to cheat the heat! The day starts at about 6am with a hearty breakfast before hopping on the boat to head to the tree planting site. The journey can take anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour. You would usually be planting from 7.30am – 10.30am before heading back for some lunch.
You have some downtime in the peak heat of the day, and then at around 15.00 would be ready to get back out on the river for wildlife monitoring. This usually finishes at about 18.00.
These hours are flexible. On one day you will head into the school for half a day to help out with the education programme, whilst on another day you may head into the jungle for a trek.
The Corridor of life is a high priority conservation area. The Kinabatangan River is the longest river in Sabah, Malaysia. This river runs through the centre of Borneo and merges with the Sulu-Salawesi Sea. It has amazing biodiversity, spanning 26,000 hectares. The ecosystem is under threat from logging and is desperately in need of restoration so that the wildlife and plant species that rely on the habitat can continue to thrive.
This project is specifically designed for families with children aged 8 and over to allow all of the family to volunteer in Borneo. Our spaces on this project usually fill up, so you may be with at least 2 other families of similar ages.
Prepare for rain in Borneo. With an annual rainfall in excess of 2500mm in many areas, getting wet is inevitable. The humidity levels are 90%.
Malaysia has a wet and a dry season however, rain can occur at anytime.The seasons are:
Wet season: November – March.
Drier season: April – September / October
We would recommend up to £20 per person per week. Once you are in the village there is very little to spend your money on other than snacks and drinks.
The closest ATMs are in Sandakan Town. You will need to make sure you have sufficient cash with you whilst in the village on the project site, as there is no access to ATMs here.
No visa is necessary for trips under 90 days from UK and most western European and western countries.
You need to make sure your passport is valid for a minimum of 6 months from your date of entry into Borneo/Malaysia.
You should visit your doctor or travel nurse to find out what vaccinations you will need. Your routine vaccinations will need to be up to date, it is likely you will need Hepatitis A and Typhoid, and possibly Hepatitis B, Malaria and Rabies. Please follow your doctor’s advice.
Please check below for where the closest hospital to the project is- your doctor may ask to know this so that they can provide information on rabies.
Medical facilties are closeby, just 20 minutes from the project and accommodation. There is a larger hospital 3 hours drive away.
Malaysia is a very forward-thinking country and has become very popular with travellers from around the world. Malaysian Borneo is a very accessible part of the island too and welcomes many visitors each year.
You will be collected from the airport and dropped off back again at the end of your stay. All project transfers are included. Your accommodation on the first night is located on the site of a leafy guest house on the outskirts of town and is very safe and very beautiful.
Whilst working on the project you will be under the guidance of the volunteer coordinator and you will receive full health and safety briefings on all that you do. Your accommodation is in a small and friendly village – all of the locals know and support the project.
Sandakan Town is a beautiful tourist town however you should keep an eye on your possessions when out and about.
The village where the project is based is 3 hours from the town of Sandakan.
Internet access is limited during your time on the project, apart from your first and last night.
Please bear in mind that you are in Asia, and signal and speed are unlikely to be as reliable as you might be used to back at home.
There is good phone reception in the village and in the guest houses where you spend your first and last night on the project.
Malaysia Standard Time is 8 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+8).
In Malaysia, the British 3 pin plug is used.
There are some lovely walks to enjoy in your free time along the river’s edge and into the village. Generally speaking you will have a pretty packed itinerary with time for community engagement, trekking and the actual project- so you won’t have too much extra free time to go exploring! Families tend to play cards, read, chat, play music and relax together in the evenings.
Your final day is spent as a tourist. You will get to visit the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre, the Rainforest Discovery Centre and Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre – families love this day and it is a great way to round off your time as a Borneo volunteer.
You will be volunteering from around 6am-10:30am and 3pm-6pm with a nice break in the middle during the hottest part of the day. These hours are flexible and will vary depending on the days tasks.
Supervision will be fairly intensive during the first few days, when you will receive a thorough induction and work-related training. Once you are comfortable with things, you might not always have a supervisor working alongside you, but there will always be staff and other volunteers around to help, and you will always be accompanied for any high risk activities.
Staff at Oyster’s head office and in-country will be responsible for your safety and welfare while you are at the project. This will start from the moment you are picked up from the airport until the time you are dropped back there. Before and after these times, you will be outside Oyster’s responsibility and should make sure that you act safely and avoid risk. This is also true if you choose to leave the project during your time off. We will give you plenty of guidance and advice about this.
Oyster assesses projects carefully to ensure that they offer high standards of animal welfare and environmental practice. We also check that volunteers understand key points of good practice before working with animals. To find out more, see our animal welfare policy.