Borneo blends diversity in nature, wildlife, and ethnic groups living on the world’s third-largest island. Here are some of Borneo‘s best souvenirs, from local pearls and traditional instruments to handwoven baskets and tribal tattoos.
Buy flashy pearls harvested from Sabah
One of the more popular souvenirs from Borneo is pearls. Sabah grows them in Lahad Datu’s Darvel Bay and Tabawan Island along the state’s eastern regions. Tourists can purchase pearl jewellery such as necklaces, earrings, bracelets and trinkets. The varieties, quality and cost vary considerably, and those marketed on the markets won’t have the same value as those in more reputable shops such as Borneo Pearl.
Vibrant paintings of Malaysian village life
One of the best souvenirs from an unforgettable Borneo trip is a painting from a local artist. Stroll through the markets and handicraft shops and find everything from small tableside pictures to giant canvases. Favourite images are often of the idyllic setting of the kampung capturing the laid-back rural Malaysian lifestyle.
Weird and wonderful musical instruments
Borneo’s ethnic diversity almost matches its biodiversity. Each group brings their own culture and traditions to the island. Musical instruments such as the Kadazan-Dusun’s miniature gongs, suling (a bamboo flute) and the Sompoton make excellent souvenirs from Borneo. The Sompoton, a type of mouth organ with eight bamboo pipes and a head resembling a duck, is a particular favourite. Head to the handicraft stores or Kota Kinabalu’s Gaya Street Market to search for these instruments.
Enjoy a brew or two of Sabah Tea
West Malaysia has BOH from the Cameron Highlands; East Malaysia grows Sabah Tea in Ranau and Kundasang near state capital Kota Kinabalu. Sabah Tea comes in eight different varieties, including spiced flavours, lemongrass infusion or the basic plain black tea. Visitors to Sabah can get boxes from any supermarket or visit the highland plantations and get tea leaves directly from the source.
Hand-woven Wakid baskets
The Kadazan’s Wakid is another popular ethnic souvenir from Borneo. A Wakid is a bamboo basket used to carry fruits, vegetables and other products in rural Borneo. Apart from making a good souvenir, it also holds a more functional role back home for storage—handicraft stalls and markets throughout Sabah stock various styles and sizes of baskets from full-sized to miniatures.
Traditional handicraft from the famous sea nomads
The Bajau are a predominately Muslim ethnic group in Sabah with communities along the west and east. West Coast Bajau live in Kota Belud, a small town near Kota Kinabalu. Their wares are made from weaving a type of dried leaf into colourful baskets, boxes and food covers. The world-famous Bajau Laut, or Sea Nomads, live in Sabah’s east.
Coconut shell turtles and monkeys
Empty coconuts rarely go to waste in Borneo as local artisans use the shell to make fascinating and creative handicraft. Some turn it into a turtle aptly decorated with traditional patterns, while others make it look like the primates living in Borneo’s rainforest. Few souvenirs from Borneo match their creative twist and outward beauty. Coconut handicrafts are usually on sale at markets or in souvenir shops.
Monkey themed plushies
Borneo is known for its orangutans and probosci’s monkeys. Wild orangutans only live in Borneo and Sumatra‘s rainforests, while the long-nosed pot-bellied proboscis lives solely on Borneo Island. Shops burst with primate-themed souvenirs from oversized teddy bears (or teddy monkeys) to use their images on bags, t-shirts and fridge magnets.
Get a tribal Iban tattoo
For a more permanent souvenir from Borneo, get a traditional tattoo in Sarawak. Iban tattoos date back centuries with roots in headhunting, paganism and ancient rituals. Expert artists use a series of razor-sharp bamboo needles to pierce the skin to create various motifs and patterns. But the process is said to be extremely painful.