By Vanishaa Vasudhevan

Your Essential Calendar Guide to All the Unmissable Borneo Events

It's time to finally make your way to East Malaysia. Book a ticket, pack a bag, and watch it all happen.
Image Credits: Putra Purnawarga

Borneo is massive—after all, it is ranked as the third-largest island globally. Two of Malaysia’s most distinct states, Sabah and Sarawak, are on the island of Borneo, boasting an incredible array of features that render it truly special and out of this world. What further elevates its allure is its mind-blowing ecosystem and astonishing biodiversity. Countless species of flora and fauna, numerous ethnic tribes, and breathtaking landscapes all call Borneo home. If you’ve never ventured out to Sabah or Sarawak in East Malaysia, here is a long list of upcoming Borneo events happening in 2024, serving as a compelling reason to plan your trip soon.

Top 11 Borneo Calendar Events in 2024 to Check Out

30-31 MAY: Harvest Festival (Pesta Kaamatan)

As the rhythmic resonance of gongs fills the air, traditional dancers gracefully take to the stage while cups brim with rice wine, setting the scene for the eagerly anticipated Pesta Kaamatan, or Harvest Festival, to commence in Sabah. These sacred ceremonies are deeply intertwined with the Momolian belief system, an ancient spiritual tradition of the indigenous Kadazan-Dusun tribe.

Starting with ancient rituals as the Kadazan priestesses lead dawn ceremonies, invoking blessings for a fruitful future, this two-day event is far from a mere celebration as centuries-old tradition undertakings like the Unduk Ngadau beauty pageant, captivating Magunatip dance (the bamboo dance) performances, spirited singing contests, and even a thrilling bodybuilding competition, all while enjoying exotic gourmet and rice wine, welcoming the new farming season with gusto. Additionally, competitions such as gong-hitting and traditional folk sports add to the carnival’s dynamic atmosphere, captivating both participants and spectators alike.

Entrance is free. 

Date: 30 May to 31 May 2024

Adresss: Kadazan-Dusun Cultural Association (KDCA), Hongkod Koisaan, KM8, Jalan Penampang, P.O.Box 907, 89509 Penampang, Sabah

30 MAY – 1 JUNE: Irau Aco Lun Bawang

The term “Irau” holds special significance to the Lundayeh tribe of Borneo, symbolising the essence of the rice harvest festival, known as “Gawai.” Whether in North Kalimantan, Sabah, or Sarawak, this commemoration serves as a unifying force among the Lundayeh people, who are referred to as Muruts in Sabah and Lun Bawang in Sarawak. Regardless of location, be it in Long Pasia, Malinau, or Lawas, the spirit of Irau transcends geographical boundaries, bringing together the Lundayeh community in a shared celebration of their cultural heritage and agricultural traditions.

Over the course of the three-day festivities, the highlights include art and cultural workshops showcasing traditional music, Lun Bawang motives, beading, and traditional attire making. There will also be friendly sports competitions like football, volleyball, and badminton, along with some traditional community sports such as tug-of-war and blowpipe. To add a little extra fun to the excitement, a fun run with a cultural theme will also kick off the festivities this year. Visitors can also expect to immerse themselves in the different colours, sounds, and delicacies of the Lun Bawang with activities such as various cultural performances, bamboo band and gong performances, traditional food festivals, exhibitions, and bazaars.

Entrance is free. 

Date: 30 May to 1 June 2024

Address: Lawas Stadium, 98850 Lawas, Sarawak

1-2 JUNE: Gawai Dayak Festival

The jubilations of Hari Gawai in Sarawak are also known as the harvest festival of Sarawakians as a thanksgiving day for a bountiful rice harvest that is passed down through generations to be well-practised as a custom and tradition by the local communities. While Pesta Kaamatan in Sabah is usually celebrated throughout May, Hari Gawai, on the other hand, is widely distinguished in Sarawak in June each year, and it even continues throughout June in some parts of the state. 

Their ritual usually starts at dusk, where a sacred ritual unfolds as offerings of food and drinks like Tuak (rice wine brewed from glutinous rice mixed with homemade yeast) are meticulously prepared to honour the deities. While the festivals of old were marked by gory headhunting traditions, modern times have seen a significant shift. Today, the only head to be ceremoniously removed is that of a chicken, symbolising gratitude to the rice spirits for the abundance of the harvest season. Feel the goosebumps while enjoying one of the important dances in the Iban community, the Ngajat dance, as the dancers occasionally shout battle cries amid the dance. Some notable places to visit during the Gawai Dayak festival are The Skrang River, The Lemanak River, Batang Ai and Annah Rais.

Entrance is free. 

Date: 1 June to 2 June 2024

7-9 JUNE: Dragon Boat Race 

The Sabah Dragon Boat Race, held in conjunction with the annual Chinese festival of DuanWu, is steeped in centuries-old cultural tradition with a rich historical legacy. Now in its 9th edition, this revered event has become a cornerstone of sporting excellence in Sabah, drawing local and international acclaim. More than just a competition for paddlers to vie for victory, the Dragon Boat Race has evolved into a thrilling spectacle that captivates thousands of visitors and spectators. The rhythmic pounding of drums sets the stage for an electrifying atmosphere as teams from across the globe converge to showcase their prowess on the water.

With participants hailing from China, Hong Kong, Japan, and beyond, the race offers a dazzling display of skill and athleticism. Spectators are treated not only to the impressive performances of local teams but also to the unique techniques and strategies employed by international competitors in their quest for coveted medals. With determination and teamwork, their synchronised paddling echoed to the rhythmic beat of drums every year to vie fiercely for victory. 

Entrance is free. 

Date: 7 June to 9 June 2024

Adresss: Likas Bay, 597, Lorong Likas, 88450 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

28-30 JUNE: Lawas ASEAN Floating Market Festival

borneo events 2024

Started as an initiative to generate income that develops the socioeconomics of the community, the Lawas ASEAN Floating Market Festival is an effort to increase tourist attractions in Sarawak. Having successfully launched last year, the festival served as a new attraction not only for Sarawak but also for the whole of Malaysia. 

Once again this year, they have made their way to amaze the locals and international visitors with well-versed local produce from Southeast Asia, where several participating entrepreneurs from Indonesia, Brunei, Sabah, and Labuan will be showcasing their local exquisites and handicrafts based on the concept of selling products on boats. Throughout the event’s three days, there will be various other pursuits, including performances by guests and local artists. 

Entrance is free. 

Date: 28 June to 30 June 2024

Address: Lawas Water Front, 98850 Lawas, Sarawak

28-30 JUNE: Rainforest World Music Festival

borneo events 2024

After a four-year hiatus, the multi-award-winning Rainforest World Music Festival has returned with a new focus on sustainable tourism and conservation, themed “Evolution.” The festival—introduced in 1998— has grown in popularity over the past 25 years, attracting music lovers and cultural enthusiasts from all over the world. And for this year, it has been headlined by Grammy winner Kitaro and Malaysian singer Dato’ Zainalabidin. The gala boasts a lineup of 20 acts, featuring 68 international and 63 local musicians.

Noteworthy are Belle Sisoski, advocating indigenous rights through music, and the Borneo Collective, showcasing Sarawak’s traditional instrument masters. Picture this: a wild burst of energy amidst the lush rainforest canopy, where the Borneo Rhythms of Rimba (ROR) Wildlife Festival roars to life as Malaysia’s and Borneo’s very first ode to wildlife. Organised by Future Alam Borneo (FAB), it will also feature environmentalists from various countries alongside local experts. The event aims to offer diverse programmes, including recycling workshops, tree-climbing experiences, and music segments. 

Date: 28 June to 30 June 2024

Address: Sarawak Cultural Village, Pantai Damai Santubong, Kampung Budaya Sarawak, 93752 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia

Price: RM30 to RM635

25-27 JULY: Pesta Nukenen Bario

borneo events 2024

Founded in 2005 and launched for the first time in 2006, Pesta Nukenen Bario is a community-owned festival spearheaded by the esteemed management team of the multi-award-winning E-Bario ICT Centre. Situated at an elevation of 3,200 feet above sea level, the Bario Highlands is one of the last bastions of traditionally farmed and forested highland watersheds in Sarawak and East Malaysia. 

This three-day event showcases the unique aspects of the Kelabit people by introducing traditional games, handicrafts, music, songs, dances, and stories of this community in their original and beautiful setting. When it comes to Pesta Nukenen, Kelabit cuisine becomes the heart of the event, where highland community ingredients become the main attraction for foodies in search of new and exciting flavours. Apart from the famous Bario rice and the fruits and vegetables grown by the various longhouse communities of the highlands, a one-of-a-kind variety of jungle flora and fauna is also harvested. This makes for a truly exceptional culinary experience, not just in terms of taste but also in terms of delectable organic fare prepared by the people of Kelabit there. 

Entrance is free. 

Date: 12 July to 14 July 2024

Address: Bario Highlands, Miri Division, Sarawak, Malaysia

26 JULY – 18 AUGUST: Kuching Festival

borneo events 2024

The idea for the Kuching Festival was first suggested in November 1985 with the intention of reviving a similar fair that had been originally organised a couple of years prior to the formation of Malaysia but was subsequently abandoned. The earlier festival, called “The Sarawak Festival”, aimed to promote the development of the arts. The Kuching Festival materialised the following year and has been held annually ever since.

Entering its 35th year, the event has grown from a medium-scale event to the month-long carnival it is today. Throughout the month of August, the car park of Dewan Masyarakat at MBKS springs to life with over 300 food stalls, morphing into a veritable food sanctuary for 24 consecutive days. Here, amidst the hustle and bustle, locals and visitors alike partake in a culinary odyssey unlike any other. From skewered delights to salted egg extravaganzas, and even oyster omelettes to durian dainties spanning a thousand variations, there’s something for everyone. The highlight has always been, and still is, the Kuching Festival Parade, with unique participation from the city’s mascot, the cat.

Entrance is free. 

Date: 26 July to 18 August 2024

Address: Kuching South City Council (MBKS), Jalan Padungan, 93675 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia

8-17 AUGUST: Borneo Cultural Festival

borneo events 2024

Widely known among all Sabahans and Sarawakians, the Borneo Cultural Festival (BCF) is gearing up for another extraordinary year. Originally known as Pesta Sibu, the Borneo Cultural Festival (BCF) underwent several name changes over the years, including the Millennium Celebration and Borneo Tribal Extravaganza. Since 2005, the revelry has been organised by the Sibu Municipal Council (SMC) and takes place annually in July at Sibu Town Square, spanning a period of 10 days.

As for 2023, there was International Night added on top of three traditional signature nights, namely Chinese Night, Malay or Melanau Night and Dayak Night. This year, they will also be introducing a lineup of surprises, including traditional music, dances, contests, beauty pageants, food stalls, fun fairs, and product exhibitions. With separate stages dedicated to Iban, Chinese, and Malay performances, the jamboree offers a diverse array of cultural showcases.

Entrance is free. 

Date: 8 August to 17 August 2024

Address: Tun Tuanku Bujang Square (Sibu Town Square), Jln Bujang Suntong, Pekan Sibu, 96000 Sibu, Sarawak

25-29 SEPTEMBER: Borneo International Kite Festival

borneo events 2024

Spending a day at the Borneo International Kite Festival may leave your neck aching, as it’s hard to tear your gaze away from the myriad of kites soaring above. This fete is held on the expansive grounds of the old Bintulu Airport annually, and this year marks its 17th appearance, drawing kite enthusiasts from Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia, each showcasing their own unique kite-making artistry.

While many kites still sport the classic diamond shape adorned with vibrant colours, some take on the forms of animals, birds, or intricate designs connected by ropes. Every year, the organisers aim to surpass previous achievements. One notable feat was the simultaneous launch of 2,500 diamond kites, creating a breathtaking arched kite tunnel in the sky. When you’ve had your fill of sky-high marvels, there’s plenty more to enjoy on the ground. The programme features cultural performances, local food stalls offering delicious cuisine, a cooking competition, a trade exhibition, and craft corners where visitors can try their hand at kite making. 

Entrance is free. 

Date: 25 September to 29 September 2024

Address: Lasar Kenyalang (Airport Lama Bintulu), 97000 Bintulu, Sarawak

26-27 OCTOBER: Borneo Bird Festival

The Borneo Bird Festival stands tall as one of Malaysia’s premier nature events, showcasing the breathtaking avian diversity of Borneo and its surrounding natural wonders. More than just observances of birds, it serves as a catalyst for fostering connections among participants from local and international communities annually. With its educational opportunities, the festival is marking its 14th appearance this year, providing an unparalleled platform for nature enthusiasts to come together and revel in the awe-inspiring beauty of Borneo’s wildlife.

As the sole bird-watching fair in Borneo, this two-day event is a collaborative effort between the Sandakan Borneo Bird Club and the Sabah Forestry Department, with support from the Sabah Tourism Board and Birdwatching Asia. Featuring bird races, wildlife photo contests, workshops, children’s art contests, artistic bird make-up contests, and handicraft bazaars, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Adding a touch of whimsy to the proceedings, the event also emphasises environmental stewardship through engaging in recycling activities and promoting conservation practices within the community.

Entrance is free. 

Date: 26 October to 27 October 2024

Address: Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC), Jalan Fabia, Sepilok, 90715 Sandakan, Sabah