Top Bird Watching Places in Malaysia

Top Bird Watching Places in Malaysia

These are currently the Top Bird Watching Places in Malaysia, based on speaking to various professionals and bird watchers in the last twelve months since the end of 2015. I have also attended birding workshops in Malaysia and attended numerous bird watching trips to come up with this list. 

The top bird watching places in Malaysia are also in no order and purely based on popularity, infrastructure and accessibility to these places, where many birders have visited.

What are the Top Bird Watching Spots in Malaysia? 
  1. Kinabatangan River, Sabah
  2. Taman Negara, Pahang
  3. Fraser's Hill, Pahang
  4. Langkawi Island, Kedah
  5. Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sabah
  6. Awana Genting, Pahang
  7. Paya Maga, Sarawak
  8. Bario Highlands, Sarawak
  9. Danum Valley, Sabah
  10. Maliau Basin, Sabah
  11. Rainforest Discovery Center, Sabah
  12. Crocker Range National Park, Sabah
Sarawak Bird Watching Borneo
Bird Watchers at the Borneo Highlands in Sarawak
Some of the places mentioned above require traveling via two flights, overland journeys and even river cruising or trekking. Malaysia, being in a tropical climate, offers over 600 species of birds, that cover many different kinds of terrains.

You can generally choose tropical rainforest, coastal, island, montane and wetland locations to spot the different species of birds in Malaysia.

Best Bird Watching Places in Malaysia

A flock of Straw-headed Bulbul's in Kinabatangan River, Sabah. Photo by Wokoti
1. Kinabatangan River, Sabah Borneo

Known to be one of the best places to see natural wildlife and birds is the Kinabatangan River in Sabah. Located about 4 hours from the city of Sandakan, the visitors who come here are are mostly nature lovers and photographers.

What is great about Kinabatangan is that you get to cruise around in boats to spot birds and wildlife here. Early morning trips to night boat trips are the highlights here.

Star Bird for Kinabatangan River: Straw-headed Bulbul, Storms Stork

To get here: Book your tour with North Borneo Safari, a company who specializes in bird watching tours or bird photography tours in Sabah

Birding Taman Negara
A Great Hornbill spotted in Taman Negara National Park, Pahang
2. Taman Negara, Pahang

The oldest national park in Malaysia is Taman Negara National Park, where it takes only about 5 hours travel one way. There are over 450 species of birds found around the national park and at the main park resort area, one can easily spot birds here.

A nature lovers paradise, there is the luxurious Mutiara Taman Negara Resort in the park and many other hotels and guesthouses outside the national park provide standard accommodations for bird watching in Taman Negara.

Other places around Taman Negara include taking a boat ride up the Tembiling River and also to Lata Berkoh which is highly popular for bird watchers. The Taman Negara Canopy Walk is also another place for birding, but by trekking there.

One of the new areas for bird watching is at Hornbill Valley or Lembah Enggan where a number of species of hornbills have been spotted apart from other lowland birds.

I visited this place in April 2017 just to check it out and saw a Gold Whiskered Barbet from the main road. A couple of Minivets were also spotted easily here.

Star Bird for Taman Negara: Garnet Pitta, Large Frogmouth

To get here: Ivy Holidays in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur provides bird watching tours to Taman Negara. You need to contact them at

Whistling Thrush Malaysia
The Malayan Whistling Thrush, photographed by Janetli SF
3. Fraser's Hill, Pahang

The closes place to Kuala Lumpur to go bird watching is Fraser's Hill in Pahang. It only takes two hours drive up here and you can do this on a day trip or even an overnight trip.

This place is also home to the Fraser's Hill International Bird Race for the past 30 years and every year, there is a healthy growth of bird watchers coming here to participate. Over 270 species of birds have been recorded here with quite a good number of endemics too.

There are many easy treks available here while birds are easily spotted. Note you will see many bird photographers over the weekend here, and who knows, you may even end up making new birding friends here.

Star Bird for Fraser's Hill: Malayan Whistling Thrush

To get here: You can self drive from Kuala Lumpur as it is only a 2 hour drive up here. For bird watching tours, you can contact Mr. Durai, who is one of the best bird watching guides for Fraser's Hill.

Langkawi Mountain Hawk Eagle
Langkawi's Mountain Hawk Eagle, photo by Allan Hopkins, c/o www.hiveminer.com
4. Langkawi Island, Kedah

Often known as an island getaway, Langkawi Island is well known as a birders paradise with a good number of hornbills to be spotted. Because it is an island, you get the best of rainforest lowland birds and also coastal birds.

Self birding or guided birding can be done here as the island is easy to drive around. There are many hotels ranging from luxury to budget available on this duty free island.

Star Bird for Langkawi Island: Mountain Hawk Eagle (Migration bird)

To get here: Most people will find their own way here via flights from Kuala Lumpur. Once on the island, you can contact Irshad Mobarak from Jungle Walla as they are the pioneer bird and nature guides on the island.

Tabin's Starbird, the Long-tailed Broadbill. Photo by Jason Azahari Reyes of Sabah
5. Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sabah Borneo

Located on the east coast of Sabah, Tabin Wildlife Reserve is another premier bird watching location which is guaranteed to let you see some endemic birds of Borneo. Over 220 species of birds have been recorded here and if you stay long enough, you could possibly see 70% of them.

The bird guides here are also one of the best guides I have worked with and they know their birds. My last trip here, I wanted to see some Pittas, and they called them naturally by whistling.

Tabin is a nature paradise as you get to see quite a lot of birds, plus there are not many tourist here but more nature lovers. Elephants are also sighted apart from clouded leopards and other wildlife. The resort is also very nice and one of the best rainforest resorts in Malaysia that I have stayed at.

Star Bird for Tabin Wildlife Reserve: Long-tailed Broadbill

To get here: Contact Tabin Wildlife Resort as they are the only resort here and provide bird watching and nature tours here.

Black-Thighed Falconet Awana Genting
The smallest raptor in the world, at Awana Genting. Video Grab by Loh Ming Lee
6. Awana Genting, Pahang

Halfway up to the resort city of Genting Highlands or Resorts World Genting as it is now called, you will stop at a place called Awana Genting. Here, you have the opportunity to spot montane birds in the cool highlands.

Recommended to go up early, before 7.00 am to catch the active birds up here. I once went up in the morning, and spotted the Black-Thighed Falconet on a tree.

Star Bird for Awana Genting: Black-Thighed Falconet

To get here: Self drive one hour to Awana Genting. There are no special tours available currently.

Paya Maga Black Oriole
The star bird of Paya Maga, Sarawak - Black Oriole. Photo by Tony Saw
7. Paya Maga, Lawas, Sarawak Borneo

A relatively new birding spot in the north of Sarawak is Paya Maga, and it is only here where you can find the endemic Black Oreol.

However, getting to the location will take you over 5 hours of travel and trekking. Along the way, many lowland birds can be spotted. This is still one of the lesser visited places for bird watching in Sarawak.

Star Bird: Black Oriole

To get here: You need to book a specialist to visit this place. There is probably only one or two people operating this bird tour for Paya Maga.

Sarawak Dulit Frogmouth
The rare Dulit Frogmouth in Sarawak, photographed by Yeoh Siew Teck of Birding Borneo
8. Bario and Bakelalan Highlands, Sarawak

The highlands of Sarawak Borneo offer some very interesting bird watching and there are two places called Bario and Bakelalan which are suitable for this. They are located north east of Sarawak and the closest city is Miri.

One needs to fly to these towns which are located 1000 meters above sea level and with the most simple traditional lifestyle. There are no hotels or modern infrastructure here, only homestays managed by the local ethnic people of the highlands.

I have been personally birding in Bario over the last three years, in total visiting four times and each time, with bird guide Scott Apoi.

The beauty about birding here is that the cool highlands provides a great walking and birding experience. The Dulit Frogmouth was last spotted about two to three hours out of Bakelalan town.

Star Bird for Bario Bakelalan: Dulit Frogmouth

To get here: Contact Scott Apoi of Nigmat Ayu Homestay in Bario as he used to do bird watching and still does once in a way. He knows the best places to see birds in Bario and Bakelalan.

Danum Hill Blue Flycatcher
Danum's Hill Blue Flycatcher, photographed by Apisit Wilaijit of Thailand
9. Danum Valley, Sabah Borneo

One of the premium bird watching locations in Malaysia is Danum Valley, which comes complete with a good selection of the Borneo Birds and a luxurious rainforest staying experience. The bird guides here are also one of the best in Malaysia with in-depth knowledge of the local birds found around here.

A great place to bird watch is also at the Danum Canopy Walk, which is one of the most unique in the world. Other places requires much trekking and the night birding is also recommended here.

Star Bird for Danum Valley: Hill Blue Flycatcher

To get here: You can book directly with Borneo Rainforest Lodge who manages the exclusive resort or contact North Borneo Safari Tours, who organises specialized bird watching tours to Danum Valley.

Bird Watching at Maliau Basin Sabah
A bird watching guide at Maliau Basin in Sabah
10. Maliau Basin, Sabah Borneo

One of the more challenging areas in Borneo and located about 4-5 hours from Kota Kinabalu is the Lost World of Sabah, or Maliau Basin. This fully protected conservation area is non-commercialized and requires a permit and tour company to bring you in. By saying that, you can only imagine what is waiting for you.

Star Bird for Maliau Basin: Blue Banded Pitta

To get here: North Borneo Safari Tours provides specialized bird watching trips here.

Bornean Bristlehead Sabah
One of the most sought after birds in Sabah, the Bornean Bristlehead. Photo: Lee Teck Seng
11. Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC), Sandakan Sabah

The RDC in Sandakan is one of the very popular places for bird watching in the east coast of Sabah. Here, you will find the mascot of birds in Sabah, which is the Bornean Bristlehead, a bright colored endemic of Sabah, and Borneo.

RDC also boasts of the best modern canopy walk system in the country, a massive steel canopy walk that stretches almost one kilometer long. There are also three towers for bird watching along the canopy walk which makes this place really interesting.

The RDC is also home to a bird festival, but from time to time, the festival moves around Sabah and this years Borneo Bird Festival 2017 takes place in Kota Kinabalu and Crocker Range National Park.

Star Bird for Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC): Bornean Bristlehead

To get here: North Borneo Safari organises day trips here or you can make your own way here from Sandakan city. I would recommend you use the birding specialist as they know where the best spots are to see the birds, versus walking around on your own.

Sabah Bornean Ibon
The Bornean Ibon, photo by Wong Tsu Shi, Borneo Birds
12. Crocker Range National Park, Sabah Borneo

Located just under two hours drive from Kota Kinabalu city is one of the up and coming places in Sabah for bird watching. The Crocker Range National Park has been visited by avid birders for many years too.

Recently after the promotion of the Borneo Bird Festival which will be held in the city and at the national park, more bird watchers are starting to visit this place due to it not being over crowded. Watch this place as it will eventually be a popular bird watching spot in Sabah.

Star Bird for Crocker Range National Park: Bornean Ibon

To get here: Travel from Kota Kinabalu City via van takes you about two hours drive. Bird watching operators usually offer packages that include guide and transport. You can also rent a car and self drive here using Waze or Google Maps. There is a minimal park entry charge. For beginners, it is recommended to engage one of the professional bird guides in Sabah. 

Sabah Maliau Basin
The magnificence Maliau Basin in Sabah, photographed by Cede Prudente
The list above is compiled by me, David Hogan Jr, who is an amateur bird watcher since 2008. I have been writing about bird watching since back then, and always ready to explore any new bird watching places in Malaysia. Most of the places listed above have also been visited by me, but I am not a serious bird photographer.

You can also read about my other birding adventures locally and also around the world, namely bird watching in Indonesia or even about the many Malaysia bird watching events that take place throughout the year.

For birders who plan to travel to this beautiful tropical country, I hope this list of Top Bird Watching Places in Malaysia will come in handy for your trip here. And always remember to get a professional bird guide for your trip, depending on which part of Malaysia you want to do bird watching. 

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