Sepilok, Sabah (Malaysian Borneo)

A fair few of our destinations have a very specific theme. Cambodia was all about the temples and Thailand was all about beaches. For us Borneo was all about monkeying around.

We flew from KL and landed in Sandakan on the north eastern coast of Borneo. We then grabbed a taxi to our B&B in Sepilok, called “The Forest Edge Resort”. The name should really have given us some clue as what to expect but our relaxed complacent approach to things was our undoing. Our resort was a lot more remote that we had been expecting. So to arrive with very little mosquito repellent or cash was a mistake. Luckily the resort loaned us 100 ringgits so that we could get the bus back to Sandakan to use the only ATM for miles the next day.

Before getting the bus to Sandakan however we spent part of our first morning watching orangutans being fed at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Here orphaned and rescued orangutans are rehabilitated. For the baby orangutans this means they are taught all the skills they need to be released back into the wild.

This was an incredible experience. Orangutans share 96% of their DNA with humans and to watch them up close was a special experience. Their mannerisms are so human like and their eyes seem to suggest an incredible intellect. Only 3 turned up to be fed but even so we were moved by the experience.

The centre is open for 2 feeds per day so after the 10am feed we jumped on the local bus to Sandakan to find money. It eventually turned up over an hour late. No coloured stickers were necessary. But it was a slow enough experience that we decided to get a cab back to Sepilok so as not to miss the 3pm feed.

We made it back a couple of minutes late but when we reached the viewing area we immediately saw 4 orangutans and a huge number of macaques. This was far more eventful than the morning session and we ended up chatting to a retired journalist from Devon who volunteers at the Centre 3 months every year. She told us about the great work that the staff do. Young orangutans are often adopted by staff when they are young as they need to be fed every 2 hours. As they get older they go through different stages of training so that they learn how to climb, find food and generally survive in the wild.

To get as close as this to orangutans was a truly magical experience that neither of us will ever forget.

The lady from Devon told us about the night walks that the Centre offers so we returned to the Centre at 6pm to meet our guide. He was a man blessed with a truly astounding ability to spot wildlife.

The main attraction at dusk is flying squirrels. I had seen these intriguing creatures on TV but I had never grasped just how well they “fly”. We only saw one actually launch itself but the distance it glided (I would guess it was around 60 metres…we had a lengthy debate about the distance of the flight. It was possibly further) and the fact that it seemed to lose virtually no height was astounding.

We also saw 4 vipers. Supposedly more poisonous than a cobra. An owl, which we disturbed. A tree crab, a stick insect (how our guide spotted this in the dark is beyond me) and a giant cricket. Unfortunately we have no photographs as we left the night vision camera in the UK.

On day 2 we did a day tour to the Kinabatangan River, Malaysia’s second longest river. Sadly the area has fallen victim over the years to logging and the development of oil palm plantations, which has taken it’s toll on the wildlife, but fortunately there are areas of forest which are now protected. We took a boat ride to a remote jungle camp located along one of river’s tributaries spotting crocodiles sunning themselves on the bank, an otter (which is rare to see apparently) and various birds along the way. When we arrived at the camp we joined some other tourists, who were staying at the camp, on a short jungle trek where we got harassed by beetles who were attracted to our sweet mosquito repellent.

Then it was back to camp for lunch and then unexpectedly to us everyone went to sleep for the afternoon! This was great for people staying at the camp who had had very early starts but not so great for us on a day trip. But we rested in our hammocks, took in our surroundings and tried not to make too much noise. The experience did get us thinking about tours. Perhaps we could have made our own way to the river and paid a local person to show us around. At 5pm it was time to leave camp and we took another river trip, this time spotting lot’s of cheeky long tailed macaques.

(The ginger monstrosity is back!)

(Spot the Croc)

The next day we visited a place called Labuk Bay to see proboscis monkeys, which are an endangered species unique to Borneo’s mangrove forests and very recognisable due to their big noses. The Labuk Bay monkeys live on land on which the development of an oil palm plantation was planned back in the 90’s, but when the owner learned of the proboscis monkeys living there and their plight he had a change of heart.

Nowadays the monkeys can visit the feeding stations to supplement their diet and hang out with tourists for a bit. They are such interesting animals and we spent a long time just watching them. They live in family groups of one male and lots of females. All of the males who haven’t yet acquired themselves a family live in what is known as bachelor groups. Essentially a load of blokes sitting around doing not a lot all day.

At one point the food was laid down for a bachelor group right in front of us and we ended up sitting almost within them as they ate.

Again we met some nice fellow travellers on the bus. This time two young Brit girls (who we gave advise on Vietnam to) and a Chinese girl who was on a 2 week holiday.

Our time at Sepilok and the surrounding areas was magical. To get up close to these animals is a rare opportunity and we loved every minute.

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