After a long and partially overbooked bus ride from Kinabalu park we arrived in Sandakan, the place to be, to visit Sepilok orang utang rehabilitation centre. We stayed for 2 nights in an awesome hostel right in the centre of Sandakan.
The rehab centre is not for monkeys on drugs to get back to reality but for orang utangs that have been orphaned due to the effects of deforestation… Let’s put it this way, you would expect Borneo to be a big green forest with plantations in between. It isn’t, it is actually a big palm oil plantation with some forest in between. We were stunned by the vastness of the plantations… And for what? For all the unhealthy sh*t we love so much, the cheap oil is used for potato chips, oatmeal, all sorts of cookies,… But also for toothpaste and other cosmetics. All of this happened since the 1950’s, since then 80% of all the forest has been cut down in Sabah. This has one huge advantage! All the animals are confined to ‘small’ areas so it is easy to spot them…! You get my point… Let’s get back to what we did see.
So, Sepilok, the orang utangs roam free but have set feeding times two times a day. They are free to come and go as they like. The feeding time is when they all come out of the forest so that is the moment we arrived. Although they are being fed, it is still a spectacular sight to see these human like apes swing towards the platform. There is also a nursery where you can see the younger ones play around and being trained to act like they would in the wild (by humans off course).
After the feeding time we visited The Sunbear Centre. Sunbears are also a victim of deforestation and human behavior in general. It is the smallest bear on earth and is often kept as a pet because it is cute and not too dangerous when they are young. But when they grow they are just as wild and dangerous as any other bear. So the centre takes them away from markets, private owners, etc. and gives them a new home.
After leaving Sandakan we made our way to the Kinabatangan river, a river which has a stretch of rainforest at each side of it. Sometimes this stretch is only a couple of meters wide, the plantations are never far away.
We arrived in a beautiful resort and after being welcomed by a group of long tailed macaques we were setting of for our first river cruise to spot some real wildlife. The top sights being orang utangs and the famous proboscis monkey, indigenous to Borneo. We immediately hit the jackpot, a big male orang utang was treating himself to some fruit in an overhanging tree next to the river. We expected to see one in a distance, but this was a real close encounter. After taking in this magical moment (one of the reasons we came to Borneo) we moved on and quickly after that saw the second top sight, the proboscis monkey. We considered ourselves lucky and proved to be right, other groups didn’t see any orang utangs at all… The proboscis monkey on the other hand is easy to spot, we saw lots of groups in the following days. We also saw hornbills, crocodiles, macaques, silver leaf monkeys and a big monitor lizard throughout the days.
Visiting Kinabatangan in a more luxurious way was nice, everything was well arranged (besides the fact that we had to wake up the guide once for the morning cruise :-0 ) and we saw what we wanted to see. Although we where still excited to go to our next stop, to see the oldest jungle on earth: Danum Valley.
Danum valley is reachable via Lahad datu (not a nice city at all, smelly and dirty), there are 2 good options to visit it. You can either book everything through a travel agency for A LOT of money or you book everything yourself through the Danum Valley field centre. We obviously took the cheaper option. Danum valley is a conservation area that holds the ‘oldest’ primary forest in the world. Hard to say how old or what the difference is with other rainforests around the globe but it was indeed stunning. Recently they discovered a tree of more then 94 metres high in the valley, the highest tropical tree on the planet.
You can choose between different activities on arrival: sunrise/sunset tours, several short and longer hikes, night walks and night safaris. We chose to do a sunrise tour, a guided hike and a night walk.
The sunrise tour was very nice, you wait on a high tower on top of a hill close by the research centre. On that spot you wait until the sun starts to rise over the cloud filled valley. A magnificent sight.
After the sunrise tour we made breakfast and packed our stuff to go for a hike to Rhino’s pool. I must say, the jungle is a place to endure, after a couple of minutes the humidity hits you and you start sweating like you where in a spinning class for 2 hours. It is a tough but o-so-nice experience… The guide was really good and we saw golden ants, red leaf monkeys and bornean gibbons (from far away, the calls they make carry for a long distance).
In the afternoon we took a short unguided walk on the well threaded paths but besides nice jungle we didn’t see anything special. A swim in the jungle river afterwards was super nice and refreshing!
Last thing waiting was the night walk which wasn’t too spectacular either. Didn’t see a lot but I did see a western tarsier jump very fast from tree to tree! A pity it didn’t stop near the trail so we could’ve taken a closer look.
The general look of the jungle is what we came for and it was worth it. The huge trees, the jungle river and the wildlife make up for a unique experience!
After a loooong day we arrived back in Kota Kinabalu and stayed at FALOE hostel again. A very happy reunion to end our Sabah trip!