Borneo – The (easiest) way to the Orang Utans



The most people who are heading toward Borneo are nature lovers and want to see wildlife there. One of the most famous animals there are the Orang Utans I also was interested in seeing. Ok I am not too much in hiking and trekking for days why I did not planned in advance. Before I arrived in Kota Kinabalu I just checked some websites and operators but most of them offered very pricey trips to Sepilok and Kinabatangan River in the east of Sabah. Thats what made me thinking about just going to Sepilok by myself which was not the big story to do. Just after arriving at my hostel in Kota Kinabalu one of the guys working at the hostel told me about a tour to the river which had quite a good price. After thinking I decided to book Kinabatanga River for one night for around 70EUR and one more night at Sepilok – the village where you can find the famous Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center.


Taking the bus for a day long trip or being lazy and catch a flight was another question. After figuring out that prices of the flights are quite cheap (55EUR return) i choose to safe time and fly over. Good decision because on the flight I got to see the beautiful nature of Borneo and the majestic Mount Kinabalu from the air. What an amazing view I could enjoy from the plane of Malaysia Airlines.



Morning at Kinabatangan river


After I got picked up and made my way with an interesting mixture of traveling people to the Sukau Rainforest Lodge. With its open air seating area, the view to the river and the very quiet surrounding it reminded my a bit to the place in the Okavango Delta were we stayed a couple of years ago. A couple of dorms and small bungalows were situated a bit away from the open air seating area. A nice afternoon snack was waiting while having a chat with my two fellow traveler from Spain working for a german company in Asia and the funny guy from US working an NGO in Taiwan. Ok soon we figured out we also will share dorm for the night but before that it was time for the afternoon river cruise.



A boat big enough for all the people and the comment stay away from the edge of the water because here are living big crocs were awaiting us. The river itself was very quite. We only saw just a few of boats in the 560km long river – the second longest in Malaysia. At both sides very tall trees were lined up and housing the Borneo’s indigenous proboscis monkeys, Bornean orangutan and Asian elephants as wells as a great variety of birds like the hornbill.



Long tail macaque


It took not very long until we were lucky enough spotted the long tail macaques and the proboscis monkeys with their weird looking nose. Hornbills and more bird species were flying over our heads while we were looking for Orang Utans and elephants. But without any success…. The dinner was quite a positive surprise and for those who wanted to go a night walk was offered. Those who joined just spotted only a big bug. Good chats and cold beers ended the night.

After a short sleep I did not expect sharing a room with wildlife. In this case not very nice wildlife. A scream woke me up and after wondering what is wrong I got told that we have a rat in the room. That was a bit too much for me and I never was up faster before in my life. Not sure how this could happens because the place is quite clean but this let me freak out a bit and made me not more relaxed when others told me that can happens often in Asia.



Kinabatangan river at sunset


Anyway after this we were ready for another river cruise and me for leaving after this. On the cruise we spotted more monkeys and birds. Time to head toward Sepilok. Unfortunately to late for the morning feeding of the Orang Utans in the Rehabilitation center but the rainforest discovery center was just a short stroll away. Good place to spend time for a nice long walk and getting any ideas about plants, trees and more wildlife. Some friendly Indonesian guy working in an NGO and showing two of his pupils around explained me more things.




In the afternoon I made a walk to the rehabilitation center hoping that some Orang Utans showing up for the feeding at 3pm. After dropping off everything except the camera and phone I made my way to the feeding station – happy that the rain just stopped before -. Just before the feeding started there was already one Orang Utan with her baby who seemed to be very hungry and have not stopped eating when I left 45min later. They looked so cute and I was quite happy that I at least saw them here in the Rehabilitation Center which in this case just help to prepare the young orphaned animals to life in wildlife and is a place where they can come when they want to have food. I hope they can save the life of more of the orange giants.


How to go to

If you want to go to Sepilok you can choose to take the bus from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan which takes around 6-7 hours and there you can catch a taxi or a minibus to Sepilok. The price is around 11EUR. For the lazy ones it is possible to take a flight to Sandakan. The price for the return ticket starts by 40EUR and for that you can get a great view to the Mt. Kinabalu if you choose a window seat on the left side of the plane. From the airport take a taxi which costs around 5EUR.
For going to the river the lodge where you stay will pick you up at the airport or at a hotel in Sandakan.

Where to stay

Sepilok has a handful of lodges which mostly offer rooms as well as dorms. Most of them are close by the Rehabilitation center and Rainforest Discovery that everything could be done walking.
At the Kinabatang river are several lodges which can be found on TripAdvisor. A booking for a stay is much cheaper directly at the lodge than on other tour operators.