Orangutans at Sepilok

A Walk on the Wild Side – Finding Orangutans in Borneo

Courtney Mesken

Courtney Mesken

Courtney is spending 2016 getting wander-fully lost with her partner Kim.
Goal = 52 countries in 52 weeks.
Courtney Mesken

Latest posts by Courtney Mesken (see all)

Borneo was high on the list of places to discover, mainly because we were dying to find orangutans in the jungle.  What we didn’t anticipate was the multitude of activities Borneo has to offer besides the infamous apes, and the buzz we would get from exploring this fascinating land. 

Arriving in Kota Kinabalu (KK), the bustling capital of Malaysia’s Sabah state in northwestern Borneo, we were ready for a few action packed days before hitting the jungle trail.  Our first stop was Sapi island, a beautiful sea with thousands of fish and classic rustic jetties.  Catching a speed boat over to the island was an interesting experience, as we got sucked into our first tourist trap… 

Always buy a ticket from an authorised operator and not the “trusting” guy on the street who lures you in with a cheap price…  Broken snorkel equipment and an incredibly late turn up for the return boat trip, we sure learnt our lesson!  Mild drama aside, we had a blast swimming and snorkelling in the crystal clear waters and of course conquering the world’s longest island to island zipline! 

Ziplining at Sapi Island

About to conquer the world’s longest island to island zipline!

Our first touch with wildlife came from an afternoon cruise on the Kawa Kawa river, where you could spot many proboscis monkeys in the trees along the mangrove forest.  Jumping from tree to tree, these little creatures were hunting for leaves and fruit and were a pure delight to watch.  The evening sunset was of course stunning, and so relaxing to view from the water.  

The main purpose of this cruise though was to witness the amazing swarms of fireflies that come out after the sun set.  So back on the boat we hopped and into the pure darkness on our search for the pretty blinking lights.  And what a mesmerising sight they were, similar to watching the stars shine in the sky but so much closer.  We were overwhelmed at the number we saw!  Lying back on the boat with our eyes on the stars and the illuminating lights, it was simply magical. 

Sunset on the Kawa Kawa River

Sunset on the Kawa Kawa River

The epic climb up majestic Mount Kinabalu is one many travellers have on their bucket list – and it’s certainly now on ours to come back to!  Standing at 4000m, it’s one of the highest mountains in South East Asia and climbers need to book their trek 6 months in advance.  

Given our short amount of time in KK and our limited hiking experience, we opted instead to spend the day exploring the national park around the mountain which is Malaysia’s first world heritage site.  We were greeted with an abundance of beautifully colourful flora and fauna, and still got a decent workout hiking the trails throughout the park to the many viewpoints. 

No trip to Malaysia is complete without sampling the many delicious delicacies that this great Asian country has to offer.  The night market in KK is one of the most famous food courts in South East Asia.  Located right on the harbour, this local market has many fresh seafood stalls and a variety of other BBQ style meats along with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Upon entering the huge market area, we were greeted with smoky air, dirty plastic chairs and tables, vendors shouting, live fish gutting and bare hands on all the food which in all honesty is a little confronting for a new traveller.  But we dove straight in, grinning from ear to ear and keen to experience a true Asian dinner. The verdict, utterly mouthwatering!

Another must try in Malaysia is laksa, a popular spicy noodle soup which you can pick up for only a few dollars. Hearty, filling and delicious, this is truly a bargain. Wash it down with a classic iced tea or try a yummy shake from “The Royal Coconut”, a trendy little juice and smoothie bar we stumbled upon. 

Our Kota Kinabalu adventures complete, we took a short flight east to Sandakan, the second biggest city in Borneo after KK where we would begin our search for orangutans.  Our research showed the best place to see them was at the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre, an inspiring world famous facility which welcomed orphaned and injured orangutans for rehabilitation before returning them to forest life.  

The centre has a feeding platform where you can watch the great apes swing down and grab some bananas twice a day.  It’s actually a good thing if you don’t see any of them at these feeding sessions, as it means the orangutans aren’t relying on the food provision and instead are hunting on their own, a successful sign of rehabilitation.  We were lucky enough to witness the feeding take place though, and saw several orangutans stop by for a sneaky bite.  They had to be quick, as there were plenty of pesky monkeys around trying to steal the food from them! 

Another brilliant aspect of the centre is the outdoor nursery, where the abandoned toddlers are being taught the essentials to surviving in the wild.  We could have spent all day watching these adorable youngsters play around, it was just beautiful to see.  They are so smart at such a young age, and interestingly orangutans share 96% of the same DNA as humans! 

 The sanctuary also has several walking trails where we spent the afternoon wandering.  To our surprise, we came right across a huge orangutan on the path right in front of us!  Ambling along, he seemed to be in a world of his own and was quite content with us being in close proximity. 

We absolutely loved our outing to Sepilok and it still remains as one of our best travel highlights! 

Orangutans at Sepilok

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