After only two years we went back to Malaysia to see animals. Our online research of Borneo narrowed down to Sabah since it’s less touristic than Sarawak, and more specifically to the Kinabatangan River, reported as the best place to see wildlife. In a narrow strip around the river you can spot pigmy elephants, wild hogs, proboscis monkeys, and loads of other monkeys and birds. But along the way we stumbled upon an obstacle: how to visit the Kinabatangan River on our own?
Several online and local travel agencies from Kota Kinabalu offer 2 or 3 day excursions to the Kinabatangan River. They include transport, accommodation, food and local excursions. The accommodation provided is quite fancy but so is the price (2 day tours start at 250e per person). But even if you can afford this upscale adventure you’ll still be surrounded by masses. Happy Frog likes to emerge in the wild and prefers to be surrounded by animals only. At the beginning it wasn’t clear if there were indeed settlements by the river with facilities, but we were able to find a place called Sukau in the middle of the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.
Sukau is a small village with a couple of guesthouses, restaurants and small shops. The locals are quite friendly and the village life seems to be unaffected by tourism. Although all guesthouses offer their own excursions we decided to rent a boat with a driver just for us. It turned out to be fancier and cheaper. We did both day and night tours and were practically alone among this little paradise. Aside from a couple of boats packed with tourists that we stumbled upon we could only hear birds and monkeys singing.
Getting there wasn’t that difficult, Malaysians speak good English and there are more-less fixed bus schedules. In Sandakan* we took a bus to Lahad Datu and got off at the roundabout at the road to Sukau village. There was a small van waiting near the roundabout and in less than an hour we were there. On our way, we were able to observe disgusting typical palm tree plantations which actually occupy 80 percent of all land in Borneo. Because of palm oil, orangutans are running away and are now mostly living in sanctuaries safe from danger.
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
After a couple of days of a complete rest we decided to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre just outside Sandakan. The centre takes good care of orangutans in a pretty large area covered with dense rainforest. We were able to see the small ones up close; they seem to be recovering well! Next to it the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre does a similar job by safeguarding several cute sun bears.
Most of the orangutans and bears will never be strong enough to leave their centre and even if they could, where would they go? More land is being sold constantly for palm plantations leaving no space for animals. So, before buying a cookie or a chocolate check if it contains palm oil and if so, think about the poor animals running away from plantations.
Our accommodation proved to be just what we wanted. The Sukau Greenview Bed & Breakfast located at the edge of the lovely town, has a great chill out place next to the river were we met our friend Clo, an interesting French lady who regularly visits the area. We also stayed at Sepilok Jungle Resort next to the orangutan sanctuary. The garden is absolutely beautiful, you can hear the monkeys. If you plan to spend some time in the city of Sandakan the Four Points by Sheraton is a fancy tower with a pool and fantastic views.