Malaysia: country number three for hemiexplorers and a short hop to the island of Borneo; home to orangutans, monkeys and amazing sounding wildlife. A chance to visit rainforests, mountains and learn about the indigenous tribes…62 days in.
When coming up with a itinerary for our trip, well ok, when scribbling some names of countries with arrows between them on the back of an envelope that we then couldn’t find before we left, Malaysia wasn’t on the list. This wasn’t for any particular reason, just lack of research. Anyway fast forward five weeks to us stood at the check-in desk in Japan, preparing to board our flight to the Philippines and we’re asked for our outbound flight details. In a moment of unguarded honesty, rather than make something up and try to blag it, we admitted we didn’t have one. This, it transpired, was a problem for the Jet Star staff, who in typical Japanese style recommended we have an outbound flight booked before they would check us in. Mike thanked them for the recommendation and said we would take up any problems with the necessary authorities at Filipino immigration control, yet they refused to check us in and once more recommended we book an outbound flight. With a stalemate position set firm we retreated to grab a burger and quickly book a flight using the airport free wifi. Mike had been reading about Mount Kinabalu, fancied climbing it, so flights were booked to Kota Kinabalu, in Bornean Malaysia and we were allowed to check in.
Our first two nights were spent in Kota Kinabalu and immediately we felt a difference to the Philippines. It was quieter, no drivers honking their horns, the roads weren’t jammed full of cars and Jeepneys and it just felt cleaner. The hostel we were staying in even had proper air conditioning, hot showers and free use of the washing machine, what luxuries! The next day we exercised our little grey cells again with a trip to the Sabah state museum, a engaging insight into the history of Borneo and (stuffed) glimpse of the wildlife to come. After three weeks of rice and meat in sauce in the Philippines, our taste buds were tingling with excitement at the food on offer in the city, just the dilemma of what to try first!
The next day, we headed to the long distance bus station on a old, rickety mini bus, some things haven’t changed! We were bound for the small village of Sepilok, home to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, the Sun Bear Conservation Centre and a handful of resorts and places to stay, our hostel even came with a paddling pool! The following morning, we went straight to the orangutan centre. They have two feeding times in the forest as well as a observation deck in the nursery to watch the younger ones, it was such a special day, we saw around 15 orangutans. You can only take in your camera to the centre as some of the orangutans like to take tourists possessions out of their bags or pockets and you are instructed not to touch them, fair enough we thought, photos at a distance and the memories from the day will be plenty for us.
The afternoon feeding session was much livelier, one older and two younger orangutans, it was fascinating to watch them eat and play, you can see just how close to humans they are. Once they had their fill of papaya and bananas we went back to the nursery to watch the younger ones again, on the walk we spotted one approaching us, wow we thought, quick try and get a cheeky picture as it crosses the path. Before we knew it, he was rummaging through Mike’s pockets pulling out what he could find! The thoughts of aww how cute, turned to quick pass me the camera and key before he runs off with them into the forest! By this point he was using Mike as a climbing frame and refused to let go, Mike eventually managed to shake/throw him off, it probably only lasted a minute but felt much longer. I did manage to get a couple of pictures, but was retreating up the path, hoping the two other orangutans that were approaching wouldn’t go for me as well!
Our next destination was the Kinabatangan river and into the Bornean jungle. Described as one of the easiest ways to see wildlife in the state, the guide book wasn’t wrong. We had a lovely three days and traveled with a small group who also stayed at the same hostel in Sepilok, so we exchanged stories and gained some recommendations for other places to visit on our trip. Anyway back to the important part, what wildlife did we see? The highlight was clearly wild orangutans; three perched high up in the trees that if you had a decent zoom lens on your camera or binoculars you could see the faces and detail, otherwise you saw an arm and a brown/orange patch in the tree! Our tour package included full board, river cruises and night time jungle walks to maximize our wildlife spotting chances. We may not have seen pygmy elephants but we saw proboscis monkeys, macaques, a monitor lizard and much more, there was even macaques playing in the trees around our accommodation. Mike practiced his wildlife photography skills and hopefully got a couple of reasonable shots, although did suffer from camera envy of the Norwegian couple on the tour with us. They also have a blog and it has some great photos, I’m sure it’s a great read too if you speak Norwegian! https://jordarundt2016.wordpress.com
Arriving back in Sepilok, we took Bear Thyrlls to see the sun bears and spent a fun afternoon watching them eat and learning about the conservation centre’s work. If anyone reading has seen Paul O’Grady’s Animal Orphans this year, the sun bear and orangutan centres we visited we both featured on it – we know this as the sun bear centre shows the programme as their ‘about us’ video! That night, Mike had spotted that the B & B in the village had a camping area, perfect he thought we can use our tent. After pitching the tent and getting covered in mosquitoes, I wimped out and spent an extra £5 to stay in their dorms, Mike spent an uncomfortably hot night in the tent but was pleased that he can now say he’s camped in Borneo.
Phew, that was a bit of a long post, glad you kept with us until the end! More to come soon on our adventures in Borneo…