Sandakan, Sepilok and the Kinabatangan River…

After our short adventure exploring the jungle trails in Kinabalu National Park we boarded a 5 and a half hour bus over to Sandakan. Sandakan is a quiet city, which has been a popular destination for backpackers and holiday-ers for many years. It acts as a gateway for those looking to get up close and personal with Borneo’s most famous resident, the king of the swingers – the orang-utan, which can be found roaming the wilderness of the Kinabatangan Rainforest, usually high up in the trees that line the ‘life-giving’ Kinabatangan River.

So, our plan was to head to the Kinabatangan region, about 2 hours south from Sandakan and search out these mysterious ginger-haired tree swingers. In Sandakan there are more jungle tour operators than you can shake the proverbial stick at, each with there own structured, all-inclusive tour including accommodation, meals, river cruises and jungle treks for an overly inflated price. Not my bag thanks (the price, that is!), so Soph and I boarded a public bus and headed towards the town of Sukau, located right on the Kinabatangan River and on the fringes of the rainforest, where we set out finding our own accommodation, river cruises, etc. – as it turns out at almost half the price of the prices offered in Sandakan – result!

We arrived in Sukau by taking a taxi and two buses from Sandakan, and were finally deposited in the centre of the village, so off we went to find somewhere to house us for a night. Walking along the only road in the village (which makes things pretty simple – the rest are just tracks to the various luxury lodges), the first place we found, RB Backpacker Lodge, was offering a package including a chalet room, dinner, breakfast, an afternoon (sunset) river cruise, a night cruise (by torchlight), and a morning (sunrise) cruise all for 180 Ringgit (about £30) each. Well, the search hadn’t taken long and we snapped up the offer, as it was 200 Ringgit each cheaper than a similar tour from Sandakan. The gamble had paid off already.

The Kinabatangan River

The boat rides were excellent, all in different ways, on the afternoon river cruise we came across crocodiles, proboscis monkeys (the ones with hilariously big noses), a variety of birds, and that all important ginger, the orang-utan. The night cruise was epic, creeping along the eerie tributaries of the Kinibatangan River, with the sounds of the rainforest all around, the twinkling lights of fire-flies up against the darkness, the odd shining set of eyes from the murky river, and lots of sleeping Kingfishers – well not for long anyway, as our guide was pretty keen on getting as close as possible and shining his torch right at the birds, causing them to wake-up, very confused, and leave in search of a more secluded branch.

One of the bewildered Kingfishers from the night cruise

The third and final boat trip was the sunrise river cruise. Although it did not bring us any animals that we had not already seen – the monkeys were pretty active in the morning though – the scenery was absolutely stunning as the sun rose above the trees and began to shimmer across the brown jungle river water, in some cases creating an awesome mirror effect.

The morning cruise on the Kinabatangan River

After the eventful excitement of our successful mission to the Kinabatagan River, we joined up with a few others from another lodge and took a bus to Sepilok, home to what I believe to the be the largest orang-utan orphanage, rehabilitation, breeding and research centre in the world, for some more fun with the great apes. The centre did not disappoint, with close encounters (literally a couple of feet) with the free roaming orang-utans being a common thing. As well as meeting some of the centre’s orang-utans, we explored a few of the trails and the canopy walks in the Rainforest Discovery Centre, down the road from the centre – personally I think it was a bit shit, the odd lizard, and yeh fair enough there was a lot of different species of trees, and the canopy walk was OK – a bit too safe for my liking, I wanted wobbly rope bridges, but got sturdy steel walkways, rubbish! – but all in all not really worth the 15 Ringgit entrance fee, unless you are a complete botany freak.

Soph on the lake bridge at the Rainforest Discovery Centre

After a tiring day, with an early start, a good few hours on the road, another good few hours on my feet, and a lot of fun with some fascinating creatures, we hopped on another bus to head back to Sandakan to our hostel – Sandakan Backpackers, probably the best backpacker hostel we have stayed at on our trip in Malaysia so far! On our return they had even decided to upgrade our room, for free – legends!

The harbourside in Sandakan (the location of our hostel)

Next up a long 8 hour bus journey across Sabah, back to Kota Kinabalu to chill for a couple of days before flying to Singapore on Friday. Fun, fun, fun!

Here are some more photos from the past few days.

The Kinabatangan River cruises:

Proboscis Monkey
A snake asleep in a tree – our driver decided to driver right underneath it
A view of the river jungle
A rowdy bunch of hornbills
We found this croc lurking in the river with a big pig in his mouth
A couple of kingfishers
My, what big hands you have…
Spot the Orang-utan(s)!

Some of the Orang-utans from Sepilok:

This cosy couple at the feeding platform
Sneaking along the rope
Just hanging out
Coming to meet the visitors
This little fella in the nursery taking ‘baby steps’
Hello there…