We had been stuck in the bustling city for three months and we needed a break. We were scouring the internet for the cheapest flights to tropical destinations throughout Asia, and stumbled across Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Now, Malaysia had never really been a priority destination for either of us, but after some research, we realised it was the gate to Borneo. Orangutans, elephants and peaceful riverboat cruises? Done deal.
We flew to Kota Kinabalu straight from Hong Kong, and caught a connecting flight to Sandakan for our Bornean adventure. Sandakan is by no means a city with plenty to do, nevertheless, we decided to explore, so headed straight to the waterfront. We stumbled upon countless shops stocking bootlegged items and were overwhelmed with the smell of spices which filled the air. After a light dinner, it was time to return to the hotel and relax before our jungle adventure.
After breakfast, we were picked up by our tour company. A quick briefing later, we sped off towards the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. This was such a wonderful experience. First, we headed to the Outdoor Nursery. Juvenile orangutans are fed here, and visitors are able to watch their feeding from behind sound-proof glass. We saw one small female swinging in to grab some fruit. She spent a little time hanging around but was soon off on her way back into the jungle. Next, it was feeding time for the adult orangutans. We made our way to the feeding stations, and much to our delight, there were already quite a few orangutans waiting around for their breakfast. We elbowed our way through the crowds and made our way to the front. It was a truly magical experience.
After an hour or so, it was time to head next door, to the Sun Bear Conservation Centre. We spent an hour or so here, until we hopped back into the tour van and drove to our final destination: The Kinabatangan River. On arrival, we were filed onto a small boat so that we could cross the river to the lodge. After check in, we had some free time to relax. That evening, we went on our first river cruise. We were really lucky and saw an array of wildlife including proboscis monkeys, crocodiles and bird life. We saw countless other species of monkey whilst on our cruise, and got really close to some of them!
At this point, we were utterly exhausted but still had one activity after dinner: the night trek. So, leech socks, wellies and loads of deet at hand, we descended down the path into the jungle. Equipped only with a flashlight, this is one of the most hair-raising activities I have ever experienced. Mammals, spiders, snakes, poisonous plants… it seemed everything in Borneo wanted to kill us! On and on we walked, knee-deep in bogs and rivers. Despite being really nerve-racking and eerie, it turned out to be an interesting evening. Covered in mud, mosquitoes and one could only pray not leeches, we sauntered off to our log cabin to get a good night’s rest.
We were up with the birds, at 04:30AM. I had never been so eager to stay in bed in all my life. But, the jungle was not going to wait for us, so we had to hop to. Prepped and ready for our final cruise at the lodge, we eagerly boarded the boat. It was not long until we saw our first wildlife of the day. A huge crocodiles floating inconspicuously by, followed by troupes of monkeys and birdlife. After the cruise, we headed to the lodge for breakfast and check out. Despite being in the jungle for such a short period of time, we had seen so much and taken part in such wonderful activities. From the lodge, we headed to the famed Gomantong Cave, where many swiftlet nests are harvested to be made into soup.
As we walked along the guano-stained walkways, we spotted plenty of insects. If you are afraid of insects, this is not the place to be. Spiders, centipedes, cockroaches and plenty of bats assault your senses from every direction. Upon exiting the cave, the true magic happened. A female orangutan and her baby were swinging in the branches above our heads. It was a dream come true, a wild orangutan! We all stood, awestruck, for what seemed like an eternity, staring at our closest relatives in their natural habitat. What an incredible way to end a getaway to the jungle.