Sabah Borneo: It’s a Jungle Out There!

Feeding time..and playing time for the young orangutan at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centr

One of the luxuries in travelling within Asia, particularly within Malaysia, is getting cheap tickets.  One carrier that offers these luxuries is Air Asia, which became my official carrier for all my Malaysian domestic flights as well as within Asia.  Air Asia tickets were not only affordable but also offered more available flights to choose from. You also have the freedom to select and pay for the baggage allowance that suits to your needs, which was ideal for me.  You have to make sure though not to exceed the required carry on luggage allowance to avoid the hassle of opening your bags at the departure check in area.  Air Asia is very strict when it comes to that.

I may have spoken too soon about the carrier. My flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, was the worst flight I have ever been on. Or maybe it was just my unlucky day and I need to refrain from blaming the airline.  I could tolerate the crying baby, but having a young child behind me throwing up and crying, and at the same time constantly kicking the floor and the back of my seat was simply unpleasant.  I do feel for the child and I wish there had been something I could have done to assist.  He must have been horrified and especially as the flight was rather bumpy.

My chosen gateway to Sabah, was the hub bustling city of Kota Kinabalu (also known as ‘the Land Below the Wind’).  I have also opted to stay at the family-owned Seaside Travellers Inn (STI) located in Kinarut as my beach retreat over any of the other number of world-class hotels available in the region.  My connection with STI was through an old-time Malaysian friend Keith.  STI is a humble type of accommodation but comfortable, clean, safe and affordable.  Depending from which airport terminal you are coming from, travel time to the Inn is about 15-20 minutes.  Airport pick up is either available at a cost or is included free of charge subject to certain terms and conditions.  I spent my first 3 nights, enjoying the beautiful sunset in Kinarut as I sat back, reflected and relaxed at the balcony at the Inn’s beachside restaurant.  On one of the nights, I spent a good 30 minutes witnessing the awe-inspiring transformation of the sunset to different colours (yellow, blue, grey, red, black).  The best part of it was the setting of the full-size sun in bright orange.

During my first night in Kota Kinabalu, I met up with Keith for dinner along with James Ong, STI Hotel Operations Manager/Owner, for a rarest treat of fresh seafood at Welcome Seafood Restaurant at Star City.  How suitable, it was my welcome dinner after all.  After dinner, we went for a quick drink at ‘Firefly’ bar in the thriving nightspot of Time Square.

I initially planned for a 10-day stay in this region.  And on my 3rd day of stay I started enjoying the pleasant Inn surrounds after experiencing a 2-day rain and thunderstorm.  Then I was able to finalise my tailor-made itinerary with James through Josway Tours, located at the premises of STI.

Thursday was a nice day and James tagged me along to visit the family-owned 30 hectares Hilltop Orchard Homestay featuring 6 rooms, which is located in the district of Tuaran.  The orchard is an hour drive from STI.  It was an amazing place overlooking the radiant Mt Kinabalu.  An over night stay in the orchard is generally extended to in-house guests of STI, which includes full board and an opportunity to do tree planting.  I promised James to do my tree planting chores when I return to the orchard.

Friday at 7 am was the beginning of my wildlife adventure tour at Kota Kinabalu’s frequently visited fascinating sights. The tour included a de-stress visit to the Poring Hot Springs.  Although the main attraction is the natural hot spring in the park, there are other must see sites that you have to try:  the hike on the sturdy yet fearsome looking Canopy Walkway and a short walk to Kipungit Waterfall for a quick swim.

I was dropped off at the end of the tour at Rose Cottage in Sonny’s Village, located near the town of Kundasang, for an overnight stay.  Sapa, the cottage staff, welcomed and brought me to my assigned cottage.  A home cooked dinner was served, right after I witnessed a beautiful ray of rainbow. I was joined in by the rest of the staff, Sahir and Uncle Sonny himself.

It was another early start on Saturday.  Breakfast was served at 7:30 am.  At 9.15 am I was back on the road via a bus for Sepilok.  The trip started pleasant and comfortable until the AC broke down.  It was a unique way to experience a sauna-like treat for the remaining 2 hours of the trip as I fanned myself all the way with a piece of ripped cardboard.  It was 1.15 pm by the time I arrived to my final destination, Sepilok Junction, in a soaking wet t-shirt (Oh no, I was not wearing a plain white tee!). I got off and stood in the middle of a busy round-about and struggled to spot a taxi.  Within 10 minutes, I was finally able to find a cab.  Horray!  For MYR3 I was transferred to my comfortable hotel, Sepilok B & B, which is located a km away from the known Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and a 2-minute walking distance from the Rainforest Discovery Centre.  Sepilok B&B offers a fan or Aircon room-type and also provides free wi-fi access.

I spent my first afternoon by taking a quick visit to the Rainforest Discovery Centre. I enjoyed the walk along the steel canopy walkway.  What I was mostly fascinated with was the Plant Discovery Garden. I admired the garden’s collection of locally grown orchids and plants.  I got crazy taking photos of every single colourful and blooming flower and plant.  If you are a bird lover, make sure you spend more time on the canopy walkway to get a glimpse of Sabah’s rarest birds, like the Borneon bristleheads.

On Sunday, I woke up early and started the day with a good and healthy breakfast.  By 9 am, I was all ready for a trip to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, which is a 15 to 20 minute walk from Sepilok B&B. A documentary movie commenced at 9 am.  It is important for visitors to arrive before 9 am to allow purchase of tickets and storing of personal belongings, including your sunglasses, for safety measures.  Do hang on to your camera, as this is the only chance to get a closer look of the elusive orangutans and capture photos as they are fed only twice a day (10 am and 3 pm), by the rangers.

Monday was another wildlife tour. This time at the Selingan Turtle Island, where I spent an overnight stay.  At 8.20 am I met Sakim (aka Mr Speedy Gonzales) who safely brought us just in time for an hour boat ride from Sabah Park Jetty to the island.  Upon arrival to the island, Loy, our dedicated tour guide, briefed us about the overnight program.  I joined in the group of; Paul & Helen from Wales and the honeymooners Maria & Brian from Malta.  After lunch, we had the rest of the afternoon to explore the island and the opportunity to snorkel, sunbathe, swim and relax on the sandy beach under the coconut tree. We also had the chance to witness the beautiful sunset right before the orientation meeting time at 6 pm.  Rooms in the island are all twin bedded. They are small but very comfortable.  At dawn, we spotted baby turtles eager to get out to the sea from their hatchery.   We were lucky to witness this just before the documentary video was shown which featured more information about the island and the turtles.

After a hearty dinner at the cafeteria, everyone was on standby and anxiously waiting for the go signal of the ranger. We had to come in small group to witness the fascinating life of mother turtles:  the egg-laying process.  The waiting ended finally at 9.15 pm, and we were the last group to witness the egg-laying process.  Our group was able to see 62 eggs being laid.  We were also able to observe how the collected eggs were transferred to the hatchery and finally the release of the hatchling turtles to the sea.  It was an exciting moment to see how excited the baby turtles were to be freed.  I was so tempted to snatch one and hide it in my pocket.  How I wish I could, as they were so cute to watch!

Tuesday was the day of my adventure to the jungle of the Kinabatangan River, Saba’s longest river. I was particularly excited to see the biggest and longest nosed Proboscis Monkeys of Borneo.

I was back in the mainland at 9.15 am, where I spent most of my time at Sepilok Jungle Resort, in the Sepilok rainforest.  After lunch, Rino, our driver, picked me up at the hotel along with Frederica and Marco from Holland.  Two hours later we arrived at Kinabatangan River and took a 2-minute boat ride to Bilit Adventure Lodge, our humble and cozy accommodation for the night.

At 4 pm, we met Faizal, our local guide, who took us for a 2-hour cruise along Sabah’s longest river for another wildlife adventure.  It was a great experience to personally witness Borneo’s wildlife along the riverbank of Kinabtangan, e.g. the proboscis monkeys, wild orangutans, the playful long-tailed macaques, mangrove snakes as well as the native bird species such as the hornbills, kingfishers and oriental darter.  The most fascinating thing to watch was the colony of the long-tailed macaques proudly exhibiting their typical behavior of how they bond, play and groom together. For a good hour of observation, you will see all sorts of interesting and funny stunts that these apes get into.  At one time one jumped from one tree to another and screamed like a baby as he got stuck on the edge of the tree.  Proboscis monkeys, however, are quite tame and territorial.  They can sit in one spot for some time whilst feeding themselves with the tree leaves.   At the end of the cruise, we were welcomed by the stunning Kinabatangan sunset.

We had a sumptuous dinner, which constituted of a great selection of seafood and meat dishes complemented with 3 types of vegetables.  Whilst a night walk was available, it was a great night to just sit and relax in the restaurant in the company of Frederica and Marco.  We had such a wonderful time, sharing traveling tips with each other.

Having stayed up late that night, I struggled to wake up the following day and be on time for the 6:00 am 1.5 hours boat cruise.  As soon as the cruise took off, I was widely awakened by the morning sun, illuminating brightly and touching my face. The breeze and sensation of the morning river mist added perfection to the day as well.  We were lucky to spot some silver leaf monkeys.  Kalo, the boatman, was also brilliant in spotting some of the amazing wildlife along the river, which included the crocodile, blue throated bee-eater, crested serpent-eagle, the beautiful rhinoceros hornbill and Borneon gibbon.

It was a jungle out there!

Stay tuned as I continue to explore more hidden hideaways of Malaysia.   My next destination is to a magical paradise and the luxurious Langkawi Four Seasons Resort.
© 2012 by Michelle Riel, retains sole copyright to her contributions to all the contents of this site.

  1. Source

    Hi! I’m at work surfing around your blog from my new apple iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts! Keep up the great work!

    December 4th, 2012 // Reply
  2. admin

    You may donate by purchasing a copy of the book, Excess Luggage online,

    Appreciate your kind support.

    June 1st, 2013 // Reply

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