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Where to see Orangutan, Proboscis Monkey, Sunbear, Pygmy Elephant and Hornbill of Borneo

Orangutan Vs Proboscis Monkey

Does Sabah have anything extraordinary on world map? Foreigners would not know your favourite celebrity in Malaysia. But when you mention the word “Borneo”, they would reply, “Oh I know, that’s where orangutan lives!” Orangutan is a superstar in animal kingdom and is featured as much as Kangaroo and Panda in nature channels.

Superstars of Borneo: Orangutan, Proboscis Monkey, Pygmy Elephant, Sunbear and Hornbill

Superstars of Borneo: Orangutan, Proboscis Monkey, Pygmy Elephant, Sunbear and Hornbill

However, orangutan, a.k.a. Man of the Forest, isn’t the only wonder in our 140-million-year-old Borneo rainforest (Amazon is only 60 million). Come and meet the “Borneo version” of Playboy, Teddy Bear, Mini Jumbo and Love Bird, which are Proboscis Monkey, Sunbear, Pygmy Elephant and Hornbill respectively, the other four iconic wildlife rule the third largest island on earth. Allow me briefly introduce these charismatic and must-see animals of Borneo:-

1. Orangutan — Man of the Forest

say Hi to your cousin (just kidding), orangutan, is one of our closest relative, as their DNA is 97% resemble to human. If you look at their eyes and expression, you know they are thinking animal. Orangutan probably inspired the making of first King Kong movie, and you may have seen orangutan in movies such as Maurice in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and King Louie in Jungle Book.

Orangutan of Borneo

Orangutan is only found in Borneo and Sumatra

Orangutan is smarter than Chimpanzee. They know how to use tools, memorizing the fruiting season of different fruit and pass on this knowledge to their offspring. Orangutan is the only great ape of Asia. So please stop calling orangutan a monkey, that’s an insult to them lol.

2. Proboscis Monkey — Playboy of Borneo

This peculiar long-nosed monkey has an amusing nickname, i.e. Orang Belanda (means Dutch Man in Malay language) because of its big nose and beer belly (don’t be offended ok, if you are from Netherlands). Though you would think the long, pendulous nose of adult males is funny, the female monkey think it’s sexy. And strong male proboscis monkey has dozen of wives.

Male Proboscis Monkey

“Huh? Banana? No Thanks.”

Never feed Proboscis Monkey with banana. Their digestion system is meant for breaking down mangrove leaves. Anything sweet will ferment and create lot of gas in their stomach, and that could cause death.

3. Pygmy Elephant — Mini Elephant

Pygmy Elephant is the smallest elephant on earth and only a thousand of them left in Sabah, so they are critically endangered and far rarer than African elephant (with a population of 350,000+ and always reported as “in worrying status” by world media).

Pygmy elephant

Pygmy elephant is the most endangered elephant species

Pygmy Elephant looks like Asian Elephant, but both species separated from each other around three million years ago, and Pygmy Elephant evolves into a smaller subspecies that has longer tail and round baby face. Pygmy Elephants love durian and they swallow it as a whole.

4. Bornean Sun Bear — Teddy Bear of Borneo

About the size of a dog, Bornean Sun Bear is the world’s tiniest bear. The baby bear is so adorable and cuddly that some people keep it as pet illegally. For such a beautiful creature, you might imagine that they live a fairytale life in a candy house filled with cookies.

Bornean Sunbear

LOL Bear

Instead, they live in danger every day. Poachers shoot them without hesitation, for their highly priced gallbladder. And their cute baby bears would be kept as pet, but will be abandoned eventually after they grow too big to be handled. Never live in the wild since young, these bears won’t survive.

5. Hornbills — Love Birds of Borneo

Hornbills are monogamous and a symbol of fidelity. I always see them flying in pair. There are 8 species of hornbills in Borneo, each with interesting characteristics. For example, Helmeted Hornbill is called Burung Tebang Mentua (Chop Mother-in-law in Malay language) by locals because of its long eerie call that sounds like evil laughter.

Hornbills of Borneo

Hornbills of Borneo

During hatching period, female hornbill seals herself inside a tree hole, leaving a slit for feeding by her “husband”. The male can come back and forth as many as 70 times a day to feed. This goes on for months until the chick hatched. If this is not love, what it is then.

Best Place to See Them All?

You can see these “big 5” wildlife in only 2 days in Sandakan, the gateway to wildlife sanctuary of Borneo. Sepilok and Kinabatangan will be your best destinations for wildlife sighting in Borneo. For tour and accommodation, I stayed in the lodges of Nasalis Larvatus Tours which are rated as 4+ stars by TripAdvisor.

1. Sepilok

Sepilok is a a virgin forest reserve about 26 KM away from Sandakan City and highly accessible by public transport. Tourists love this place because they can see Orangutan, Sunbear and probably Hornbill in one trip. The following are three parks that are adjacent to one another in Sepilok.

1) Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC)

Founded in 1964, SORC is the most popular tourist attraction in Sandakan. Orphan orangutan is sent here for survival skill training such as climbing and food hunting. They will be released to the wild after they “graduate” from this orangutan school. The best time to see them is during the feeding time at 10am and 3pm daily. The Centre also has a hall where you can see cute baby orangutan playing in nursery.

Feeding time at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Feeding time at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

2) Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC)

Located just next to SORC, BSBCC houses and rehabiliates over 40 bears rescued from illegal zoo and pet owners. BSBCC won the Best Nature Attraction in Sabah Tourism Awards 2017 and its founder Dr. Wong is named as one of the CNN Heroes in 2017.

A sleeping sunbear high on tree

A sleeping sunbear high on a tree

The bears roam in a confined forested area for tourists to observe them from a rised platform. You will be amazed by their tree climbing skill and playful behavior. Some staffs are around to share the story of each bear. Their sad stories could make you cry, but sun bear gets far less attention than Polar Bear and Panda.

3) Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC)

RDC is a beautiful forest park with tall tropical trees, lake, nature trails and exhibition hall. You can walk on their 15-Metre high sturdy walkway to see everything at canopy level.

Canopy walkway of Rainforest Discovery Centre

Canopy walkway of Rainforest Discovery Centre

This place is also an ideal bird-watching location where you would find hornbill, kingfishers, pitta, and Bornean Bristlehead, the superstar endemic bird of Borneo. If you are a tree hugger, check out the Sepilok Giant, an estimated 800-1,000 years old Ironwood tree in the park.

Nature Lodge Sepilok

For accommodation, I spent a night in Nature Lodge Sepilok (GPS: 5.875559, 117.950068, see Location Map) in Sepilok and able to make a day trip to all 3 parks near the lodge.

Location of Nature Lodge Sepilok and its surrounding attractions

Nature Lodge Sepilok is near to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Rainforest Discovery Centre, and Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

Below are some photos of Nature Lodge Sepilok.

Nature Lodge Sepilok is a family friendly accommodation

Nature Lodge Sepilok is a family friendly accommodation

The lodge is constructed in smaller scale to give more privacy and tranquility to tourists. They don’t want a big lodge with hundred of noisy tourists.

Rooms of Nature Lodge Sepilok

Rooms of Nature Lodge Sepilok

The room is nice and clean with air-conditioning. It is as comfy as a 3-star hotel room. The pictures above shall give you an idea.

The open bathroom of Nature Lodge Sepilok

The open bathroom of Nature Lodge Sepilok

And the toilet and bathroom is a little surprise. It’s a backyard garden with bath and toilet area partly concealed by plant. There is no tall building around, so don’t worry about your privacy. In fact, taking bath and doing my business in semi-open area is oddly satisfying. One of my friends found bird nest in her bathroom.

Cute cats at Nature Lodge Sepilok

Cute & friendly cats at Nature Lodge Sepilok

Every time I walked around the lodge, I always ended up with cat fur all over me. The cats there are so cute and friendly.

Mango Garden Cafe of Nature Lodge Sepilok

Mango Garden Cafe of Nature Lodge Sepilok

Breakfast at Mango Garden Cafe of Nature Lodge Sepilok

Breakfast at Mango Garden Cafe of Nature Lodge Sepilok

The food in Mango Garden Cafe of Nature Lodge Sepilok is delicious and rich in variety. They even look yummy in photos. Every meal time is a happy time for me.

Delicious food in Mango Garden Cafe of Nature Lodge Sepilok

Delicious food in Mango Garden Cafe of Nature Lodge Sepilok

By the way, you can buy almost every necessity in their shop, e.g. raincoat, soft drink, instant noodle, snack, toiletries, sunblock lotion, insect repellent, drinking water.

Little shop in Nature Lodge Sepilok

Little shop in Nature Lodge Sepilok

Nature Lodge Sepilok is really a great place for a relax and leisure vacation. For booking, you can reach them at: http://www.insabah.com/nature-lodge-sepilok or Phone: +60 16-8302038

2. Kinabatangan River

Let’s keep it short, Kinabatangan River is simply the best place to see orangutan, proboscis monkey, pygmy elephant and hornbills in the wild. You need a bit of luck to see pygmy elephant and orangutan though, as they are always on the move (please note this is not a zoo).

Kinabatangan River

Kinabatangan River is the longest river of Sabah

No matter what, I can assure that you won’t be disappointed with your trip in Kinabatangan, because there are so many other amazing wildlife to look at.

Nature Lodge Kinabatangan

Seeing wildlife in their natural habitat is a more exciting experience, so I visited Kinabatangan and stayed in Nature Lodge Kinabatangan (GPS: 5.494785, 118.204908, see Location Map) at Bilit Village, which is in upstream of Kinabatangan.

Tasty Soto (Beef soup) in Kinabatangan Town

We stopped at Kedai Kopi Santa of Kinabatangan Town for lunch. Their Soto (Beef soup) is one of the best in Sandakan.

Nature Lodge Kinabatangan of Kinabatangan River

Arrived Nature Lodge Kinabatangan

It took about 2 hours of road trip from Sandakan City to Bilit. The Lodge is located about 30 Metres away from the Kinabatangan River.

Nature Lodge Kinabatangan

Nature Lodge Kinabatangan is a highly ranked accommodation in Tripadvisor

Sunset river cruise

Sunset river cruise

After we checked into our room, we started our sunset river cruise and saw a baby crocodile on the river bank right away.

Birds of Kinabatangan

Kinabatangan River is one of the best bird-watching sites in Borneo

There were many birds along the river. I saw Purple Heron (many!), Little Heron flying next to our boat, Black & Red Broadbill, Lesser Adjutant (known as Burung Botak locally, means Bald Bird), Rhinocerous Hornbill, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Brahminy kite, and Oriental Darter (Snake Bird).

Long-tailed macaques in alert

Long-tailed macaques in alert

Then we saw a group of Long-tailed macaques in commotion. They stood up looking at a pile of log, probably there was a monitor lizard or crocodile hiding in there. The highlight is a few herds of proboscis monkey on the trees.

Sunset river cruise at Kinabatangan River

Sunset river cruise at Kinabatangan River

Pygmy elephants at Kinabatangan

Pygmy elephants at Kinabatangan

After the interesting river cruise, we had our buffet dinner in the lodge. We enjoyed some fresh vegetables planted in their garden.

Buffet dinner at dining hall of Nature Lodge Kinabatangan

Buffet dinner at dining hall of Nature Lodge Kinabatangan

The activity didn’t stop there. We went for a night walk in the forest around 8pm. If this adventure is too much for you, you may stay back at the lodge to join some fun activities such as local dance.

some critters in night walk

Critters we saw in night walk

With the help of our guide, we spotted a few nocturnal animals in the dark. A jewel-color kingfisher slept like a fluffy ball on a twig, so cute. A researcher put up a white sheet to attract insects with light. We went busybody there and checked out the bug. Near the end we saw a number of big flying foxes foraging on a cotton tree. It’s quite a thrilling experience.

Nature Lodge Kinabatangan is in the forest of Kinabatangan

Nature Lodge Kinabatangan is in the forest of Kinabatangan

After day long of playing, I went back to my lodge to rest. The lodge is inside the rainforest. It’s a special feeling to sleep in a forest, so peaceful and quiet, almost like a therapy.

Nature Lodge Kinabatangan at night

Nature Lodge Kinabatangan at night

They also have dormitory if you prefer backpacker style accommodation.

Reading room in Nature Lodge Kinabatangan

Reading room in Nature Lodge Kinabatangan

Room of Nature Lodge Kinabatangan

Room of Nature Lodge Kinabatangan

My room is quite spacious and comfortable. I love big space as it makes me more relaxing, so I’m really happy with my room, and it has air-conditioner.

Misty morning of Kinabatangan River

Misty morning of Kinabatangan River

The next day we waked up around 6am for a morning river cruise. Though it’s really early and I was sleepy, the sighting was very rewarding. The morning was cool and refreshing with a bit of mist on the river.

Orangutan on top of a Durian tree

We spotted an Orangutan on top of a Durian tree

We were so lucky to see an orangutan waked up from his nest high up on a durian tree. Another trophy is Storm’s stork, which has only around 200 left in the world, and Kinabatangan is their stronghold.

River cruise is the best way for wildlife sighting at Kinabatangan

River cruise is the best way for wildlife sighting at Kinabatangan

Wild Proboscis Monkey is quite common here. You can easily see about 20 of them here.

Group of wild Proboscis Monkey in Kinabatangan

Group of wild Proboscis Monkey in Kinabatangan

If you love to experience this safari trip, you may contact Nature Lodge Kinabatangan via the following channels:
Website: naturelodgekinabatangan.com
Facebook: NatureLodgeKinabatangan
Phone: +60 88-230 534
E-mail: sales@nasalislarvatustours.com

Both Nature Lodge Sepilok and Nature Lodge Kinabatangan are operated by Nasalis Larvatus Tours, a licensed travel agent of Malaysia.

Flight to Sandakan

You can fly to Sandakan City by Malaysia Airlines or AirAsia from Kota Kinabalu City (KK)(50 min flight) or Kuala Lumpur (KL)(2 hours 50 min). Flight is available every day. If you book at the good time, you can get really cheap round-trip ticket like about MYR200 for KK-Sandakan and MYR400 for KL-Sandakan flight. You can use Google Flights to check the fare prices from all airlines. Nasalis Larvatus Tours also can pick you up at Sandakan airport.

Famous Spring Noodle and Century Egg Dumpling of Sandakan

Famous Spring Noodle and Century Egg Dumpling of Sandakan

By the way, Sandakan is the second largest city of Sabah and also a foodie paradise, do try some yummy local food such as spring noodle when you visit Sandakan!

Photos taken in Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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Sunset, Fireflies, Sambah River Cruise

Beautiful sunset at Tenghilan

River cruise in mangrove forest is one of the most popular tours in Sabah. Normally tourists pay about MYR200 to see long-nosed monkey, sunset and fireflies in wetlands of Klias, Weston or Kota Belud.

Sambah River Cruise

FYI you can see these in Tenghilan (in Tuaran district) for about half of the price (MYR80), but without wildlife such as proboscis monkey. Anyway, its advantages are: (1) the destination is less than an hour drive from Kota Kinabalu City (KK), (2) You will have a chance to sample a delicious snack called Udang Salai (Smoked Shrimps).

smoking fresh shrimps

Udang Salai (Smoked Shrimps) is a special product of Sambah Village

This tour is named Sambah River Cruise because it is based in Kampung Sambah (Kampung means Village in Malay language). Before the river cruise, my group was invited to the house of David (our host) in Kampung Bunga, where welcoming drink and light refreshment were served, and an introduction about the trip was given.

Briefing at Kampung Bunga, Tenghilan

Briefing at Kampung Bunga, Tenghilan

Then we moved to the jetty in Kampung Nouga (GPS: 6.233895, 116.307495) around 5pm to start our first river cruise in mangrove forest.

Jetty in Kampung Nouga, Tenghilan

Jetty in Kampung Nouga, Tenghilan

Mangrove Forest

As part of the Sulaman Lake, this wetland has been a fishing zone. If you are an avid angler, you can request them to include fishing as part of the activities.

river cruise in mangrove

Mangrove is the breeding place for seafood.

Technically this swamp is a lagoon as it is directly connected to the sea via a channel. During high tide, fishes such as grouper follow the sea current to enter this mangrove to forage and breed, so it’s not uncommon that you can catch very big fish here.

River cruise at Kg Sambah

The river cruises are between 5pm to 8:00pm

Tuaran has one of the best mangrove forest near KK. The area we visited was mostly intact and large. The brackish water may look dirty, but crabs and prawns grow faster and fatter in such environment. The mudflat of mangrove is also the best place to harvest clams.

Navigate in maze of mangrove forest

Navigate in maze of mangrove forest

Located between sea and river, mangrove swamp is one of the most peculiar forest in the world. The trees can grow in the water and tolerant to saline water, and they breathe with roots. Living among the trees are some weird animals such as the walking and jumping fish, mud-skipper and colorful fiddler crabs with huge pincer.

Approaching Kampung Sambah, a fishing village

Approaching Kampung Sambah, a fishing village

Our boat navigated in a maze of mangrove forest network. The panoramic view of lush mangrove forest is impressive. Some trees grow over 10 Meters. I think Sabah Wildlife Department can bring in some proboscis monkey families. I’m sure they can live happily here.

Group photo at jetty of Kampung Sambah village

Group photo at jetty of Kampung Sambah village

59% of the mangrove forest of Malaysia is located in Sabah. Do you know Sabah has both the smallest (KK Wetland) and largest (Kinabatangan) Ramsar sites of Malaysia? Ramsar Site is a wetland site designated of international importance in terms of conservation, ecology and biodiversity.

Kampung Sambah next to Sulaman Lake of Tuaran

Kampung Sambah is a small fishing village next to Sulaman Lake of Tuaran

Udang Salai (Smoked Shrimps)

Around 5:30pm, we arrived Kampung Sambah, a water village next to the lake.

Taking a stroll in Kampung Sambah Village

The tour includes a stroll in Kampung Sambah Village

stilt houses in Kampung Sambah village

The houses in Kampung Sambah are on stilt to avoid flood and high tide

We took a walk in the village, which has a population of 200 of mainly Bajau people. Most of them live in wooden houses on stilt on the mudflat of mangrove, a typical view of fishermen village in Sabah.

Smoke House for making Smoked Shrimps (Udang Salai)

Smoke House for making Smoked Shrimps (Udang Salai)

Only two villages, Kampung Sambah and Kampung Penimbawan, produce Smoked Shrimps (Udang Salai)

Only two villages, Kampung Sambah and Kampung Penimbawan, produce Smoked Shrimps (Udang Salai)

However, this ordinary village has an extraordinary snack called Udang Salai (Smoked Shrimps). Believe me. The taste of Udang Salai is unforgettable. Once you try it, you would crave for it occasionally.

The burning wood for Smoked Shrimps

The burning wood gives Smoked Shrimps (Udang Salai) very nice aroma

Shrimps are abundant in this area. Only fresh shrimps (no frozen shrimp) are used in making Udang Salai.

Udang Salai (Smoked Shrimps) is one of the tastiest Sabah snack

Udang Salai (Smoked Shrimps) is one of the tastiest Sabah snack I’ve ever tried

They have a simple small hut with wood burning stove to smoke the shrimps. The small shrimps are placed on mesh wire above the burning wood and being smoked until they are totally dry and cooked. The taste is yummy and crunchy with nice barbecue flavor. Even the shell is edible. You can’t stop once you start eating it.

Udang Salai (Smoked Shrimps) in a plate

A small pack of Udang Salai can cost about MYR30

Sambah Village is one of the largest producers of Udang Salai, apart from its neighbors Kampung Penimbawan in Tuaran. Smoked shrimps are sold at tamu (morning open market) of Tenghilan on Thursday and Tuaran on Sunday. It’s always sold out before 8am.

Making Smoked Shrimps (Udang Salai)

You can buy Smoked Shrimps (Udang Salai) in weekly open market (tamu) of Tenghilan (Thu) and Tuaran (Sun)

Sunset & Firefly

Though I wanted to stay back to eat more Udang Salai, we had to start our second river cruise at 6:10pm.

Departing for sunset and firefly cruise

Departing for sunset and firefly cruise

Waiting for the magic hour of sunset

Waiting for the magic hour of sunset

Soon our boat approached the estuary, where we could see the sun started sinking into the ocean. The blazing sun ray gradually turned into warm and golden beam, marking the start of twilight.

Love shape cloud

See the love shape cloud?

nice sunset at estuary

WOW!!!

The sunset view was hypnotizing. Even though it rained earlier, the extra moisture in the air is the recipe for making of a beautiful sunset. The colors of the sky and cloud went wild and intense, and we were lucky to see the famous flaming sunset of Sabah.

Beautiful sunset at Tenghilan

Spectacular sunset at Tenghilan

After the sunset, our boat cruised slowly in the total darkness in mangrove. We saw some congregating fireflies flashing on the mangrove tree like summer Xmas tree. The density and scale of fireflies here are small, but good enough for people who never see firefly.

Dinner at the end of tour, rice with fried chicken, crabs, mixed vegetables and some fruits

Dinner at the end of tour, rice with fried chicken, crabs, mixed vegetables and some fruits

Fresh crabs from the mangrove

Fresh crabs from the mangrove

The river cruise ended around 7:30pm and we enjoyed our dinner at David’s house.

How to get there

This destination is less than 50 Kilometers from KK. The tour operator can pick you up at your hotel. The fee is about MYR80 (about USD$20) per person for this half-day tour (3:30pm-8:30pm).

Below is contact information and more details for you to find out more:
Tel: +60 14-6751256
E-mail: sambahrivertour@gmail.com
Facebook: sambahrivercruise
Instagram: @sambah_river_cruise
Website: sambah.weebly.com

Photos taken in Tenghilan, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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