Nearly half of Sabah is covered by forest. However, less than 3% of our forested area is virgin rainforest. Our very famous Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center is part of Kabili-Sepilok Virgin Jungle Reserve. From there, you can try a 5.5KM jungle trail from Sepilok virgin rainforest to a pristine mangrove forest.
My plan is to spend 2 to 3 hours to complete the walk of this 5.5KM jungle trail to reach the mangrove forest, spend a night in the hostel of Sepilok Laut Reception Center, then take a boat to Sandakan town in the next morning. I know some travel agents offer such package but the response is very poor, as most tourists are only interested in seeing orangutan and not keen to try the nature trail infested by forest leeches.
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As the Sepilok rainforest is a first class forest reserve, you need to get a permit from Sabah Forestry Department to enter the jungle. Therefore, I went to the Sandakan District Forestry Operation Office (not the HQ) in Bandar Leila (near to UMW) of Sandakan to collect the permit. Besides, I was also paying for guide, accommodation and boat (see details in this blog entry). Forestry Department is very efficient and thanks to Mr. Kwan. They also express that they really want to promote this place.
The booking and payment took me less than 10 minutes, then I drove 40 minutes to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, where the trail begins. My guide, Uncle Severinus, was already waiting for me. A forestry guide is required coz we may encounter dangerous animals such as orangutan, sun bear and poisonous snakes. Yes, dear tourists, orangutan can be very dangerous. Part of the trail is not well-marked, so people can lose their way.
First we walked on a boardwalk, which is the same one used by tourists to go to orangutan feeding platform. Then the guide opened a small gate to the forest trail. FYI, they also have a bird watching trail and a 2KM “Water Hole” trail. The trails here are really nature and heavily foliaged. The guide says in future they will open a new trail from Rainforest Discovery Center to connect to this trail.
Jungle Trekking from Rainforest to Mangrove
In the beginning, you will see many big trees of lowland dipterocarp forest, with an average height of 55 Meters! We pass by a Sun Bear conservation center which will be opened for public soon.
The forest trail is next to the river so it is flooded occasionally during rainy season and become wet and soggy.
In dry season, this trail poses 0 degree of challenge to me. But it was wet season that time in Sandakan, the trail becomes very muddy after weeks of raining. Though I was wearing the water-proof rubber shoes “Adidas Kampung”, I still have to avoid sinking my own feet into the soft and sticky mud.
Part of the trail is totally flooded. We have to walk at the edge of the trail, or snake around in the wood to find another easier route to bypass the flood. We even “lost” for a few minutes and had to turn back to retrace our trail. Luckily, my guide knows the place very well. He knew that we were on the wrong way coz he felt the place “macam lain” (look different). Now you know why you can’t go alone without a guide.
To feel what we had been through, you may watch the 4-minute video below:
When we were busy passing through the dense undergrowth, we waked up the sleeping blood suckers, the Tiger Leech! Leech is sensitive to vibration and body heat. I believe they can sense us 10 feet away though they are blind.
The tiger leeches always hide in the shrubs and leaves and most active during wet season. When my body was brushing through the shrubs, the tiger leeches would hop on me. I removed more than 20 big tiger leeches and countless small brown leeches from my shirt and skin. I was wearing leech socks but with so many leeches around, it is still a miracle that I didn’t get a single leech bite!
Usually leech is absent during dry season. After jungle trekking, I checked inside my shoes and removed a few more. Always “de-leech” yourself before entering the room! Leech is annoying but it does not cause serious harm. I worry more about falling tree branches during rainy day.
Not everything in rainforest is creepy. I came across some beautiful creatures too, like the golden hammer head worm above. Ok, it is as creepy as a leech too.
There are some tiny frogs found along the flooded trail. My guide is always happy to catch one to show me.
Above: I saw thousands of such cicada chimney on the forest floor. We hear cicada calls all over the place as if they are the key residents of the jungle. We also heard the loud calls of Tokey lizard and it sounds like chicken.
At noon we reached Sepilok Laut Camping Park (a.k.a. The Gap) which is only 1KM away from my destination, Sepilok Laut Reception Center. It started to rain heavily and we took cover under the roof of a multi-purpose hall.
The toilet and shower rooms are well-maintained and divided into male and female blocks. School teachers and students can consider to have a camping here. The camping ground can accommodate 80 people.
The rain started pouring. But my guide, Uncle Severinus, wanted to go home. He is a very friendly village man from Tambunan. He is old but strong and even offered to carry my heavy backpack twice. I think he is very cute so I take one picture with him. You can see that my shirt is all wet. It’s sweat, not rain.
Another forestry staff, Justinus, in the center shared his lunch and rice with us, so nice. I had some chocolate bars as quick lunch, but it felt so good to enjoy fish and hot soup in cold raining day after a long walk. Justinus has stationed here for a week and happy to see human.
We were not alone. There were something lurking in the dark and looking at us…
Update (Nov 2012)!
The jungle trail to Sepilok Laut Reception Centre (SLRC) is changed. You may want to read the new upgrade and latest change of SLRC facilities here.
Photos taken in Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo