Travels around Malaysia – Part 4: Sepilok & Lankayan Island

Steve Aldridge getting his award This is the fourth in a series of blogs that describes our holiday on the Malaysian Peninsular and the Malaysian portion of Borneo, and the prize winning entry for the Sabah Tourism Awards 2013 for Best Tourism Article and TV Programme on Sabah Category.

Meeting the Man of the Forest

Two flights took us from Kuching to Sandakan. Sandakan is the second largest city in Sabah but it is better known as the gateway for eco-tourism destinations. A 30 mins car ride took us to one of these at Sepilok, the location of the world famous Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. The centre rescues orangutans, often baby orphans being kept as pets illegally in villages, then rehabilitates them back to the wild. This is a slow process and often takes years to teach them the skills they need to survive in the rainforest, the trainers taking the place of the orangutan mothers.

Linda just loves orangutans, in fact one of her favourite valentine’s presents was being a zookeeper for the day (anyone can do chocolates and flowers). There she got to feed a massive and aging male orangutan warm blackcurrant squash (who started him on that no one remembers). So it was with some excitement and anticipation that we entered the centre for our first encounter with the man of the forest. First stop was a briefing about the centre and what to do if approached by one of the orangutans (a close cousin sharing 96.4% of human DNA). Feeding platform at orangutan rehabilitation centre, Sepilok, Sabah, Borneo It appears Toby (a mischievous wild orangutan) has a bit of a reputation for sitting on the railings looking docile, then making a lightning quick grab for the camera or mobile phone of the victim who got sucked in for the close up photo. It’s said there’s a substantial and impressive store of technology somewhere up in the tress. Then on to the morning feeding time, where a ranger puts out food to supplement whatever they have been able to forage for themselves in the rainforest. This is open rainforest with a feeding platform built about 10 meters away from the raised walkway and viewing platform. There was a real buzz of excitement as the trees began to shake and the first orangutan came swinging towards the platform, hanging comically on the rope to get a good look at us. Others quickly followed and we were treated to about seven orangutans, one with a baby recently born to the daughter of a rehabilitated mother. We watched them eat and play, and bat off some macaque bandits, for about half an hour – magnificent. The same process was repeated in the afternoon, when we were privileged to see about twelve orangutans, seeming even more intent on acting up for the audience. One was using the frayed end of a rope as a wig to show off to his audience.

Lake at The Rainforest Discovery Centre Between feeding times we visited Rainforest Discovery Centre, a short walk away. It has a 343m long canopy walk (as it turned out by far the sturdiest one we encountered) about 25m up, where you can view some truly massive trees. They also have ground trails, a beautiful lake and a plant discovery garden that we enjoyed. So after another day on our feet, we retired to the very pleasant Sepilok Nature Resort where we were staying for a nice dinner and a sit down.

Next day it was time to give our legs a brief rest with a couple of days on the beach. We reached Lankayan Island, part of the Sugud Islands in the Sulu Sea, by a 90 min speedboat ride to the island starting at Sandakan jetty. The sea was a little rough, so suffice it to say that my bottom knows just what a steak feels like after it has been tenderised!

Sunrise on Lankayan Island Our delight on the island was to stroll around it, about 15 mins, at sunrise. A beautiful white sandy beach, calm crystal clear blue sea, the oranges of the sunrise enhancing the richness of the 23 wooden bungalows and the colours of the interior’s vegetation. At this hour few were up, so just for a few minutes we had our own desert island in the middle of the sea. Although not as numerous as the nearby Turtle Islands, green and hawksbill turtles do nest here and they have a protection and release programme for the eggs. They also have tags for you to hang outside you door if you want to be woken if they spot a night nesting or for a baby turtle release.  Sadly neither happened during our stay.

Mosquito netting over bed Our bungalow (one of the newer ones) was spacious and well equipped, we particularly liked the rainforest outside shower (curiously liberating) and the ceiling hung mosquito nets, that gives the romantic impression of a lace covered four poster bed. Restaurant and bar were overwater on stilts. The wall panels could be and were opened up on all sides for a beautiful breeze and views while eating and drinking. It’s all bare feet here, so don’t splash out and bring you new Jimmy Choos, they’ll be sitting on the rack at the door with everyone’s flip flops. Food is good but we’ve had better on this trip.

Without doubt this was a brilliant place to stop for a restful lie on the beach, or snooze in a hammock and we’d return if in the area. By the way the boat ride back was on glass like seas and very enjoyable (for me and my bottom).

Next stop Kinabatangan River.

Watch a short video of orangutans at Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre, Sabah, Borneo 

For holidays to Asia, Silver Travel Advisor recommends Selective Asia.

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Steve Aldridge

Award-winning travel writer

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