The Mighty Jungle

Sandakan was the capital of the state of Sabah before WWII. Now it is the jumping point to Sepilok where you can find loads of tour companies ready to take you into the jungle, along the Kinagabatagan river. We flew into Sandakan from KK and were picked up by our jungle tour company – Uncle Tan’s. They drove us off to Sepilok which is the starting point to any jungle tour in Sabah. It is also home to one of two Orang Utan rehabilitation centers in the world.

The jungle and our ape cousins are the 2 main reasons I made the trek out to Sabah.

The day started with a very humid visit to the Orang Utans who are 98% genetically the same as humans. Many of these intelligent creatures are losing their homes to palm tree oil plantations and also being taken in as pets. The reason everyone flocks to Borneo is to set eyes on these apes who are endemic to Borneo. The rehab center began in the 80’s and has flourished over the past decade to international fame. If you go at the right time, you may have an orang utan come right up to you. Unfortunately, I wasn’t that lucky enough but I did get to see a feeding that was very much similar to a feeding at the zoo except that they come into the center from the jungle out of their own will.

From there we headed with Uncle Tan’s towards the lifeline of Sabah – the Kinabangtan river, the doorway into the jungle in order to explore the unique wildlife of Borneo. The river itself is not very appealing. It’s chocolate brown in color due to the silt and does not look refreshing. However we spent 3 days cruising up and down this river on boats trying to spot wildlife. We were able to do a morning cruise at 6am just as the sun was rising, and evening tour as the sun was setting (my favourite) and a night cruise, at about 10pm.
Wildlife spotted include the following:
long tail macaque
orang utan
proboscis monkey
monitor lizard
wood owl
flying fox (the biggest bat)
and numerous colorful butterflies!

river sunsets

We were also taken on a jungle hike with Welles and all because its quite wet and humid around here. But that results in beautiful lush and green scenery and unique trees. I ditched out on the night hike because I was exhausted after sleeping under stinky mossie nets and a thin mattress in a jungle hut with no door or fan for 2 nights. I chose to chill out with the Uncle Tan boys who call themselves ‘men of the jungle’ and chill out each night strumming the same tunes, Tiger beers in hand, just loving life. These guys come from the villages surrounding the village and know the jungles and its inhabitants like the back of their hands. They definitely made our trip very memorable! Their motto is ‘You shy, you die!’ which really is true because the more you talk to everyone at the camp, the better your time there. I met a great group of people with Kristen who enriched our time at the camp. And with nothing to do but explore wildlife, eat the delicious home-cooked jungle meals and sing along at night, you do have to turn to your neighbour and get to know them.

The jungle gives you a laid-back attitude, where I really did feel in one with nature. It is by no means easy to survive though! I paranoid of fire ants and the long tail macaque were frequent visitors at our camps, especially in the mornings throwing things at our huts.

Leaving camp was very melancholy. Who knew that in 3 days you would have created such wonderful memories?!
We headed back to Sepilok and stayed at Paganakandii which was highly recommended by many backpackers. Kristen and I just wanted to shower!! After all, it had been 3 days since we refused to jump in the chocolate brown river.

our group at Uncle Tan’s

For a backpacker accommodation this place was beautiful! The entrance had a mini-zoo with random animals like deer and a cockatoo. We stayed in the bunk dorm which was built in a longhouse style, all wood and very clean. The resort is pretty secluded (as is most places in Sepilok) so we hung out and enjoyed the rest.

looking for orang utans in the jungle

I spent a day in the ‘town’ – Sandakan. The main reason to head there was to get money exchanged which seems to be an impossible task in Borneo. They only accept $100 US dollar notes! After an hour bus ride I finally found my way into the city center right on the waterfront.
Sandakan waterfront

World cup fever was in full effect and this was most visible on the buses which are independently owned. Most people aren’t able to watch the game, but the excitement comes in making bets and gambling which is a national past time here. Can you blame them?
Borneo also seems to be a modern Muslim nation; many women wore hijabs, along with leggings and tank tops.¬†Being a solo woman traveller also attracts a lot of annoying attention. No one spoke English but there were plenty of KFC’s to make you feel like home. I didn’t feel exactly safe in Sandakan and once I got my money exchanged, had some chicken for lunch, and took a walk on the boardwalk, I was ready to get back.

pitcher plant

After finding the bus back to Sepilok, a girl on the bus befriended me since she was worried about me being on the bus alone, even though it was only 2pm!

The last place of exploration was the rainforest discovery center that is located in Sepilok. This is a great intro to the rainforest’s flora. Kristen and I enjoyed a leisurely walk among the flower gardens where I saw numerous pitcher plants. We also came across cool insects and the longest earthworm I had ever seen! The canopy walk was the reason I had come here to begin with, and it was the most disappointing part. Nonetheless, it is worth a visit and there are some long tail macaques hanging around, just waiting to jump on humans.


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