We had just left from our adventure to Mt Kinabalu and were now heading to my part of the trip in Borneo, the most important part - to see the monkeys!
The flight to Sandakan was short and we spent a night in the city eating the local food which was an amazing experience. We arrived during Ramadan and the streets were filled with different food stalls serving a variety of seafood, chicken dishes, fruit, and drinks. We bought all sorts of nibbles and grabed a seat at the quay among the locals, waiting for the sun to set. After the markets we decided to visit the English tea house and restaurant which had a great view overlooking Sandakan. After Dinner and English tea we headed back to our hotel.
The English Tea House and Restaurant in Sandakan is a much loved restaurant for locals and a popular tourist destination with its great food, excellent service and beautiful views.
After an interesting night sleep we woke and at 8am, as we were due to be picked up from our Hotel and head to the world famous Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre situated in the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve. In an excited childhood voice I started to talk fast about monkeys. This must have annoyed B, all he got to hear in the weeks before the trip was: "My class is studying Monkeys, Monkeys, Monkeys and I can't wait to show the 5 year olds photos of my trip to see the Monkeys."
The pick-up arrived about 1/2 hour late and by this time we were worried if we had actually booked our trip. In the van were 3 other couples and it took about an hour before we reached the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. The first item on the list was to watch an informative video about the protection of the Orangutans. We arrived late and had to miss the video and instead rush down the boardwalk through the lowland rain forest to see the feeding platform.
By the time we reached platform it started to rain, which however was cool and refreshing. The waiting felt like and eternity and I was becoming impatient for the Orangutans to arrive. Finally, around 10am, the keepers walked out through the rainforest, calling the Orangutans. They were tiny and ranged in ages from 1 to 7 years. We watched in amazement as more and more Orangutans came out to eat their favourite foods. At the end of feeding time they got to drink milk from a bucket. At this point you could tell the keeper had his favourite. The keeper tipped up the left over milk in the bucket for the little Orangutan. As the keepers began to leave so did the Orangutans, along the rope, back into the rainforest.
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in the Malaysian Sabah District of North Borneo was founded in 1964, to rehabilitate orphan orangutans. The site is 43 sq km of protected land at the edge of Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve. Today around 60 to 80 orangutans are living free in the reserve.
From Sepilok we continued on our journey for approximately 2 hours to the Bilit Rain forest Lodge located beside the Lower Kinabatangan. This 2 hours journey consisted of travelling through mostly destroyed rain forest that had been turned into palm oil plantations. Only a small area of the rain forest had been left for the monkeys and other wildlife to survive.
After 2 hours of driving we arrived to the Bilit Jetty and from there we took the boat to our lodge. As we were travelling down the river we could tell that there was an incredible diversity of plants, mammals, and birds. (Just imagine if the rain forest had been left! How much more diversity there would be?)
On arrival we were shocked at how amazing the lodge was (we were expecting a shed in the woods or something along those lines). We received a delicious lunch and then were taken to our room. This was almost a house ... there were three double beds and a massive bathroom just for us. Outside was a hammock which was nice to relax on in the hot sun. The lodge had a pet goose which liked to chase the pet dogs which in turn liked to chase the macaque monkeys who came to eat the fruit on the trees and to steal people’s shoes. It was time to relax at until the boat cruise later in the day.
At Bilit, you can listen to the morning calls of the gibbons – a magical moment – that frequent the virgin forest behind this village. This beautiful forest has been classified as “kampung land” which means protected from logging to preserve it as a forest haven for wildlife.
We joined the river cruise at 4pm and we were off in search of the endemic Proboscis monkeys, different species of birds and other wildlife we could possibly see along the river bank. As We started our journey down the river, the first thing we spotted was a crocodile, which made us question the necessity of the provided life vests.
Further down the river we reached an intersection and headed down one of the smaller side branches. It was on that corner where we spotted the infamous Proboscis monkeys. They were feeding with their families high up in the trees. My first impression of them was that they were very tiny and had big fat bellies. After watching the monkeys for 5 minutes we began to head further up the river, where we spotted the highlight of the afternoon cruise.
The macaque monkeys were about 1 meter away from the boat. As we were watching them we noticed a macaque and her baby. This was the most amazing thing to see and we watched them feed for about 5 minutes. Along the rest of the cruise we also saw a variety of birds, giant lizards and some snakes. After about an hour it was time to head back to the lodge for some supper and cultural entertainment.
It is possible to spot water birds such as white egrets, the rare Storm’s Stork, the black crowned Night Heron, the endangered Oriental Darter, several species of kingfisher and many more.
Back at the lodge we enjoyed an amazing dinner and a cultural performance. As night fell, we were surrounded by a variety of sounds and noises from the wildlife around us, reminding us that in spite of the luxury of a lodge, we were still in the middle the jungle. After an interesting sleep we woke and it was 7am. We had just enough time to have breakfast and return to Sandakan to catch our flight back to Sabah.
Selamat tinggal Sandakan!