Day 10 – Sandakan

P1020168.resizedWe had a crazy early 4:30am alarm set in order to catch our 7am flight to Sandakan. The flight was a quick 45minutes and provided a GREAT view of Mt Kinabalu. Looking at the track up the side of the mountain, I was pretty horrified to realise exactly what I had walked up, and am astounded I even made it!
Arriving in Sandakan we took a taxi to the hostel where we attempted to check in, but as our room wasn’t ready, we just put our bags into storage before catching a taxi out to The Sepilok Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre.
We quickly bought tickets and headed in for feeding time, headed in the same direction next to the track was an Orang-Utan, as I attempted to film it, my camera battery went flat! I was pretty annoyed with myself that I hadn’t checked the battery and the spare I had was locked away in a locker! So I was relying on Mark to take some pictures while I enjoyed the monkeys.
A person came out to the feeding platform and dumped a basket of fruit out for the Orang-Utans. A handful of Orang-Utan slowly but surely swung and climbed along the ropes onto the platform and started munging on all the tasty fruit. Some sat on the platform picking and choosing what to eat, where others swung in, grabbed some fruit and swung out. One of the smaller ones grabbed his fruit and then dangled from the rope to eat it. Two bigger Orang-Utans grabbed their fruit and then climbed up to a slightly higher platform to sit down and cuddle/play.
It was surprising to see just how flexible these guys are…often dangling from a rope with their hands and feet on the rope and their butt towards the ground in a little V shape. Also it was interesting to see their body shapes and their muscles…you can really see how their DNA is 96.4% the same as ours. They are like hyper-mobile furry little people!P1020152
As the Orang-Utans finished up with the fruit, their place was quickly taken with sneaky little Macaque’s. These are the guys you see everywhere, who like to steal people food and bags. One of the Macaque’s turned up before the Orang-Utans was done, and it was very entertaining to see him sneak around one side of the tree to steal some food and get swiped at by the Orang-Utan, so he would sneak around the other side of the tree and get swiped at again. He kept going back and forth, but did manage to steal some fruit…very entertaining to watch.
Soon enough, feeding time was over and we wandered back to the reception centre to have some lunch of our own and wait for the next feeding time.

We had some tasty lunch, went for a wander and adopted an Orang-Utan. There is a UK company that works together with the SORC in rehabilitating the Orang-Utans. Usually it’s baby Orang-Utans whose mothers have been poached and the babies have been found in poor health, so they are brought back to the centre where they are cared for and taught by other Orang-Utans (with human assistance) how to live in the wild, and over a number of years are slowly released back into the wild. The adopt-an-Orang-Utan money goes towards things like Vets, Vaccinations etc. So I adopted a baby Orang-Utan called Chikita, ad every 6 months will receive photos and an update on how she is doing, as well as updates on how things are going at the centre in general.

After lunch time there was the afternoon feeding..this time I had a fully-charged camera battery. The afternoon feeding was much quieter than the morning, both in the tourist population and the Orang-Utan population. It was not as good for taking photos, but it was much more relaxed and pleasant. Being ‘amongst’ the Orang-Utans for a day really was fantastic, they are such beautiful animals!!

Day 11 – Sandakan

We booked a day trip for a wildlife cruise down the Kinabatangan River – something we had heard a great deal about from other tourists. We were collected from our hostel at around 11:30am and had a 2.5hour bus trip to get to the river, this also meant a 2.5hour bus trip back to the hostel in the evening. Word of advice – if you plan to go to the Kinabatangan, it would be better to do one of the overnight packages, rather than a day trip. Once at the river there was an hour to spend waiting for the cruise to start, so we found a nice peaceful spot to sit by the river and appreciate the serenity of the jungle/river environment.

The Cruise!!! About 10 of us were loaded into a long speed boat and we headed up the river with the aim of spotting wildlife. We looked and looked but didn’t see anything, then every now and then our boat driver would pull across to the riverbank to spot things he had a Pied Hornbill, a Monitor Lizard, a Macaque monkey, a Rhinocerous Hornbill. No idea how he could spot these things in transit, but we were grateful that he could! As the sun lowered in the sky, things became more interesting. There were three main highlights…

3. The Proboscis monkeys started to arise from their naps and head into the tops of the trees

2. We saw a wild Orang-Utan swinging through the trees. We were VERY lucky to see this, as they are such shy creatures, it is very rare to see them on these cruises.

1. A herd of Pygmy elephants came down to the riverside to much on some plants and play around. Again we were incredibly lucky to witness this, and unlike the Orang-Utan who swung off quite quickly because of our presence, the phlumps didn’t mind us at all. So for a solid chunk of time we just got to sit and watch and take photos at a distance of 5-10metres away. It was absolutely FANTASTIC!!!!!

Unfortunately though we had to leave at some point, so the boat driver started the engine and took us back to the starting point for a buffet dinner, and then our driver collected us, to bring us back to Sandakan.

So 5 hours worth of driving for a 2 hour wildlife cruise (all up we left at 11:30am and arrived back at the hostel at 10:30pm)…it was worth it for us and we saw some amazing things, but as I mentioned, it would be better as an overnight package.


Day 12 – Sandakan

Another early-ish start for a day trip out to Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. I am in two-minds about the sanctuary, it is much more commercial and less natural than the Orang-Utan sanctuary, but at the same time, the monkeys still come to feeding time of their own free will and are not restricted to the sanctuary in any way.
One of the weirdest aspects, was that you had to drive through a palm oil plantation to get to the sanctuary. What happened was hat there were two brothers that own 1000acres of land and they were developing it into a plantation, when they came across the monkeys, they decided the reserve a portion of the land as a sanctuary for them, rather than destroy their habitat and kill them…good choice!

So as with the Orang-Utans, we attended two feeding times, but here there were two separate platforms, they were about 5km apart. The first platform wasn’t very nice as there was about a 5metre section of dry dirt and dead trees were they came to feed, where the second platform was very much on the edge of the jungle, so they could sit in the trees as they ate.P1020279.resized

The proboscis monkeys are a bit funny looking, the male has a big, bulbous nose and basically a permanent erection, and the female also has a long-ish nose, but it’s upturned. The babies are SUPER CUTE!!!

At this sanctuary we got within 30cm of the alpha male who was just chilling out on the deck of the viewing platform, which was kind of crazy. He wasn’t at all fussed by our presence, and just let people get up close for photos while he watched us carefully.

So having had two full days of monkeys and some amazing wildlife sightings we felt happy that we had seen some amazing things and it was time to leave Sandakan for another new experience.

Travellers Tip – If you are headed to the Sandakan region to see the monkeys and the river, stay in Sepilok as it is more central to all the activities (it would have saved us 45 minutes of transit time each direction every day)


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