“Orangutan“, means “human of the forest “and the very first glimpse of this bright orange/red-haired ape in the tropical rainforest will undoubtedly be the highlight of your Borneo experience.
Seeing these gangly, long, strong-armed primates, with their hook-shaped hands, climbing and swinging up in the tress from branch to branch is a sight to behold, and on your wildlife adventure the sightings are usually incredible as you witness a creature of such power and intellect.
Areas such as the Danum valley and Kinabatangan River are perfect for wildlife safaris as they are ‘jungle book style’ areas with an abundance of wildlife and provide the very best places to see orangutans climbing the branches looking for food or resting lazily in the trees.
Wildlife Escapes Borneo
Arrive at Kuala Lumpur
Met on arrival and privately transferred to the Traders Hotel KL for a 2 night Stay in a Deluxe room with breakfast.
A Half-day city tour of Kuala Lumpur with an English speaking guide.
A flight to Sandakan (Borneo)
Met on arrival and transferred to Sepilok Nature Resort for a 1 night stay in a Chalet room with breakfast.
Begin the following itinerary.
Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary (1 Night/ 1 Day)
Drive for approximately 30 minutes to Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. At this Centre, observe man’s closest relative “the Orang Utan” being rehabilitated to become wild in their natural habitat and experience a walk through a tropical lowland dipterocarp forest. Witness the feeding of Orang Utan at the feeding platform and proceed to the Orang Utan Nursery. Later, continue to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. After lunch in the Sepilok area enjoy a one hour boat cruise through spectacular scenery. This is a wonderful journey of discovery which starts from the waters of the Sulu Sea of Sandakan town through the magnificent scenery of the Mangrove Forest. After lunch, cruise up river to Sukau village in search of primates especially the endemic Proboscis Monkeys, birds and other wildlife. Arrive Sukau, check in at Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge. Late afternoon, river cruise to Menanggul River, a small tributary of the Kinabatangan. Return to the Lodge for dinner. Overnight at Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge.
Wildlife River Cruises (1 Night/ 1 Day)
Wake up to the calls of gibbons and hornbills. Early morning, take a river trip to the Ox-Bow Lake to observe wildlife and experience the early morning river ambience of the longest river in Sabah. Return to the Lodge for breakfast and then time at leisure. After lunch an afternoon river cruise to search for more wildlife. Dinner and overnight at Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge.
Travel to the Danum Valley (1 Night/ 1 Day)
Early morning transfer overland to Lahad Datu. Drive 80kms through selectively logged forest before arriving at Borneo Rainforest Lodge beside the Danum River on the edge of 438 sq km of undisturbed lowland rainforest. The Lodge is home to the full range of Sabah’s lowland fauna, including Pygmy Elephants, Clouded Leopards and Orang Utans. Some 320 species of birds have been recorded in the area. Explore the nature trail and nearby river. In the evening a slide show and (if weather permits) spotlighting to view some nocturnal animals. Overnight at Borneo Rainforest Lodge.
The Danum Valley (1 Night/ 1 Day)
Morning bird walk before breakfast. Spend the whole day exploring the forest for birds and mammals, leading up to an escarpment with ancient burial coffins. Trek to a waterfall and dip in refreshing rock pools. Lunch at the Lodge. In the afternoon a jungle walk through trails leads to a canopy walkway. Overnight at Borneo Rainforest Lodge.
Danum Valley to Kota Kinabalu (1 Day)
Morning at leisure before your return journey to Kota Kinabalu.
Transfer to Lahad Datu Airport then arrive at Kota Kinabalu (3 Nights/ 3 Days)
Met on arrival and privately transferred to the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort for a 3 night stay in a Deluxe Room Garden Wing with breakfast.
Private transfer for the flight home
Total £4250 per person
The Ultimate 2-Week Borneo Itinerary
- Sepilok (2 nights/3days): World-Famous Wildlife Sanctuaries & Jungle Vibes
- Sandakan (1 night/2 days): Small Bornean Colonial Town with Exciting Day Trips
- Lankayan Island (2 nights/3 days): Secluded Paradise Island with the Best Snorkeling in Borneo & World-Class Diving
- Kinabatangan River (2 nights/3 days): Spot Bornean Wildlife on River Cruises
- Danum Valley (3 nights/4 days): The Last Primary Rainforest in Borneo with Orangutans, Pygmy Elephants, and Astonishing Birding
- Kuching (3 nights/4 days): Culinary and Cultural Treats of Borneo in Colonial Setting & Bako National Park
- Kota Kinabalu (1-2 nights/2-3 days): Colonial City with Island Trips
Sepilok: Introduction to Borneo with Orangutans, Sun Bears, and Giant Flying Squirrels (2 Nights/3 Days)
Sepilok is a perfect spot to launch your journey into the heart of Borneo. Staying the first night in Sepilok allows you to avoid starting and ending your trip in Kota Kinabalu: a perfect option for those who’d like to see as much as they can on a short vacation in Borneo. When time is short, every night counts!
Sandakan: Soak in the Small City Charm (1 Night/2 Days)
Spend a day in the authentic Bornean small-town vibes mingling with locals. Zigzag between the hawker and fruit stalls of Sandakan Central Market and stock on everything you’d possibly need from the nearby Harbour Mall, which alone would be a justifiable reason to spend a night in Sandakan before heading off the grid.
We enjoyed a great lunch at a quaint café, lovely rooftop drinks, and authentic Malay dinner at the waterfront with locals. Sandakan offered us a welcome city break before spending a week in the remote corners of Borneo!
Lankayan Island: Paradise Island with World-Class Diving and Snorkeling (2 nights)
Welcome to paradise! Lankayan Island is straight out of the tropical daydream: a tiny jewel-shaped, coral-ringed island far off the coast and crowds, in the turquoise Sulu Sea. Imagine chalk-white sand beaches and a magical underwater world, which bewitches divers and snorkelers alike. Then add an exquisite luxury resort, with just 26 seafront chalets, all facing the endless, turquoise ocean. This uninhabited island offers ultimate seclusion – a perfect spot for romantic getaways. Just look at the pictures, the words are not enough.
Sungai Kinabatangan River: Orangutans and Proboscis Monkeys in the Wild (2 nights)
Kinabatangan River is the best bet to see wild orangutans in Borneo. Orangutan sightings could almost be guaranteed if you stay two nights in Kinabatangan area (our guides said that the likelihood is 70%). Proboscis monkeys are omnipresent and nearly impossible to miss: watching their plump bellies and funny noses will guarantee smiles at every encounter.
What we couldn’t believe was spotting a herd of endangered Borneo pygmy elephants during Kinabatangan cruise. There are only 1500 of these baby-faced forest elephants left in the world, as their population has dropped by 50% during the last three generations.
Danum Valley: The Luxurious Bornean Rainforest Vacation (3 Nights/4 Days)
If I’d have to pick only one destination in Malaysian Borneo, it would be Danum Valley. It’s the last stronghold of primary rainforest in Borneo, where you can hike along marked trails gazing to the immense, untouched jungle where no man has set foot.
Kuching: Bustling Colonial City with Exciting Day Trips (3 Nights/4 Days)
After exploring the Sabah area for more than a week now, venture into another side of Malaysian Borneo: Sarawak. Kuching offers a convenient – and exciting – shortcut to the vast Sarawak.
The city of Kuching needs to be felt: roam the riverfront and the colorful streets of Old China Town with locals, pop in the acclaimed fusion restaurants and local eateries and eat your way through the highland and tribal cuisines.
Kota Kinabalu: Farewell to the Colonial Cities and Beaches of Borneo (1 Night/2 Days)
Kota Kinabalu entertained us only for one evening, but feel free to expand your stay. We enjoyed our sunset walk along the waterfront with locals, popping in the bustling – and endless – street food market. Somehow one night still felt enough for us: after the jewels of Borneo, Kota Kinabalu felt rather chaotic and dirty.
Tweaks for 1-Week or 10-Day Borneo Itinerary
If you have one week or 10 days to spend in Borneo, narrow down our list of destinations according to your preferences. Personally, I’d drop visiting Kuching (Sarawak) for logistics.
About the Orangutan
Orangutans can only be found in Indonesia and on the island of Borneo. They are truly magnificent mammals that spend most of their time up in the trees in their tropical rain forest home. They sleep high up in nests of leafy branches using the large leaves as umbrellas, which shelters them from the rain and protects them from being hunted by the big cat predators.
Orangutan males can be noisy creatures and their loud howls and bellows can be heard for miles around warning other males to stay out of each other’s territory as they follow a more secluded lifestyle. Whilst female orangutans give birth about once every eight years and tend to develop lasting connections with their offspring that usually last for years.
COMMON NAME: Orangutans
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Pongo
AVERAGE LIFE SPAN IN CAPTIVITY: 30 to 40 years.
SIZE: Standing height: 4 to 5 feet
WEIGHT: 73 to 180 pounds
SIZE RELATIVE TO A 6-FT MAN
Best places to see Orangutans:
Kinabatangan River, Sabah
The Kinabatangan River gives you the greatest chance of seeing a wild orangutan in Sabah and Sarawak. If you go on a three- or four-day Kinabatangan river tour, you are almost guaranteed to see an orangutan plus a whole variety of other endangered wildlife, including tiny pygmy elephants and proboscis monkeys.
This is why the Kinabatangan River is one of the most astonishing wildlife watching destinations in Southeast Asia. However, it is also important to note that habitat fragmentation remains a pivotal issue in this region of Sabah. On a trip to the Kinabatangan you will see a mosaic of degraded habitats and protected forests.
It is estimated that there are 1100 orangutan’s living in the Lower Kinabatangan River. Unlike other locations where you walk through the rainforest and search for orangutans, wildlife watching on the Kinabatangan is done from the distance of boats.
It is easy, comfortable and you don’t have to be particularly fit. Both old and young can see the orangutans here. It is the best option for families with young children and anyone that is unable to walk for long distances in the forest.
There is a variety of accommodation options ranging from cheap guest houses and homestays to comfortable luxury lodges, so the destination caters to visitors on all budgets. Most of the lodges are located at Sukau with a few at Bilit and Abai.
Sightings of orangutan occur at oxbow lakes and along the banks of the main river and its tributaries, including the Menanggul River where most tours go to see the proboscis monkeys.
To conclude, the Kinabatangan is the easiest and most ‘comfortable’ orangutan watching option available in Borneo. It also offers the highest chance of seeing wild orangutans. Sandakan serves as the jumping off point for the Kinabatangan.
If you are interested in an organised Kinabatangan tour please contact our Wildlife Experts to see the range of trips we offer.
Danum Valley, Sabah
Danum Valley is the greatest location to see wild orangutans in their pristine, undisturbed forest. Sightings are not ‘guaranteed’ like the Kinabatangan River but there is a great chance of seeing an orangutan at Danum. It is estimated that there are 500 orangutans living in the Danum Valley Conservation Area.
Danum’s 43,800 hectares of virgin rainforest are home to an astonishing and unique variety of wildlife. You don’t just come here for the orangutans, you come here for the other animals you’ll never see again and walk away knowing that one moment on your bucket list has been successfully ticked off.
There are a variety of different treks at Danum. The trekking is relatively easy, so you don’t need to be super athletic. If you want to definitely see an Orangutan, we advise that you stay for three nights.
The Borneo Rainforest Lodge offers a luxury jungle experience with prices that match You can book rooms with our team here at Wildlife Escapes.
Deramakot Forest Reserve, Sabah
Deramakot Forest Reserve has quickly gained a reputation as one of Sabah’s most beautiful places to watch wildlife. Whilst it is perhaps more famous for its cats (including the rare, clouded leopard), Deramakot is also a good place to see the orangutan.
An aerial analysis of orangutan distribution and density found that there are 1,400 orangutans living in Deramakot. They are often seen along the side of the two main dirt tracks that run through the forest reserve. They are also sometimes spotted near the accommodation area lounging and being silly.
Deramakot is the place for explorers that have more adventure in their heart, as it is more difficult to get to than the other places in this list. The reserve is accessible from Sandakan or Telupid via the unsealed plantation and logging roads which a guide will help you navigate. Whilst it is possible to go trekking at Deramakot, most wildlife watching is done in 4 wheel drive vehicles. This means you might experience some bumps driving through this hilly terrain!
There are a limited number of rooms at Deramakot so be wary as it can get full in the peak season months of July & August.
To sum up, Deramakot is a good place for orangutan sightings, but it is only for the explorers who don’t seek comfort. Accommodation is fairly basic when compared to the lodges in the Kinabatangan, Tabin and Danum and access is more difficult. The forest is also fragmented with logging operations taking place. If you are looking to experience beautiful forest and see an orangutan, then Danum is a better choice.
Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sabah
Tabin Wildlife Reserve is a protected area covering 122,500 hectares. A major proportion of Tabin consists of previously logged forest. Despite this, the reserve is home to 1,400 astonishing orangutans.
There are perfectly reasonable chances of seeing an orangutan at Tabin but they are not as likely as Danum or the Kinabatangan. On the positive side, Tabin is unlikely to disappoint as it is also home to a wide variety of interesting and unique wildlife.
The only way to visit Tabin is on an organised tour and the only place to stay is the Tabin Wildlife Resort, a 3 star jungle lodge offering hill and riverside chalets with scenic vistas and a high-quality service.
The small town of Lahad serves as the jumping off point for Tabin. The reserve is accessed via plantation and logging roads. Wildlife viewing activities are focused on jungle trekking with some 4 wheel drive night safaris.
Batang Ai, Sarawak
Batang Ai is the only place in Sarawak where you can see wild orangutans! It is one of the least known destinations for spotting orangutans in Malaysian Borneo. Like Deramakot it is not easy to travel to Batang Ai as an independent traveller so most people go on organised tours as there is a higher chance of seeing orangutans.
Recently In this area based in the Ulu Sungai Landscape, researchers found a brand-new undocumented population of Orangutan! You have a 30-40% possibility of a sighting on one of our Borneo Adventure’s five and six day orangutan tours. While on these tours, you stay in Nanga Sumpa lodge and rudimentary jungle camps. You will be accompanied by an English speaking guide and local Iban guides.
In addition to the specialised orangutan treks, there is also a realistic chance of seeing orangutans on Borneo Adventure’s shorter tours, for example the 2 nights Ulu Ai Experience, however the chance will be lower.
Orangutan Holiday schedule
These itineraries are the ones which we have arranged for many of our clients and will give you one of the very best wildlife holiday experiences. Where possible we have included other highlights of the country, to make the most of your precious holiday time, but ultimately nothing is more important than the wildlife. However, nothing is cast in stone, as we can tailor the perfect wildlife holiday to suit your interests, the time you have, the standard/quality of the accommodation you prefer and of course, your budget. No two people are the same, so we will listen to your individual requirements, find out what your expectations and aspirations are and accordingly make suggestions and recommendations, to give you the most memorable wildlife holiday experience.
Why we love Borneo
The first thing to love about Borneo is the relentless kindness of its population. Strangers will welcome you into their homes and you will never feel intimidated or threatened as it is a very multicultural area which therefore makes it open for everyone. The next thing is the amazing cuisine here. From the Satay and Rendang to the Hinava and Bak-kut-the the food here is something you won’t be able to resist. The prices are great and the food is a higher quality. (Especially the fish!) The next thing is the astonishing beauty of the place visually. You have a wide variety of luscious vistas from the white sands with gentle waves, to the endless green paddy fields that blurs into the distance. The ever-omnipresent Mount Kinabalu that lies in wait for the adventurous explorer and how could we ever forget the gorgeous exotic bamboo-treed forests which seem to stretch on forever and show us what paradise truly looks like. Obviously, we have focused on the Orangutan here, but we cannot ignore the depth that lies in the heart of this place. Based on WWF reports, more than 3 new species have been discovered every month for the past 15 years! That means this place is somewhere to see creatures and animals that you will never see again. It is a truly unforgettable moment to cruise along the Kinabatangan River in the early morning mist and spot an Orangutan feeding its baby or a troop of Proboscis Monkeys fighting in the mangroves. Sumatran Rhinos, Pygmy Elephants, Giant Squirrels, Sun Bears & Clouded Leopards are all in a fight for habitat in the dwindling rainforest and this makes it undoubtedly one of the best places on Earth to see natural beauty like you have never seen before.
- Take an unlocked mobile phone & buy a local sim card
Buy a prepaid local sim at the airport for around 10-15 Malaysian Ringgit (14 MR= £2.62) For visiting Sabah or Sarawak, Celcom, DiGi and Red are the main networks. Celcom is good for cities, but the others are best for rural areas. Note that the currencies can fluctuate here.
- Take a good pair of binoculars
As the wildlife can sometimes be far away, we recommend you take binoculars with you.
- Pack synthetic fast drying clothes
As Borneo has such a high humidity, you should never take cotton and instead take quick drying technical hiking clothes with long sleeves.
- Take a DSLR camera and good zoom lens
Don’t just rely on your iPhone camera; this is beauty that should be captured in all of its glory.
- Book your Turtle Island overnight stay well in advance
We would advise that you look into booking Palau Selingan as the experience you have with the turtles there would be unmissable. As visitors are limited to only 50 a night you need to book well in advance and our experts can help you with that.
Bahasa Malaysia is the national and official language, but English is widely spoken. Other languages are Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Iban and other tribal dialects.
In multi-racial Malaysia, every type of cooking from Southeast Asia can be tasted. Malay food concentrates on subtleties of taste using a blend of spices, ginger, coconut milk and peanuts. There are many regional types of Chinese cooking including Cantonese, Peking, Hakka, Sichuan and Taiwanese. Indian food is also popular, with curries ranging from mild to very hot indeed. Drink: Although the country is partly Islamic, alcohol is available.
Tipping: 10% service charge and 5% government tax are commonly included in bills. If you’d like to reward good service, we recommend tipping guides at around MR25-30 per day and MR15 per day for drivers per couple.
- Social Etiquette
Society tends to be governed by the authority of elders and a strong sense of respect and etiquette. Visitors should follow Malaysian example and respect religious beliefs, such as taking off footwear at the door and wearing appropriate clothing. Dress should be informal, but not over-casual. Within towns, smoking has now become the subject of government disapproval and fines are levied in a number of public places. You should avoid touching food with your left hand. Shaking hands, although European, has become common place.
- Essentials to pack
As the jungles of Borneo are quite an adventurous place, we have compiled a list of what you should take with you such as long-sleeved tops, zip-off trousers and water proof items.
Make sure to check your vaccinations with your local GP.
- Travel Insurance
Check that you have the most up to date travel insurance in place.
What to pack
As the jungles of Borneo are quite an adventurous place, we have compiled a list of what you should take with you such as long-sleeved tops, zip-off trousers and water proof items. Make sure to prepare your anti malaria medication and have a bugspray at all times.
Best time to visit Borneo and see the Orangutan
Borneo’s dry season is from March to October with its lowest humidity levels. However, visitor numbers are also the highest at this time.
The most hot and humid season in Borneo is November until March. The wildlife will be hiding from the rain so we do not recommend this time to see the wildlife.
Best time to see Orangutans in Borneo?
May is the best month for seeing them in the wild but anytime between March and October will be fine. In June, as the Orangutan’s are in fruiting season they will come closer to the wildlife paths to forage for snacks, so this would be a great time to go.
The Value of Orangutan Watching
By going to see these magnificent creatures at these sanctuaries you are helping to fund their continued survival as right now, they are in threat.
You must have a heart for adventure to wander into these different cultures and places and it will enrich you as a person.
Contact our Wildlife Escapes team today and embark on a journey that will stay with you forever.