Walking on the wild side in Borneo

After a few days by the beach in Kota Kinabalu, it was time to search out some of the Borneo wildlife we’ve heard so much about! This was one of the main reasons the boys wanted to come to Borneo. We planned to visit Sepilok to visit the Orangutan and sun bear sanctuaries. Then heading into the jungle to find the native proboscis monkeys, hornbills and pygmy elephants.

While there we also wanted to see first hand what destruction Palm oil plants were bringing to animal habitats and why. It’s a great world schooling lesson for the boys and a follow up to money they raised for Greenpeace!


Getting there

There are 2 options to travel to sepilok. You can either fly to Sandakan (a much quicker, but slightly more expensive option).

This was quickly ruled out by ‘Mr purse strings’ and so we were heading for option 2; a 7-hour bus ride.  On our first day in KK we went to the Inanam bus terminal and booked with Sida Express. We had tried to book online beforehand but didn’t have any success. But no fear, there were plenty of bus times and lots of seats were available.

We booked the 9am book and requested to be dropped off at the roundabout at Sepilok, at the suggestion of our accommodation.  This is common practice for the area and we had lots of head nodding in response.

Inaman bus station was situated on the outskirts of town so you need to get a local bus or taxi. Most buses in KK are a minibus that swing in and out of the bus stop at break neck speed. Luckily they spoke English so we could decipher which bus we needed.

The return journey wasn’t quite as straight forward, but we got back to KK centre.  Except not quite where we needed to be so we just had to walk a little. No dramas… Especially when you have Google maps!


Bus journey to Sepilok

After experiencing the squeeze of the minibuses we decided against trying to get out luggage in their too. So we booked an Uber taxi which was an easy and cheap way to get around.

The bus was comfy and the journey was fairly easy.  The first few hours are a climb up into the mountains and is quite windy. I’d recommend not reading, which we also suggested to Ethan, who ignored this and threw up a little later. That’s the first time he’s ever been travel sick! Lesson learnt… Or so I hoped – I’ll explain in my Nepalese blog!!

When you pass Mount Kota Kinabalu entrance things start to level out but the road condition in Borneo isn’t the best, with lots of pot holes. But it was manageable and the journey went without further incident.

Soon we arrived at our destination. A dusty patch at the side of the road.  Clearly we are getting used to travelling as we weren’t phased being dumped in the middle of nowhere, ha ha! I just called our accommodation, paganakandii, and they arrived within 10 minutes.

Where to stay

I mentioned we opted to stay in the rainforest area in a place called Paganakandii, you can stay closer to the sepilok sanctuaries or stay in sandakan and take the hours bus journey as an alternative.

The accommodation we booked was a wooden hut on stilts and had the most amazing views over the nearby rainforest. Just listening to the noise of the birds and animals was enough to make us feel in love! Oh and the outdoor shower was just a brucey bonus.  Bliss!

The hotel offered a set menu plus a few a la carte items. It suited our needs, the food was tasty and the price was very reasonable.  Just remember they don’t take card (no ATMs around either) so you need to bring enough cash.

Day trip to sepilok – orangutan sanctuary

It’s highly recommended to stay in the area as it’s gives you a better chance to see Orangutans. There are two feeding times, one at 10am and one at 3pm.

The cost to enter is RM30 and children pay RM15.  Plus there is a RM10 fee for cameras.

The faculty closes from 12pm until 2pm. There’s a cafe on site and it’s a great time to pop over to the sun bears sanctuary, which will only take an hour max.

There is a rainforest centre about 25 minutes walk away. We decided against this but a couple we met went and said it wasn’t worth it.

The suggested itinerary for the day is :

9.30am – arrive at sanctuary, go to nursery first, then head over to feeding platform. It starts at 10am but don’t rush, you won’t struggle for space or any action.  Unfortunately we only had a cheeky macaque monkey visit during the early morning feed.  Luckily, because we were staying all day it meant we had another chance in the afternoon.

Hang around until you’ve had enough, then head over to the Sun Bears Sanctuary.

After lunch the facilities re-open and you can watch an educational video at 2pm before heading back to the viewing platform.

Sun Bear Sanctuary

Directly opposite the orangutan sanctuary is the sun bears sanctuary.  The fee RM 31.80 but children under 12 are free.

It’s not as well set up and the bears you don’t get to see them up close.  The walkway is set up above their enclosures. However, we did get to see them being fed with their dark, silky black fur.  They are quite small and nimble little things.

While we were there we also managed to catch sight of a fishing eagle.  But we didn’t spend long there and were finished up before 1pm. We had lunch at the nearby cafe which was serving not overly price but average and edible food.  We stayed around for about half an hour waiting for the sanctuary to re-open at 2pm.

While we were waiting Casey, one of the female orangutans, decided to come out and wander around the entrance area, causing quite a disturbance.  The park guides were having to keep an eye on here to keep her on site and not to cause any trouble. This gave the boys a chance to ask them lots of questions!


Returning to the Orangutan sanctuary

When the gates reopened and we headed back into the sanctuary and watched the educational movie explaining the reasons for the orangutan sanctuary.  After which, we headed straight for the feeding platform – we were hoping to have more success! We weren’t disappointed.

As we approached a local guide told us to quietly and slowly as the big orangutan and family were there.  

As we turned the corner we caught sight of them. They were so huge, yet so graceful in their movement. They had a few younger orangutans with them so it was quite the party. We stayed and watched them for just under an hour.  By which time it was time to get our transfer back to the hotel.

Kinabatangan River

We were collected, by car, by our homestay owners from Sepilok and travelled for 2 hours to a village called Sukau.  Upon arrival we were greeted by the family we would be staying with and offered lunch.

The food was rice with a vegetable dish and meat dish.  It was fairly basic, as you would expect from a homestay but no alternate options. The boys were definitely going to have to just eat what was put in front of them.  

There were no shops around the area and we were fairly remote in our location so we had little freedom.  Instead the next 4 days were a detailed and busy schedule of activities.

We had night cruises, afternoon cruises, morning cruises, rainforest walk, palm oil plantation and village drive, wildlife spotting, local games, local dancing, local craft, conservation for fishing and reforestation for orangutans, by planting trees.

It was easy going activities, all except the rainforest walk which was a very humid and sweaty affair!  We weren’t even walking up mountains, but we did need to negotiate mangroves and secondary rainforest terrain.  Certainly challenging for us and the kids but a great experience.

The boys loved the river cruises the most and we saw so much wildlife.  There were so many macaque and proboscis and even rare silver leaf monkeys! 

We sat and watched them flying through the air as they moved from tree to tree. As we zig zagged our way across the river in our speedboat, we also saw lots of hornbills, there were pied hornbill, rhinocerous hornbill, wreathed hornbill and wrinkled hornbill. 

During the night cruise we saw owls and some small crocodiles, but not much else.  It was nice to hear the noises, it played with your senses but there wasn’t a huge amount to see.  Life at night was definitely quieter, but it was a lovely experience.

Our favourite cruise was the sunrises.  The ambience and light on the river was just beautiful.

During our stay we were keen to get involved with conservation work.  One of the activities offered to us was to learn to make prawn nets.  The boys and their dad got stuck in and created a complete net which will be used on the Kinabatangan river.  Whether or not it’s successful is another question!

While on the river we were unable to see the local native Pygmy Elephants, but luckily they had been spotted in a nearby palm oil plantation so we were able to drive out and see them.  

It was a very busy few days but very enjoyable experience.  There was some down time slotted in here and there which the boys loved as they got to play with the family children. We all enjoyed having those 4 days in Kinabatangan.

We stayed in a large 4 bed room with plenty of space and air-conditioning.  There was a separate shared shower and toilet which was fine. We shared these with a couple of other guests who came and went, some more chatty and interesting than others!  

By the end of our stay we were quite shattered though and ready to move on.


Sepilok was a fabulous days activity, but make sure you stay long enough to see both feeding times to be sure of catching some orangutans as they are never guaranteed.  The afternoon one seems to draw in the most though. We really loved our basic but delightful accommodation and would highly recommend it if staying in the area.

As for the Kinabatagan River, I would definitely recommend staying in the area but the amazing wildlife.  

However, our Homestay was quite expensive compared to other places. We had paid the extra for the eco experience and for some homeschooling for the boys.  This didn’t quite pan out as we expected and hoped there had been more enthusiasm and learning from this element of the trip. We did take a lot away from the experience but it was lacking something.

We will definitely return to Borneo as there are other areas we would like to explore.



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