The flight took about 30 minutes and was probably my favourite flight of all time. I have flown hundreds of times – Including over the grand canyon in a little tin pot air plane, but no flight has ever given such amazing views.
We took off as the sun was rising and the clear blue sky meant that the views were unlimited. Not long after taking off I could see Mount Kinabalu, the tallest mountain in SE Asia. It was huge, the plane banked slightly and we flew right over the top of it. It was amazing, then seeing all the low clouds settled amongst the mountain range. Charlie decided it was his favourite flight too.
Upon arrival at Sandakan I was just about to bend over the taxi and hand over some Vaseline to the driver when the price he gave me stunned me. It was the first fair and reasonable price id had yet in Malaysia.
Now, Borneo is huge and there are so many things to do, pretty much all of it is to do with wildlife or nature. It’s a huge rainforest teaming with wild animals and beauty. It is of course home to the Orangutans and Proboscis Monkeys. Many people will know Borneo as an uber exclusive and expensive holiday destination where the affluent upper classes come to relax. That is true; there are resorts here in Borneo whereby the average person’s weekly wage might just buy you a sandwich. But I didn’t come to Sandakan for a relaxing resort holiday. We came for the wildlife and nature.
Wanting to see proper Borneo, not just flash air conned coaches following someone else’s itinerary we decided that we would go back to basics, just like in Vietnam and China. We would do things how the locals do them. That way you are free to do what you want and of course pay what the locals pay.
When you are on the ground it’s often difficult to know what’s what. Tourist information in Asia is pretty much all private companies set up to advise you of tours they get commission on, or even charge you for info. The single best way to get up to date info is Backpackers hostels. The average backpacker tends to be on a budget and as such Hostels cater for this, backpackers use local transport and find out tones of secrets through research and experience. The nucleus of all this is the backpacker’s hostel.
So we stayed in a hostel – Although I did get us a private room.
We managed to get all the info we needed and an hour after landing we were on the first bus to Sepilok Orang Utan sanctuary.
From Sandakan town go to the big bus station in front of the hypermarket. Then look across the road and to your left, you will see a smaller bus station. From there Bus 14 leaves. Bus 14 conveniently goes to Sepilok and just so happens to go past every tourist destination along the route. It takes 45 mins to Sepilok (the last stop) and costs just 4RM for an adult and 2RM for kids over 6. Intermediate journeys cost less.
Sepilok Orang Utan sanctuary is basically a place that takes orphaned Orang Utans and then gets them used to the wild where eventually they are released. By Asian standards it is very expensive and cost me and the kids 70RM however by Western standards this is still very cheap. The best times to visit are 10am and 3pm which are the feeding times. This is when the Orang Utans come in from the wild for a free munch. We were fortunate enough to see the 10 am showing. We were there early – about 9.45am and there was 2 little ones swinging about near the viewing platform – Showing off. We watched in amazement as these confident animals just pulled off tricks to the amazement of everyone watching. Then when the food came out it was still Showtime. We stood and watched these Orang Utans in 42 degree heat. When they finally disappeared back into the wild we had been watching for an hour. It had felt like minutes. It is one of the most memorable moments of my life. I explained to the kids that by the time they were my age these amazing animals may very well be extinct.
I asked a guide what the reason for their demise was – and cheesy as you like he pulled a mirror out of his pocket. There I was checking myself out when I realized he must get asked this a thousand times daily and was showing me that it was humans.
We then walked round the walkway which is wooden and winds through the rain forest a few feet from the ground. We came to a gate which was closed. I opened it and realized it was a route into the rain forest which was simply a path. So we headed into it. After about 5 minutes the path became nothing more than normal ground with the slight indication that someone had once walked here. We walked over fallen logs, climbed over huge roots of trees. We saw lizards, monkeys, snakes, birds and a massive spider. Eventually after about 30 mins I decided that trekking through a rain forest in 42 degree heat with two kids wearing nothing more than sandals that maybe we might be pushing our luck a little. So we headed back. About an hour later we ended up where we had started – Yes we got lost and Charlie loved it. I left thinking that had I done this years earlier I might have actually been able to complete Pitfall on the Atari (A very private joke that probably only 1 person will get…)
Charlie has decided when he is older he is going to return to Borneo, but this time he will really explore the rain forest.
(Note to Sammy – Remember when you said the kids would have been just as happy at Butlins? You have never been more wrong in your life!)
We went back to the hotel and chilled out – Well the kids did, I had a few problems to iron out. Exhausted the kids were asleep for 8.30; I laid and watched Duplicity on the laptop and shortly afterward was resigned to sleep and became food for Mosquito’s.