Friday, 9 March 2018

A Weekend in Northern Borneo With The Orangutans.

Jasiminne and I sat at her kitchen counter in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur, popping deliciously sweet Pineapple Tarts into our mouths one-by-one. It was Chinese New Year, and we were waiting for our driver to arrive to take us to the airport so we could fly to Sabah, Northern Borneo. We both wore the same identical red dress, as wearing red over Chinese New Year supposedly brings good luck and prosperity for the year ahead. Goodness knows I needed some good luck after the month that I'd had, and so I went all out - wearing red every single day I was in Malaysia. 

Baby Orangutan at Sepilok Wildlife Park


I'd dreamt of visiting Borneo since I was a child, I'd always wanted my own Orangutan sanctuary in my back garden, and would daydream in school of my Orangutans coming to school with me. Unfortunately as a twelve-year-old I didn't realise how cruel this was, but I soon learnt from various documentaries...only those documentaries heightened my need to see a real life Orangutan for myself in their natural habitat; Borneo. At the grand age of twenty six, I finally did it.



After our 24-hour whistle-stop tour in Kuala Lumpur, Jasiminne and I boarded our flight to Kota Kinabalu and settled into our comfy business class seats and promptly fell asleep. The flight was only 2.5 hours, but we slept the whole way (we were both completely worn out after our previous day rushing around the city), awaking with a jolt when the plane wheels hit the tarmac. 

Jasiminne's uncle picked us up and drove us the short way to her grandmother's house, where we said hello, and wished the family Gong Xi Fa Cai, which is a greeting commonly used throughout Chinese New Year and is essentially wishing the person a prosperous new year. We then hopped into her mum's car and drove to her apartment just down the road, where we were staying for the weekend. The apartment is stunning with a view over the ocean looking out to the marine park and Sapi Island, which we visited the next day. 

We ended the day getting dressed up and going back to Jasiminne's grandmother's house for a big Chinese New Year dinner. It's pretty much like our Christmas dinner, but with different traditions and food. I'll be telling you more about this in a seperate post though! So for now, I'll take you on our journey to Sapi Island and Sandakan where the Orangutans are...

All photos of me by Jasiminne, obvs.

Visiting Sapi Island


We awoke late on Saturday morning blissfully rested after a busy couple of days, and slapped our lily-white skin with sunscreen. Beach dresses on, we needed some breakfast before we got on the boat that would take us to Sapi Island. Thankfully neither of us suffer from sea-sickness, as the boat was a jumpy-jolting nightmare. 

Brunch was Starbucks, which I learnt is actually a sign of wealth in Malaysia as it's too expensive for the average worker. Coming from Australia where going to Starbucks is frowned upon due to the Australian obsession with 'independent' cafes and coffee, it was a bit of a shock to be able to enjoy a Starbucks without feeling guilty!



Satisfyingly full from sugar and carbs, we then walked over to Jesselton Point Jetty and bought our ferry tickets to Sapi Island. Thankfully I was with Jasiminne who speaks fluent Malay, as I discovered a lot of Malays in Sabah struggled with English. The tickets were fairly cheap (around £10 for a non-Malaysian resident and £2 for a Malaysian resident) and the islands are well worth visiting, so if you're in Kota Kinabalu I definitely recommend making the effort to go!

As it was Chinese New Year weekend everywhere was crazy busy - including the islands - but Jasiminne assured me it's much quieter the rest of the year. I was a bit surprised by the busyness of Sapi Island, I'm used to the likes of Rottnest Island in Perth which is always nice and quiet. I get easily overwhelmed by crowds and noise (hello highly sensitive person), so I found a nice quiet spot in the shade away from the crowds that were in the water and happily fell asleep.

Sapi Island off the coast of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Northern Borneo
Sapi Island off the coast of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Northern Borneo
Sapi Island off the coast of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Northern Borneo


Despite the crowds I really enjoyed our few hours on Sapi Island, the water was just magical (I mean, just look at that shade of blue!), and there were plenty of shady spots if you wanted to save your precious skin from the sun's rays. You can read here why I'm really conscious of looking after my skin in the sun. We left the island just as a storm was coming in, and ran to the car just before the rain started lashing down!



We got back to Kota Kinabalu in time to shower and freshen up, get changed and go for another Chinese New Year dinner with Jasiminne's family. I swear we ate so much food that weekend I didn't eat for days after I returned to Sydney!! On the way to her grandmother's house we popped into a supermarket, as I have this thing where I *love* seeing foreign supermarkets haha. I bought some Pineapple Tarts to take back to Sydney with me for my work colleagues!



Visiting The Orangutans at Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary


The next day we had an extremely early start, with a 6am flight to Sandakan. I was a little bit terrified to visit Sandakan after Jasiminne's family told me about how tourists get kidnapped there by the pirates (eeeek), but you're fine as long as you stay away from the coastal area. At first I thought they were joking...then I realised they were being serious.

The flight was a quick 25-minutes despite being advertised at 45-minutes, and we flew over Mount Kinabalu which was just magical! You can actually climb the mountain if you have a few days spare - which we didn't - and the views from the top are said to be incredible. It also felt really strange to get on a plane with just a small handbag and no proper hand luggage or suitcase.

View of Mount Kinabalu in Sabah Northern Borneo from above


The taxi drive to Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary took about half an hour, and we got there about an hour before the centre opened so we chilled out in the canteen sipping on juices. As soon as it hit 9am we walked over to the centre and bought our tickets for the sanctuary. The tickets are reasonably priced and allow you to visit for the whole day and both the morning and afternoon feedings. 

A short video showing introduced us to the history of the sanctuary and the incredible work they've been doing since they opened in 1964. They were the first rehabilitation project to open, and their main focus of work is saving baby orangutans who have been victims of logging sites, kept as pets, or victims of illegal hunting. Often these orangutans are orphans, their mothers killed as the baby ones are favoured in the pet trade. 

Baby orangutan at Sepilok wildlife rehabilitation park in Borneo


The baby orangutans are taught over about seven years how to survive in the wild, and are eventually released into the Sepilok nature park, only coming back for extra fruit during the off-season and if they're pregnant and in need of extra nutrients. The best chance you have of seeing these beautiful creatures in the wild and their natural habitat, is by going to Sepilok for the morning and afternoon feedings, as this is when the adult Orangutans come back for extra food to supplement their diets in the wild. You can also see the babies in the nursery enclosure, and oh my days they are SO adorable!

Baby orangutan at Sepilok wildlife rehabilitation park in Borneo
Baby orangutan at Sepilok wildlife rehabilitation park in Borneo
Baby orangutan in Borneo


They're so cheeky and aren't allowed on the ground as they're taught they need to stay up on the ropes (aka, trees), because that's where it's safe for them in the wild. On the ground is where predators are and where disease is, so they need to learn to stay up in the trees. Every time a baby Orangutan would swing down to the ground a volunteer would approach it and tell it to get back on the ropes...and then the baby would see it as a challenge, "How long can I stay on the ground until they make me move". It was hilarious seeing the game they were playing!

These two below were just too adorable, they kept hugging and touching each other. 

Baby orangutan in Borneo
Baby orangutans in Borneo
Baby orangutans in Borneo

And I LOVED this bub who was my spirit animal - just happily munching away on all the food and then looking super guilty when he realised he'd eaten so much, haha!

Baby orangutan in Borneo
Baby orangutan in Borneo
Baby orangutan in Borneo
Baby orangutan in Borneo


After watching the babies we then made our way through the jungle to the feeding platform for the morning feed.

Borneo jungle


You have to be *really* quiet when you're waiting as any noise scares the Orangutans away. Unfortunately there was a large tour group from mainland China, and all of them were SO noisy and wouldn't be quiet no matter how much they were told to be quiet, so sadly no Orangutans turned up. When it was evident no Orangutans would be appearing, the greedy Macaques descended on the platform and quickly ate everything!



We decided to stay at the centre and wait for the second feeding, but the timings were awkward so we couldn't leave and go to the other proboscis monkey centre (find out more about it on Jasiminne's blog!) and then come back. The Orangutans were my main reason for wanting to visit Borneo, so I was determined to see one in the wild - and Jasiminne was desperate for me to see one too! The baby nursery closes for a few hours, and so we went to the Canteen for some lunch, hung out there, and then went to the little museum onsite. 

We spent an hour or so chilling in the museum as it was air conditioned! We swapped photos via wifi, did some yoga and exercises, and blasted music out and danced to Nicki Minaj haha. It was actually pretty funny, and while we were twerking in the middle of this museum the door opened and we both turned into statues pretending to look at the museum exhibition with the music still blaring, lol! So awks! Here's a photo of me attempting to do a plank in the museum :/



The time soon passed and before we knew it the centre had re-opened and we could go and see the babies in the nursery before the afternoon feeding. Finally, at the 3pm feeding, I saw an Orangutan in her natural habitat!

One solitary ape appeared in the trees, and swung down to the platform to start feeding on the fresh papaya and banana. It was fascinating seeing the way she shifted around and picked through the fruit to choose the exact one she wanted, fingering the bananas to decide which one was the correct one...just like we do when we're choosing fruit in a supermarket. Personally I always choose the ones that are still a little green, as I love unripe bananas.

Orangutan at Sepilok Wildlife Park in Borneo
Orangutan at Sepilok Wildlife Park in Borneo
Orangutan at Sepilok Wildlife Park in Borneo


The afternoon feeding was much quieter with less people, and thankfully no tour groups or loud screaming children. And then the unimaginable happened...the Orangutan climbed off the platform and walked away through the forest floor. We wandered back along the boardwalk and all of a sudden, she was there, right in-front of us. She had followed the path that the volunteers take from the platform to the boardwalk through the jungle, and so she was casually sat on the wooden rail watching us as we walked. I took a couple of photos, my hands shaking, and then a ranger appeared and told her to move on.

Orangutan at Sepilok Wildlife Park in Borneo
Orangutan at Sepilok Wildlife Park in Borneo
Orangutan at Sepilok Wildlife Park in Borneo



It was incredible how she seemed to understand and know him. Her name was Mimi, and the ranger told us she was pregnant and often wandered over to the Clinic because she likes the staff there. She comes to the feedings to get extra nutrients for her baby. My hormones were a little bit of a mess so I got a little teary and wanted to just throw my arms around her and hug her, but sadly that's not allowed (and I was also scared she might, ya know, attack me) so I watched in awe as she stared at us inquisitively. 

The ranger kept telling her to move on, and she would walk ahead of him a bit and then stop and look back at us and stare again. We slowly walked behind the ranger, following him to the exit. Eventually Mimi kept walking and disappeared out of sight.

What a perfect end to a perfect few days. My heart was bursting from the excitement of it all! It all still seems like a total dream.

Also, just a funny little note to end on; we were waiting for our taxi man from the morning to pick us up to take us back to the airport, and the guy sitting in-front of us literally raised his selfie stick to take a photo of Jasiminne and I on his phone. We couldn't stop laughing and we kept posing for all the photos he took. EVERYWHERE we went in Malaysia and Borneo people asked us for photos/selfies or took sneaky ones. Here's a photo of him taking a photo of us...




PIN FOR LATER:

PIN FOR LATER: How to spend a weekend in Sabah, Northern Borneo. Visit Sapi Island in the Marine Park, and see the Orangutans in their natural wild habitat at Sepilok Nature Park.


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3 comments

  1. What an absolute bucket list experience!

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  2. Ahhhh I'm so glad that you got your fill of monkey business! I was legit panicking that you'd come all the way to Borneo and left empty-handed (empty-eyed?). I'm so happy for you - the look on your face when Mimi popped up less than a metre in front of you was AMAZING, I won't forget that anytime soon! x

    Close Encounters with Orangutans at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah, North Borneo - Posh, Broke, & Bored

    ReplyDelete
  3. IT WAS AMAZING AND I LOVED EVERY MINUTE.

    ReplyDelete

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