Sandakan/ Sepilok (October 12 - 14, 2001 )


Johor Bahru
Kota Kinabalu
Lahad Datu/ Danum
Sandakan/ Sepilok
Gomantong/ Sukau
Selingan & Liberan Is.
Mt Kinabalu
Kuala Lumpur

New Zealand

We stayed at the Labuk Bed and Breakfast, run by Robert Chong and his wife Annie. It is located 15 miles outside Sandakan - relatively close to Sepilok. The mini-bus drove us right to the door. 

Robert had spent a number of years in Canada going to school and working before returning to his roots in Sandakan to run the bed and breakfast. Their three boys (10 yr old twins and a 12 year old) played with our gang - cards, computer games and badminton. The food was great. The rooms were slightly run down, but fine.

Our goal in Sandakan was to see the Sepilok Orang-utan rehabilitation centre, and to organize trips to Sukau on the Kinabatangan River, and to the Turtle Islands.

Robert drove us to Sepilok for the 10:00 AM feeding. Sepilok is one of the centres dedicated to rehabilitating orphaned orang-utans. There is a quarantine centre and a 'kindergarten' where young orang-utans are 'shown the ropes' by human trainers. When they graduate, they are released to an area of forest where they are fed twice a day. This feeding area is open to the public.



Pit viper

The feeding platform is set up about 20 feet off the ground. Keepers bring food there twice a day, but feeding is entirely optional for the orang-utans. If they are surviving well enough on their own, then they do not come. We heard from a guide that the keepers tend to feed the same food, bananas and milk, all the time. The bland diet encourages the animals to find their own more interesting food. 

The orang-utans can get to the platform using a number of ropes from neighbouring trees. The platform is very close to the viewing centre - so close that one orang-utan preferred to use the boardwalk rather than the rope. He just about stepped on my foot as he passed. 

It was great to watch. Unlike Danum, the orang-utans were not hidden by leaves or branches and unlike in a zoo, these animals were active and alert. They were together in a group for feeding which is unnatural. We had learned in Danum that orang-utans are usually solitary animals - sometimes a few juvenile males will band together in a loose group, but for the most part you see one orang-utan only.

We saw a Wagler's Pit Viper on the way out. We heard later from the guide that these are nocturnal, and usually quite harmless during the day. The bite is poisonous but not fatal. Look at the size of the head! The body was about 3 feet long.

The centre has an excellent interpretive centre and video presentation. The centre also currently has two Sumatran rhino's which they are trying to mate so they were not available for viewing. We learned that they are trying to duplicate the success of the Cincinnati zoo that recently announced the birth in captivity of one of this endangered species.

We left Sepilok after about 2 hours and took the local bus into Sandakan where we bought a grocery store lunch. 

Sarah had called Crystal Quest (who manage the facilities at Turtle Island) earlier in the day and we were quoted a price of 1000RM (about $400) for one night at turtle island including all meals and boat transport. We had hoped to do better by seeing them in person and perhaps speaking to a manager.

Crystal Quest was closed but by chance, Wildlife Expeditions (located in the same building) was open. We had already received a very expensive quote from their office in the Rasa Ria, so we were not that hopeful. Sarah started the conversation by saying "we know we probably can't afford it, but here is what we'd like to do".

They gave us an incredible rate - they had a great promotional rate and then we got an additional 15% off. In addition, they did not charge for Chloe and Heather. Mark was half price. We ended up paying about 2200RM (just under $1000) for two nights at Sukau, one night at Turtle Island and two nights at Liberan Island. All meals, transportation and guiding was included for the 5 of us. It was exactly what we wanted at a price that was really quite good. 

We returned to the Labuk B&B and told them that we would be leaving the next day. I think we were all disappointed that we did not use Robert as our guide. Robert is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about local wildlife, and does his own guiding to Sukau. By all accounts, he is excellent and I am sure we would have had a great trip with him - Wildlife Expeditions just came through with a package that was too good to refuse.

On to Sukau!