Posts Tagged With: Sabah

Sepilok orangutan rehabilitation centre

Reasons why orangutans are amazing

  • They’re ginger monkeys
  • They share 96.4% of their DNA with humans, the highest percentage of any animal species
  • They’re the only one of the great apes to live outside of Africa
  • They are the wild men of Borneo
  • Baby orangutans look like this….Baby orangutan
  • Big daddy alpha male orangutans look like this…..

For all these reasons, and ginger solidarity, orangutans have always been one of my favourite animals. On our recent trip to Sabah, one of the two states that comprise the Malaysian part of Borneo, I had the opportunity to see these magnificent beasts for the first time.

As it’s getting more and more difficult to see orangutans in the wild, the best bet for primate enthusiasts in Sabah is to visit the Sepilok orangutan rehabilitation centre, one of only three such facilities in the world. Situated just 45 minutes away from Sabah’s second largest city, Sandakan, the sanctuary welcomes thousands of visitors every year. The highlights of the day are the two feeding sessions, held at 10am and 2:30pm. On the morning of our visit, we arrived just in time for the 10am session, as the first orangutans were making their entrance. The orangutans swing along the ropes to the platform where they are fed bananas. The diet is deliberately monotonous, so as to encourage natural foraging behaviour, which is essential if they are ever to return to the wild. The feeding lasts for approximately twenty minutes before the orangutans decide they’ve had their fill and swing back into the forest. Watching it was a fantastic experience.

After feeding time there are a couple of options. There is a jungle trail, about 5 kilometres in length, which leads to a waterfall. As there was a high prospect of being leeched we decided to pass and visit the neighbouring Borneo Sun bear conservation centre instead. Sun bears are the world’s smallest bear species. Similarly to orangutans, they are endangered due to habitat destruction and Chinese traditional medicine. At the BSCC you can view the tiny bears from an elevated platform. These beautiful bears were so playful and docile that I was seriously worried that Janey might ask if she could take one home.


After leaving the sun bears we headed to the café for lunch. This was made extremely entertaining when one bold orang-utan, named Sisi attempted a daring, but ultimately unsuccessful, smash and grab raid on the kitchen supplies. Natural foraging behaviour I guess. Finally, it was time for the afternoon feeding session. Although we saw less orangutans this time, it was more amusing as a squad of macaques attempted their own smash and grab raid on the platform. Unfortunately, the afternoon session showed some negative aspects of the sanctuary. Many tourists seem unable to resist acting like complete imbeciles around the animals. When two inquisitive orangutans came down into our midst, they were surrounded by throngs of people flashing away and no doubt causing immense distress for the poor animals. Not cool at all.

Despite the unfortunate reasons for its formation and the stupid behaviour of some visitors, a trip to Sepilok is a superb experience and one that I’d highly recommend. After all, how many chances do you get to see the great apes in their natural habitat?



  • Entrance to the sanctuary costs 30 ringgit and covers you for both feeding sessions.
  • There are many lodges near the sanctuary. I’d recommend staying in one of these, rather than central Sandakan.
Categories: Asia, Malaysia, Orangutan centre, Sabah | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Climbing Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in South East Asia. Standing at an impressive height of 4,095 metres it towers over the rest of Borneo. Ever since I arrived in Malaysia last September, I’d wanted to climb it. Why? I don’t know. Because it’s there I guess. I’m not really much of a mountaineer. Prior to climbing Kinabalu the highest mountain that I had climbed was Ben Nevis which is a molehill in comparison, at just 1,344 metres. There was something about Kinabalu that really made me want to take on the challenge though. Therefore, in May this year, Janey and I headed to Sabah, with the intention of ascending the great peak.


On the first morning of our two day trek, we departed from the Timpohon gate, at 9:30am. Part of what makes Kinabalu unique is that for the first day of the climb you can’t actually see the peak of the mountain, as you’re trekking through fairly dense jungle. We’d been warned to expect sweltering heat and to sweat profusely. This didn’t really transpire as the temperatures were pleasantly mild. Nor did the steep steps seem too sapping. I naively congratulated myself for the many hours spent on the cross trainer and stairmaster in preparation for the trek. This wasn’t going to be that difficult after all! However, at about the 2.5km mark we started encountering people who were gingerly making their way down the mountain. One girl told me that she was so exhausted that her legs were shaking. Maybe that confidence was slightly misplaced.

Rain has a habit of following Janey and I around. Maybe it’s because I’m from Manchester. Just after we’d stopped for lunch, it decided to make its customary appearance. This wasn’t the warm tropical rain that we’re used to in Penang. This was ice cold, torrential and it meant business. We tried to take shelter for a while but as it showed no signs of abating we ventured out for what would be the toughest part of the trek. Between 4.5 and 6 km the trail maintains its steep upward gradient. Just to make it more difficult though the steps disappear and the walkers have to navigate their way over or around some very larger boulders. The added challenge of the torrential rain made it akin to walking up a waterfall. Finally though, the tree line cleared and Laban Rata, our home for the night, appeared like a beautiful beacon of light. Soaked and miserable, we staggered into the hostel. There was only another 2.5km to go in the morning, with the prospect of more rain to come.

At first you can’t believe it. Is my alarm clock really going off at 1:30am? Then it dawns on you, it’s time to get up and attempt to summit. After trying to force down some beans on toast (seriously difficult at 2:00am) we departed Laban Rata and started our ascent to the summit. The most difficult aspect of this part of the climb is not the darkness, but the volume of climbers. Around 150 people all leave at the same time, which makes progress painstakingly slow. Eventually though, the stronger hikers get to the front and the line starts to spread out, and you can relax a little bit. Until you reach the rope. This is definitely the most dangerous point of the trek. We had to tightly grip onto a rope to enable us to inch along a very narrow ledge, with a sheer drop to the right. This torturous ordeal lasts for about fifteen minutes until you reach the final checkpoint. After that the rope continues but only as a marker to guide you across a long ridge. Strangely, for me, this was one of the easiest parts of the climb. Gone were the steps and boulders. We were just walking across smooth granite at a slight gradient. The challenge though is mental. In the approaching light, the summit is visible for a very long time before you get there, cruelly playing tricks on tired minds.

After what seemed like an eternity the ridge levelled out and we only had to scramble up a rocky crag to reach the ironically named Low’s Peak, the highest point in South East Asia. The sense of elation was overwhelming. I had done the Inca Trail some years earlier, but Kinabalu was easily the toughest physical challenge I’d ever undertaken. For that reason it’s also one of my proudest achievements.


Once you have finished revelling in the magnificent views, it’s time to go down. And believe me, this is just as tough as the ascent, even with a stop for second breakfast (definitely the best meal of the day) at Laban Rata. Janey, who had performed heroically up to this point given the fact that she had twisted her ankle a month beforehand, started to suffer from exhaustion. This made the descent very slow. Throughout this section, we were indebted to our wonderful guide Doina for her seemingly endless patience and indefatigability. Finally, we dragged our battered bodies back through the Timpohon gate at around 4:45pm. The whole trek had taken about 16 hours from start to finish. Was it worth the agony and several subsequent days of muscle pain? Of course it was. Every single bit of it.





We booked our 2 day, 1 night package through a company called Sutera, who seem to have a monopoly on climbing packages and accommodation. Expect to pay about 1000RM. This seems pricey, but it includes 7 meals, 2 nights accommodation and all climbing insurance etc. Ss the official Mount Kinabalu website for details.



Categories: Asia, Malaysia, Mount Kinabalu | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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