Borneo Ultimate Wildlife Safari Trip Report

Alan Key

07 Aug 2015

Capturing the essence of the region and wildlife

Following discussions with Natural World Safaris we put together a trip to Borneo visiting the main nature reserves for myself and my wife. It was a bespoke trip with extra days (from the normal visit length) at Borneo Rainforest Lodge and Myne Resort to ensure we captured the essence of the region and wildlife to be seen.

Following a day’s travel to Kota Kinabalu we explored the city and had a splendid dinner at the night fish restaurant - something we recommended to other travellers to do. After a night’s sleep we met up with Zeno our travelling companion and guide for the safari. The trip began with a visit to Miki’s village, a community farming project under the shadow of Mount Kinabalu, Miki and his family were very welcoming and the eating of a fresh straight-from-the-plant pineapple was one to savour. We walked along a mountain track for about 4 hours including a delicious lunch before returning to Miki’s house just as a downpour started - excellent timing.

We departed Miki’s and set off for the Poring Hot Springs and a walk to the waterfalls before arriving at the Sabah Tea Garden and our overnight stay. It was fortunate that we visited the springs the day we did, two days later the earthquake struck and decimated the site.

Following a night in the Long House we walked through the tea plantation to the dining room for breakfast and enjoyed a wonderful sight of the mountain soon to be shaken and damaged with sadly, some fatalities.

After breakfast we stopped at the Luanti River to have our feet nibbled by some fish, a strange experience!

Departing the river we set off for the drive to Sepilok and our two night stay. On arrival we visited the Sun Bear Conservation Centre and were fortunate to see all six bears in the rehab area without anyone else around. Whilst there, Dr Wong Siew Te the founder of the project met us and conversed about the work of the centre and its future - a very interesting man and an honour to meet.

Not far away was the Sepilok Nature Resort where two very good nights were spent in a fabulous lodge with great dining. Whilst there we had two night safaris and an early morning safari. On the first night safari we watched flying squirrels leaping from tree to tree and a slow loris feeding in a tree. Great!

The next day was spent visiting the orang-utan and proboscis monkey sanctuaries giving us our first sighting of these two primates, we also saw the pig-tailed monkey and long-tailed macaque whilst at the orang-utan feeding station. Zeno had been listening to our wishes, we wanted to visit Sandakan as well as the wildlife so we went and spent a couple of hours touring the city later in the afternoon.

Leaving Sepilok for the Abai Jungle Lodge we travelled to Sandakan with another couple and boarded our boat for the 2 hour journey to the Kinabatangan River passing troops of proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaques and eagles along the river. 

The lodge on the banks of the river was very comfortable, after a welcome drink we were shown our lodge before going off on a 4 hour sunset cruise on the river. 

What a cruise! Lots of birds, crocodiles, silvered leaf, and proboscis monkeys, more long-tailed macaques and the star - our first orang-utan in the wild feeding up a tree with a glimpse of another nearby building its nest. 

Following a short break for a cuppa we continued on the night cruise mainly to see the fireflies - a tremendous sight - lots of trees lit up like Christmas trees. 

After dinner we had a night walk along the lodge’s boardwalk spotting further wildlife before settling down for the night extremely happy explorers.

We had chosen to move of from Sepilok to spend three nights at Myne Resort three hours further down river. What a good idea that was. On the way there we got our only sighting of elephants, a herd of about 40 alongside the river cooling off from the heat. We spent a good half an hour watching them. We also saw lots more birds and the largest crocodile we were to see - one we think we saw a further two times during the boat safaris.

We were to spend three nights in the resort and take some seven river cruises at different times of the day. We also had some free time where welcome massages were enjoyed by both of us. A very good resort with friendly staff. We were fortunate to see lots of wonderful creatures during these cruises - proboscis, pig-tailed and silvered-leaf monkeys, and orang-utans (every day!). Long-tailed macaques, countless birds and insects, monitor lizards and some great river views too. 

Whilst we did see the bats, they did not actually exit en-masse, disappointedly, but that was surpassed by getting very close to an orang-utan mother and infant who came down from the trees to the ground before disappearing into the jungle.

Four extremely good days were spent on the Kinabatangan River where we saw much more than we ever expected including five orang-utans.

It was certainly a good idea to have the extra day and recommend it to all who have the time. It was now time to go deep into the jungle with five days at the world famous Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Danum Valley. We first travelled to Lahad Datu to pick up the lodges four-wheel drive and take the three hour journey through this very large expanse of primary and secondary jungle stopping off at the largest Giant Mungaris Tree in the region. 

Eventually arriving at this wonderful lodge deep in the Bornean jungle we were welcomed as usual with a drink and then met our local guide Ronald who was to be with us for the duration of our stay. Our lodge had a plunge pool outside that we used every day to cool down during the afternoon storm.

We explained to Ronald that basically we were there to see and photograph everything that interested us as we were big into photography. This turned out to be a good idea as he was also into photography and went out of his way to assist us.

The routine was straight forward, a morning walk followed by an afternoon one and either an evening drive or walk each day.  There are various walks to do depending on ability. Probably the most strenuous was the hill top walk but that’s doable by anyone as long as you take your time. It’s worth doing as the views over the lodge and surrounding jungle are just fantastic. During our walk we were able to see flying lizards, just missed some otters but saw lots of other interesting animals.

Each walk we did proved to be different with amazing trees, flowers and wildlife - much better than the Amazon in our opinion -  we saw red-leafed monkey, orang-utans,  many species of birds, lizards, wild boar and butterflies and insects to boot. The wildlife and birds around the lodge were tremendous, the highlight being the mother and baby orang-utan right outside the dining room on the final morning, they were no more than 10 foot away from us - breakfast had to wait.

The first night drive was a wash out as a torrential downpour decided it would precipitate not long after we set off. Our second drive proved very good as we saw flying squirrel, slow loris and flying lemur albeit in the distance. The walks however were to produce some excellent sightings of owls, snakes, frogs, tarantula, scorpion, hairy spider (heteropoda), deer and two great sightings of a civet and a flying squirrel not far from our own lodge. I must say though that the latter will not win a beauty contest unless it was the only entrant!

As we were fortunate to have Zeno with us who had been at the lodge for five years Deryn and I were able to go in search of our own things on one day. I went looking for the one primate that we had heard but not seen the gibbon. Setting off at 6am with Ronald we headed out towards the 100metre high canopy walkway to see the mist in the trees with the hope of getting a bearing on the elusive gibbon; this was not to be but as a reward we did see some Asian river otters in the river below the walkway and got close to red-leaf monkeys. Deryn meanwhile had gone along the Danum River later in the morning with the reward of being close up to a darter.

Our final day in the jungle began with a very close up encounter with Lena and Kit who were right outside the lodge dining area - breakfast had to wait! 

We had our final walk in the jungle and saw two more orang-utans in the trees making a total in 15 in the wild during the tour. Far more than we could have anticipated or dreamed of. 

The journey from the jungle to Lahad Datu was quite eventful as we saw wild boar, long-tailed macaques various birds and a spitting cobra in the middle of the road.

Our final night and day was spent back at Kota Kinabalu and the most luxurious Shangri-La Tanjung Aru resort with time for swimming and relaxing before our return journey home, we even had sight of an erupting volcano in the Philippines about 150 miles away whilst having a sumptuous seafood dinner on the night we arrived.

I will say at this point that Natural World Safaris did a splendid job for us with their suggestions of what would suit us and we both returned home elated at what we had seen - all that was left was to sort out were the 11,000 images we had taken! The local Bornean agents had done us proud, everything was as advertised if not more and Zeno became part of the family.

This was our second NWS tailored safari and like the previous tour, a bespoke month in Madagascar we were not in the slightest disappointed. We are already looking forward to the trip to the Pantanal, Brazil in 2016 where we are sure Natural World Safaris will deliver again.

If you would like us to help design your tailor-made Borneo Safari, please get in touch.

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