Borneo Wildlife Adventure

Clare Hopkinson

11 Apr 2017

Sepilok Nature Resort

I was met at Sandakan Airport by a very welcoming guide who, on route, gave me lots of information about Borneo. I was then given a copy of my action-packed itinerary for the next 13 days.

Arrived at Sepilok Lodge and I was welcomed by very friendly and accommodating staff after a long 16 hour journey to Sandakan.

What an amazing lodge, watching as the river flowed past and listening to the sounds of the rainforest first hand. I was lucky enough to catch site of a monitor lizard swimming past. 

What a wonderful beginning to my holiday.

Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre

After a good night’s rest, waking up to the sound of the tropical forest, I headed for a hearty breakfast by the edge of the river. After which I was met an introduced to my first guide and transported to the nearby Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre. Here I watched the orang-utans playing on the ropes from the nursery platform. After I was taken to the viewing platform to watch the junior orang-utans swing down from the trees for their breakfast. I watched as the trees shook, as they made their way to the feeding platform. This was my first encounter of the orang-utans amongst their most natural habitat. What an amazing experience and such fantastic work carried out at this Rehabilitation Centre.

I then proceeded to the Sun Bear Centre and had the opportunity to view these amazing animals. My guide provided me with lots of information on the 44 bears at the Rehabilitation Centre, their age range and all about the work that the Rehabilitation Centre undertakes. The Centre does such amazing work to ensure their natural environment in the forest area and facilitating their rehabilitation back into the wild.

After such a fascinating an eye opening experience, I was driven to the jetty to take a short ride to the Abai Lodge on the Kinabatangan River. The only access to this lodge is by river. Upon arrival I was welcomed to a lovely meal of rice, chicken, fresh vegetables and fruit. The restaurant over looked the Kinabatangan River and there were comfortable hammocks lined up across the wooden deck, to watch the world pass by. The lodges were clean and comfortable and a series of walkways led through the forest.

I went out of my first river safari late afternoon and saw the proboscis monkeys, long and short tailed macaques. My guide had such a fantastic eye for capturing wildlife amongst the forest and spotted the smallest of kingfishers asleep in the trees. When darkness fell we were taken to a tree that was lit up just like a Christmas tree by the wonderful site of the fireflies.

After dinner our group was taken on a night walk on the lodge walkways to see the nocturnal animals. We spotted birds sleeping amongst the trees and some fascinating insects.

Abai Lodge

The following morning we headed out at 6.30am for a river safari on the Pitas Lake, passing through the beautiful mangroves. What an amazing experience watching the sun come up, burning through the mist across the river. I saw the proboscis monkeys awakening and was lucky enough to see a very large crocodile swimming down the river. I saw hornbills and egrets flying from one side of the forest to the other.

What a welcome back I received when our group was taken into the forest to have breakfast. Monkeys in the trees and wild boar waiting for leftovers surrounded us! What a fantastic an unexpected touch.

After breakfast we visited a local village and saw their traditional houses and walked past the local school. We were given some background information on the community here and how they earn their living. After which our group was taken to the other side of the river, where we were all given the opportunity to plant a tree. What a fantastic day this was and I was sorry to leave this lodge, the friends that I had made and such a knowledgeable and accommodating guide.

I was introduced to my new guide and transported by river to my next lodge the Kinabatangan River Lodge. I was welcomed with a refreshing towel and a cool drink. What a lovely lodge set amongst the forest overlooking the river. I managed to find a hammock on a quiet wooden platform, where I could relax and take in the idyllic scenery.

Once settled our group went out on our first river safari on the Menanggul River and came close to some gorgeous baby monkeys along the riverside. I also witnessed a mangrove snake curled up in the tree and watched as the proboscis monkeys jumped from tree to tree. As the sun went down I passed an owl in the tree. The sunset was stunning on our return to the lodge.

Everyone was given a patterned sarong to wear to dinner that evening. What a lovely meal prepared with plenty of choice of chicken, rice, fish and fresh vegetables.

After a fantastic dinner with the lovely people from my new group. I headed back to my lodge, taking in the wonderful relaxing sounds of the cicadas amongst the rainforest.

The following morning our group was taken out on a 3-hour river safari. We headed down to the Pitas Lake. On route there was a group of boats looking up towards the tree. My first glimpse at a male orangutan sitting relaxing in the tree.

What a truly awesome sight. He was very cheeky and covered his face, as clearly didn’t want to be in the limelight of all the boats surrounding him!

My next wish was to see the pygmy elephants that hadn’t been seen in the area for more than 2 weeks. We pulled up alongside the riverbank and saw fresh elephant foot prints, but sadly no sign of the elephants. I was lucky to see a baby crocodile and some more long and short tail macaques. We travelled through the mangroves and stopped for a coffee that our captain had kindly prepared for us. We sat and watched the amazing array of birds, including hornbills, egrets and eagles flying overhead.

What a truly magical place to stop for a cup of coffee.


We arrived back at the lodge and breakfast was served by the edge of the river. After a lovely breakfast with my group, I had some time to relax and explored the walkways across the lodges. I then relaxed in a very nice hammock in a very quiet spot right at the edge of the river and watched the array of birdlife flying from tree to tree.

After a plentiful choice of lunch our group headed back out on our last river safari. You never tire of all the wonderful things that you see with the cooling breeze on your face, as you speed along the river. The knowledge that these guides have is astounding and they are able to spot birds and primates from such a distance along the riverbanks. This evening we saw more baby monkeys, long and short tailed macaques, another mangrove snake curled around a tree and a monitor lizard resting on the bark of a tree.

We then headed back to the lodges for a wonderful final dinner of freshly caught fish and vegetables. A very nice couple that I had met at my first lodge had arrived and were celebrating their Golden Wedding anniversary. The staff came out with a lovely cake for them and they shared this with all of the guests at the lodge. What a wonderful end to the river lodge safaris. As I headed back to my lodge for the final night, I took in the wonderful sounds of the rainforest.

Danum valley

This morning I headed out of my lodge and caught sight of the long-tailed macaques jumping from one side of the wooden walkways to the other. After taking a few more photos I made my way for my final breakfast at the Kinabatangan Lodge.

After another wonderful breakfast, watching the sun burn through the mist over the river, I was met by my driver who took me on the 2½ drive by road to the Borneo Rainforest Offices. This was in preparation for my next venture into the Danum Valley. Along the 2½-hour route, we passed through endless rows of palm tree plantations. Sad that this part of the natural forest has now disappeared.

On arrival at the Borneo Rainforest Offices, I was greeted with a hot drink and biscuit and given a briefing on the rainforest. I was given a very nice water bottle that I was told that I could keep. After signing some paperwork, I headed out with another couple and we had a further 2½ drive in a very comfortable jeep to the Danum Valley. 

The scenery along the way was just spectacular.

This is the very dense part of the forest and is a conservation area, so you are surrounded by rows and rows of trees. Along the route our driver was very accommodating and stopped to let us take photos. We saw some red leaf monkeys on the way. We saw fresh elephant dung, but still no sign of those elephants!

When I arrived at the lodge our group was greeted by staff and we were given a beautiful chain made out of leaves. We were taken up to a beautiful open air bar, where we were given a nice warm towel, followed by a refreshing drink of lemongrass and ginger and a home made cookie. We were greeted by our guide, who gave us an overview of the forest and our itinerary for the rest of the day.  

After I had settled in to this wonderful luxurious lodge, I ventured across the walkway for lunch. What an outstanding choice and the restaurant overlooked the valley with a lake below. 

After lunch we were taken on our first walk along one of the canopies. These canopies are fantastic and are what makes this lodge so unique. We saw the dreaded tiger leeches, some fascinating insects, including the rolly-polly insect. This looks like a caterpillar and when you touch it, turns into a solid ball. Along one of the top canopies we saw some red leaf monkeys swinging across the walkways. We also saw a snake on our way back through the forest area. Our guides keep in touch via radio and we were advised that a male orang-utan had been spotted in the tree. When we arrived there he was and what an amazing experience to be within a stones throw of an orang-utan in the wild. We stayed for around 10 minutes, but when the orang-utan started to make its way down from the tree, that was our cue to make a very quick exit!

When darkness fell we were taken out on a night drive. We saw a wild cat just disappearing into the forest and lots of flying squirrels. We then headed back for dinner and what another fantastic choice of food and desserts. I then headed back to my lodge and sat on the balcony listening to the wonderful sounds of the forest.

The following morning we headed out around 6.30am for a 3-hour trek up to the peak of the valley. We encountered more insects including large ants and more rolly-pollies. Our guide pointed out the various plants and trees that we passed on route. In the distance we could hear the gibbons calling across the forest. When we reached the top we watched the sun burn the mist away over the valley. We then visited the coffin cliff burial site, where you could still see the remains of bones amongst the cliffs. Upon our return we were welcomed back with a hearty breakfast.

Later we ventured out on our afternoon walk. We encountered a racer snake on route and saw lots of large ants. We spotted some of the Danum Valley birds including the flycatchers that live amongst the forest.

After a rest and some dinner we headed out on a night time walk along the walkways through the forest, to see some of the nocturnal creatures. We spotted the huntsman spider, stick insects and some fascinating frogs on our walk. At 6pm each day the cicadas give out an ear piercing call, which lets you know that you are truly staying in the forest!

The walking treks are amazing and a great way to get a close up view of the animals and see some of the fantastic insects and plants of the Borneo Rainforest. 

The following morning we set off on another early morning walk and saw some of the red leaf monkeys coming to life, as the sun rose above the trees. What amazing scenery amongst the heart of the rainforest. We headed up to the canopy to see what wildlife we could spot in the trees below. The animals were a little wary, as there had been a spotted leopard in the area a couple of days earlier that had sadly taken one of the baby monkeys. However we were able to spot some of the fantastic birds flying from the trees across the forest and some long-tailed macaques, swinging from branch to branch.

We headed back for a well-deserved breakfast and had some free time to take in the last sights and sounds of the forest. I went for a walk later that morning and spotted a female orangutan resting in one of the trees.

This was truly amazing, as I had this lucky find to myself!

What a fantastic end to such an amazing experience I had encountered during my stay in the Danum Valley.

After lunch we were met by our driver who was to take us to the airport to fly back to Kota Kinabalu. On route my luck was finally in, and we saw a mother pygmy elephant and her baby along the roadside. Our driver stopped so that we could take pictures. This was the icing on the cake.

After a 2½ drive back to the airport with a grin from ear to ear, I then took my flight back to Kota KInabalu. Upon arrival I was met by my driver who took me to my hotel for the night, in preparation for my mountain climb the following morning. I ventured out briefly taking in the night markets. The hustle and bustle of the city life felt like a million miles away from where I had spent my last 6 days.  


Mount Kinabalu

After a very comfortable night’s sleep, I was met by my driver at 6.30am. I was sent off with a packed breakfast in preparation for a 2½ journey to the start of the Mount Kinabalu mountain climb. When I arrived at the offices I was able to safely store my luggage away for a very small fee. I was then given my ID pass and a packed lunch. I was then introduced to my mountain guide for the next two days.

We were the first group to be bussed up to the start of the long 16kilometrre mountain climb. The route started off with many steps and went through forest areas. Every couple of kilometres there were rest points. After each rest point the terrain got a little harder and as I progressed higher, it became rockier and the steps became steeper. What amazing and spectacular scenery on route. It was so lovely to meet people who were on the way down who said hello and wished me luck for the climb.

I got to the mountain lodge around early afternoon, just before the heavy rain set in. I was given a towel and bed in a dormitory and had a few hours to rest before setting off to the summit in the early hours.

At 1.30am I got up after having very little sleep in the dormitories. We were provided with an early morning breakfast to give us the fuel to make the final 2½ climb to the summit. Thankfully the rain had stopped, but the rocks were very slippery and with only a headlamp to guide the way, the climb was tricky. The climb became steeper as we progressed and became tougher battling against the high altitude. This walk is not for the faint hearted and you do need to have a fairly good fitness level to be able to pull yourself across the steep parts with the aid of a rope. However after a couple of hours, it was finally worth it to feel the greatest success of reaching the very top at 4,095 metres. 

Here I watched as the sun rose up over the rocks and felt a great sense of achievement.


After watching the sun rise I started to head back down and passed people on the way that were still trying to reach their final goal of making it to the top! As it was now light it made it easier to see where you were walking. The views across were just outstanding and the tough climb had made it all worth it. I stopped at the mountain hut and had 1½ to rest here and take in another breakfast before starting the final decent down. With legs like jelly it was lovely to meet people along the way and wish them the luck that I had been wished on the way up!

I stopped at a couple of the rest points on the way down to have some water and let my legs have a little rest. Here some of the squirrels appeared looking for food. They probably know that they are guaranteed food from the packed lunch provided to us on route!

I arrived back at the base around 1pm and was earlier than anticipated. I was presented with my certificate and managed to get an earlier transfer back to Kota Kinabalu.

Yes only 2 ½ hours from a hot shower and my bit of luxury for the final three nights of my holiday. I don’t remember much about the journey, as I slept through most of it!!

Upon arrival at the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru, I was greeted by staff and checked into my room. What an amazing place and after a hot shower headed out to treat myself to a nice Italian meal and well deserved glass of wine.

Shangri-La Tanjung Aru

What a fantastic resort, the staff are so accommodating and can’t do enough for you. I spent my last two days just relaxing by the fantastic pool and watching the sun go down from the famous Sunset Bar. After the 2-day climb my legs didn’t want to move too far from the sunbed. I had breakfast included and it was the most wonderful choice ever.

In the evening I used a very reliable Uber taxi to take me into Kota Kinabalu. I was able to take in lots of shopping here and the restaurants along the waterfront are plentiful. Later that evening I met up for a drink with a lovely couple that were in my group at the Abai River Lodge.

The following morning after another lovely and amazing breakfast, I had the sad task of having to check out. I had an amazing 3-day stay here and the staff from the Concierge Desk came out to wave me off, as I was driven to the airport for the long journey back to the UK.

I left with a tear in my eye, but with the memories of such an amazing adventure that I had experienced during my time in Borneo.

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