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sailingfastforward
2nd Aug 2010 - 4th Aug 2010
Orangutans & the Kinabatangan River

Sandakan here we come!!
2-4 August 2010

Visitors to Sandakan are generally all there for the same reasons: to see the Orangutans – to dive/snorkel at Sipidan – to see turtles nesting 365 (!!) days a year at the Turtle Islands National Park – or to experience the highly proclaimed Kinabatangan River.

Sometimes a stopover might include a few hours at the Sandakan Memorial Park, the site of the Japanese POW camp which was the starting point for the infamous “death marches” to Ranau. In September 1944 there were 1800 Australian and 600 British troops interned here More Australians died here than during the building of the infamous Burma Railway, accounting for nearly one eighth of all Australia’s Pacific casualties. Early in the war there was a death rate of around 3 a month. As Allies closed in rations were cut to weaken them, disease set in and the death rate rose. A decision was then made to move them 250kms inland to Ranau, passing through uninhabited, inhospitable terrain. On 28 Jan 1945 470 prisoners set off, 313 made it to Ranau. On the second march 570 started and just 118 reached Ranau. The 537 prisoners on the third march were the last men in the camp. Conditions on the march were deplorable: many men had no boots, rations were less than minimal and many men fell by the wayside. In typical brutal fashion, the Japanese disposed of any prisoners who couldn’t walk. Once in Ranau, the surviving prisoners were put to work carrying 20kg sacks of rice over hilly terrain to Paginatan, 40km away. Disease, starvation and executions took a horrendous toll, and by the end of July 1945 there were no prisoners left. Only 6 Australians had managed to escape. As a final bitter irony, it emerged after the war that a rescue attempt had been planned for early 1945, but intelligence at the time suggested that there were no prisoners left at the Sandakan camp…

On a lighter note – we’d booked to see the Orangutans as well as a short excursion to the lower Kinbatangan River. The tour was booked at Excel Dive and Tours in KK, but S.I. Tours was the operator that Excel works with in Sandakan - we can highly recommend both companies. The SI Tours tour guide was very professional, helpful and very friendly. We however booked our own cheap flights on Air Asia.

We did the 2D/1N at Abai Lodge (fantastic setting, brilliant staff and delicious food, buffet style). Arriving at around 2pm, we wiled away a few hours at the Rainforest Discovery Centre which was very well done and quite interesting. That night was spent the Sepilok Jungle Resort. The tours generally start in the morning and they pick you up in Sandakan or at the airport. They picked us up at the SJR and it worked out well.

Day 1
The Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary is one of four Orangutan sanctuaries in the world. It was established in 1964 and covers 40 sq km. Orphaned and injured orangutans are brought here to be rehabilitated to return to forest life, and so far the centre has handled about 100, although only about 20 still return. On most days camera-clicking tourists far outnumber the poor primates. We were lucky enough to see a very tiny baby – I was hugely disappointed that there was no interaction between the “feeders” and ourselves – as I’m sure a lot of us would have wanted to know how old the baby was, as well as other quirks etc. The forest was a gorgeous setting albeit rather touristy – and nothing like our Kumai River Orangutan experience, which is still the most mind-blowing trip I’ve done to date as it involved such close contact with these wild animals. Anyway it was still just so amazing to see these incredible creatures.

We then drove to the Sandakan Water Village and caught a small high speed power boat to the Abai River Lodge – this was good fun and my mother just loved the trip!

The lodge was located in the lower Kinabatangan River, which at 560kms is Sabah’s longest river. Yachts can navigate down the river for about 35nm’s – about as far the Sukai River Lodge.

Logging and clearing for plantations have devastated the upper reaches of the river, but by a strange irony the riverine forest near the coast is so hemmed in by oil palm plantations that an astonishing variety of wildlife is crammed into it limited boundaries. For most, the wildlife is the main attraction. Mammals can be seen at any time of the year, although most bird activity happens in the wet season (Oct-March).

Sightings of the unusual proboscis monkey’s are common in the mangroves in the late afternoon, these pot-bellied, big-nosed and rather ungainly animals are endemic to Borneo, and can also swim! The long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques are everywhere, wild orangutans are often seen nesting in the trees downstream. There’s a chance of seeing the Borneo’s pygmy elephants, and according the WWF there are only 1000 left. Clouded leopards, marbled cats, deer, giant squirrels can also be seen in the forest. All eight of Borneo’s hornbill species are seen regularly, and you may come across a Storm’s stork or the bizarre Oriental darter or snake-bird.

Naturally the success rate of animal-spotting largely depends on luck and the local knowledge of your guide. The elephants come and go and herds often break up to go through the plantations, which can make sighting them quite tricky.

On arrival, a delicious buffet lunch was served before we “checked in” to our rooms (which were more than adequate), we even had our own verandah area which was pretty neat! The boardwalks through the forest were well thought out and one could wander around without having to worry about leeches! The insects in the forest were broadcasting at maximum volume, and were almost deafening at times! It was amazing! Later that afternoon, along with a very knowledgeable guide, 2 boats set off on a 2 hour river cruise (10 in a boat). We saw about 7 wild orangutans, quite a few proboscis monkeys (but not as many I thought we’d see) – a few hornbill flying off in the distance, egrets, a small crocodile… but sadly no elephants. They’d seen them the previous evening, but there is just so much “jungle” for them to play in – it can be tricky finding them every single day!

Dinner, which was yet another feast, was followed by another short boat trip to see the fireflies and other nocturnal birds, etc. There were so many fireflies, it looked like a Christmas tree! We saw an owl, kingfishers and a few other birds. An optional “night walk” was on offer later that evening… my mother and Walter were exhausted, but Ken and I were up for it. It was quite interesting as we saw strange insects, more birds, and even a flying lemur!

Day 2 started off with an early morning river cruise – surprisingly we hardly saw any life, even in one of the oxbow lakes - but it was just so tranquil being out so early. Breakfast was outstanding as they’d set it out at one of the “intersections” on the boardwalks, so we were literally sitting in the jungle! It was great!

Our high speed taxi departed at 9am for Sandakan Water Village jetty, where a big tour bus was waiting to whisk us off to the large Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple that was overlooking Sandakan. Overall it was a great experience and exceptional value for money. The Sukai River Lodge is more popular, but with “more popular” comes a lot more boats zooming round the river looking for monkeys and elephants etc... so we were very happy with our choice!

Before being dropped off at the airport we enjoyed a sumptuous buffet lunch at the Sabah Hotel (why did we eat so much at breakfast?!). It was a 30 minute ride to the airport and very short 45 minute flight back to KK… out of the taxi and literally straight onto the hotel’s shuttle bus into town! My mom and I set off to Tong Hing to do a quick fresh fruit and veg shop - and at the click of a finger we slotted back into the hustle and bustle of the city… luckily we were escaping the madness in the morning and heading out to some nearby islands for a few days of R&R!



Next: To Brunei and Back Again!
Previous: Malaysian Rally part 2 / BIYC 2010


Diary Photos
2nd Aug 2010  Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre - a rather sturdy construction don't you think?!

2nd Aug 2010  Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre - lookout tower

2nd Aug 2010  Sepilok Jungle Resort - view from our front doors

2nd Aug 2010  Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre - some of these trees were simply unbelievably tall!

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Jungle Resort - this reticulated python tried to sneak through the parking lot!!

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary - very well maintained!

3rd Aug 2010  Sandakan - huge water village

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - Abai River Lodge...

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Jungle Resort - dining/chilling area - great food by the way!

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - nice photo!

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Jungle Resort... quite a lovely setting.

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Jungle Resort - off for an early morning stroll

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Jungle Resort...

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary - minutes before the feeding

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary - LOVE IT!!! They are just SO PRECIOUS!!

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary - breakfast has arrived.

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary - mother and teeny tiny baby

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary - look at the tiny hand!!!

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary
Oh this was so funny - she was having a bad hair day - chased him away as she didn't want this guy near her... but he was desperate for bananas and knew to be ultra careful - so he would hang a safe distance and then really stretch over as far as he could - it was hilarious actually!

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary - here he's s t r e t c h i n g for that banana so as not to annoy her

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary - tiny little baby!

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary - she's had enough

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary - love the expression!

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary - photos from rehab centre

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary - photos from rehab centre

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary - photos from rehab centre
I don't want a child.... just give me one of these babies please.

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary - photos from rehab centre

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary - photos from rehab centre

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary - photos from rehab centre

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary - photos from rehab centre

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary - photos from rehab centre

3rd Aug 2010  Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary - photos from rehab centre

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - en route from Sandakan via high speed boat

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - wild orangutan!

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - Abai River Lodge...

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - Abai River Lodge... always spotless!

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - Abai River Lodge... we're just arriving!!

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - Abai River Lodge... - dining room

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - Abai River Lodge...

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - Abai River Lodge... - parking lot

3rd Aug 2010  Sandakan - Abai Lodge

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - Abai River Lodge... showing us to our cabins

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - Abai River Lodge... our verandah

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - Abai River Lodge...

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - Abai River Lodge... general layout

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - Abai River Lodge... Walter on the boardwalk

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - Abai River Lodge... setting off for our sunset animal-spotting cruise

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - proboscis monkey

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - big male proboscis monkey

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - heaven knows how they spotted this tiny croc!

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - love it! they are so ugly, but beautiful at the same time.

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - Mr Harry Casual!

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - male proboscis monkey

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - nice one Mom!! she's an ace with her new camera!!

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - beautiful eagle the zipped past...

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - was extremely lucky to get this shot!!

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - Abai River Lodge... pre-dinner drinks and snacks!

3rd Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - great reflection Ken!!

4th Aug 2010  Sandakan - mmm whose butt could that be|! Nice panorama shot Ken!

4th Aug 2010  Sandakan - Ken testing out the zoom on his new camera

4th Aug 2010  Sandakan - snake at the Buddhist Temple

4th Aug 2010  Sandakan airport

4th Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - trying to spot any form of life!!!

4th Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - Abai River Lodge... monitor lizard

4th Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - Abai River Lodge... breakfast is served.

4th Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - Abai River Lodge... enjoying breakfast

4th Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - Abai River Lodge... everyone gets breakfast here!

4th Aug 2010  Sandakan - water village

4th Aug 2010  Sandakan - water taxi shed

4th Aug 2010  Sandakan - water village

4th Aug 2010  Sandakan - water village

4th Aug 2010  Sandakan - water village... low tide

4th Aug 2010  Kinabatangan River - tour options, gives you a good idea of the lay of the land too.

4th Aug 2010  Sandakan - view from the Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple

4th Aug 2010  Sandakan - the Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple

4th Aug 2010  Sandakan - the fancy entrance at the Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple

4th Aug 2010  Sandakan airport

4th Aug 2010  Sandakan - snaking rivers!

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