Sepilok, Malaysia and the Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre: Don’t look for it, Taylor. You may not like what you find.
Getting to Sepilok from Kota Kinabalu is easy. We took a taxi to Inanam Bus Terminal for RM25/$8.10. The taxi drivers will tell you it’s a flat rate, but ask around as we got told a couple of different prices. When we arrived at the station (around 11am), we headed to the ticket counter and asked for tickets on the next available bus to the Sepilok junction. Any bus going to Sandakan will drop you at the junction. The next bus with seats available left at 1:30pm (RM42/$13.60, 6.5 hours). It would be a good idea to book your bus ahead of time if you want to arrive in Sepilok early. We found a restaurant across the street from the station sat down, drank tea, ate murtabak, and played chess until it was time to board the bus.
We were greeted by darkness at the Sepilok junction around 8pm. Usually there are taxis waiting to take people down the 4km road to their guesthouse, no such luck for us. There wasn’t a sign of a taxi, so we walked 2.5km to Sepilok Forest Edge Resort. Aside from our heavy backpacks, the walk was quite pleasant. The heat of the day was long gone, and the peace and quiet of the rainforest surrounded us. If you know your arrival time, it is possible to book a pick-up at the junction with Forest Edge Resort for RM8/$2.60. The resort was set in well-cared-for grounds, had a small (and I mean small) pool, and a choice of cabins or a room in a longhouse. As the cabins were way out of our price range, we opted for a fan room with private bathroom in the longhouse at RM80/$26 per night (we couldn’t find anything else much cheaper in Sepilok). Why don’t you read our Trip Advisor review?
9AM the next morning, we walked to the Rainforest Discovery Centre. We bought our tickets (RM10/$3.25) and wandered inside, soon realizing we had the place to ourselves, given that most people are at the orang-utan’s 10am feeding. Our first stop was at the plant discovery garden where they grow and label many of the interesting flora found in the Bornean rainforest such as pitcher plants, as well as many tropical American plants like Venus flytraps and cacti!
It would be beautiful to go in August/September to see the orchids in bloom. After the garden, we set out on one of the many trails through the forest. We walked to Hornbill Tower (where we saw some trogons but no hornbills), along Kingfisher Trail (one kingfisher and a giant squirrel spotted) to Woodpecker Avenue (woodpeckers heard but not seen), and then finally to the canopy walkway. We saw a hornbill flying overhead, and glimpsed a plain pygmy squirrel darting amongst the trees (endemic to Borneo, one of the smallest squirrels in the world, and adorable!).
We could have spent the rest of the day at the RDC investigating the trails, but we had to get to the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre for the 3pm feeding. As per the instructions, we arrived at SORC 30 minutes before the feeding to get a good spot, paid our admission fee (RM30/$9.70) and camera fee (RM10/$3.25), and followed the hoards to the feeding platform. It was like being in Disney World, but this was our backup: if we don’t see orang-utans in the wild, then at least we’ll have seen them here. When the feeding began the crowd surged forward and started making a lot of noise. Every time the mother touched her baby, an echo of “oohs” and “aahs” went up. It was annoying. I could hear another like-minded tourist nearby shushing everyone. I couldn’t figure out where the shushing was coming from, but whoever you are, you were my hero that day. When the feeding frenzy was over (for the orang-utans and the tourists) everyone left at the same time, cramming themselves down the wooden deck trails in a blur of camera flashes. We were left with maybe five or six people and sat quietly watching two large male orang-utans return to eat the scraps the macaques had left. We stayed there, silently observing, until the park closed. It was the best part of the day.
We tried to be as organized as possible in Borneo. We had heard that guesthouses tend to get booked up in the main tourist areas like Sepilok, Sukau, and Semporna, so we booked ahead as much as possible to avoid disappointment. Our next stop was supposed to be Sukau, the base from which you can book wildlife tours of the Kinabatangan River. However, we were having trouble getting in touch with Sukau B&B to make a booking. We made a last-minute change of plans and decided to do some snorkelling in Semporna first.