Orangutans, Turtles and Fireflies (Borneo)

On my first trip to Borneo (2007) I envisaged jungle adventures bashing through rain forests surrounded by exotic birds and wildlife as a modern-day explorer. Things aren’t really like that. Eco-tourism is still tourism, and many of the experiences are packaged and spoon-fed. I otherwise booked everything independently; flights, hotels and travel, yet failed to find opportunities off-the-beaten-track, and now, looking back, this was kind of obvious. You don’t get exactly into taxis in Kota Kinabalu and say “Jungle Please”. As Borneo eco-tourism is controlled more in independent and small group tours, which are thankfully away from mass tourism or backpacker trails. Anyway, here are some of my favourite Borneo eco-tourism experiences during my travels in Malaysian Borneo (Sabah). Sorry for the dated images; in 2007 I used a brickshaped Cybershot.


Klias Wetlands River Cruise (Beaufort)

Proboscis monkeys and Fireflies. Two unique wildlife found on the Klias Wetland River Cruise. Fireflies the main attraction. As the sun sets behind surrounding mangroves the river lights up with the flashing of thousands of fireflies. Impressive. Can almost grab them. Definitely the highlight of the River Cruise. While waiting for the sun to set you can catch a glimpse of rare proboscis ‘big-nosed’ monkeys feeding on leaves from the surrounding Pedada Trees. If lucky other creatures may poke out their heads (not for us).

The trip is worthwhile but travelling for the purpose of fireflies is not as wowing as stumbling across them unexpectedly. The curse of eco-tourism is knowing what to expect. I’ve seen fireflies a number of times in Asia; most recently surrounding my bungalow in Ella, Sri Lanka. More magical but in lesser abundance. The number of fireflies at Klias Wetlands River Cruise is amazing. Having visited a similar cruise in Selangor, Malaysia; it did not compare to the Klias Wetlands River Cruise.

Travel and Accommodation for Klias Wetlands River Cruise

The Klias Wetlands River Cruise is located near the town of Beaufort. Roughly 1 hour 30 mins from Kota Kinabalu. The trip is easily organised from hotels in Kota Kinabalu and the return journey is probably the best option. Check here for Kota Kinabalu Hotels.

Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary

Knowing young orangutans can tear human limbs from the body is just one reason to be here. Makes your heartbeat that little bit faster.  Think what big orangutans could do. Arriving at the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary we are first greeted by a young orangutan showing off his ‘man junk’. Nice fella. He bounces to the path and walks alongside us. I poked the back of his head. Still have all limbs.

The Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary is a fenced wooden trail surrounded by mangroves. You are free to walk on the raised path areas and enjoy as much of the orangutans as you please. If you don’t see any at the beginning of the route you are guaranteed to find a bunch at the feeding area. Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary is the most popular Borneo eco-tourism attraction.

Travel and Accommodation for Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary

Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary is located 25 kilometres west of the City of Sandakan (full list of Sandakan hotels). While easy to travel from Sandakan I suggest staying in the jungle near Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. There are two hotels within a short walk; Sepilok Jungle Resort and Sepilok Forest Edge Resort.

Selingan Turtle Island (Pulau Selingan)

Real Borneo eco-tourism. Selingan Turtle Island is home to two endangered sea turtles; the Green Turtle and the Hawksbill Turtle. Selingan beaches their nesting ground and each night turtles crawl to the sands, dig trenches and lay a butt load of eggs. We are fortunate to witness it. The night starts in groups at the central house on the island. A turtle hits the shores and the guide runs to gather the group. We (the group) sneak across the sand to watch eggs being laid and gathered. Later in the night, we watch newborn hatchlings released to the sea (and attacked by crabs from the sea…). Overall experience quite extraordinary. Even travel to Selingan Turtle Island is great fun. The drive past rustic villages, speedboat through inland mangroves, breaking to open sea and a bit of island hopping. Well worth the visit.

Travel and Accommodation for Selingan Turtle Island (Pulau Selingan)

Accommodation on Selingan Turtle island can only be organised by tour (one night). For accommodation before and after a good base for travel is the City of Sandakan (full list of Sandakan hotels). The popular option here Sabah Hotel (we stayed on return). For travel to Selingan Turtle Island we leave the Sepilok Jungle Resort, Sandakan next to Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary (as above).

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