SEEING ORANGUTANS IN SOUTH-EAST ASIA
Replies: 265 - Last Post: May 24, 2013 10:48 PM Last Post By: lucapal
Oct 26, 2003 6:29 PM
SEEING ORANGUTANS IN SOUTH-EAST ASIAThe question of where to see orangutans in South-East Asia has been asked so often on this forum that I have decided to write a standard post about it.
Now I have added some practical information that people often asked me about in PMs (like prices and volunteering possiblities), and repost it expanded with that so at least some of the information here should be new to most readers.
First you should decide whether you want to see wild orangutans or are happy with the more circus-like experience offered by the so-called "rehabilitation centres" (the accessible ones of which in fact exist to serve mass tourism much rather than to rehabilitate apes). As outlined below, I strongly argue in favour of seeing wild ones.
The next decision is whether to visit Malaysia or Indonesia. Orangutans, both wild and "rehabilitant", can easily be seen in both countries. The main difference is that Malaysia is more tourist-oriented and therefore offers better facilities, while Indonesia is much cheaper and offers far greater scope for non-commercial, off the beaten track travel.
PLACES TO SEE WILD ORANGUTANS
It would seem so logical to me that people who come all the way to South-East Asia to see orangutans actually wish to see wild ones in their natural habitats like national parks and other reserves.
Actually there are more of these places than of "rehab centres", but since seeing the apes in the wild often involves more inconvenience like having to reach such reserves away from the cities, then having to walk in humid, muddy rainforest and actually spending time looking for the apes, most tourists seem to think it is too much trouble to bother. However, easy possiblities where you can count on seeing wild orangutans within a day or two without even having to walk also exist.
Some people also argue that wild orangutans should be left alone by tourists, though this is naively overlooking the fact the loggers destroying their habitat pose a far greater danger to wild orangutans than do tourists peeking at them from below. By visiting habitats of wild orangutans you will actually contribute to their continued preservation by demonstrating outside interest in them! This is especially true in Kalimantan, where the lack of attention actually seems to have encouraged illegal logging in many reserves.
Well, your options include the following:
Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (Sabah, Malaysian Borneo)
Perhaps the most popular (which doesn't necessarily mean the best) option, where wild orangutans are the easiest to see. Sadly the reason for this is that there is only such a narrow strip of forest left sandwiched between the oil-palm plantations along the river that they just can't hide! That said, a range of other wildlife, notably crocodiles, proboscys monkeys and elephants are easy to see here too. And since most wildlife-viewing here is done from boats, this is one place where anyone (children, elderly or simply lazy visitors included) can see wild orangutans without having to walk in the forest and getting their feet muddy. Serious nature lovers however will probably enjoy other, more pristine and extensive reserves more.
The main tourist area is near the village of Sukau, which is where wildlife is easiest to see. While most visitors here go to expensive lodges (like the Sukau Rainforest Lodge) on a tour, Sukau can in fact be reached by public transport (5-10 RM) from a turn-off at the Sandakan - Lahad Datu road, and there are 2 cheap accomodation options in/near the village: a very basic 10 RM Rest House that can be booked via Karim's Coffee Shop, and the scenically located 20 RM Sukau B&B outside the village by the riverside. Travellers have also reported being able to arrange cheap homestays in the village. Boat rental can also be arranged independently in Sukau, from around 60 RM/ride for a whole boat - not per person! This would in fact be the cheapest way to visit Sukau for independent travellers - especially for 2 or more people sharing the coast of boat-rides. Just don't expect to be able to book any of these budget options online! ;-)
Instead, many less wealthy travellers/tourists opt to visit one of the "Jungle Camps" further up the river, booked online or through guest houses near Sepilok. They are very basic but away from the crowds. Uncle Tan's, the oldest one, can still get very busy - check the Nature Lodge Kinabatangan if that bothers you. However, wildlife is somewhat less plentiful than near Sukau, and if you only want to stay a day or two, their ever-more-expensive packages (currently advertised for 320-350 RM for a 2 nights' stay with transport, food, accomodation and boat-rides, additional nights 50-60 RM) also work out more expensive than going to Sukau independently.
The very cheapest way of visiting the Kinabatangan for independent travellers is basing themselves at the Miso Walai Homestay in Batu Putih village, described in reply #17 below.
Either Sukau or Batu Putih is also a good base from which to visit the Gomantong Caves (just off the road to Sukau), that are surrounded by the last patch of primary forest in the area. I saw more orangutans there than along the river itself!
Danum Valley Conservation Area (Sabah, Malaysian Borneo)
Probably the very best place in Malaysia to see wild orangutans in pristine habitat (though the forest outside Danum is logged). Apart from orangutans, it has just about the complete range of Bornean wildlife and great trail-systems.
It is relatively little visited as guidebooks tend to describe only the very expensive option there: Borneo Rainforest Lodge, costing from around 120 USD/day.
Fortunately, in the past years it has also been possible to stay at the nearby Danum Valley Field Centre, where costs are more reasonable (from 30 RM/day for "camping" - no tent needed, and you can cook your own meals to bypass the overpriced restaurant).
Both the Rainforest Lodge and the Field Centre have their offices in the Fajar Centre area in the nearby town of Lahad Datu, where both accomodation and transport to either can be booked.
Don't bother DVFC by insisting to try and book through email or phone - unlike BRFL, they are not a tourist operation, and aren't there to serve you! The best strategy is to show up at their Lahad Datu office in person and ask politely.
Tabin Wildlife Reserve (Sabah, Malaysian Borneo)
This is another important area of lowland rainforest located near Lahad Datu. Like Danum, it is home to the complete range of Bornean wildlife. However, the forests here have been logged in the past and are mostly secondary, which makes Danum a more appealing option. Accomodation is provided by the expensive Tabin Lodge, whose website is very inspiring - see reply #37 below for a personal experience with this place though.
It may or may not be possible to visit Tabin without going through the resort - ask at the Wildlife Department office in Fajar Centre in Lahad Datu, and post here what they say.
Batang Ai National Park (Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo)
The only place to see wild orangutans in Sarawak, it is a very underrated and undervisited park indeed, thanks to the fact the info on it in guidebooks like LP is misleadingly wrong, and the few upmarket tour-operators going there prefer to keep it their own domain, too.
Even Sarawak Tourism Board could tell us no useful information about visiting, so we had to find out the hard way!
You can reach the park by taking a bus from Kuching to Sri Aman or Lubuk Antu, then another one to the Batang Ai Reservoir. From where the bus stops, boats can be hired (ca.200RM) for the very scenic ride across the reservoir (passing several islands, one of which has the expensive Batang Ai Resort, still well outside the park)and upriver to the park entrance at Nanga Lubang Buaya, where there is a ranger post and 2 Iban longhouses. One of the longhouses has a guesthouse for drop-in tourists for just 15 RM, but remember to bring in all your food as there is none available at this very remote place! There are 4 trails in the park, but to attempt the 2 longer ones you would probably need to hire a ranger-guide (officially costing 11 RM/hour). Seeing orangutans here is more difficult - plan on staying several days. However even just the remote, unspoilt atmosphere and the gorgeous scenery alone would make the trip worthwhile!
Kutai National Park (East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo)
This park could be Indonesia's answer to the Kinabatangan, where wild orangutans (an estimated 700 live here) are very easy to see and access is also very easy - yet visitors are very rare. Proboscys monkeys and gibbons are also easy to see here.
Unfortunately the forest itself, particularly the easily accessible parts, is badly devastated in the park, which is partly the reason why the wildlife is so easy to see here.
The park is just a few hours up the coastal road from the East Kalimantan capital of Samarinda. First visit the park office (Jl. Awang Long) in the town of Bontang to pick up your permit and the latest info on prices.
The road north of Bontang to Sangatta provides access to 3-4 different places you could visit.
Your first stop in the park could be Teluk Kaba on the coast (an hour's walk off the road), which has great board-walks through beautiful mangroves where you might see otters or monitor lizards. There is basic accomodation here, but the forest is devastated.
The next possible stop is the Sangkimah ranger post just off the Bontang-Sangatta road. It is located in some of the least damaged forest in the park, and has short trails to explore.
Then go on to Sangatta, where there are several cheap hotels. Here a boat must be hired to see proboscys monkeys dowstream from town (50.000 Rp), or to go upstream to reach the orangutan research station at Mentoko (150.000 Rp), which has the best trail-system in the park, and offers the best chances to see orangutans, hornbills, pheasants, etc. You may see these from the boat itself! If you want guides (not compulsory here), they cost 50.000/day here, too. Bring your food to any of the above places except Sangatta.
See the park's official homepage for more information, though unfortunately only the Indonesian version of it seems to be working currently.
Gunung Palung National Park (West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo)
Just across the border from touristy Sarawak this place is as yet very little visited. In fact, apart from Danum it is probably the best park in Borneo! The trail-system and and the density of wildlife seen here is unparalelled. Gunung Palung's profile may rise now that it has been included in Lonely Planet's latest Indonesia guide.
The park is home to an estimated 2000 to 2500 orangutans - perhaps 10% of the world's total!
Several wild orangutans here have been habituated to observers by researchers who follow them daily, so they could usually lead you to one if you didn't find any on your own. Agile gibbons, maroon langurs, hornbills are all over the research area in greater numbers than anywhere else.
The gateway to the park is the coastal town of Ketapang, where permits and guides must be arranged at park office (Jl. Kh. Wahid Hasyim 41/A) for a stay at the research centre at Cabang Panti (hopefully!), which is reached by a short bus-ride from the city, followed by a 20 km hike through partially logged forest. Ketapang can be reached by daily speedboats (6hrs) from the West Kalimantan capital of Pontianak.
Accomodation in the park is very basic. You will also have to take a compulsory guide from the Ketapang office, whom you shouldn't expect to be of any real use - but with trails at Cabang Panti usually marked every 50 metres, you could easily explore the area on your own anyway.
Sadly, this great park has in recent years been heavily encroached upon by illegal logging operations, and visitors have only been able to visit a less developed part of the park at Lubuk Baji instead of Cabang Panti.
See the websites of the park itself (updated info, but in Indonesian only!) and the Gunung Palung Orangutan Project for more information.
Betung Kerihun National Park (West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo)
A vast and remote reserve along the border with Sarawak, this park has no visitor facilities as yet, but those ready for adventure could visit it by hiring boats and guides in the surrounding Dayak villages. Start by visiting the park office in the town of Putussibau (Jl. Komodor Yos Sudarso 130) where you can get your permit and advice. The parts of the park nearest to Putussibau could be reached along the Sibau and Mendalam rivers, however the area richest in wildlife, and also supporting the highest density of orangutans, is along the upper reaches of the Embaloh river and its tributaries. To get there take a bus from Putussibau towards Badau, but get off at the junction for the Iban longhouse village of Sadap. There you can hire a boat (from 500.000 Rp) and guides to explore upriver. You will also have to take all your own food and camping equipment - though if you are not fussy, basic stuff could be found in Sadap.
Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park (West & Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo)
Another remote and very scenic reserve, this park straddles the border between two provinces and includes the highest mountain in the southern half of Borneo: Bukit Raya (2278 m). Despite its remoteness, it is easily accessible, and offers excellent (though tough) hiking on hills covered with beautiful primary rainforest. While the orangutans here are elusive (plan on staying several days to have a chance to spot one), there is lots of other wildlife like agile gibbons, maroon langurs and hornbills.
First visit the park office in the West Kalimantan town of Sintang (Jl. Dr. Wahidin S. No.75) for permits and information, then take a bus to Nanga Pinoh, from where public riverboats travel up the Melawi river, providing access to the park. The area with most orangutans is along the Ella river beyond Belaban village, where you can find accomodation and guides among the local Limai Dayaks. Those wishing to climb Bukit Raya should go by boat to Jelundong via Serawai.
Danau Sentarum National Park (West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo)
This newly declared park protects the largest natural lake system in Borneo. Its swamp forests are also home to orangutans and other wildlife. There are are no visitor facilities as such, but you may still be able to stay at the former research centre at Bukit Tekenang. Access is by boat from the town of Semitau.
Since this park has no office yet, you should call at the office of Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park in Sintang for information.
Tanjung Puting National Park (Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo)
This most famous (and overrated) of Kalimantan parks covers 4000 sq kms of peat swamp along the coast. While it was established to protect wild orangutans, those are very rarely seen here by visitors who will generally only see "ex-captives" at Camp Leakey. Details are given under "rehabilitation centres" below.
This is also a good park to see proboscys monkeys though.
Gunung Leuser National Park (Sumatra, Indonesia)
The only park with a wild population of Sumatran orangutans.
Most tourists get no further than touristy Bukit Lawang (see under "rehabilitation centres, below) on the park's SE edge, but those who wish to see wild orangutans usually go on to Gurah (also known as "Ketambe", a name that techincally refers to a research area across the river), right in the central part of the park, reachable by bus via Kutacane from Medan. At Gurah there is a good trail-system in hilly rainforest with a range of cheap guest house accomodation, and guides who are far less pushy than those at Bukit Lawang. In fact you can explore most of the trails without guides, or even find just walking along the quiet main road cutting across the park worthwhile. Wild orangutans are quite easy to see around here, though other wildlife, apart from primates and birds, is scarce. You may also see Rafflesia flowers or use Gurah as a starting point for longer, multi-day treks. Several of the parks highest mountains can be reached from here, though for seeing wildlife the area around Gurah itself is best.
If you find Gurah too far out of the way, consider Tangkahan, a more recently developed new ecotourism site 4 hours by bus from Medan (or by hiring an ojek or 4 WD from Bukit Lawang) on the south-eastern edge of the park. Facilities here are still more limited, but this is bound to change if the area gains in popularity.
Other places that were sometimes used as access points to the park by travellers, mostly back in the 90es, are near Blangkejeren north of Gurah, and Tapaktuan on the west coast. Both of these are dull, biggish towns, but there was basic accomodation at the park's edge nearby. They were pretty much forgotten during the troubles in Aceh that ended a few years ago, but may still be worth considering if you've already visited the other spots and still want to see more of Leuser. Should you go, any recent info on these would be welcome!
Other nature reserves in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo)
There are more protected areas in Kalimantan where wild orangutans are still found - including the Gunung Niyut and Muara Kaman nature reserves.
Some info on these parks can be found at the Indonesian Nature Conservation Information Centre's website - in Indonesian.
*"REHABILITATION CENTRES" *
These places were originally set up to raise orphaned/captured baby orangutans and teach them live in nature again. A noble idea certainly - but unfortunately a very naive one that doesn't work, it turned out.
Most orangutans raised by humans have never learned to fend for themselves. Fully-grown adult males and mothers with babies still showing up to be fed regularly are the most obvious testimony of this.
And where many such tame orangutans have been relesed into a habitat occupied by wild ones, the latter were effectively eliminated by the newcomers who outcompeted them for food in the area and introduced human diseases.
The fact that these centres have also become major tourist attractions has also contributed to their failure. At some it is even possible for visitors to touch or feed the apes, in complete contradiction to the stated aim of "rehabilitation". The orangutans in these situations are also constantly exposed to human diseases. In fact these centres have attracted so much criticism in the past years that all but one (Sepilok) of those regularly visited by tourists have officially stopped the rehabilitation work altogether and now ONLY exist to serve the lucrative tourism industry that has grown around them - though this is not loudly advertised!
Another thing one should consider is that visiting "rehabilitation centres" rather than natural habitats probably undermines conservationists' arguements that preserving large areas of rainforest is important to attract eco-tourism. Loggers can rightly counter that far more tourists visit rehab sites where tame apes are seen in a tiny patch of forest, than do large conservation areas where wild ones live. The high profile these centres have also tends to divert attention from the far more important issue, which is preserving the wild orangutan populations and their habitats.
Of course I know that no matter what I write, "rehab centres" will always remain popular with the crowds, so here is the list of them, with a few thoughts on each one:
Sepilok (Sabah, Malaysian Borneo)
The only centre open to tourists that still insists it is doing rehabilitation, and the most popular of all. It is very easy to reach from Kota Kinabalu or Sandakan, and there are varied acomodation options nearby. It tends to be very crowded with visitors (100 tourists screeming and flashing cameras at half dozen apes isn't unusual). It has a mere 43 sq km forest around it, where there is little /no(?) evidence of wild orangutans despite claims that the "orphans" are rehabilitated into the "surrounding wild population".
Semenggok (Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo)
Long cited as the worst of the centres where apes were kept in tiny cages and there is only the most minimal of forest patches to release them into, Semenggok finally closed as "rehabilitation centre" a few years ago (that job being handed over to the Matang Wildlife Centre in nearby Kubah NP) but remains open for public viewing. It is an easy day-trip from Kuching and there is no reason to stay longer.
Bukit Lawang (North Sumatra, Indonesia)
The more popular and accessible of the Indonesian centres, it has long been given over to mass-tourism. Unlike the two Malaysian centres, it is situated on the fringes of a huge national park which is home to wild orangutans. However, tourism (especially the feeding of apes on jungle-treks) made rehabilitation work here meaningless long ago, and a few years ago Bukit Lawang was also declared closed as a "rehabilitation centre", with its official staus now as a "viewing centre" existing purely to serve tourism.
Only 3 hours from the North Sumatran capital of Medan by bus, it had until recently about 100 different losmens/hotels and just as many eager guides that pestered every visitor to go on highly overpiced "jungle treks". That changed drastically when a huge flood in late 2003 virtually wiped out the entire village, killing many people and destroying most accomodation. Nevertheless the village was rebuilt quickly, and several new guest-houses have also opened. However with visitor numbers having plumetted, those who have gone to Bukit Lawang recently complained that they had to endure extra agressive sales tactics by would be guides desperate for business.
Camp Leakey (Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo)
Originally started as a centre for research on wild orangutans, made famous by Birute Galdikas, it also became another rehabilitation centre. Located in Tanjung Puting National Park near the twin coastal towns of Pangkalanbun/Kumai (easily reached from Java by air or Pelni ships).
Once again, Galdikas' approach to "rehabilitating" orangutans into an area already occupied by a wild population has attracted so much criticizm that even this place no longer takes in new rehabilitants (100 of whom are now kept in Galdikas' backyard in nearby Pasir Panjang village technically illegally). Orangutans already "rehabilitated" still live at the centre and readily show up to be fed and photographed.
Despite what guidebooks or tour-operators claim, don't expect to see any wild ones though - when I was there the Indonesian staff discretely admitted they had not seen a single wild orangutan in the area for a month!
Due to its relative remoteness from main tourist routes this centre at least feels less commercialized and circus-like than the ones mentioned above, though both backpackers and expensive package tours (run in affiliation with Galdikas/OFI, and often euphemistically called "study-tours" or "volunteer-programs") both visit regularly.
Before visiting the place, you are supposed to get a permit from the Tanjung Puting National Park office in Pangkalanbun (Jl. Malijo No.3).
You may want to read Galdikas' beautifully written Reflections of Eden about the early years of Camp Leakey, but also Linda Spalding's disturbing A Dark Place in the Jungle to learn about what has happened here later.
Wanariset (East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo)
Now, if you found my comments on the above places disheartening, here is something different!
Having learned from previous mistakes, this new centre was set up by The Orangutan Conservancy (known in the rest of the world by its original name, BOS) with a radically different approach. Here the well-being of the hundreds of orangutans cared for has the priority over their lucrative tourism potential.
Please note that to minimize exposure to human contact and possible infections, *Wanariset is off-limits to would-be visitors whether they wish to come as volunteers or as tourists*! Without a very convincing reason or some personal contacts, you can only see a visitor centre.
Another important difference is that the orangutans raised here are released into areas without existing wild populations, thus preventing any harmful impact.
Of course the exclusion of visitors means that this centre has a much lower profile among the public, but if a rehabilitation centre ever deserved support, this is the one!
Several people have asked me about possiblities for volunteering in the "rehabilitation centres".
Well, the bottom line is that because in Indonesia or Malaysia hard-working locals can be hired for as little as 1-3 USD/day to do manual work, there is certainly no REAL need for Western workforce.
However, recognizing that many rich Westerners wish such an alternative holiday, a few agencies (including OFI itself) offer "volunteer-programs" at rehabilitation centres. For paying a handsome sum you will get the opportunity to get even closer to cute apes and get those even more impressive photos and tales for your friends at home.
Just don't fool yourself into thinking you were actually doing anything needed/useful there - at best a fraction of the money you paid might trickle down to conservation, though you will never really know.
BUT if you are GENUINELY serious about doing REAL help and don't insist on petting/photo opportunities in "rehab centres", the Sumatran Orangutan Society actually offers volunteering possiblities in the USA.
The Orangutan Conservancy also needs similar help.
Note that these don't involve "hands-on" work with orangutans though!
The National Parks of Malaysia and The National Parks of Indonesia both offer a basic and tourist-oriented overview.
The Orangutan Conservancy is probably the most credible organization working on saving the orangutans of Borneo. Their BOS Indonesia website actually contains more info than the US site, including a link to elusive info on the Wanariset centre and links to their branches worldwide!
The Sumatran Orangutan Society does a similar job in Sumatra.
Our Vanishing Relative: The Status of Wild Orangutans at the Close of the Twentieth Century is the best, most up to date reference on all aspects of orangutan conservation, including a rather critical review of "rehabilitation" efforts.
The National Parks and Other Wild Places of Indonesia is the best overall reference for ecotourists planning to visit Indonesia, though its coverage of Kalimantan's reserves is poor.
The National Parks and Other Wild Places of Malaysia is a similar and more complete coverage of Malaysia's reserves.
Southeast Asia Wildlife covers the major reserves of both countries - and more.
The Ecology of Kalimantan is a great reference on the ecology, flora, fauna, conservation issues and nature reserves of the entire island of Borneo.
The Ecology of Sumatra provides similar data on Sumatra.
*ANY FEEDBACK? *
Prices in particular may well have changed since my last visits to these places. Let me know if you have more recent info!
I am particularly interested in hearing the experiences of those who get to the rarely visited national parks in Kalimantan!
OTOH, the previous version of this post has also attracted some emotional and naive criticizm by former volunteer-tourists disagreeing with my comments on the rehab centres they "worked" at.
While I don't mind INFORMED criticism, please consider that I based what I say on over a year spent in Borneo (plus many months in Sumatra), having visited all but two of the reserves described (and many others) myself, and speaking to the local staff (usually in Indonesian/Malay) working in them.
Oct 27, 2003 10:07 PM
1Good that this updated version of your earlier post has been submitted! I'm sure people will find it extremely helpful. The distinction between rehabilitants and wild orangutans is one that needs to be continually made...as does the need to preserve orangutan habitats as a primary measure. Good work for making these points.
One added point about the Sarawak Rehabilitation Centers. Semenggok no longer has an active rehabilitation program, but several of the individuals that were released in the area still roam freely around the grounds and the Forestry Research Center. In Matang the rehabilitants have access to large walled enclosures. To my understanding the rehabilitants are not released locally into the surrounding park...so you are unlikely to see a "feral" ape there. Both centers are convenient to Kuching by bus. Matang and the nearby Kubah NP have inexpensive hostel facilities (RM15/person) though you should bring your own food to cook. Both sites are good for birding...but have little large wildlife (outisde of the enclosures at Matang...which is really Kuching's "Zoo".
Jan 11, 2004 10:56 AM
2About Matang, I wanted to say that we did meet the reintroduced orangutans while walking in the reserve, more than an hour away from camp. We were without a guide (certainly don't need one) and, as you can imagine, we were very surprised as no one had told us about them. They came up to us, and one of them followed us all the way to camp. Now, I know you can't really call them wild, as they were born (or grew up) in captivity, but they are certainly free, and the experience was mind-blowing for us. I agree with László that the ones in the enclosure are extremely depressing to see.
Jan 21, 2004 2:09 AM
3Below is an interesting question by some ambitious Americans, posted on 22/Jan/2004 as a separate thread - it might be of interest to others too, so I copied it here:
Borneo Itinerary- How Long is Needed for This?
I'm trying to figure out how long I should set aside for this itinerary, the main purpose is to see the best wildlife Borneo has to offer, though a cultural stay with one of the tribes would be a welcome addition:
Fly from Jakarta to Pontianack
boat to ketapang
visit Ganung Palung
return to Pontianack
fly to Kuching
Visit Batang Ai
Travel to Miri
Visit Mulu/native tribes
Travel to Brunei
To Kota Kinabulu via Labaun
See Danum Valley
See Kinabatangan River
Possibly go to sepilock and labuk bay but only if we haven't seen Proboscis monkey and orangutans in the wild
Any alternative parks, suggestions? All very welcome.
hunwagner, you seem to know the area well any thoughts? Is this doable in a month long trip, two months?
Great and VERY ambitious itinerary!
When is it supposed to be done?
Please do post updates to my orangutan posts once you've returned. :-)
Updates on rarely visited Gunung Palung & Batang Ai are particularly welcome.
I'd say you need a MINIMUM of 1 week for Pontianak & GPNP, 1 week for Kuching & BANP, 1 week for Miri, Mulu & Brunei, 1 week for KK, Mt. Kinabalu & Kinabatangan and a final week to give Danum justice.
So that is already well over 1 month even if you rush and stay short in each park, making 2 months a more realistic alternative - especially as the above didn't include any time specially devoted for "native tribes". Nor did it include much time to relax anywhere in cities or on beaches along the way or much time for transit.
I have to admit that I have never heard from anyone who has visited all of the above in 1 trip - all the more reason to proudly report back if you do!
You can CERTAINLY skip Sepilok & Labuan Bay as you will SURELY see both Orangutans and Proboscys Monkeys if you visit all the others.
As you see I added Mt. Kinabalu as an absolute MUST for nature/wildlife lovers - even if you are not keen on actually climbing the peek, the Headquarters area offers great trail system in montane forests (the only on your route) with much unique/endemic birdlife, though mammals are admittedly scarce there (I did see my only Malay Wiesel there though).
Another worthy addition is Bako NP for 2-3 days - it is a great place to relax walking easy trails, see your first Proboscys Monkeys, and the best place for Flying Lemurs anywhere.
In Kalimantan Kutai is another very interesting park (if only too see how much devastation of forests wildlife CAN survive) though a bit out of the way unless you are ready to fly to get there.
But if you do visit it, pause to visit the Derawan/Sangalaki Islands off Berau in East Kalimantan on the way - the best islands in all Borneo by a VERY long shot - lots of Mata Rays and turtles seen just by snorkelling, not to mention unparalelled coral reerfs and the unique Jellyfish Lake of Kakaban!
Closer to your route, Bukit Baka - Bukit Raya NP and Betung Kerihun NP (both in interior West Kalimantan) are interesting, but you'd need a good week for either, and some knowledge of Indonesian as they are not developed for tourism at all. Starting your Borneo trip with these would be quite rough!
One more thing - no need to fly from Pontianak to Kuching as it is only 1 day or overnight by bus.
Feb 17, 2004 6:47 PM
4I am really keen to get some experience in primate conservation and rehabilitation in Borneo or Sumatra, with the orangutans. I am new to this forum but have read some of the comments already posted, particularly by hunwagner. These have been really informed and insightful, but the strong criticisms of the state of rehabilitation and the intentions of volunteers has left me a little disheartened.
I am still really keen to go as i feel that it is worth learning about conservation in other countries, and see how it compares to more successful attempts, and even to see how orangutans in these centres compare to orangutans in the wild. I do want an educational experience so i was looking for a more reputable centre.
I thought that Sepilok sounded like a good place to volunteer, but after reading some of the comments i am not sure at all now! Would appreciate some advice, and if anyone can inform me on where you can definitely volunteer, and stay long term, am looking for about 3 months.
May 29, 2004 1:44 AM
5Maybe another place to spot wild orangutans is the Betung Kerihun National Park in Indonesia's West Kalimantan, particularly if one goes to the upper branches of the Embaloh river. I spotted many of them (in 2002) on the Tekelan, Teliyai and Dajoh branches, all close to the Sarawak border. In fact, the national park itself adjoins the Batang Ai and Lanjak Entimau Nature Reserve in Sarawak.
The recent threat, however, is that illegal logging has begun to reach these areas around 2002.
Sep 26, 2004 9:43 PM
6As for Kutai NP (Kal-Tim), I'd like to share my fresh experience. The summary posted in the OP is great and useful. Thanks László.
However, in Bontang almost nobody knows the park office (the full name and address is: DEPARTEMEN KEHUTANAN Direktorat Jenderal Perlindungan Hutan dan Konservasi Alam BALAI TAMAN NASIONAL KUTAI, Jl. Awang Long Tromol Pos 1, Bontang). There you should tell them how many days you intend to stay in the park (your permit will be issued for 3 or 4 etc days, nobody checked it for us). We payed 100.000 Rp for two persons as entry fee. And then they will try to persuade you to go to Sangkima (there are buses even in the afternoon, the lodging is on the left side of the road if you are heading to Sangata), where there is a "tourist" trail - short and not worth the time, we saw no bigger animals there. Better to bring your own food, though you can buy some basic stuff in the shop. The accommodation is simple, but has a quite great atmosphere (50.000 Rp).
Then we went to the Prevab (next to Mentoko, the Japanese run orangutan research centre). From Sangata go to Papaceri (that's the small village next to the river, and there ARE buses from town), here charter a boat to go upstream. For us the 30-minute-long ride was 150.000 Rp (round trip). At the Prevab the accommodation, on the riverside, is more than basic (free of charge). There's no electricity, no water. Bring all the stuff you need, including some candles. You can take a shower at the Japanese center, they installed it only a few month ago. Be polite, as the owner, Mr Suzuki doesn't like tourists. So, first ask whether you can use it, and leave some money (10.000 Rp) there. It's really easy to spot orangutans here, just follow Suzuki's employees. They know where the orangutans are.
It goes without saying, that we did meet no tourists in the park. The local people are nice and friendly, and the forest is not as demaged as you'd expect. It's a beautiful, calm place to see those wild orangutans.
Oct 24, 2004 5:31 PM
7Last week I have visited the kutai national park (1 day), here is my fresh info....
I used both information in the previous posts of Arik and Laszlo....very useful, tnx both.
NP entrance fee: free of charge (nobody checked our permission)
Boat from papaceri to prevab:100.000rp (round trip)
In the prevab: Mr Suzuki left to Japan but they say he will return someday. There is a generator that gives electricity 2-3 hours a day (from 6PM-9PM). Nobody speaks English. Water purification tablets, mosquito net and food will be essential. The room is free of charge but normally the guests "contribute" with 50.000rp per day/per room.
Reach Sangata: from balikpapan take a plain (or charter a taksi by 350.000RP per taksi) to bontang 325.000 per person, then charter a taksi to sangata by 150.000 RP. You can do it in one day.
I spot 2 groups of orang-utans (5 in total). The forest, at least nearby the prevab, is not primary forest anymore. I haven't spotted proboscis monkeys or any other mammal in the park.
The river from papaceri to prevab is not scenic is wide and "naked".
In my opinion this park is OK to spot wild orang-utans, but if you are looking for a "jungle experience" in a primary forest with his typical rich wildlife, this is not the place.
Oct 25, 2004 3:12 AM
8I would only like to add that it is also definitely possible, and a lot cheaper, to reach Bontang and Sangatta from Balikpapan via Samarinda by bus.
As for entry permits: I'd say it is still worth picking one up in Bontang as
1) You'll register your interest in the park thus support its existence
2) You'll be charged less to stay at Mentoko/Prevab if you have one
Thanks to both of you for the feedback!
Nov 2, 2004 6:50 AM
9I'm the ambitious american who asked about the itinerary above, I am a few weeks from starting it (now in New Zealand) and was wondering if anyone had updated experience at Ganung Palung and Batang Ai?
Nov 2, 2004 7:11 AM
10Don't hold your breath! ;-)
Unfortunately someone has recently been told by the American researchers who work(ed?) in GPNP (over the net from the US) that the park is currently closed for visitors.
However there is a good chance you'd still be allowed to visit if you turned up at the office in Ketapang - if you are keen to give it a try. Certainly worth visiting, if you can! Perhaps go to Pontianak and get someone to ring Ketapang from there.
Failing that, consider Betung-Kerihun or Bukit Baka as West Kalimantan alternatives.
Batang Ai should still be much the same as before - Malaysia is very stable and little changes there.
But I must admit I haven't heard from anyone else going there ever since I went myself - that's how little appetite for getting off the beaten track people have nowadays... :-(
Nice to see you are still going, BTW.
I'm so used to people asking about all these places only to decide that they decide it is easier go to Bali & Bukit Lawang, or Sepilok after all!
Nov 3, 2004 8:01 AM
I just spent 3 days in Kutai (end of October - with Dario above), and can add the following:
Suzuki has gone to Japan, but will be back "real soon now" (his living area looks pretty deserted though). The people who work with him are basically locals with no biology education but do track and film the orang utangs every day, making it easy to tag along and watch. They do know a lot about the habits of the animals and have walkie-talkies to help find them quickly.
Entrance Fee: 2500 / person.
For the 15-minute boat ride to the camp expect to pay the outrageous sum 100,000 RP (round-trip).
If you check in at one of the park offices they can SMS the guys at Prevab to pick you up, saving you the trouble of finding a local to charter a boat and paying even more.
Bring all you need to eat with you.
We gave them 50,000 / night but since we stayed 3 nights we also folded in the boat ride at 50,000. Since the money basically goes right into the pockets of the assistants (Suzuki not around) this is ok, I think. When Suzuki is around things might be stricter. As everywhere in Indonesia, establish prices in advance!
Getting to Sangatta is easy, just get on a bus from Samarinda (3 hrs). We skipped going to the main park office and instead got our permits at Sangkima, which is right on the main Bontang-Sangatta road. I did this because it was a Saturday. I do agree wth Lazlo that you should get yourself a permit to register interest in the park.
As Dario stated the park is in poor shape. This is very sad because it is obvious that a lot of effort was put into making something nice (trails, signs, boardwalks & camp prevab). Don't expect to be very far from civilization either - you can hear traffic noise and sometimes chainsaws from the camp.
I asked about going up the river to camp Mentoko, but Suzuki's assistants said that it was deserted ("rusak" :-) and required special permission to visit. They also said that the forest was more or less the same up there - a few pockets with little fire damage and much more destroyed.
PS not a single Indonesian we talked to in Samarinda or on the way to Sangatta knew what Kutai was, or even that there was a national park nearby! In Kalimantan they always ask us what we are looking for in the forest. Sadly, they have a long ways to go...
Dec 4, 2004 9:11 AM
12Okay, just returned from Ganung Palung so I will share the details.
Tourists are not currently being taken to Caban Panti and researchers are not currently being issued permits. The employees of the park office did not know the reason for this and sounded more hopeful that permits would resume next year than certain. I am not going to guess at the reason other than to say there clearly was logging going on on that side of the park, we could see the downed trees and hear the chainsaw.
The good news is they are taking toursits into anotehr station in the park, though unlike Panti this patrol station is little more than a poorly cleared campsite; so pack accordingly.
Here are the practical details of visiting (if you want a more romantacized tale of our experience you can check out my travelouge)
You need to get to Ketapang to get the permit at the office as described above. You can fly to Ketapang from Java at Semarang (currently Deraya Air Taxi seems to be flying daily at 9am, but you need to check with there Semarang office for current details) it cost us 695,000 Rp. the boat from/to Pontianack costs between 85-95,000 depending on the boat and class.
The costs we paid were as follows (my Indonesian is near non-existant so I may have been able to negotiate some, but it didn't seem so):
Permit: 10,000 per person
Guide: 100,000 per day (ours was useful, he works as a patrol officer for the park service and when the researchers were here he worked as an assistnat helping htem track and log orangutan movements)
Porter: 50,000 per day (this is required, they use local villagers who are hit or miss, we had two one was a nusance and one was quiet and efficient. Make sure you know what you are getting when you leave the office, we were expecting them to carry our gear and when we first got there all they wanted to carry was the cooking equipment, tarps for tents, their clothes and their food.)
Cooking Equipment 70,000 rp (this is optional but if you bring your own make sure the pot will be big enough to cook their food as well or you will have to rent more equipment)
You have to arrange your own transport to the registration office in a small village inland from Sikudana. You can get there by charter vehicle (it will cost you about 300,000) or you can take a bus to the turnoff for the village (they charged us 8,000 going there and 7,000 coming back) and then walk or hire an ojek (5,000) for the last few kilometers to the office.
You will be expected to provide food for you guide and porters.
All told it cost us ~100,000 rp for two of us, a guide and two porters for four days.
The first 1-2 hours of the hike are on easy paths used by the villagers to gather Durian, after that it gets tougher. The trail is steep and slippery through dense, but spectacular, primary forest. All told the hike in took us 5 hours and out took us 4. The campsite at the station is allright but infested during the day with bees and fire ants overnight.
As I said the jungle is phenomenal, their is a dense canopy up between 100-200 feet. As a result the wildlife viewing isn't great. Their are plenty of orangutan out there based on what we could hear but we were only able to see one clearly over 4 days (not terrible and more than we have any right to expect, but not as good as I've heard Panti would be). We also saw a troupe of gibbons (again we heard far more) a bunch of langurs and some hornbills.
All in all it was a difficult but rewarding trip and if you are prepared for a real jungle hike than I reccomend it.
Now we are heading on a bus tonight to Kuching where we will relax for a few days there and in Bako while we decide whether to head to Batang Ai or not. We are still planning on going to Danum (though I haven't heard back from my request to their website and will be calling them when we get to Malaysia) and to Kinabatagan, so we have to decide if Batang Ai will add enough to teh experience to warrant the effort. As always any opinions on this would be welcome.
Dec 4, 2004 9:39 PM
Dec 22, 2004 7:24 PM
14I figure I can add a little to the info on TNK near Bontang/Sangkima. I spent three and a half months living in the Pertamina (Kilo 13) village in Sangkima. TNK has an office there but it is useless. If you want good information, a great guide and a super nice guy, ask around in the village for Bapak Boodi (not spelt correctly but that's how it sounds). (Ask in Sangata and they will tell you how to get to kilo 13 or stop at the office on the Bontang-Sangatta highway) He lives with his wife and kid. They both have forestry degrees and are from Java or Sumatra. They sort of speak english and maybe a bit of Dutch, but you'd be better in Indonesian. They are well informed and very interesting. Unfortunately, they are about the only people in the village who aren't employed by the oil company and as a result, they are sort of lonely. Still, if you go to their house you will be well taken care of and they are super nice.
Bapak Boodi took me and the group I was staying with to the park for a weekend. We were 20 people and he organized almost everything for us. We stayed at the guest house for one night for 100,000 IDR and our entrance to the park was 2 500 each. It was super cheap. They have an excellent trail, although some of the bridges/board walks are falling to pieces. They also have a really high tree house which is worth visiting. Pa Boodi will be happy to give you a tour, although I don't know what he will charge (he might do it for free).
I went to the park twice. Once it was myself, Pa Boodi and two others. We say a wild boar, some monkeys, snakes, birds, insects and lots of other things. Unfortunately we didn't see any orangutangs. I was told they leave deeper in the forest and are hard to see from this part of the park. All in all, i thought this park was a great spot for a beginner like me to see some jungle and meet people who knew what they were talking about and were really friendly.
If you go there and see Pa Boodi, say hello from stu.
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