SEEING ORANGUTANS IN SOUTH-EAST ASIA
Replies: 260 - Last Post: Apr 1, 2013 1:37 AM Last Post By: montyman
Aug 15, 2006 7:19 AM
45Re. Alsch. Always good to hear of other alternatives along the Kinabatangan. But I think it's very much of a "different strokes for different folks" thing.
"280 rm seems an extortionate amount of money for a tour that, despite being advertised as 3D/2N is actually closer to 1.5D/2N, of which the majority of the main day you are left with free time to "play volleyball or soccer". er no thanks. "
Actually I think you are devaluing what occurs at Uncle Tans. Given that you enter and depart on the river (1.5 hours each way)...get a night boat safari (Day 1), a guided night walk (Day 2), an early morning and afternoon boat tour (Day 2), and guided morning walk (Day 2) and a gratis morning safari (Day 3) ...that's 5 boat trips/walks of over 1.5-2 hours each. Last time I was there (this June) we actually spent two trips at over 3.5 hours going nearly to Bilit so we could spot elephants. Most people find this almost "too much"..some actually skip the walks to rest.
That leaves only about 3 hours outside of meals, at the hottest part of the day, as "free time". Generally there is little wildlife to spot at that time. However, if an orangutan or other interesting mammal is spotted on the guided tour they will frequently take visitors back out to see if the ape is still feeding. Many people use that time to walk solo on the trails, fish in the dog-leg lakes, or use one of the paddle boats to explore the lake. Others want the rest from the breakneck schedule and sit and read on hammocks.
"This place is the end of the road, literally. You can get a bus from Sandakan bound for Semporna or Tawau and ask to be dropped at the sukau turn-off, this should cost 10Rm. From there there are regular mini-buses all the way to Sukau, 40km, which cost 20Rm. Put off by what we thought was an expensive price we hitched. It might have been worth the 20 though we know people that only paid 15. It took us about 8 rides, a bit of walking and about two hours along one of the worst roads in malaysia"
Just a few remarks. Your transport costs would have been RM60RT if you had travelled by bus without hitching. RM40 for 2 nights accomodation in Sukau...plus @RM10/meal? You'd get 6 meals through UT. That's about RM$60. So if you handn't of hitched you would have paid RM$160 for transport/accomodation/food. You paid for two boat trips at between RM$20-40 depending on how many share. So already you are at RM$200-240 for two boat rides. Uncle Tan's (with 5 boat trips and two guided tours) is RM$280. It seems the major benefit of your suggestion is group size and p0erhaps being able to squeeze a few Ringgits off the cost by hitch-hiking...at the same time you lose time actually observing wildlife on the river (the boat trips into and out of the camp).
BTW extra days at Uncle Tan's are RM$40, and one can gets the morning boat trip and either the afternoon or evening boat trip as part of that..and one can go on the walks as well. No extra charge.
" but after spending four days looking for an alternative to the over-priced, over-packed tours I was so glad I found this, for me it was the highlight of Sabah. "
Glad you saved the money, but on my visit we saw elephants ( a herd of 50), crocodiles (both night and day), several orangutans, leaf monkeys, long and stump-tailed macaques, a leopard cat, vipers and a python, civet cats, brindled pigs, giant and pygmy squirrels, flying squirrels, colugos, Storm's Storks, Buffy Fish Owls, 5 different species of hornbills, and more small birds and other raptors than I could bother to name. Many of these were actually first spotted by the guides at Uncle Tan's. They are the ones to locate and identify various frogs (including the worlds smallest, Microhyla borneensis) on the walks, and spotting rarer and more cryptic wildlife.
I personally feel that Uncle Tan's is good value, when actually fairly compared, though conditions are basic and if one is not willing to camp IN THE FOREST then it really might not be suitable for that type of traveller. Part of the reason that costs ARE so low is the reality that they DO have the benefit of numbers, though. And if you are put-off by that then your option, and have the time to manage things yourself, or those of the higher priced eco-tours seems reasonable.
Aug 17, 2006 4:29 AM
46We have more updates on Danum Valley and Kinabatangan, we were there July 2006.
We were keen to see the Danum Vally after Lazslo's description, and a bit nervous after reading Post 16. However we had few problems getting there! We arrived in Lahad Datu on a Sunday to find the office shut (its open every other day) so checked into Tabin Lodge, clean cheap hotel if you get stuck, in centre area, couldn't find hotels in Fajar centre area where nature offices are.
Monday morning we turned up at the Danum Valley Field Centre office (which is next door to Borneo Rainforest Lodge if your price range is RM 450 a night, plus transport). The lady was not especially hesitant in asking us if we were "keen naturalists" (price bracket F, as Post 16 says, you pay a premium compared to 5 other levels of genuine researchers). I think if you turn up offering your ready cash they are very unlikely to turn you away. People we spoke to who tried to advance book had to consider writing a letter of application to go, so we recommend just turn up.
Transport wise you may pay to get there, we found their cheap minibus fully booked for a week, so paid RM300 (okay if 2 or more of you) to charter a nice pickup there, to leave in an hour. We were able to book onto a return minibus for RM40 each. Their minibuses run on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only.
We stayed in the hostel for RM66 per night, you can 'camp' in hammocks for about RM30, or get a nice private room for RM160ish for 2. (these are all maximum prices, if you are a student of something nature related the price begins to drop down - bring creds to prove it). As for food, you can pay RM60 for full board, steep, but its good, and are you planning to live off cornflakes for a week? Well, bring em and save yourself RM18 per day for breakfast, good compromise, remember they're 2 hours from the town, and the food is good.
We saw 2 orang utans 3 days out of 4, watched them for up to 2.5 hours, saw them feeding on fruits and making nests one night, it was fantastic! At times they were just a few metres above our heads. We saw several nests too, as well as gibbons, macaques, hornbills of various kinds, mouse deer, wild pigs, monitor lizards.
If you go, hire the binoculars for about RM10 per day, you can see the facial expressions of orang utans if you find them! And go for a swim in the river from the little beach, its real sand so nice to cool down. Buy leech socks too.
Kinabatangan was much less beautiful after this. We did the easy option and went to Uncle Tans as the info office in Sandakan is shut Saturday and Sunday, and we didn't want to wait to ask around. We did ask about public buses to Sukau and didn't get any leads, met one guy who waited a day at the junction while taxi drivers lauged at him when he wouldn't pay RM 100 to go there.
Kinabatangan was nice and easy, all arranged for you, nice food, we saw lots of proboscis monkeys, the boat trips are nice, and if you like tarantulas and frogs the night walk is really good. Forest way less pretty, and you pass oil palm plantations which made us sad, but the wildlife is different. You might see orang utans, but check on the season of the trees being in fruit, otherwise no chance. I think its August near Uncle Tans, but contact them in advance to check.
Helen & Matt
Sep 7, 2006 7:57 AM
From Danau (Lake) Toba it is possible to get a tourist bus through Medan and onto Bukit Lawang, the journey takes around 9 hours and costs 140,000Rp per person. You can arrange this via the hotels on Tuk Tuk, or at the harbour at Parapat.
If coming from Medan the trip takes 3 hours and costs 75,000Rp.
The last hour of the journey to Bukit Lawang is atrocious as the road is virtually derelict. What with heavy traffic and massive rain fall the road is virtually impassable at points and the buses are forced to a pace little faster than a crawl.
However once there it is worth it. There is a rope bridge leading across to Eco Lodge, where I stayed. A very comfortable place, my large room costing 80,000Rp, with shower, WC, fan etc. It is close to the jungle and the river, with a good if a little limited menu available.
Our guide was recommended via Tuk Tuk, his name was Alek and he's been a guide in Bukit Lawang for 13 years. He was extremely knowledgeable, patient and not remotely pushy and is based either at Eco Lodge or Jungle Inn a little further down the river on the other side.
We chose a day trek for 275,000Rp each, including lunch and fruit.
We came across a mother and baby Oran Utan within 30 minutes of trekking, a truly magnificent sight. Throughout the trek we saw two 7 year old males and another female with a baby.
There was an abundance of Macaque's and a troop of Thomas Leaf Monkeys.
Throughout the trek Alek pointed out chameleons, different forna and forna and was very jovial.
The final stages of the trek brought us through the 'Rehabilitation Centre' which is now used to segregate poorly Orang Utans from the others to prevent spreading disease. The rehabilitation centre no longer functions, although it is possible to see post rehabilitated Orang Utans being fed there twice a day.
From a personal perspective it was thoroughly worth the trek to see wild Orang Utans in their natural habitat, especially pleasing to see babies, which suggests they are breeding well in the wild again. The other monkeys were a bonus.
Nov 2, 2006 7:31 AM
48I was actually looking for info on gibbons and stumbled on this. I just wanted to say something about the rehabilitation centres vs. wild orangutan issue. Yes, it is unfortunate that so much money goes to the centres when the same amount could probably do alot more for protection of wild populations, but it is actually 2 different issues - one of conservation (the wild ones) and one largely of animal welfare (what on earth do you do with all the orphans that are being generated?). Plus, the centres (some of them at least) are important for research into understanding some less understood aspects of orangutan biology / behaviour. Plus, I wouldn't actually like to see too many people trek into the forests to see orangutans as it isn't in their favour to become too habituated to people (of course this is weighed against more people meaning more forest protection - to some extent at least, although poachers will always find a way, and rehabilitated apes aren't meant to get used to humans either.). Anyway, I just wanted to say there are important factors on both sides, although I do agree that more money needs to go to the wild orangutans.
Nov 2, 2006 8:02 AM
Nov 3, 2006 11:33 PM
Excellent thread btw, so thanks to Laszlo and all.
I am planning a trip to Indonesian Kalimantan for a week in January, specifically to trek in rainforest and hopefully to see Orang-Utan.
I was gearing up for Gunung Pulang until I read the posters comments about the forest clearing and the Durian 'farming'.
Does anybody have a recent update on the site? Is it worth to go? Can we stay at the research centre?
I see they have a contact and web-site so I will try it out also and report back.
Otherwise, which park do folk recommend for a trip such as this. We are happy to have basic accomodation etc., the priority is to see unspoilt forest and wildlife which is 1 or 2 days travel time from Jakarta.
Nov 3, 2006 11:43 PM
51If the priority is unspoilt forest, rather than easily seen wildlife, head for the interior.
Bukit Baka Bukit Raya NP had gorgeous forest when I was there, as did the even more remote Kayan Mentarang NP.
Both are well off the beaten track, so speaking some Indonesian would be kind of necessary to make the trip.
Gunung Palung's forest was logged around the edges even at the best of times, and Kutai's forests have long been in pretty bad shape.
But still, these parks offer easier wildlife sightings!
If still keen on GPNP, try and get an Indonesian speaker to call the park office for you before leaving JKT.
The park has an Indonesian language website here, which does have contact numbers.
Dec 14, 2006 6:43 AM
52We're in Lahad Datu currently where we just booked with Danum Valley Field Centre. It seems like they are wishy washy about who they let in. We turned up today and the first thing out of the receptionists mouth was that they don't let tourists at the center. We explained that we were biologists and she lighten up a little and told us that we need written permission from the HQ in KK before we could book. She sounded surprised that we hadn't set up reservations ahead of time. She gave us a brochure, though, which was chalked full of tourists info about DVFC. She told us to email the address on the back, which is incorrect (it was sent back to us). She also told us to contact Mr. Albinus at HQ for permission. He made it sound like no prob, we could do it as "backpackers." When we went back to the Lahad Datu office, all we did was tell her that he said it was ok and she was suddenly ok with tourists going.
So, it seems like it might be worth calling or writing the HQ ahead of time to get permission, otherwise you might waist a day trying to get a hold of the KK office from Lahad Datu.
Or maybe you could just tell the receptionist in Lahad Datu that you already spoke with Mr. Albinus on the phone and he gave you permission and hope that she doesn't confirm...
If you want the KK numbers: (6) 088326320 and 088326300.
We hope our reservations stick when we go back next week for the van... :)
Dec 18, 2006 11:32 PM
Jan 5, 2007 10:58 AM
54A new opportunity for viewing orangutans and participating in eco-volunteerism is now provided by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation at the Samboja Lestari Reforestation Project, near Wanariset. The nearly 200 orangutans at Wanariset have been transferred to this new facility which also houses the world's largest sun-bear sanctuary.
Volunteer programmes as well as short term visits to the idyllically sitruated Samboja Lodge, overlooking the forest and the Orangutan Islands are available.
Please visit www.sambojalodge.com or www.savetheorangutan.co.uk for more information. All profits go to support the work of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, the largest primate rescue project in the world.
Feb 25, 2007 2:17 AM
55Just to make the list of Laszlo comprehensiv:
The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS) has a second rehabilitation centre in Central Kalimantan, named Nyaru Menteng. It is near Palangka Raya and currently houses approx. 620 orangutans, mostly rescued from oil palm plantations. Just like the other centre Wanariset, Nyaru Menteng is not open to the general visitor.
Feb 27, 2007 4:02 PM
56Updates on few things (it is a bit long but some decent info I think):
Kutai: We visited in November and it is still pretty much same as before. Mr. Suziki was there when we arrived though and it seems that he has gotten even more unfriendly to tourists. If he is not aorund the Indo researchers at the reasearch station can be contacted by the park rangers and can pick you up for much smaller fee than if you try to get someone else to take you (I think we paid them about 50,000 - 100,000Rp on our way back when Suziki had already left). If Suziki is there however he will not let them pick anyone up so you have to figure out how to get there some other way. We first talked to forest rangers in town and he was going to set something up but he said that it would be 500,000Rp or more which is bit over our budget. He also quoted a price to go downriver to look for proboscis monkeys as quite high (300,000 Rp or more). When we also talked to forest ranger he said that since Suziki was there it would be better if the ranger came along (of course for a fee) but we talked him out of this idea and decided to go on our own. You do not need a guide as the trails are clearly marked and easy to follow. The way we finally got to research station was by catching public microlet (maybe 10,000 Rp each) to Papa charlie (a company town which was not what we expected). I thought there would be more boats to catch but they were fairly absent but after waiting for awhile one passed by and we asked for a ride to Prevab. Along the way we saw monitor and long-tail macaques. When we arrived we asked them how much and they quoted 300,000 Rp which was a bit exhorbant for 20 minute ride. We asked them how much gas they used for this trip and they said maybe 40,000 Rp so we decided that something in the order of 100,000 Rp (although I forget exact amount) was more appropriate for their services. I am sure Suziki was not very happy to see those pesky tourists and he did good job of purposely avoiding us during our time here.
We stayed 4 nights at the very basic accomadation here. It is just a wooden cabin with no beds or anything. Bring misquito net if you have one or hammock would be nice. The little hut was at one time very nice I think when WWF and some other orgs gave them funding a few years ago. Since that time it has fallen into disprepair which is unfortunate. There used to be a sink I think and stove but it has all been torn out or stolen. There are no locks on any doors although noone is around except for Suzuki's team of Japanese (3 when we were there) and Indo researchers (4). When we arrived the rain had not started and there was no water to speak of. Wish we had brought some drinking water from town but thought there would be some from tap that we could at least purify. But it ended up that we had to use water from river for drinking and other necessary things (wash in river and if you wanted to use for flushing the toilet). Bring all your food and some way to cook it. So yes very basic but still a nice setting two feet from the forest. We did not pay for accomadation as no one asked us for anything in our limited contact with the researchers and the park rangers said it was free. We did pay the entrance fee to park which was actually paid at Sangkimah and good for our whole stay in park. I forget how much but not unreasonable.
What we saw: When Suziki around you cannot follow researchers but if he not there you can use them to help you look for orangs as others have said. We found all on our own but if Suziki was not aorund this would be surefire way to find orangs. we found 6 orangutans; our first a large male and one time we saw three at once in one tree (which I do not think happens very often). there was one lucky fruiting tree where we saw 5 of the 6 and almost everytime we came someone new was up there. There were tons of hornbills (oriental pied, wreathed, wrinkled and rhino mostly) but high in canopy and fairly scitterish (much more than in Kinabatangan) and many macaques. Also heard many gibbons but did not get a sighting. Saw few mouse deer on night walk. Did not think the forest as bad as expected from past reports and still many bigger trees left. The trails are well developed and used by researchers and it is very easy since very flat. Nice stroll in the woods looking for wildlife. no leeches but some nasty biting ants (wearing chocos like my girlfriend not recommended). Really an enjoyable place that it seems like hardly anyone goes.
We also checked out Sangkhima before prevab and the mangroves at Teluk Kaba (which I think maybe sort of closed since the sign has been taken down but no one had any problem with us going here). The boardwalk through the forest at Sangkhima is nice and we saw few macaques and birds. They do get orangs here too but when we were there we were told it was the wrong time of year and they had gone deeper in the forest. At Teluk Kaba the short mangrove boarwalk is nice (it is unmarked - look behind the station at the end of the road near the water) and the walk along dirt road to get here has been extensively logged making it very hot anytime after early morning and before late afternoon. The birding here in AM pretty good though. You can stay here at guest house (50,000Rp per person) or we asked if we could set up tent which at first OK with the guy but then when we set it he wanted us to stay in guest house and pay (for his pocket money I am pretty sure). We declined and stayed in our tent instead and he was OK with this after few minutes of discussion.
Kinabatangan and Sukau: We took advice of above post and stayed at Sukau B&B at end of road. We ended up paying van to take us there which was 25 RM per person which was too much but he would not go down. Once we arrived we were told it should be 10 or 15 RM. On our way out we hitched with a plantation owner's son who ended up going out of his way and taking us all the way to Lahad Datu. He was a nice guy and even showed us his father's plantation and how things work. Cannot say I agree with his business but the Malaysian govt is doing a good job at continuing to encourage the destruction of the forest and here like most places, people are interested in making money which oil palm plantations do. He told us that Shell was clearing huge swath of forest and setting up plantation to be used as bio-diesel fuel. So maybe that alternative energy is not always a good thing.
Anyway at Sukau B&B the son of the owner is very personable and speaks really good English although he broke his leg playing football so could not guide us. Instead his father, the owner guided us the first cruise (he was not quite as personable or knowledgable about the wildlife and how to find it). The first night we took a late afternoon and night cruise (it lasted about 6 or 7 hours and cost RM 100). We went down the Menonggo and luckily there were only 2 other boats (sometimes there are 20). It was amazing and the density of wildlife was absolutely phenomenal. In just few hours and along 2km stretch maybe we saw probably 10 groups of proboscis, 6 groups of mixed short tail and long tail macaques and 3 groups of silver leafs. We also saw about 4 monitors, a croc's eyes at night, a Wallace's tree viper and a number of hornbills. At night we spotlighted and saw about 10 Buffy Fish Owls, sleeping kingfisher and think a marbled cat.
When we got back that night though we met the brother in law of the owner who is now staying at the B&B for a year trying to help them develop the tour packages a bit more. He is from peninsular malaysia and is one of the nicest people that I have met on my travels. I have lost his info now but will update this if I find it soon. He has been working on the Kinbatangan for about 10 years as a guide and wildlife spotter for some research projects. He is very involved in the conservation projects along the Kinabatangan. We talked with and told him what we were interested in seeing and that we would love to go out with him. He has his own nice small boat which he is willing to go anywhere with. One traveler wanted to go to Semporna by way of river and he was willing to do this and we joined for the ride (it was 300 RM for the boat for this trip). He is willing to go out from early in the morning until past nightfall for spotlighting (so 14 hours) to what he says is one of best areas for wildlife (downriver near Albai where he used to live on a beautiful oxbow lake) for about 200 RM for boat. This is a really exceptional deal compared to other places and it really appears that he is not in it for the money. If you were to go for a shorter trip I am sure it would be much cheaper (60 - 100 RM for half day). He really enjoys what he does and is an excellent birder (one of our interests) as well. He can see and identify birds and other animals from far away and knows where things are from his long experience on the river. He is willing to plan your trip according to what you want to see and where you want to go. He is flexible and all around a great person from my judgement.
Around the Sukau B&B we saw a female orang and very small baby (only 200 meters away) and there is groop of red leafs that hangs around although we did not see them. There are pair of oriental pied hornbills always around and an hour's hike away there is a small limestone outcrop with cave. Elephants use this area to pass through and there were signs of their recent presence. On our trip downriver to Semporna (to drop of other traveler) we really wanted to see elephants but unfortunately a few weeks before the large herd had broken up which makes it difficult to find them and we were not so lucky. We did see many proboscis and gray leafs and macaques though and another two orangutans along river. We saw a number of Storm's storks, cormorants, rhino and oriental pied hornbills, dollarbirds, many pigeons and many other birds. No crocs but the day before our guide had been upriver and seen a 5 meter one. We ended up leaving a bit later than expected from Semporna after dropping off other traveler so our late afternoon spotting was not so full but we did see an amazing firefly show in Albai where trees lit up with thousands of fireflies like christmas lights. We ended up sleeping in Albai instead of heading back to Sukau. We just stayed on floor of our guide's relatives. They did not charge except for the amazing food which was the river prawns prepared three different ways (they were like miny lobsters and delicious). In the morning we left to go back to Sukau and it was a little misty and cool so many of the monkeys were still sleeping which was funny to look at. more nice birds along the way including an amazing helmeted hornbill (we were very lucky as that was only second time our guide had seen one along the river). It is a gorgeous bird. We also heard some gibbons and our guide let us of to go find one which we succeeded in doing. These are probably my favorite primates and their grace is just amazing. We also saw a huge male orang on our way back who was very close to river and right near a plantation.
Our guide told us it was up to us for how much we wanted to pay for morning cruise since he had already been paid for the trip to Semporna and he was just making his way back (so his costs for gas already covered). We decided to give him 50 RM and we headed on our way to Danum.
Danum: I was with byelukha who posted above and it would probably be good to contact them beforehand to make reservation. We ended up camping at Danum which took a little while for them to convince them that this would be OK. I think it was maybe because they had not cleaned the area in awhile and it seems that few people stay here. It was however a really nice setup with hamocks set up under a roof and it is elevated so no problem with wetness. There is a kitchen area and sink although no cooking equipment permanently there although I think you might be able to rent it. We brought our own and also all of our food since it is pricey to eat at field center. This worked well for us. It was 30 RM per night per person. Bring a misquito net perhaps. Vans to Danum only run mon, wed, fri as said before
We were there for 5 days and it was great. The most wildlife we found though was very close to station proper. From the restaurant deck which nice place to relax I saw gibbon swinging in trees, pig tailed macaque, giant squirrel, rhino hornbills and falconet catching butterflies. We saw troop of macaques and red leaf monkeys and juvenile orang and in front of education center and female orang right behind it. The nature trail is OK with observation tower and also saw red leafs here though nothing else. Went on coffin trail and did not see much except Bornean horny frog but forest nice. At night walking around station with spotlight we saw few civets and leopard cat and cool tree frog. Went on night drive and did not see much but it had rained earlier in day. There are the many resident pigs and sambar deer as well. Many Buffy Fish Owls and hornbills. Birding here is supposed to be great but I am still a novice and I find rainforest birding quite difficult. Many people have seen tons of birds here though as can be seen in books in lobby.
Other practical info: I think van is around 60 RM per person and entry permit 30 RM. They say you need a guide but that you can go on bird watching or night walks by yourself so I recommend that you do this and if they ask you just say that you thought you could go on your own for bird walks. Or you could be diplomatic and ask the people in charge if you can go by yourself and try to give them some good reason why. If you have money to pay for guide go for it (20 RM an hour is steep) and I have heard that they are not very knowledgeable. We went on a few longer hikes with no guide and had no problems with the staff (although it was Christmas and very few researchers there). We did find however that some of trails outside of the used research grid are very overgrown and often dead end. But there is plenty to see near the station and the forest is nice there. If you are up for a little adventure there was a group that was hiking from the station to the Danum Rainforest Lodge and sleeping in the forest. The guides do not do that often or ever but if you wanted to you could probably work something out if willing to pay.
One more thing if you want to check out blog for more info, it is below. There are linked pics and the entries about these places were placed on the blog in December 2006 and January 2007
SE Asia blog
May 6, 2007 3:25 PM
57Does anyone know if there are ANY opportunities for 'free volunteering' in Malaysia?
May 8, 2007 1:52 PM
58hi i am heading to Gunung Leuser National Park on sumatra,
has anyone actual information? as I am running a little bit of time, should i skip Bukit Lawang completely or perhaps put it second after Gunung Leuser National Park although the geological order would of course set Bukit Lawang first as it is close to medan.
any help welcome!
May 8, 2007 2:20 PM
(0 star Hotel)
From US$21.01 per night
(0 star Hotel)
From US$24.18 per night
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From US$232.32 per night