Mother orang-utan carrying baby and bamboo

Getty Images

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Top choice in Sepilok

Around 25km north of Sandakan, and covering 40 sq km of the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, this inspiring, world-famous centre welcomes orphaned and injured orangutans for rehabilitation before returning them to forest life. There are around 200 living in the reserve, though only a few are regular visitors to the feeding platform. At the outdoor nursery, a short walk from the feeding platform, you can watch orphaned youngsters at play.

The youngsters you'll be charmed by are between six and nine years old, and in either the air-conditioned or fan-cooled viewing stalls you can sit and watch them play and practise their swinging – just one of the skills they'll need to stay alive should they return to what's left of their rainforest home. Try to get here early in the morning before they are fed and become sleepy.

Platform Feeding

Feedings at the platforms are at 10am and 3pm, and last 30 to 50 minutes. Tickets are valid for one day, so you can see two feedings with the same ticket. Watching the trees begin to shake, the ropes vibrating, the first swatch of orange shifting through the branches, is a moment you'll never forget.

Also worth noting is that only around two to four of the population will feed at any one time. During fruiting season, few will turn up, if any at all, since there's plenty to eat in the forest. The larger males almost never congregate here. In order to get a good spot for your camera or kids, get here 20 minutes before feeding time. The morning feeding is always more crowded with Homo sapiens, as this is when more tour groups visit, so if you want a quieter experience, try the afternoon. Don't bring any containers of insect repellent into the reserve, as these are highly toxic to the apes and other wildlife. Spray yourself before entering, and put on plenty of sunblock.

Nature Education Centre

A worthwhile 20-minute video about Sepilok's work is shown six times daily (9am, 10.30am, 11am, noon, 2.10pm and 3.30pm) in the auditorium opposite reception. Strangely the impact of palm-oil plantations, which have supplanted much of the orangutan's habitat, is not specifically mentioned.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Sepilok attractions

1. Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre

0.08 MILES

The wonderful BSBCC provides care to rescued sun bears (44 at the time of writing), the world's second-most endangered bear. It's possible to see the…

2. Rainforest Discovery Centre


The RDC, about 1.5km from SORC, offers an engaging education in tropical flora and fauna. Outside the exhibit hall filled with child-friendly displays, a…

3. Sandakan Memorial Park

6.95 MILES

A beautiful rainforest garden marks the site of a Japanese POW camp and the starting point for the infamous WWII 'death marches' to Ranau. Of the 1793…

4. Puu Jih Syh Temple

9.81 MILES

Wrapped in the usual firework display of reds, golds and twining dragons, festooned with lanterns illuminating the grounds like a swarm of fireflies, this…

5. St Michael's & All Angels Church

11.39 MILES

One of the very few surviving pre-WWII buildings, this pretty stone church (1893) sits as a relic of colonial times and a monument to Christian worship on…

6. Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary

11.48 MILES

A local palm-plantation owner has created a private proboscis monkey sanctuary, attracting the floppy-conked locals with sugar-free pancakes at 9.30am and…

7. Sam Sing Kung

11.49 MILES

The Sam Sing Kung temple (also pronounced 'Sam Sing Gong') dates from 1887, making it the oldest building in Sandakan. The temple itself is a smallish, if…

8. Malaysia Fountain

11.61 MILES

The fountain commemorates the independence of Sabah on 16 September 1963 with the departure of the last Governor of British North Borneo.