By June RamliTweet
This was my first visit to Sandakan, Sabah and I can honestly say that it was a magnificent experience.
If you haven’t been to Sandakan yet, you will need to visit this gem of a destination.
After spending three glorious days in Kota Kinabalu, we were put on a flight in the wee hours of the morning on Dec 1 to Sandakan via Air Asia.
It was an absolutely gorgeous mountainous view throughout the flight. When we arrived in Sandakan, we met our guide John who took us for breakfast.
John and his driver took us to a Malay kopitiam and the food was good.
Tungog Rainforest Eco Camp – KOPEL
After breakfast we headed to our first stop, Kopel Kinabatangan or the Tungog Rainforest Eco Camp, which is accessible by boat on the croc infested Kinabatangan river.
When we arrived, the locals told us that two people were killed and eaten by crocodiles in October. One was a nine-year-old boy who was eaten while swimming near his house and another was a lady in her 30s who was killed while fishing.
The Kinabatangan is not a pretty river, the water is brown and apparently it is home to hundreds of crocodiles.
You can imagine my fright.
I was petrified to take that boat ride, what if we tip and fall into the river?
We had life jackets but I know that it would not save us from the crocodiles!
Kopel, the homestay area with nice brick like houses, is an area where tourists can experience living in a Bornean village.
There was a cafe that served hot meals and that was about it.
Staying in these villages meant that we were 100 per cent going back to nature.
I was told that Australian school children used to go there for excursions, which surprised me to no end.
To be honest, I wouldn’t have made my way there if it wasn’t for this media familiarisation trip!
After a sumptuous lunch at the Kopel cafe, we headed to the Tungog Rainforest Eco Camp.
To get to this camp, we need to take the boat ride through the croc infested river.
It was a nerve wracking trip after learning that the villagers there had been eaten alive by these crocs!
I couldn’t back out so I reluctantly joined the crowd to check out the camp.
On our way, we saw a crocodile, but it swam away as we got closer.
While heading to the campsite, we were told that crocs are pretty smart animals, they normally mark their targets way in advance.
If you have been fishing in the same spot for years, beware as the croc might be observing your movements and would pounce only when you are at your lowest or if you let your guard down.
I learned that if you see bubbles in the river, rest assured there is a croc waiting to give you a nasty surprise!
We saw a couple of bubbles in the river that day and that really freaked me out.
After the unexpected encounter with the croc, we finally arrived at the campsite safe and sound.
At the campsite, I was told that it is often frequented by elephants in large groups and you can see other wild animals there.
We didn’t see any elephants but there was a lake inside the camp area which I was told was a breeding ground for crocodiles.
That was scary!
If you plan to stay for a couple of nights and you are from abroad like Australia, be sure to come well equipped with a mosquito repellent.
Water supply might also be low on this campsite because the wild elephants are known to have struck their trucks onto the water barrels from time to time.
Smart animals they are.
There is no wifi at this campsite and so it is not suited for remote work but a short getaway would be the best way to spend your time at the Tungog Rainforest Eco Camp.
For enquiries and reservations for Kopel and the Tungog Rainforest Eco Camp go here.
Bilit Rainforest Lodge
After the mini adventure at the Tungog Rainforest Resort, we headed to another equally nerve wrecking adventure which was the Bilit Rainforest Lodge situated on opposite sides of the croc infested Kinabatangan river.
Going to the Bilit Lodge meant I had to take another nerve wrecking boat ride to get there!
The same murky water that was home to hundreds of crocodiles.
We arrived at the area on our mini bus, parked it on the opposite side of the road and proceeded to take the boat.
The ride through the murky waters of the very famous Borneo river is a cool 15 minutes.
When you get there, you will be greeted by a group of friendly locals with welcome drinks and shown to your room with nice beds and a hot shower.
The TV is only in the common area, rooms are just for resting with the natural sounds of the jungle!
It took me a while to get used to the room and its surroundings since the lodge was in the middle of a dense forest with its trees filled with wild proboscis monkeys.
The proboscis monkeys are a unique species of monkeys that can only be found in Borneo (Sabah, Sarawak and Indonesia’ Kalimantan.)
John, our guide, told us that the proboscis monkeys normally sit on the trees in groups until it is time to retire for the night.
They don’t return to the same spot again, meaning they find a new spot the next day!
Just before dinner, we were taken around the croc infested river for a cruise.
There we saw a beautiful Kingfisher bird.
It was here that our guide John told us that the proboscis monkeys are best left in the wild.
They don’t do zoos too well and must be left at their natural habitat.
That explains why you hardly see this species in any zoos.
The cruise lasted about 20 minutes and we had to leave since it was starting to get dark.
Normally you see a wider selection of wildlife in those cruises but as we started quite late in the day, we only managed to feast our eyes on the KingFisher and the Proboscis monkeys.
Then we headed back to the lodge, had dinner and retired for the night.
The next day we left the resort after we were feasted with some sumptuous breakfast.
My verdict: Staying two nights at the resort would be apt for those interested in nature living. There is no wifi there and the place is certainly not suitable for remote work. If you are an English speaker, not to worry, the staff there speak impeccable English.
For more information on the Bilit Rainforest Lodge and for reservation go here.
Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary
This was a wonderful experience and probably the best surprise of the day!
I loved it as we got to get up close and personal with the proboscis monkeys.
This place is worth a visit if you have the time to do the tour.
The sanctuary is built in the middle of a palm oil plantation.
The story goes that the monkeys started destroying the crops at the plantation in search of food.
Instead of harming them, the plantation management decided to start the sanctuary as a way to keep the monkeys in their natural habitat while ensuring that they have enough food.
Besides the monkeys we also saw the hornbills and were feasted with some of their antics.
Labuk Bay is not free to visit, there is a minimal entrance fee involved but it is worth every dollar as you will get to see these magnificent animals in an up close and personal manner.
You also get charged a fee if you bring in a professional camera to take photos but the charges don’t apply if you take the photos using your iPhones.
This is definitely a money can’t buy experience that you must experience at least once in your lifetime.
Out of all the places we visited that day, this had to be the winner.
For more information about Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary including the ticket prices go here.
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC)
Next after that wonderful sojourn with the wonderful monkeys, we were then driven to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre which was right next to the very famous Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.
I never knew of this place existence until I set foot there and I was told that the place had been built solely through donations received from the masses.
Walking into the BSBCC is just like walking into any swanky cafe in Bangsar.
It is nicely designed and the sunbears are all placed in a rainforest that is fully gated.
If there are any visitors who had come to the centre with a sore back no thanks to their earlier hike at Mount Kinabalu, the good news is that there is a ramp to take you into the BSBCC.
The ramp is also useful for anyone on wheelchairs.
A little bit of background information on the centre, it was built to help take in these sunbears which were normally kept as pets.
Once they got too big and hard to handle their owners would then bring them to the rehabilitation centre to be left there.
The sunbears are pretty small in size and they look like a darker version of Winnie the Pooh, but they do give out a loud roar.
One of the workers there told me that there were 44 bears at the centre as of Dec 1 and they were all given names.
Apparently, you can tell each bear apart from the neck markings.
I found that piece of information really interesting.
Besides the sunbears, we also came across some wild monkeys in the forest.
These were no proboscis monkeys but the normal monkeys we see in Pangkor Laut Resort or the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur.
Finally, after we were done with the sunbears, on our way out we come across a really cool souvenir shop with lots of cool stuff featuring the sun bear.
For more information about the BSBCC, go here.
Sepilok OrangUtan Rehabilitation Centre
I had always wanted to visit this centre for the longest time and I was absolutely elated that I finally got a chance to do so during my recent visit to Sabah.
We got there just in the nick of the second feeding time which was at 3pm.
The first one takes place at 11am.
All visitors entering this centre would be required to wear a face mask because the orangutans are our closest cousins with our DNA almost 97 per cent similar.
Once we got inside the centre, it didn’t take long before we managed to see a couple of orangutans during feeding time.
It had just stopped raining when we got to the centre so we only could see a few Orangutans.
Seeing the Orangutans can be pretty difficult since they are bold and elusive except during their feeding times.
You are not allowed to go up close and personal with the orangutans, although they are allowed to roam freely throughout the rehabilitation centre.
This means they can walk on the railings or just make an unexpected appearance near you.
So, beware and be alert.
The Orangutans are very cheeky and strong animals so if you are in the centre, make sure you are with your guide at all times otherwise you might be stripped and brutally attacked.
This centre is absolutely a must visit if you get a chance to detour and head to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu.
For more information about the Sepilok OrangUtan Rehabilitation Center, go here.
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June Ramli is the editor of DailyStraits.com. To stay in touch with June, look her up on Twitter @junesairaramli