Borneo's World Renowned Nature Sanctuaries

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February 10th 2014
Published: June 25th 2017
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Beautiful BorneoBeautiful BorneoBeautiful Borneo

We love traveling overland, even on crowded buses, because otherwise we might miss the splendour of scenes like these. And yes, we are high up. We came from that road you see way down there.
The seven hour bus ride from Kota Kinabulu to Sandakan in bus seats definitely designed for the smaller Asian body type, not large and leggy foreigners like us, may not have been that much of a treat, but arriving at our sweet hotel with a sea view to die for certainly was, as you never really know what you are gonna get until you get there. The irony is that this delightful room, with breakfast included, was only $45 a night, nicer but less expensive than most hotels we have stayed in so far on this trip. In addition to the spectacular view of the South China Sea from our hotel window, we also enjoyed an evening dragon dance in the nearby town square. But pretty as it was, Sandakan was merely our point of departure for the following four nature sanctuaries we came to visit:

Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre

One of only four such rehabilitation centres in the world, we were really looking forward to seeing the orang-utans when they came for their morning feeding. As they live in the wild in the sanctuary, there was no real guarantee that they would show, but three of them did,
Male ModelMale ModelMale Model

This dominant male loved to strutt his stuff. He most obviously loved the camera, and all the attention he got from the tourists, making a point of coming closer to us than all of his underlings, and posing for photos.
and we were able to watch them - from about twenty feet away - quite literally hanging around and eating, for a half hour.

Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary

The orang-utans mesmerized us with their size, flexibility, obvious strength, and personalities, but the proboscis monkeys also kept us thoroughly engaged, because of their sheer numbers, their incredibly expressive faces, and their interesting behaviours. For example, it was totally obvious who the dominant male was, for when he arrived the others all either got out of his way or followed him. He also loved to pose for the camera, so much so that someone in the viewing audience jokingly dubbed him "Malaysia's Top Model."

Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre

We are not unfamiliar with bears in Canada, so seeing these little bears did not seem particularly astounding until we reminded ourselves that they are full grown and no taller than a black Labrador dog. They are in fact the smallest bears in the world, and the species is threatened to extinction because of its being hunted for its body parts used in Chinese medicine. A sad story, but the centre is doing some good work in this
Whose Watching Who?Whose Watching Who?Whose Watching Who?

No, he is not in a cage or behind any barrier. Yes, he is only ten feet away from us, and made a point of landing right in front of us, on the walkway, as if to Le us know that we were, most definitely, in his territory. We got respectful real fast.

Rainforest Discovery Centre

I had never experienced a rainforest canopy walk before, so was really looking forward to this one, although not quite sure just what to expect - I would have probably said "interesting birds" had I been asked. We ascended a number of stairs until we reached a height of 33 meters above the forest floor, then climbed a tower that took us up another fifteen feet. That was when we began to be blown away - not just by the spectacular foliage that surrounded us, or by the enormity of the trees that we still had to crank our necks to see the tops of, or by the promised varieties of bird species that mostly eluded us. No, what we witnessed was an orang-utan, in the wild, eating at the top of one of the giant trees. This was a rarity. We watched him from a distance of perhaps thirty feet, but at the same level as we were really high up as well, for about fifteen minutes. Then it got really close up and personal, when he became interested in us.

We had no idea, of course. We just thought the show
I'm Outta HereI'm Outta HereI'm Outta Here

But I'll still be watching you . . .
was getting better, as he gracefully made his way from the top of one massive tree to the top of another, and another, all the while heading in our direction. We were so busy snapping photos and delighting in this rare opportunity that we did not begin to get concerned until he gracefully landed on the very walkway that we were on, just ten feet away. We watched him walk the railing of the walkway with total ease, occasionally peeking back at his totally captive audience of a half dozen spellbound camera snapping tourists, until he jumped to a nearby branch that hovered just above the walkway. Right about then one of the tourists shares a story of how these creatures love to take your cameras, glasses, and sometimes clothing. Having just watched him, and a few of his buddies earlier, hang effortlessly from one arm for long periods of time while enjoying their meals, and having read that one orang-utan has the strength of five men, I was not entirely comfortable having to walk by this baby from a mere distance of ten feet, which I knew he could clear in one bound if he wanted. But we could
Have I Impressed You Yet?Have I Impressed You Yet?Have I Impressed You Yet?

Yes you have. What incredible strength, not to mention agility. And this display is taking place forty metres high. No safety nets either.
not stay there all day either, so we booted past in a hurry, I holding on tightly to my sunglasses - and pointlessly, if he really wanted them - and keeping my camera out of sight. Eventually he too got bored with us and moved on, as we discovered him again a little later high up in a treetop making himself a bed and stretching out. All that was missing in his hands was a beer! ( They do exude a very human energy)

That was far more than we expected, and will be hard to top as a memorable moment on this trip.
But we shall see, as tomorrow we head deep into the jungle for four days, where we will be taking part in several day hikes, night hikes, and river cruises. If I gather up my courage, I might even do a little river kayaking with the crocodiles. Or would that be just a little too crazy?

Additional photos below
Photos: 19, Displayed: 19


Hanging Out at Lunch TimeHanging Out at Lunch Time
Hanging Out at Lunch Time

This guy hung upside down for five minutes at least, while eating his breakfast.
Monkey ProcessionMonkey Procession
Monkey Procession

Note who is leading the pack - yes, that would be our male macho model, the big guy. When he says let's go, nobody questions, they all just follow their leader. Lunch is served.
That is a Nervous SmileThat is a Nervous Smile
That is a Nervous Smile

I admit it. Monkeys freak me out, so I was not staying that close to this big guy any longer than the five seconds it took to get this shot. I don't trust monkeys, no matter how sweet and gentle of an old man face he may have, and I know he is way stronger and faster than I am.
Canopy TowerCanopy Tower
Canopy Tower

The canopy was three three metres above the forest floor, and then the tower option added a bunch more, so you could get to the height of many of the high trees, although certainly nowhere near the tops of the giants.
Another View of the CanopyAnother View of the Canopy
Another View of the Canopy

This was just one of several that traversed the Rain Forest Sanctuary extensively.
Water Buffalo Road BlockWater Buffalo Road Block
Water Buffalo Road Block

Our taxi driver honked at this big guy and waited for several minutes, quite concerned that those big spears on his buffalo head might end up in our car if we didn't get his permission to pass. Eventually the driver slowly wound past him, with no issue. We think our taxi knows a little bit more about these buffalo than we do.
Room With a ViewRoom With a View
Room With a View

I did say our room had a killer view, right? This would be it, taken right from our floor to ceiling wall of window.
Dragon DanceDragon Dance
Dragon Dance

I caught the Dancing Dragon in mid leap, jumping down from the tops of the poles you see. Considering that the dragon was composed of two guys coordinating their movements, this was no easy feat. Impressive.
Happy KidsHappy Kids
Happy Kids

They were a bunch of fun to sit next to at the dragon dance, and absolutely thrilled when I asked if I could take their picture.
Our "Yum Yum" Taxi DriverOur "Yum Yum" Taxi Driver
Our "Yum Yum" Taxi Driver

This guy was such a hoot! He was always smiling and laughing, and although his spoken Engligh was very limited, he constantly tried to engage and be a tour guide. Example, when passing by a mosque, he would point and begin singing. Or when passing a bunch of chickens on the road, point and say "yum, yum". Actually, he said this a lot. He was a fun guide.
Borneo Sun BearBorneo Sun Bear
Borneo Sun Bear

The smallest bear in the world.
Hard at Work on the Travel BlogHard at Work on the Travel Blog
Hard at Work on the Travel Blog

But what a great work setting.
Lush and Beautiful BorneoLush and Beautiful Borneo
Lush and Beautiful Borneo

It really was this lovely lime green. Love it.

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