Borneo - Orangutans and Iban

An essential trip for the wildlife lover, this unique tour to Borneo will take us past the usual tourist hot-spots. We venture deeper into the lesser-visited national parks in search of pygmy elephants and Borneo’s well-known inhabitant, the orangutan.

Starting in Kuching, Sarawak’s cosmopolitan capital city, we take a day trip to Bako National Park. Bako boasts an impressive range of forest types, from mangroves and heath to tropical swamp and beach vegetation. This provides habitats for a wide variety of species include sea eagles, crocodiles and the Borneo endemic proboscis monkey.

Our next stop is Batang Ai, where we board our boat for the upriver trip into the jungle. We spend three days here, searching for wildlife such as orangutans, macaques and various species of birds. We’ll also get to know the local Iban community at their longhouse.

Flying on to Mulu National Park, we explore the largest limestone cave system in the world, where we hope to witness the spectacle of over a million bats exiting the Deer cave at once, before continuing to Deramakot and Kinabatangan. Deramakot is home to the world’s rarest cat, the Sunda clouded leopard, whilst Kinabatangan boasts the highest concentration of proboscis monkeys and orangutans in Borneo.

A land of luxuriant rainforests, Borneo is home to the most biodiverse habitats on earth. Although the fearsome headhunting days are long in Borneo’s past, indigenous culture and tribal peoples still remain, and we will be fortunate to experience their legendary hospitality. But, it isn’t just the human locals we will come to know on this island. The ‘humans of the forest’ are the reason most people visit Borneo and these endearing, orange apes will surely leave a lasting impression.

Borneo - Orangutans and Iban

Highlights

  • Look for wild orangutan in Batang Ai
  • Meet the Iban people
  • Cruise the Kinabatangan River
  • Explore the caves of Gunung Mulu
  • Spot the big-nosed proboscis monkey

Day 1 - Kuching

Arrive in Kuching and transfer to your hotel. Overnight Limetree Hotel or similar.


Day 2 - Bako National Park - Kuching

This morning we drive to Bako village and take a boat to the national park. En route we look out for crocodiles, sea eagles and other shore birds. Upon arrival into the park, we explore the trails and look out for more wildlife. Commonly spotted at Bako are Borneo endemic proboscis monkeys, silver langurs and numerous species of birds. Return to Kuching in the afternoon. Overnight Limetree Hotel or similar. (BL)

Kuching

Divided by the 120km Sarawak River, is Sarawak’s capital, Kuching. On 15th August 1839, British explorer James Brooke was sailing along the Sarawak River and came across a small town, consisting of brown huts and longhouses made from wood and the stems of the Nipah palm. This little settlement had been established only ten years earlier by Brunei chiefs who were overseeing the mining of Antimony in the Sarawak River valley. James Brooke became Rajah in 1841 and by this time the town had a population of Malays, Dayaks and Cantonese, Hokkien and Teochew traders. It was under the rule of the second ‘white Rajah’, Charles Brooke, who commissioned most of the town’s main buildings, that the town began to grow and the colonial settlement expanded to include forts, museums and courthouses. Today, Kuching has a mayor for each side – the south of Kuching is predominantly inhabited by the Chinese and is a residential and commercial area, whilst on the northern side, old kampong houses line the river and the Malay character of this part is very much intact. This cosmopolitan city is very much a melting-pot of cultures and religions, evident in its Chinese and Hindu temples, Protestant and Catholic churches and the arresting Kuching Mosque.

Kuching is also dotted with urban parks, wetlands and nature reserves and whilst the waterfront boasts restaurants, food stalls, musical fountains, entertainment facilities and an open-air theatre, China Town boasts narrow streets lined with shophouses and the oldest street in the city, known as the ‘Main Bazaar.’ The Chinese people who live here still pursue traditional occupations such as woodwork and tinsmithing. There are many different theories as to how the city was given the name ‘Kuching’, which means ‘cat’ in Malay. Some believe that ‘Kuching’ is indeed referring to ‘cat’ and that the city was named after James Brooke pointed to the settlement and enquired what it was called as he was approaching from across the river. Legend has it that whoever he asked, mistakenly thought he was pointing at a passing cat. Another theory says that the city may have been named after ‘Kucing Hutan’, the wild cats that were commonly seen along the forested banks of the Sarawak River. And, it doesn’t stop there – some believe the city was named after the fruit that grows locally, ‘Buah Mata Kucing’ or ‘Cat’s Eyes’, whereas others believe that the city was named ‘Cochin’ – ‘port’ in Indo-Malay by early Indian and Chinese traders.

Day 3 - Batang Ai National Park

Leaving Kuching in the morning, we drive to the Batang Ai Reservoir, stopping at Lachau Bazaar en route. Aboard a long boat, we make the upriver trip to Nanga Sumpa. After dinner, we visit a longhouse to spend some time with the Iban people. We get to know them and learn about their culture over a glass of homemade rice wine. Overnight Nanga Sumpa Lodge or similar. (BLD)


Day 4 - Batang Ai National Park

We spend some time exploring the trails along the river before continuing upriver by longboat. Our first stop is the scenic Enseluai Waterfall where we’ll enjoy a BBQ lunch prepared by our Iban hosts. Continuing on, we take a short trek through wild orangutan habitat to our jungle camp. The rest of the day is at leisure with an optional night walk. Overnight Lubok Kasai Lodge or similar. (BLD)


Day 5 - Batang Ai National Park

Head out on morning and afternoon treks in search of orangutans and other wildlife including pig-tailed macaques and various birds. There’ll be time to relax in-between. Overnight Lubok Kasai Lodge or similar. (BLD)

Batang Ai National Park

Batang Ai is a 24 sq km protected area for tropical rainforest conservation. The park adjoins the Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary in Malaysia and the Bentuang-Karimun National Park in Indonesia. These areas form a sanctuary for one of the few viable orangutan populations in Borneo and together cover an area of almost 10,000 sq km. Batang Ai National Park is the only part of this area open to visitors, for conservation reasons. However, it does have the highest orangutan population density in Central Borneo and there is a good possibility of seeing wild orangutan here. Along the Sungai Batai, there are Iban communities living isolated existences in huge longhouses. They have retained much tradition but some signs of encroaching modernity are evident.

Day 6 - Batang Ai National Park - Kuching

After breakfast at our jungle camp, we head downriver to the Batang Ai jetty, then travel back to Kuching. We arrive at the hotel in Kuching late afternoon. Overnight Limetree Hotel or similar. (BL)


Day 7 - Gunung Mulu National Park

We fly to Mulu today where we trek along ancient forest walkways and visit Deer Cave. This enormous cavern is over 90 metres high and we may see the spectacle of millions of bats exiting the cave. We also visit Lang cave with its impressive stalactites and stalagmites. Overnight Mulu Marriott Resort and Spa or similar. (BL)


Day 8 - Gunung Mulu National Park

Cruising on the Malinau River by longboat, we make our way to the Wind and Clearwater caves. After exploring the caves, we enjoy a swim in the crystal-clear waters before having a picnic lunch in the rainforest. We also take a walk along the canopy walkway for a different perspective of the forest. Overnight Mulu Marriott Resort and Spa or similar. (BL)

Gunung Mulu National Park

In the deep interior of northern Sarawak on the border with Indonesia, lies Gunung Mulu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is an isolated area of 53,000 ha, ranging from altitudes of 35m to 2,375m and encompassing 17 different habitats. These include primary lowland rainforest, tropical heath forest, peat swamp, alluvial forest and riparian forest. The park is bordered by three mountains: Gunung Benarat, Gunung Api and the park’s namesake, Gunung Mulu. One of the main draws to Gunung Mulu however, is its limestone cave system, the largest in the world, formed from thousands of years of erosion. Only four of the twenty-five caves and passages that have been discovered are open to the public. National Geographic, who visited the area in 1977, initiated the surveying of over 3000km of caves – it is believed that there could be twice as many more. The Penan and Berawan indigenous people lived in this area for centuries hunting and gathering and were the first naturalists of the region. Species in the park include 80 species of mammals, 270 birds, 130 reptiles and amphibians, 3500 plants and 4000 types of fungi. Not to mention 50 types of fish and 2000 different beetles, bugs and butterflies.

Day 9 - Kota Kinabalu

Transfer to the airport for our flight to Kota Kinabalu, and onwards transfer to Kundasang. Upon arrival we visit Nabalu market and will be treated to views of South East Asia’s highest mountain (weather-permitting). Overnight Kinabalu Pine Resort or similar. (B)


Day 10 - Deramakot Forest Reserve

We drive to Telpuid, a small town in the centre of Sabah. Here we will switch to 4×4 vehicles and travel to Deramakot Forest Reserve. Deramakot is home to various species including the rare Sunda clouded leopard. We go on a night drive in the evening in search of nocturnal animals. Overnight Deramakot Lodge or similar. (BLD)


Day 11 - Deramakot Forest Reserve

Waking up to the sound of gibbons and other jungle wildlife, we set off early on our morning wildlife drive. After breakfast, we head out for a walk and in the afternoon we drive to an area known for wild orangutan sightings. Overnight Deramakot Lodge or similar. (BLD)


Day 12 - Deramakot Forest Reserve

The unique sounds of the rainforest become our daily wake-up call. We explore the reserve again today, through various treks and 4wd safaris, and take another wildlife drive in the evening. Heading out at different times of day maximises our chances of seeing both daytime and nocturnal creatures. Overnight Deramakot Lodge or similar. (BLD)

Deramakot Forest Reserve

Deramakot Forest Reserve is located in Northern Borneo and is one of the best locations for spotting wildlife on the island. The reserve promotes sustainable forest management and the protection and conservation of wildlife. The species here range from the Malay sun bear and slow loris, to the colugo and pygmy elephant. The most iconic animal found here however, is the world’s rarest cat, the Sunda clouded leopard. The population of these cats in Sabah is between 1500 and 3000, and Deramakot Forest Reserve is home to the largest remaining population on earth.

Day 13 - Deramakot Forest Reserve – Kinabatangan River

Early morning, we head out for our last wildlife drive, before departing for the Kinabatangan River. We travel by boat to our lodge, and in the late afternoon explore the surrounding waterways by boat. Overnight Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge or similar. (B)


Day 14 - Kinabatangan River

Waking up to the sounds of tropical birds, we embark on our cruise downriver to Abai. Upon arrival we participate in a tree planting project and enjoy a local lunch prepared by the villagers. After some free time, we set out on an afternoon cruise along the Kinabatangan River to search for wildlife. Overnight Abai Jungle Lodge or similar. (BLD)

Kinabatangan

The Kinabatangan River, or Sungai Kinabatangan, is Sabah’s longest river and is the second longest river in Malaysia. The habitat encompasses jungle, floodplains, narrow straits of river, mangrove, freshwater swamp, palms and bamboo. Much of this is situated within the 28,000 ha Lower Kinabatangan Sanctuary. The sanctuary was created in 1999 and is one of only two places in the world that is inhabited by ten species of primates. The Kinabatangan conservation area boasts the highest concentration of proboscis monkeys and orangutans in Borneo. Other wildlife encounters may also include Bornean gibbons, pygmy elephants and the rare slow loris. Over 200 species of bird are found here, including eight types of hornbill, among them the rare wrinkled hornbill. Four of the primates found here are endemic to Borneo – silvered, maroon and Hose’s langurs and the proboscis monkey.

Day 15 - Kinabatangan River – Sandakan

We take a last boat trip in search of birds and other wildlife, at Pitas Lake. We then cruise down the Kinabatangan River to Sandakan, where we’ll visit the central market and Australian War Memorial.  In the evening we visit a viewing platform at our resort – a great place to spot Red giant flying squirrels. If we’re lucky, we’ll see them emerging from their nests and gliding across the sky. Overnight My Nature Resort or similar. (BL)


Day 16 - Sandakan - Kota Kinabalu

Transfer to the airport and fly to Kota Kinabalu for your connecting flight home. (B)

Orangutans

Orangutan, translates to ‘human of the forest’. This is certainly an apt name, given that orangutans share 97% of their DNA with humans. When watching an orangutan, you will see similarities to humans in their intelligence, behavioural traits and emotions. These clever, incredibly sentient great apes are capable of both constructing and using tools. They have been witnessed using sticks to extract termites from holes, bathing themselves, and making gloves out of leaves to pick prickly fruits. Orangutans can learn behaviours and are capable of imitation, planning and self-awareness.

They can live for up to 40 years in the wild and are essentially solitary animals. However, they stay with their mothers until the ages of six to nine years old, gaining survival skills. Due to this long learning curve, females only have babies once every 7-9 years. This is the longest birth interval of any land mammal and means that orangutans are not being repopulated as their numbers decline.

Most of an orangutan’s life is spent high up in the tree canopy, to which its body is perfectly evolved. Orangutans cannot jump and don’t have tails like a lot of primates, but they have massive arm spans, curved and elongated fingers, incredible strength, and feet that grip, meaning they can easily move around the treetops by swinging, reaching and climbing. Orangutans also make treetop nests each night by breaking and folding branches. Like us, they need a mattress and a pillow, so they create these with softer materials such as leaves.

Orangutans are mainly classified as ‘frugivores’, which means they prefer to eat forest fruits whenever possible. They commit to memory, an incredibly detailed map of their forest homes, documenting where and when certain trees bear fruit. Half of an orangutan’s day is spent finding food. When the forest is in low fruiting season, they eat leaves, barks, piths and insects.

The orangutan is Asia’s only great ape and there are three species. The Sumatran and the Tapanuli are both found in Sumatra, and the Bornean orangutan in Borneo. All three species are critically endangered and it is estimated that there is currently a Bornean population of around 100,000. This is projected to decline to around 47,000 by 2025. There are fewer than 14,000 Sumatran and less than 800 Tapanuli orangutans left. Loss of their forest habitat for timber extraction, mining, and oil palm plantations, is the biggest threat to the orangutan, as well as human-orangutan conflict. Other immediate threats include poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.

Please note, single supplements will not be available at Nanga Sumpa, Lubok Kasai and Deramakot Lodge. 

Elephants in Borneo rainforest
Proboscis monkey - Borneo

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers. Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

    Please note: Single supplements are not applicable to Nanga Sumpa, Lubok Kasai and Deramakot Lodge.

  • Guides

    You will be accompanied by an English-speaking guide.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again. Please note that when meals are included, sometimes these will be in hotels, as often these are the most appropriate option, and will sometimes be set menus. Local restaurants are often lacking in variety, as well as the capacity to cater for groups. Drinks are not included and are at your own expense.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively a visa agency such as Travcour can assist.

  • Airport taxes

    If there are any departure taxes to pay that are not included within the cost of your ticket, you’ll need to pay these yourself.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

British nationals don’t need a visa to visit Malaysia if staying for a period of less than three months. If travelling through Malaysian Borneo – the comprised states of Sabah and Sarawak – you must carry your passport and it should also be valid for a minimum period of six months, from your date of entry into Malaysia.

Most other nationalities will receive a 90 or 30 day visa on arrival, free of charge.

Visa regulations and requirements can change and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

The unit of currency is the Malaysian Ringgit, indicated as RM. Most of the bigger shops, restaurants and hotels accept international credit cards, including American Express, although Visa and Mastercard are most widely accepted. Some banks limit the amount of cash that can be drawn at a time and a passport is usually required for over-the-counter transactions. Travellers cheques can be exchanged at banks and money changers, with the money changers offering the best rates, as banks charge commission. Make sure you change up money in cities – such as Kuching – before heading into the jungle.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the moment, the FCO doesn’t advise against travel to any parts of Malaysian Borneo that we visit on this trip.

We work very closely with our local team and are fully confident that we can operate tours safely in Malaysian Borneo. Should you have any concerns over safety please do not hesitate to contact us and we can address your concerns.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Updated May 2019

Elephants in Borneo rainforest
Proboscis monkey - Borneo
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
04 September 2021
Price (PP) -
£3,899
Single Supplement -
£320
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
03 September 2022
Price (PP) -
£3,999
Single Supplement -
£320
Trip Status -
Available