Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Eco Holidays at the Kinabatangan

A long-tailed macaque paying Sukau Rainforest Lodge a visit
What a terrific weekend within the rainforest of Sabah, Malaysia! Not only did I experience the beauty of Sepilok Rainforest close to Sandakan in eastern Sabah, but also did I get the extraordinary opportunity to cruise along Sabah's longest river, the Kinabatangan, through the amazing rainforests of the area of Sukau. On this exciting journey I saw orangutans, countless long-tailed macaques, gibbons, various kingfishers, owls, a crocodile and even a python wrapped around the thick branch of a tree. The most fascinating thing about this trip were probably our guides who managed to find all those partly well hidden creatures which I wouldn't have found even if I had been standing right in front of them.

We took a flight from Sabah's capital city Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan, Sabah's third largest city at the east cost facing the Sulu Sea. After only 40min we reached the tiny airport that is currently under construction and only a few minutes drive from the small city center located directly at the Sulu Sea.

Water Village in Sandakan
We had a nice time in Sandakan enjoying the laid-back atmosphere and the beautiful sea-view. We visited the Sandakan War Memorial which is located in the middle of a very nice park where POW's camps were situated during World War II and learned about the death marches that took place under the Japanese occupation. We also got to see one of the many water villages of Sandakan, which, according to history, tell the story of the beginning of Sandakan itself. In addition, we visited the big local market and had dinner directly at the cost with a beautiful view of the sunset.

Vegetables at the local market in Sandakan

At the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok
Our last destination before leaving for Sukau was the Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve and the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre which is run by Orangutan Appeal UK. They rehabilitate orangutans they have found abandoned, sick or in human captive and eventually release them into the rainforest. During one of the two daily feedings we got to see about eight of the orangutans they have been working with for years. It was a unique experience to watch them so close. In the end, we seized the opportunity and adopted the baby orangutan Chikita, thus supporting her rehabilitation for one year.

At Sukau Rainforest Lodge
Afterwards we were taken to the jetty of Sandakan and started the 2hrs boat journey to the Sukau Rainforest Lodge where we'd spend the next three days. Just before leaving the Sulu Sea to enter the Kinabatangan River, we could see a Philippine Island in the distance. Passing local villages along the Kinabatangan we finally reached the beautiful ecolodge in the middle of the mysterious rainforests of Sukau, followed by a warm welcome with a refreshing welcome drink and first introductory information on the lodge and upcoming activities.

Throughout our stay, we took part in altogether four river cruises up- and downstream to watch wildlife and birds. During two afternoon river cruises we mostly saw monkeys including proboscis, gibbons and long-tailed macaques as well as a number of birds and a python. The night cruise had owls and other nocturnal birds and geckos to offer. Our only morning cruise started off very well when we spotted a crocodile, but unfortunately we had to return early because it started to rain so badly we couldn't see anything anymore and got completely drenched.

Relaxing long-tailed macaque

A male proboscis monkey

Crocodile at the riverbank

Kingfisher Bird

Wearing a sarong for dinner
The two nights we spent at the Sukau Rainforest Lodge were truly memorable. The guides showed us lots of hidden animals we would have never spotted ourselves. Most of them, including other staff in the kitchen and service are locals from the Orang Sungai people (River People) and all staff are Malaysians. This is an important part of the lodge's eco-concept, enforcing local involvement and thus supporting local economy and also personal growth. Other than that, the lodge is obviously seeking to be as environmentally friendly as possible, relying on solar panels, natural air flow and candle light using recycled kitchen oil. When riding along the Kinabatangan River, you realize that  the lodge follows the same style as local houses, thus perfectly fitting into the environment. Experiencing local culture is another important part of ecotourism. During dinner, all guests are thus encouraged to wear a sarong instead of pants just the way Malaysians do. This is not only very comfortable, but also gives you the feeling of truly being part of Malaysian culture. And by the way: The food was outstanding as well!

When we had to leave early in the morning after breakfast, we were not quite ready yet to return to civilization. Luckily for us, upon arrival back in Sandakan we went right back into the rainforest when visiting the Rainforest Discovery Center. This very big area with lots of long trekking trails and a long board-walk is mostly designed for bird-watchers. But we were very lucky and got to see a wild orangutan being busy cleaning its nest to spend the hot afternoon in there! I was quite surprised to learn that orangutans build nests (a new one almost every day) in which they sleep and rest. But come to think of it, this is very similar to human behavior, and orangutans share 96,4% of human DNA after all.

On the board-walk of the Rainforest Discovery Center

After four wonderful and exciting days on the east coast of Sabah it was time to fly back to Kota Kinabalu. We were dropped off at Sandakan Airport and caught our evening flight right on time. I can't wait to go back into the jungle - it's such a unique experience, every nature-lover should try!



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