Sunday, November 18, 2012

Borneo Family Vacation: Wild Animals, Mild Adventure

We flew to Kuching, on the Malaysian side of Borneo, for a chance to see endangered animals in the wild and explore native tribal culture. It was like stepping into the pages of National Geographic.  Here are five activities we highly recommend for this unique and fun family destination.

Visit Orangutans

Try to visit the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, 30 minutes from Kuching. at feeding time (9:00 -10:00 AM and 3:0-3:300 PM). The center teaches rescued orangutans to survive independently, but while they’re learning, fruit is left out twice a day to supplement what they forage in the jungle.

We walked along a paved road for 15 to 20 minutes to get to the first feeding platform. We were advised to keep our distance, be quiet and hide food and drinks. We were rewarded for our effort as orangutans gradually emerged from the rainforest for snack time. Our three children, ages 7 to 12, were enthralled watching Ritchie, the big alpha male, break open coconuts by smashing them against a tree trunk. Meanwhile, Hot Mama protectively kept her baby with her at all times.

Tip: No tripods, strollers or wheel chairs are allowed in the feeding area. There was a good size crowd of people, but everyone could easily see.

Take a River Cruise

The cruise along the Santubong River at sunset was definitely the highlight of our Borneo trip for my children. My son simply loved being on the boat. But better still, we got to see snubnose Irrawaddy Dolphins, endangered Proboscis Monkeys and crocodiles in their natural habitat (fireflies, too!). We stretched our legs strolling around a Malay fishing village and getting a glimpse of life along the river.

We booked our 3-hour cruise, which left from a dock about 40 minutest outside of Kuching, through CPH Travel. The trip was expensive by local standards (a little more than $50 for adults and $25 for kids), but with modern motorboats and life vests for everyone, including preschoolers, they are worth the price.

Hang out with Headhunters

The Sarawak Cultural Village is nestled between resort hotels and created for tourists, but it was worthwhile and fun nevertheless. We learned quite a bit about Borneo’s several native tribes by walking around a mix of traditional longhouses and huts and observing traditional chores, foods, handicrafts and rituals. The kids enjoyed hands-on activities shooting blowguns and milling rice. One house even featured headhunting skulls and explained that custom.

Do not miss the Cultural Show (performed twice daily in an air-conditioned auditorium). We were all fascinated by the music, dances and feats of skill.

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