Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Spotting Borneo's Wild Orangutans, Pygmy Elephants, and Proboscis Monkeys -- on a Budget


When people hear the word "Borneo" they typically think two things: unexplored and expensive.

While Borneo is definitely not a cheap destination, especially since the Malaysian ringgit is doing well against the dollar, there are ways to explore its rain forests and keep your wallet intact.

We had two goals in mind for the "wildlife" portion of our Borneo trip: orangutans and proboscis monkeys.

Organizing a trek to see either in the wild costs anything from US$150-400 a day, so that was out of the question, as were the expensive week-long package tours that we find overly rushed and commercial.

But after a lot of research, we stumbled onto the perfect alternative: Sungai (River) Kinabatangan.

We spent two days here, which was enough time to spot the best of Borneo's wildlife in the wild -- and on a budget.

This muddy river, most easily accessed from the tiny town of Sukau, is becoming a wildlife watching destination, though the reason behind the evolution is quite sad.

A decade or so ago, tourists had to be extremely lucky to see animals on the river's banks, but nowadays wildlife sightings are practically guaranteed because of Malaysia's rampant destruction of the surrounding rainforest.

With more and more jungle being cut down to make room for palm oil plantations, the animals are forced to head to the river banks for solace and food.

It's horrible for them, but it's (sadly) good for us.

Two-hour wildlife cruises departing from the lodges in Sukau cost around $12, which makes them cheaper than visiting a good zoo in the U.S.

You're most likely to see wildlife during the sunset and early morning cruises.

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