Saturday, July 18, 2015

How to See Orangutans in Borneo Independently

If you choose to travel to Borneo, we bet you’ll want to put a ‘see wild orangutans’ note on the top of your itinerary. And if you are a traveller who counts each penny and you expect it’s going to be a cheap deal in Borneo, as in many other Southeast Asia countries, then you might be shocked by the prices you’ll find here to pay for activities that include seeing orangutans.

To get a better picture, a basic 2-day, 1-night package booked through a travel agency will usually include a visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, the drive to Sukau (where you stay overnight, the start of a river cruise or a jungle trek), a 3-hour boat trip on the Kinabatangan River in the early afternoon and one later in the evening.

The next day you go for another 2.5-hour boat trip on the way back to Sandakan. Add some meals during the trip and you’ll pay MYR 1092/$343 per person (excluding the entrance fee (MYR 30/$9) and a camera fee (MYR 10/$3) at Sepilok).

Now if there are two of you and you’d pay double, i.e. $686, that would be one flight ticket from Asia to Europe, or three months rent in Chiang Mai in Thailand. And that’s only one full day of activities, if you imagine that you need only about 6 hours for the transfer to and from each place.

See orangutans in Borneo independently and save money

But what if we told you that you could spend less than one third per person when you do all of those activities independently? Absolutely! You can see wild orangutans by yourself and go for a river cruise in Kinabatangan without booking overpriced tours.
How can you do it? The short answer: use local transportation, buy your own food and privately contact a lodge where you want to stay overnight.

So, how much are you going to spend in total if you decide to see orangutans in Borneo and wildlife along the Kinabatangan River independently?

This is what we spent:

Transport Sandakan-Sepilok-Sandakan: MYR 10/$3
Entrance to Sepilok: MYR 30/$9
Camera fee: MYR 10/$3
Transport Sandakan-Sukau-Sandakan: MYR 80/$25
One river cruise: MYR 50 /$16
Morning Jungle Trekking: MYR 15/$4.70
Twin bed room: MYR 75/$23
Our own food: MYR 26/$8

Total: MYR 296/$93/per person
Saved: MYR 796/$184/per person

We went only for one river cruise since we had been already on a day cruise in Kota Kinabalu, where we also did a short night cruise to see fireflies. Honestly, once you do a two-hour river cruise during the day, you’ll see enough to be satisfied with your trip to the Kinabatangan River.
And even if you like to observe wildlife near the river and you decide to pay for an extra cruise, you’ll only add MYR 50/$11 for a day cruise and MYR 60/$14 for a night one.

In case you are not interested in visiting Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary near Sandakan, which we recommend visiting anyway, you can do a 2-day, 1-night trip to Sukau, go for two river cruises (day and night) or one river cruise and one jungle trek. If you do it independently, you’ll pay MYR 246/$77.

If you still need more comfort when organizing a day in the wild for yourself, another option that is cheaper than a tour operator, but still more expensive if you go your own way is to arrange a tour at your guesthouse in Sandakan.

The one we stayed in offered a 2D1N trip to Sukau (without Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary) for MYR 360/$113/pax.

Some travel agencies go really high with the prices and you can pay for a one-day trip to Sepilok Center and an hour-long boat trip on Kinabatangan in average MYR 792/$248.

In case you would like to book a 3-day, 2-night trip, get ready to put MYR 1,522/ $ 478 on the table.

How to get to Sepilok from Kota Kinabalu

Although tour operators encourage their clients to take a flight from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan where they pick you up, to travel by bus is a good option, too. It’s very comfortable with A/C, and much cheaper. Plus, planet Earth will say a big “thank you!” for travelling overland.

You will need to take a bus from Kota Kinabalu (bus station on Jalan Padang street near hotel Shangri-la) to the long-distance bus terminal in Inanam.

A one-way ticket costs MYR 1.50/$0.47 and it takes about 15 minutes to get to Inanam. Local buses in Asia depart when they are full, so be ready to wait 20 minutes for a bus.

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