Mother and baby orang-utan, Tanjung Puting, Kalimantan, Indonesia
Critically endangered, with a population thought
to have dropped from 30,000 in 2000 to as low
as 15,000 today, Orang-utans are now found on
only two islands in the world: Borneo and
Sumatra. With the equator running almost right
through the middle of these islands, the 4th and
6th largest in the world respectively, this is the
heart of the tropics and contains some of the most
important wildlife habitats on the planet.
For all visitors planning a trip here the first question is which
country to choose? Unlike many regions in Southeast Asia,
combining the wildlife areas of Indonesia and Malaysia in one trip
is not easy, unless you have plenty of time, so we would suggest sticking
to one country – you can always go to the other one next year!
There is a diverse array of wildlife in these regions but the main draw to
both islands is the orang-utan. Here we look at the opportunities to see
these animals in their natural environment and assess their respective
merits, while picking out of a few of our favourite places to stay.
View from Klotok boat, Tanjung Puting, Kalimantan, Indonesia
Indonesia or Borneo?
Male Orang-utan, Bukit Lawang, Indonesia
There is no other way to say it – getting to see orang-utans in Indonesia is a
challenge. Flights, boats and 4x4s are par for the course but despite the
problems in reaching your end destination, the rewards far outweigh the effort.
Gunung Leuser, Sumatra
The area of Bukit Lawang in northern Sumatra is home to many orang-utan
who were rehabilitated and released in to the wild from the former orang-utan
sanctuary of Bohorok. The sanctuary closed in 2005 when the surrounding area
was considered ‘saturated’ with orang-utan and an alternative quarantine and
rehabilitation centre was opened on the outskirts of Medan. Since the centre
was opened in 1973, over 200 orang-utans have been released, meaning that
close encounters are regular occurrences on half to full day circular walks
through the protected rainforest of the Gunung Leuser National Park. The area
sees few visitors and outside of local holidays you will normally be on the trails
with just your guide for company, along with an orang-utan or two hopefully!
Pros: The least visited of the four orang-utan ‘hotspots’ worldwide,
stunning lowland mountain scenery of waterfalls, rivers and rainforest.
Cons: No current rehabilitation programme and difficult to see other
wildlife while exploring on foot.
Jungle Lodge, Gunung Leuser National Park, Indonesia
This is one of the most simple yet picturesque lodges in the country and a
real hidden gem. Just getting here requires a bumpy three hour land transfer
followed by a short longboat journey across the Alas River. The seven wooden
chalets dotted around a jungle-clad river valley are a nature enthusiasts dream
with large balconies giving you prime position to soak in the sights and
sounds of the rainforest. The remote location means that facilities are simple
and there is no hot water available but a natural hot spring on the opposite
bank of the Bamboo River gurgles into a rock pool and feels like a bath!
A nearby waterfall also gives you the option of a ‘jungle shower’!
Tanjung Puting, Kalimantan
Visitors to Tanjung Puting National Park usually spend three days
traversing the narrow jungle rivers on your private house boat, known
locally as a Klotok, stopping two or three times a day to venture into the
rainforest with a knowledgable guide. The park is unfenced throughout
and is home to over 5,000 orang-utan,therefore offering a great chance to
see these intriguing creatures in their natural habitat. While in the area,
Camp Leakey offers the chance to see conservation work at close quarters.
Established in 1972, this rehabilitation centre has released hundreds of
Orang-utans back into the wild over the years.
Pros: All but guaranteed sightings of wild orang-utan while travelling by
boat gives a great chance of spotting orang-utan and other wildlife on the
river banks, excellent rehabilitation programme on site.
Cons: Flights here from central Java are often delayed, so patience and
humour need to be packed with your tooth brush!
Rimba Lodge, Tanjung Puting National Park,
Located in the jungle of Kalimantan and set right on the edge of the gently
flowing Sekonyer River, Rimba Lodge is the ideal base for anyone that
wants the very best chance to see orang-utan in the wild. The 35 room lodge
is also famed for its resident population of macaque which can get a little
over enthusiastic with their play time at night and wake people up by
bounding across the roofs! A bird watching tower increases your chance to
see hornbill and other endemic species while the short nature trail leading
from the lodge into the jungle is a good introduction to the flora of the area.
Restaurant view, Borneo Rainforest Lodge
Gibbon, Danum Valley, Malaysia
Toucan shot was wrong proportion
for this box, so have put that into
Fact File and will need a new
square-ish pic for this space
Asian pygmy elephants, Kinabatangan River, Malaysia Deluxe chalet, Borneo Rainforest Lodge xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Borneo is a much more established place to see orang-utan and as a
result provides people with a range of good range of quality rainforest
accommodation along with highly experienced guides.
Kinabatangan River, Borneo
The Kinabatangan River flourishes with wildlife; protected reserves have
been created in the lower basin and these now form an almost continuous
narrow strip along a 200 kilometre stretch of river. This has attracted and
sustained large populations of orang-utan as well as pygmy elephants,
proboscis monkey, crocodile and all of Borneo’s native hornbill species.
Throughout the day you will take trips in your own private boat that gives
access to narrow tributaries hemmed in by banks overhung with thick
vegetation, providing the perfect opportunity to soak up the sights and
sounds of the jungle. As you sit in your boat drifting slowly down on the
gentle current, the keen eyes of your local guide will help spot the telltale
signs of animals hidden in the dense vegetation.
Pros: Arguably the best birdlife in Southeast Asia, easily accessible just
an hour boat ride from the city of Sandakan. By boat you have the chance
to get very close to pygmy elephant on the river banks.
Cons: There are few trails in to the rainforest so orang-utan are normally
seen high up in the trees from the river and binoculars are vital.
Abai Jungle Lodge, Kinabatangan River, Borneo
Only accessible by boat and with no other lodges within an hour, Abai has
proved to be one of the most renowned locations in Borneo to see a prolific
amount of wildlife in a quiet environment. Behind the lodge is a small
jungle trail that you can take at any point to try and see the wildlife that can
sometimes get remarkably close to the lodge. There is even a photo on the
lodge wall by a recent guest who managed to capture a photo of Southeast
Asia’s most elusive predator, the cloudy leopard, while on the trail.
Danum Valley, Borneo
Orang-utan are abundant in the Danum Valley; recent studies put the
number at around 500 with possibly 17 resident to the immediate Borneo
Rainforest Lodge vicinity. You will do your wildlife spotting on foot with
a private guide; there are over a dozen trails through the surrounding
rainforest that cater for all levels of fitness and the impressive canopy
walkway gives a unique birds eye view.
Pros: One of the last remaining areas of primary rainforest in Borneo,
sizeable population of orang-utan within close reach of the lodge,
stunning location on the bend of a river valley.
Cons: Two hours of very bumpy roads to reach your lodge base.
Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Danum Valley, Borneo
Southeast Asia’s only potential rival to some of the luxurious wildlife
lodges found in Africa. For such a remote location the quality of the rooms
and service is superb. The 28 spacious chalets overlook the river or the
rainforest and some boast oversize outdoor spa bathtubs. Guests can attend
evening talks, slide shows and see films about the conservation of the
surrounding area. The small bar and outdoor terrace offers the chance to
enjoy a drink, admire the jungle view and chat with other guests about the
day’s events. Due to the remote setting of the lodge right in the heart of
orang-utan territory, we have recently had had client reports of an
orang-utan coming straight through the lodge restaurant and of another
making its nest above one of the chalets!
Orang-utan, Semenggok Sanctuary
While seeing orang-utan in the wild is an amazing sight, sanctuaries offer
the chance to see these endangered animals while learning more about
rehabilitation initiatives. Such projects can be found at Shangri La’s Rasa Ria
hotel, near Kota Kinabulu; Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre near
Sandakan and Semenggok Orang-utan Centre near Kuching. All of these
centres offer close encounters with younger orang-utan and it is great to
combine a trip here with time in the rainforest. If you are planning to visit
Sepilok Orang-utan Centre, you can choose to ‘adopt’ an orang-utan before
you travel, with a chance to see it when you visit. The cost is £30 and
provides much needed financial help in maintaining and improving Sepilok,
so it can continue its great work. We are pleased to have adopted a
recently rescued orang-utan called Michelle. If you would like to learn
more about the project, visit www.orang-utanappeal.urs.uk
Rhinoceros Hornbill, Kinabatangan
■ Audley’s 13 day ‘Discovering Java
and Kalimantan’ itinerary costs
from £2,925 per person and
includes three nights in Tanjung
Puting (all meals and guiding) as
well as other highlights of
Indonesia. Adding in a four night
tour of northern Sumatra
(including all meals, transfers
and guiding as well as the extra
flights required) would cost an
additional £800 per person.
■ Start or end your trip at the
Jimbaran Puri Bali on Bali’s
stunning southern beach of
Jimbaran Bay where you can stay
for five nights in a Garden view
Cottage Suite for £600 per
person including airport.
■ Audley’s 13 day ‘Orang-utan and
islands of Borneo’ itinerary costs
from £2,540 per person and takes
in two nights on the Kinabatangan
River (all meals and guiding) as well
as other highlights of Borneo.
Adding in an additional two nights
in the Danum Valley (including all
meals, transfers and guiding) costs
from £650 per person.
■ Start or end your trip on the
private island of Pangkor Laut off
Malaysia’s west coast where you
can stay for five nights in a Garden
Villa for £750 per person
including transfers from Kuala
Lumpur airport and daily breakfast.
■ For more information, please
call our Indonesia and Borneo
specialists on 01993 838 100.
Jimbaran Puri Bali swimming pool
Beachview cottage suite,
Jimbaran Puri Bali
Orang-utan Sanctuary, Malaysia
Emerald Bay, Pangkor Laut Resort, Malaysia
Gunung Leuser National Park, Sumatra
Find out more about
orang-utan experiences, the best
places to go, itinerary ideas and
our travel tips.
Pool at the Spa Village, Pangkor Laut Resort