Tag: wildlife

Bukit Lawang – A Trek With Orangutans


I loved seeing the orangutans in Borneo, and I’d heard that orangutan sightings in Bukit Lawang were far more common. It was for this reason that I booked a flight to Medan.

Getting to Bukit Lawang

Had I known that Medan has virtually nothing to offer tourists, I would’ve arranged transport directly from the airport to Bukit Lawang. However, my flight arrived at 9pm so there wasn’t much time for that. I got a taxi to a hotel in Medan for 120,000Rp and stayed there for one night. The next morning, I had intended to find a tourist bus heading to Bukit Lawang. I’d heard that they should cost around 100,000Rp. I asked about the tourist buses at my hotel but they had no idea what I was talking about and only knew about the public buses.

I ended up going to the public bus terminal where I found myself immediately surrounded by men asking where I was going and pointing me towards the bus. I knew that a public bus should only cost 20,000Rp, but these men insisted that the price was 120,000Rp. I got off the bus and walked away from them – no chance I’d pay 6x more! I walked down the road and the bus eventually pulled up next to me and told me to get on for 20,000Rp. By this point, all of the touts had gone, presumably staying at the bus station.

Sumatran Public Buses

The bus wasn’t particularly nice, but for the equivalent of £1 for the journey, I wasn’t complaining. Passengers are allowed to smoke on the bus (fortunately, the windows were open) and the road was not well surfaced. Eventually, I arrived at the bus terminal in Bukit Lawang. It’s possible to walk from the terminal into the village, but it’s definitely not ideal given the heat and the backpack I was carrying. I was travelling alone, so I got a motorbike into the village, although it’s possible to get a becak. I hadn’t pre-booked any accommodation but there are loads of guest houses to choose from.

The Tour

One of the main reasons tourists flock to Bukit Lawang is to see the orangutans in the nearby jungle. It’s possible to book at many guest houses or at the guides association building. The tour prices are fixed so a tour should cost the same regardless of where you book it. A 2-day 1night jungle tour cost €60, plus an additional €10 to tube back to Bukit Lawang. This includes all meals and camping.

The tour begins at 9am. I’d booked through Bugis Inn so I had breakfast there before going to the jungle. In total, there were 5 guests on my tour and 3 guides. The trek starts with a steep ascent into the jungle. There are lots of tree roots to grab onto. It’s very humid in the jungle so prepare to sweat!

Once we got to the top of the first hill, we were lucky enough to see an orangutan almost immediately. A mother was eating and swinging from a tree whilst her baby played overhead.

baby orangutan bukit lawang sumatra - Alex Explores the World
Most of the trekking involved going up and downhill. My fitness level is pretty poor so this was actually a difficult trek, especially given the humidity of the jungle.

orangutan bukit lawang sumatra - Alex Explores the World
Throughout the course of the day we saw 9 orangutans, which was more than I expected to see. The majority of orangutans we saw were females with babies.

orangutan bukit lawang sumatra - Alex Explores the World
However, we did see some males too.

orangutan beard bukit lawang sumatra - Alex Explores the World
We also saw Thomas Leaf Monkeys, a monkey endemic to Sumatra. They were more than willing to pose for the camera.

Thomas Leaf Monkey bukit lawang sumatra - Alex Explores the World
Thomas leaf monkey bukit lawang sumatra - Alex Explores the World

“Quick, Mina’s coming!”

One of the last orangutans we saw was the infamous Mina. The guides told us to back off when they saw her coming because she can be quite aggressive. From what I understand, Mina didn’t have the best start in life and she ended up at the local orangutan sanctuary. She was one of the first orangutans to be released into the jungle. I’m not whether it was her infamous reputation, or that Mina was on the ground, but she seemed to be enormous in comparison to the other orangutans we had seen.

mina orangutan baby bukit lawang sumatra - Alex Explores the World
Just as we were on our final descent to the camp, a thunder storm hit and we got drenched. Not ideal conditions to be walking in!

The camp is very basic but does have a toilet (squatty potty), although you’ll need to bring your own toilet paper.

The guide prepared dinner for us, which was a buffet of currys, rice, potato cakes and chicken. It was delicious and well needed after trekking all day. For dessert we had a fruit platter.

We spent the rest of the evening playing card games, before getting an early night.

The following morning, we had breakfast and another delicious fruit platter. We had the chance to go to a waterfall then it was time to tube back to the village. The tubing was fun and a great way to return to Bukit Lawang.

Tips for Bukit Lawang

  • Organise transport to collect you from Kuala Namu airport. This means you’ll avoid Medan.
  • Take plenty of insect repellent. There’s loads of mosquitoes in the jungle!
  • Make sure your guide is registered! Check with the guides office if you’re unsure!
  • I stayed at Bugis Inn – the owner Amar and his family are lovely so I recommend staying there.

Thanks for reading! All pictures are my own


Kinabatangan River – Wildlife Spotting in Borneo


One of the highlights of my visit to Sabah was the Kinabatangan River Cruise. I’d heard from other people in the hostel that it was an amazing experience so I booked a 3 day/2 night trip through the hostel I was staying at in Sandakan, Harbourside Backpackers. Other backpackers and TripAdvisor reviewers had said it was a brilliant place to spot wildlife, something I was very keen to do in Borneo.

Getting There

I was picked up from Harbourside at 11.30am and the van collected other guests from various other accommodation in Sandakan and Sepilok. The drive towards the Kinabatangan River is unremarkable – mostly it consists of palm oil plantations. We arrived at the resort, Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort, at 2pm. The staff gave us a welcome talk and checked everyone in, then at 3.30pm it was time for an afternoon snack.

Wildlife Spotting on The Kinabatangan River

4pm was the first of four river cruises planned for the next few days. We were told it would be at least two hours long. We were lucky enough to see an orangutan on the other side of the river before we even got on the boat! Once on the boat, we saw another orangutan, a crocodile, lots of macaques, proboscis monkeys and a python.

boats kinabatangan river malaysia borneo

Tourist boats on the Kinabatangan River

By the time we arrived back at the resort, it was almost 7pm so time for dinner. Dinner was served buffet style with fruit for dessert. Once dinner was over, we went on a night walk in the rainforest. I’d put on a raincoat because I didn’t want to get any bugs on my skin – fuelled in part by the number of cicadas around the accommodation –  but it was so humid in the rainforest. We saw frogs and sleeping kingfishers in the forest. I didn’t expect to see any larger animals simply because a group of people walking through the forest makes a lot of noise.

sunrise kinabatangan river malaysia borneo

Sunrise over the Kinabatangan River – worth a 5.30am start!

The next day I woke up at 5.15am for the morning cruise. I was fortunate enough to see the sunrise, which looked beautiful. The morning cruise departed at 6am. We saw plenty of birds and monkey plus a few crocodiles. We returned to the resort before 7.30am for breakfast which was an odd mix of egg, beans, and chicken nuggets. We had an hour of downtime before our trek to the oxbow lake at 9am.

Time for Trekking

For the trek to the oxbow lake, we had to get a boat across to the other side of the river. From there, we walked through the rainforest to the lake, our guide stopping us intermittently to point out different trees or insects. We saw stick insects, butterflies, and a pygmy squirrel. Once we were at the lake, our guide told us that we could put our feet in the lake and the fish would nibble at the skin on our feet, basically like one of those ‘fish pedicure’ spa treatments that used to be popular.

Once some of the group had had their feet nibbled, it was time to head back to the resort for lunch. At 2pm we went for a walk to the local village. Our guide told us some interesting facts about life in the village, including when elephants come by and take bananas from the trees. We headed back to the resort for afternoon snacks before getting back on the boat for the 4pm afternoon cruise. On this cruise, we saw plenty of monkeys again, as well as proboscis monkeys, crocodiles, and birds.

monkey kinabatangan river malaysia borneo

Monkeying around


We returned for dinner before 7pm then got an early night in preparation for a 5.30pm start.

The next morning, we awoke to a misty river. This made the setting more sinister when we saw crocodiles on the morning cruise. Once the cruise was done, we had breakfast and packed our things before checking out at 8.30am. The driver was happy to drop us off anywhere between the Kinabatangan River and Sandakan.

misty kinabatangan river malaysia borneo

Misty morning at the Kinabatangan River

Final thoughts

I had a great time on all of the river cruises and it was fascinating to see all of these animals in their natural habitat. It’s s shame that there is so little rainforest left in this area due to the number of oil palm plantations. I would honestly recommend the Kinabatangan River to anyone planning to visit Sabah. I paid 350RM (roughly £65 depending on the exchange rate) which included all transfers, activities, accommodation, and food. I felt like this was a good price given how knowledgeable the guides were and the quality of the accommodation and food.

Edit: I actually loved this so much that I decided to go to Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, in search of orangutans and other wildlife!

Want to share your experience on the Kinabatangan River? Let me know in the comments below!





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