You can’t visit Borneo without going to Eastern Sabah, braving the pirate ships, diving in Sipadan and cruising down the Kinabatangan river hunting for wild orangutans….so thats exactly what we did!
Having looked and researched extensively online its safe to say that Uncle Tans is the backpackers choice…..yes, its the cheapest, surprise surprise!
Now, normally that indiciates that you are going to get zero luxury, poor guides and bad food and while the first may be true the second two most defintely aren’t!! What this place lacks in luxury accomodation they more than make up for with incredibly energetic, enthusiastic staff and amazing buffet food for the duration of your stay! We had a lot of hungry people in our group and we couldn’t ever finish it all…enough said!
Anyway, to the beginning…
Arrive at Uncle Tan’s operations base hostel in Sepilok for your first taste of Malaysian buffet and wait for the quick talk about the camp, jungle and what you can expect to see! Oh and the lecture about the millions of mosquitoes that you actually WILL encounter and how to effectively cover your ears to stop complete annihilation….the locals find this part hilarious!
(Note: If you don’t want to walk around in the dark for the majority of your stay in the camp then take the opportunity on the journey to buy a torch if you don’t already have one! Of course, we didn’t as we didn’t want to spend the money and had a couple of risky moments involving one iphone torch, 3 people and a swamp….!)
After around an hour and a halfs drive to the river area it’s straight into river safari action as you are split up into groups and onto boats to cruise up river towards camp. It’s a really amazing start to the 3 days and we were lucky enough to see a wild orangutan on route (1 of only 3,000 left in the wild!!). Unfortunately, our spirits were soon dampened as we found out why all of our backpacks were wrapped in bin bags before we got on the boats. The heavens opened and were left kneeled over protecting ourselves from the tropical storm that thrashed down on top of us, the boat and dreaded what we thought was an inevitable capsize! We laugh about it now but the stuggle was real!
The camp is brilliantly secluded and you really feel as though you are in the depths of the jungle, which of course you are but only on the river bank! A couple of wooden cabins make up the debriefing area and the toilet (shower with a bucket of river water kind of stuff) and then the main communcal area which is much bigger and more developed than we thought it would be. Big wooden tables and a bar (of course) make for hilarious evenings drinking, singing, and playing cards with the guides!
I suppose we should mention the sleeping arrangements as online this seems to bring some uncertainty and negativity about the whole experience! This is a shame because it made us unsure what to expect but whilst these are most certainly basic cabins (some over a swamp) they make for a brilliant jungle experience putting you at one with nature. Plus they all have really good quality mosquito nets and a comfy mattress (no pillow) which meant we still felt protected from those pesky mosquitoes. Furthermore, this is what you sign up for when you first book with Uncle Tans and it is all part of the experience….
The first evening gets you stuck in right away with a night safari which take you even further up river (about 12km) into the dense jungle and out to the incredible nightlife that lives there. Probiscous monkeys, crocodiles, bats, birds, owls, snakes shall we go on….? You have to see it to believe it. One of the most amazing parts for us (quite sadly maybe!?) was the guides and their eyesight! They have the most incredible vision and are so in tune with which wildlife can be found where; spotting even the smallest snake behind the biggest leaf, leaving everyone bemused as to how they do it! Plastic animals in trees, we thought…luckily we were wrong!
Jungle trekking is the order of the second day and this is where the mosquitoes really came into their own. Millions of them. Everywhere. If you can handle the amount of them a fun trek through the dense jungle (and shin high mud!) to a river ensues but you can’t help but be annoyed by the sheer amount of them swarming all over your body! Arms flailing, hoods up, wellies on we marched on undeterred…kind of.
Everyone was glad to see the end of the trek and the second boat safari was a welcome break and instantly the calm waters and high canopy bring a welcome relaxing atmosphere! Eyes peeled, we spotted more silver leaf monkeys, probiscos monkeys and of course hundreds of the long-tailed macaques, oh and another wild Orangutan (or so the guide told us), far too far away for my weak eyes but we we claim it all the same!
It had defintely been a long day and as the lightening flashed and rain poured down over the roof of the cabin the offer of a final night trek through the jungle was swiftly turned down by all but four hardened souls. They went and came back about 30 minutes later having seen very little so that eased all of our consciences as we tucked into more food and beers!
A last 6am wake up for the final safari down the river and unfortunately no more wild orangutans. Not surprising considering the small numbers left in the wild but dissapointing all the same! Still, an amazing sunrise breaking over the Kinabatangan river eased our heavy hearts as we pulled back into camp to gather our belongings and of course, more importantly, thrash the guides at a last game of camp football! (The ‘orang putihs’ (white people) had won every game for the last month and we weren’t going to spoil the tradition!)
An absolutely awesome trip, well worth the £100 and the thousands of mosquitoes!
If you happen to find yourself in Borneo most definitely consider this tour!!
For a snapshot into the wildlife we saw check out our Borneo Wildlife photo blog here!
C & J