Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre

Welcome to Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.

Here’s a great tip for travelling with kids: Make the first day of the holiday as easy-going  as possible, for a starting point. But on the second day – keep your promise and stick to the planning.

In our case – we promised wildlife. We planned wildlife.

And we went straight for it.

Annie, our hostess at Fairview Guesthouse, was able to be our driver for the day. The plan was to take us to the morning ‘feeding session’ for the Orang Utans at the Centre, followed by the Annah Rais Long-House in the afternoon. Needless to say, the boys were excited. Awww – the whole Team was excited!! Get thee to the Sanctuary!!

The drive up to the Centre is a bit long (about 40mins?) but we came prepared – books, cameras, and snack food. So while the kids are entertained, B and I have a very insightful conversation with Annie. We talked about her parents escaping Communist China and hitting Japan-occupied Borneo instead. We talked about the melting pot of Malaysia, and the cultural diversity that just oozes out of the place.

When we arrive at the Centre, I am extremely grateful that we have Annie as driver rather than attempting the bus. For backpackers and solo-travellers, the bus would be great. There is a 20min walk from the bus stop to the feeding area, which looks really pretty but would be a bit much for the kids. Cars can drive a lot closer, as can tour buses – and there are quite a few tourists. The morning feeding session is always busier because the afternoon session is less reliable and a bit hotter.

The important thing to remember about the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre is that they are first and foremost a Rehabilitation Centre for the Orang Utans. The only reason they are open to the public is because the Government told them to. Seriously. Allowing the public in is more about education than it is raking in tourist dollars. Everything here is about the wildlife.

Hanging out in the trees
Mother and baby

The ‘viewing platform’ is about a 2min walk from the carpark. It’s like a very basic-level bushwalk on a beaten path, leading you in to the jungle area. There are trees everywhere. The platform itself is a skeleton timber set-up, mostly to fence off from the feeding platform. The feeding platform itself is located a couple of metres in to the trees.

When we arrived, there were at least 4 orang utans in the trees around us. One of them was ‘The Big Boss’. Two others were a mum and a baby waiting their turn. We arrived a little late, so we initially started out close to the entry point, watching The Big Boss. He is huge. Even some distance away, you can just feel the enormity of his size.

Fortunately, B maneuvered us closer to the tiered viewing platform. Fortunate not just for the line of sight for the kids, but also because The Big Boss eventually moved down towards our original spot. B was all “Damn!”, but I was quietly happy that the kids were not in that path. Yes they are beautiful creatures, but they are still wild animals and we are blessed to be allowed in to their space.

The Big Boss gets first pick
And no-one argues with that

It is very important to stay quiet during the viewing – you do not want to spook the Orang Utans while they are feeding. This is their sanctuary – where they can rely on food in areas where their natural habitat is being destroyed all around them. In upfront honesty, our boys did amazingly well. There were a couple of “Oh WOW!!”, but mostly they were quiet. In fact, there were quite a few tourists around making a lot more noise, but of course kids are the easier target.

We watched from the viewing platform, surrounded by the jungle, and a large group of other tourists. The ranger laid out a buffet of fruit and called out to the Orang Utans by name. With each one, their movement through the trees is slow, graceful, and steady. Although there are plenty of vines and flexible trees to bend to their paths, the Orang Utans also have a few ropes to use – easing their rehabilitation.

We stayed for awhile, mainly to allow B to finish up his photos while the boys quietly talked about what they had seen. At this point, about half of the crowd has dispersed. Then suddenly – the Ranger called out to move back! Move off the path! The mother and baby were coming down the path towards us! 2yo N and I stayed still so as not to startle them, however B and S were in prime position for some close-up encounters and photography! The majestic look from the mother gave a strong sense of trust as she quietly sat there with her baby. After a few moments, the pair moved off in to the jungle.

Up Close and Personal

Just as we start to recover from this wonderful experience, we hear the Ranger call out again – this time with a greater sense of urgency. “MOVE OUT OF THE WAY!!” It was The Big Boss. Walking down the path towards us.

Remembering all that the Ranger had told us, we tried to move quickly out of the way. He was completely blocking the path in front, so all we could do was back up in to the viewing platform area – a no-through road. And The Big Boss just kept heading straight towards B and S.

The Big Boss

Then he stopped. There was no aggression, no intimidation. No threat. He looked at B and S. They both kept still, totally respecting this intimate experience – S showing great wisdom beyond his 5 years of age. And then The Big Boss moves on.

We wait a short while in silence. Then breathe again, before moving back to the main area – giant smiles being the only sign of this shared Team experience.

Mum and Baby return to the Jungle

Afterwards, we took a short walk around the area. There are a couple of other animals around – but the heartbreaking one was the crocodiles. We saw such open support for the Orang Utans, and yet we found the crocodiles locked up in very small enclosures. B and I felt very uncomfortable about the whole set-up, as we have seen better enclosures in Australia for these feared creatures.

A lot was learned from this morning. As we drove on to Annah Rais Longhouse, both boys were chatted away about the Orang Utans, especially the eyes. The highlight of the morning was being able to see directly into the Orang Utans eyes.


Camera Equipment

The joke in our family is the the number of cameras on holiday is truly relative to the number of people attending. If you are holidaying with us, you must have your own camera… and potentially a spare to share.

The main camera is our DSLR, purchased prior to our holiday in Borneo (Sept 2011). We bought a Nikon D7000 with a 18-105mm lens and a 55-300mm lens.

Big Camera v ‘memory camera’

We are amateur photographers, but the only souvenirs that we are absolutely obsessed with are our photos. We also bought a polarising lens, but no other special filters. (BTW: I’m pretty crap at photoshop, so the photos that you see on this blog are pretty much as they are. No filters, no fussing.)

The 2nd camera we had was a small happy snap that was used as back-up and fun-shots. Our Pentax Option P70 is bright red (because red is sexy…) and pretty much goes with me everywhere.

When S was about 18mths old (early 2008), we bought him a Fisher-Price Kidtough Digital Camera. They say it is aimed at 3-7yo. To be honest, the button on the newer models is a little stiff for young fingers, but the original model was fantastic for S to look through and see the world differently. The first time he used it was in the Hunter Valley Gardens (photos to come) and it was amazing. He loved being able to take photos of us and things he found on the way. When we returned home, we printed his photos out on post-it note papers and stuck them all over his door.

Look hard – there is a small green tree frog S was taking a photo of, with his FP camera

And when they say Kid-Tough, they mean it!! That original camera travelled up and down the East Coast of Australia, all around Italy, around Malta and through Hong Kong. Unfortunately it died just before our trip to Borneo – so we bought a new one for N. This time: WATER-PROOF!!

Yes! The latest FP Kidtough Digital Camera to join our backpack is water-proof! Again, we aimed for N to have this around 18mths, but there was a problem with delivery. He ended up receiving it just after his 2nd birthday, but still has gained a lot of use out of it! We haven’t been as avid about photos on stickies on the door this time (2nd child syndrome…) but we are getting back into it!

Photo of me taken by N with his FP Kidtough Camera

The quality in the photos is not fantastic, but the image is still clear. However, we are not submitting any of the the FP photos to National Geographic. Instead, the point of the kids camera is to start them off with a durable camera designed for their hands that they can capture their memories with. They are not always behind the camera – I have photos to prove that! However, after each holiday I am preparing a photobook for each child – collating all of their photos (and photos of them) in the one book. I can tell you now, one year later and we are still re-reading the Borneo book!

For our trip to Borneo, S was also given his own happy snap camera. It was a small, 2nd hand buy – but he was amazing with! He took care of it; checked the batteries; sat with Dad checking each photo and deleting the crappy ones from the memory card. It was great to watch him learning.

This is the latest list of equipment – previous trips have had other items, and I will try to provide that information with each review. For example, our trip to Italy had a DSLR, another SLR (with slide film), the original FP Kidtough, and a video camera. Our trip to Thailand only had the one SLR camera (with film and slide film).

Although not technically camera equipment, I am going to add to this list that we also have an iPad and we took that with us to Borneo. IT WAS AWESOME!! When travelling around Italy, we were caught out many times with lack of memory space on the cards. Recently in Borneo, we just uploaded all the photos each night on to the iPad, culled accordingly and cleared the memory cards. It was fantastic and simply.

Kuching knows how to party – Malaysia Day

Across the River, and Up to the Mountains

In all my research, Kuching was never noted as a “must-see” city. In fact, almost everyone recommended it as a great resting point for activities around the area.

After spending a few days in the city, I think it is horribly under-estimated and equally under-appreciated. Kuching was fantastic!

We had a great start to our holiday- woke up late (midnight arrivals do that to you), and had a leisurely breakfast of omelette and toast with our hostess Annie. She gave us a few tips and directions for checking out the city centre and Riverfront. Since the Fairview Guesthouse is so well-located, the plan was to use this day as an “easing in” for the boys. Starting with the casual 15min walk to the Riverfront to check out the action.

Photo taken by 3yo N with FP Kidtough Camera

The name Kuching is the same as ‘ku-cing’, meaning cat. Kuching is said to be named because a white settler was asking the name of “that settlement”, while the local thought he was pointing at a cat. Whether or not it is true, the city has embraced the story with its cat statues proudly displayed in the centre… and pretty much everywhere else. Our first day also coincides with Malaysia Day – a national holiday, that also coincides with the Kuching Regatta and International Wakeboarding Competition. Kuching likes to pack things in, while you least expect it.

Kuching is not your usual tourist hub – most use the city as a stop, particularly for day-trips to the Orang Utan Centre, or the Bako National Park. Walking around the Riverfront, we appeared to be a novelty or rarity: very white-skinned people, with cute, young, white kids. So many locals wanted to stop and touch the boys. I never thought of our family like this before, but after sitting and chatting with a few locals in the markets, that description was the most common given. There is no racial slur about it – merely a simple physical description for how different we look to everyone else.

The entire Riverfront has been turned into one massive party area. There are markets, balloons, musicians and plenty of food vendors. With growing hunger, we dove into the local food: fried noodles, khew tiew goreng, coconut custard toast (THE BEST), milo toast (kids’ favourite), tomato noodles, and lots (AND LOTS) of milo!

At one point, B walked back to the Guesthouse for some supplies, while the boys and I stayed in a park on the riverfront. On the way, he came across a bride heading to her wedding. Her stunning white and red dress was irresistible.

Meanwhile, the boys had befriended some local kids playing in the boat-playground. The initial novelty feeling was quickly replaced with the universal games of Tag, Hide & Seek, and Leaf Wars. This is the beauty of travelling with kids – in most cases, the urge to play  overrides any other fear or adult-influenced hesitation. Beautiful to watch

Later in the afternoon, we took a sampan (traditional) boat ride across the river to check out and the view back to the city. By the time we had finished, they were closing off the river for the Regatta! Luckily enough, a Civil Defence boat took pity and returned us to the Riverfront.

As evening arrives, we settle in at a table outside a ‘more sophisticated’ vendor. Basically, there are about 3 or 4 dozen large stalls (like wheel-less caravans) set up along the river. Each has a few of the local specialities on offer, but they each have their own preferred menu. This one has noodles, that one has seafood. We’re lucky enough to pick one with a drink stall next door. There’s even entertainment nearby. Any concerns about the kids’ eating on this holiday are quickly thrown into the nearby river – they are jumping in and giving it a try, including the pronunciation!

After such an adventure, the boys were absolutely exhausted. We ended up carrying both boys back to the guesthouse (B had a backpack carrier for 2yo N, I had to ‘cuddle-carry’ S).  As we crawled in to bed and our heads hit the pillow, B and I hear fireworks exploding over the city in a festival of colour. We had waited for them, but reached the point of being too tired. We just missed them!!

Accomodation: Fairview Guesthouse

Food: Breakfast at the Guesthouse; Street Vendor food most of the day.

Transport: walking; sampan (and Defence boat) across the river.

Stay tuned – the next day we visit Semenggoh Wildlife Centre (Orang Utans!!)

Planning for Borneo

Not even finished with our first major family holiday (with kid), and we were already planning the next one. Seriously, flying from Hong Kong (HK) to Brisbane, I turn to B and ask “So, where to next?”

His reply: “How about Borneo? If we’re still in Australia, we’ll travel a little closer to home and be more adventurous.”

And that was in 2008. And it really happened. Sure we delayed a couple of times, but we made it in 2011 with two kids, S (5yo) and N (2yo).

The plan was this:

  • 3 weeks in Malaysia Borneo (including 4 days or so in Kuala Lumpur);
  • Wildlife – lots of wildlife and plenty of research before hand;
  • At least 1 Homestay to spend some time with a family;
  • At least 1 occasion for snorkeling/diving
  • 1 Cooking lesson for B.

The biggest thing for us was ensuring we practiced ‘responsible travel’. There is nothing worse than going to a place for cultural education, and then treating it like a resort/shopping experience.

We started with research on the wildlife – orang utans, elephants, monkeys, turtles, horn-bills. The list goes on and so many of them are in serious trouble just to survive. It’s a bit serious for a 5yo to think about all this when planning a family holiday but S took it all to heart. The big one was reading about orang utans and palm oil plantations (that’s a blog for another day).

The itinerary was as follows:

  • 4 nights/4 days in Kuching
  • 4 days / 3 nights at Kurakura Homestay (outside Kuching)
  • 5 days in Kota Kinabalu
  • 2 days Sepilok Jungle Forest
  • 1 day and night Turtle Island
  • 3 days Bilit Adventure Lodge (River and Jungle Safari)
  • 4 days KL

The following blog posts will detail the trip itself. All travel contacts will be provided. If you want to know specific details, send me an email.

The total cost of this holiday was $8500 – including frequent flyer points for one adult. Most of the savings was through direct contact with the business owners themselves. Plus yummy street vendor food. Yummy….

Edit: Just realised a couple of things to add here.

Travel dates – we travelled in Sept 2011. An excellent time – almost perfect for the wildlife, and yet we still avoided the heaviest of the wet season. The wet season really kicks in around October.

Equipment – Two (2) wheeled backpacks (about 60L capacity) for all our clothes; Kathmandu backpack carrier with detachable bag (for N on B’s back); small Lo-Pro camera backpack (including DSLR, 2x lens, iPad); small wheeled backpack for S; tiny wheeled backpack for N. Check out the equipment section for full details (which will be up and running end of the weekend).