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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.