I have lived in Sydney for over 7 years on this stint, and at least 15 in total throughout my life. Not once had I ever heard of Fairyland.
A lot of the research we did for KL was about shopping. A lot of shopping.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s great to wander around the markets and some malls, trying to nab a bargain. But when travelling with kids as a family, shopping is not usually a primary focus. For our wildlife adventures, shopping didn’t usually make it in to the top 5.
So it was quite a find when we learnt of the huge bird aviary in the city with a butterfly park nearby as well.
If you are heading to Bukit Melawati, you need to make it an afternoon and evening affair. Why? Because you want to include the Fireflies as well. And you want a rest during the day so that you have the energy to truly enjoy it.
Sometimes, travel destinations can fit nice and neat into categories. Foodies Dreams. Cultural Experiences. Art and Architecture. Nature and Wildlife.
Sometimes, when travelling with kids, it’s a good idea to seek out the categories and give them a bit of structure. Something tangible for them to associate with.
I am embarrassed to say it took me a whole day of practice for the pronunciation.
Today (19 August) is International Orang Utan Day. Definitely an appropriate day to share this blog post. If you are interested in supporting the rehabilitation of Orang Utans, please check out the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre and their UK Appeal (which operates internationally).
Sepilok is set up more commercially than Semenggoh. Always remember that it is a Rehabilitation Centre, for Orang Utans and other animals. That is their focus, so they have better business plans. The feeding sessions are great, but it is worthwhile checking out the video session and information centre as well. They are really informative, even for 5yo.
There are 2 feeding sessions – we had around 3 orang utans turn up for each. However, the morning session had more people, and monkeys visit as well. The afternoon had less people but less wildlife.
We started off our day with the morning feeding session for the Orang Utans at the Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary (5mins walk). This sanctuary has more wildlife than just the Orang Utan (and the night creatures previously mentioned). It also homes rhinocerous and elephants (we didn’t see them) and Macaque monkeys (saw lots of them).
A couple of extra points: It is really hot. Even if the weather is nice just outside Sepilok, the feeding platforms are really hot and muggy. Even guides from the area often comment about the heat within Sepilok. It was the worst we experienced during our entire holiday. Luckily there is an air-conditioned information centre just across the walkway from the cafe. Since N was still a little less than sparky, I had no qualms about taking full advantage of the luxury.
Between the two sessions, we decided to walk to the Rainforest Discovery Centre, which we were told was about 10-15mins walk down the road. BAD IDEA!! It took us close to 40mins of solid walking, with me carrying S at least half of the way, and both boys suffering some mild heat stroke. Not great, considering that N was FINALLY starting to feel better.
Fortunately, we recovered in their air-con and then headed to the cafe for lunch – only to find that the advertised cafe has not actually been built yet. (NB: I’m pretty sure it has now – 4years later. Or at least I would hope). So we hurried through the small bit of canopy walk that had opened, then took a taxi back to our room. It looks like a great place to check out, but obviously our circumstances didn’t help its impression on us.
After a quick dip in the pool, we headed off to the afternoon feeding session. Once again, hot and muggy – this time the boys lasted 30mins before needing the air-con in the reception hall (the memory of ice-creams there probably didn’t help). Let’s face it: even the animals seemed less interested at this time. Rather than continue, we headed back to the swimming pool and an early night.
The entrance fee is more expensive than Semenggoh. This is probably because of facilities – there IS a cafe at Sepilok, as well as the additional information services. Semenggoh doesn’t have the same support. This gives Sepilok a more …. refined feel, for want of a better word. It is not a zoo – we are regular visitors of Taronga Zoo in Sydney, and Sepilok is definitely not a zoo even by those standards. The difference in fees is significant – Sepilok was RM75 for 2 adults + 1 kid; Semenggoh was RM6 and no camera fees.
It is still worth your visit. If you can do both, do both. They are each completely different experiences.
And please, please, please – do the night safari. It is worth every penny and so much more.
If you’re reading our Borneo adventures in chronological order, then say “Selamat tinggal” to KK!! To be honest, it was a nice place. We found a lot of fun things to do there, and have some very genuine experiences. But KK doesn’t really stand out for me from this trip.
Mind you, our trip to Sandakan did not exactly start well either. We woke on our last day to find N with a fever. We were all a bit concerned as he was not feeling well, and definitely not his usual bubbly self. More cuddly and less backpacky. B was especially worried as he had seen N pick and eat something off his sandals the day before. The perils of travelling with toddlers.
We were early for the airport, which allowed N a chance to cheer up a bit and have a little to eat. Bad idea – as we line up to go through security, he vomits all over me. I instantly ran to the nearest toilets to clean up, while B and S go shopping for some new shirts. Yay me – scored a new shirt. Still, we all boarded okay (with some passengers eyeing us off cautiously) and continued to monitor N.
The flight itself was short and pleasant – about 45mins. Make sure you get a window seat for a view of the mountain. We spoke with an Australian family who had chosen to drive across instead, and it took them almost the whole day. Even with the stop at Mt Kinabalu, they said the drive itself was awful – traffic and conditions combined. Especially with a sick child, I was grateful for the comfort of flight.
We were lucky to have our shuttle/pick-up take us into Sandakan for a few supplies (including a thermometer and panadol for N). While shopping around, B found this “retirement village for old kids rides – just hidden away at the back of a convenience shop. They were amazing!! S and N each had a turn, with smiles returning all round. See if you can recognise any your childhood favourites.
We eventually arrived at Sepilok Jungle Resort around 4pm. Here the malaria risk is fairly high (especially at 4pm) – but alas S refused to put on his DEET. I couldn’t really blame the kid – the stuff smells really strong. But for anyone travelling with kids in the area, I strongly recommend (as did the doctor back home) this is NOT NEGOTIABLE. Of course, that meant the argument ended with S and I missing out on swimming while B and N cool off. That’s two for me.
The swimming here is a big deal. Sepilok Jungle Resort is located right next to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre (and the Rainforest Discovery Centre down the road), along with a bunch of other accommodation sites. However, SJR is the only one with a big swimming pool and cool water slide. They even charge patrons from other resorts because it is that popular. And S & I missed out the first day. Brilliant start.
The good news is that we did make it for the Night Safari I had booked with the Resort. One of the local guides takes you on a night walk through the Orang Utan Sanctuary, spotting out the wildlife you would otherwise never know to exist in Borneo. It was awesome – even more so because we were the ONLY ONES for that tour. This guide was especially understanding and patient – with the kids, and the big kid with the camera (looking at you, B). In fact, he was really excited about the boys coming along. Apparently very few families take the tour because most don’t think their kids have the energy or interest at night, or are quiet enough, or smell like cabbage or something. Trust me – we had a fantastic night tour and would recommend this as one of the best!!
The list of things we saw:
- 4 snakes (3 different types)
- 1 orang utan hanging on the outside wire
- 1 tree crab (never heard of this before)
- mouse deer
- butterflies and moths
- glow-in-the-dark funghi
- tree frogs
- stick insects
Despite still not being well, N really enjoyed the night safari and followed B’s pointed finger. S was right up there with the guide, wanting to see everything and learning some cool tricks for spotting animals.
Me: I simply marveled at the wildlife that we would have missed if not for this opportunity. We were even lucky enough to return to the our room right before a storm hit. Perfect.
Edit: Just a quick review on the Resort itself. It is a nice place to stay, close to the Orang Utans. Don’t think that because it has Resort in the name that it is all fancy. We had a deluxe room close to Reception and the pool – and we paid the extra for it, with a/c. That really made it for us. It’s a little walk to the cafe/restaurant but consider the appalling service provided there (read Trip Advisor; it wasn’t just us), that really isn’t such a bad thing.
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.