If you are travelling in Borneo, a visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is a must.
With a passion for orangutans since I was a young child, the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre promised to be my ideal day out. Even if you are not a fan of orangutans (why wouldn’t you be?) kids and adults alike will be captivated by the adorable “Man of the Forest”.
We visited Sepilok on our recent family adventure to Borneo and it was so amazing we went back the next day.
The Sabah Government established the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in 1964. Sepilok lays in 4294 hectares of protected rain forest and its main aim is to care for abandoned orangutan orphans and help rehabilitate them so that they can return to the wild.
Sadly, the orangutan is a critically endangered animal and this is worsening with the increasing loss of rain forest to palm oil plantations. The loss of habitat, alongside the problems of poaching, hunting and the illegal pet trade has led to rapidly declining numbers of orangutans.
Where is the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre?
Sepilok Orangutan Centre is about 20 km from the town of Sandakan. There are a number of organised tours, or you can get a bus or taxi from town (about 45 mins). However, we found the best option is to stay at a local lodge (see below) and walk to Sepilok.
When can you go to Sepilok?
Sepilok is open from 9 – 4pm, but the centre closes between 12 and 2 pm. However, if you go in the morning, your ticket is still valid in the afternoon. When we went to Sepilok it cost 30 RM for non-Malay visitors, but you will have to pay an additional 10 RM if you want to take your camera.
On arrival, you can watch a short film. This outlines the history of Sepilok, the decline of the orangutan and the Sepilok’s conservation work. You’ll also learn that the orangutan shares 97% of human DNA!
You have to lock your bags in the free lockers provided and remember to use the hand sanitizer, as apes are very susceptible to human disease. Then, you are ready to go!
Once in, you need to keep your eyes and ears peeled. Not only could you encounter an orangutan anywhere as, like us, they are free to roam, there are bugs and insects and interesting trees to observe too. The noise of the jungle is overwhelming as you walk down the wooden boardwalks to the feeding platforms.
What can you do in Sepilok?
Be fascinated by Orangutans!
Join the orangutans' tea party
The feeding times at Sepilok are at 10am and 3pm, so it is worth timing your visit to correspond. Some of the older orangutans will come in from the surrounding forest for the food which is provided. Alternatively, they just come to have a swing in the surrounding ropes.
See babies in the nursery
Once you’ve had your fill of the older apes, head back along the boardwalk to the outside nursery. Here we watched the juniors monkeying around. We had hoped to see our adopted orangutan, Archie. Unfortunately, he was in the indoor nursery with the babies. They keep these little ones away from visitors, so that they don’t get contaminated.
Once at the nursery, visitors can sit in the glassed-in areas to watch the antics of the younger apes in the outdoor nursery. These youngsters are too young to be fully in the wild. They are still learning the basic skills of being an orangutan – climbing, playing, nest-building and eating.
It was absolutely mesmerising to sit in an air-conditioned gallery and watch them at play and we didn’t want to leave.
Sepilok really is an unmissable trip for anyone visiting Borneo, as you can get up close and personal and see the orangutans in a natural environment.
Where can you stay in Sepilok?
There are several local lodges where you can stay in Sepilok, including The Sepilok Jungle Resort, the Nature Lodge Sepilok and the Sepilok Forest Edge Resort, where we stayed. These are all within walking distance of Sepilok Orangutan Centre and the Sun Bear Centre.
We booked directly with the Forest Edge Resort, but you can get all of them through Booking.com. By staying locally in Sepilok, you are free to organise your own visit times. And even better, you can stay as long as you like to enjoy the orangutans. This is a contrast to some of the organised tours from Sandakan, who will rush you in and out.
Where can you eat at Sepilok?
There is a café at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. The café is open even when the Sepilok centre shuts for lunch. Alternatively, you can buy tasty European or Asian dishes at The Lake Bistro (on the Sepilok Nature Resort). Here you can eat with a wonderful view over the lake.
If you want to go for more authentic Bornean cuisine, head for Mama Wati’s. This was our favourite restaurant in Sepilok. What more can you ask for than an abundance of home-cooked food at a very low price? Don’t be put off by the look of the exterior. Once inside Mama Wati she made us feel very welcome and the room is very homely. Plus we were able to see her cook right in front of us.
Top Tip: Don’t forget to ask Mama Wati to cook you some of her banana fritters.
What else can you do at Sepilok?
Adore the smallest bear in the world
Directly opposite Sepilok is The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, which is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of the world’s smallest bear. We’d not seen these bears before and it was great to observe them in their natural environment.
Visit The Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC)
We had planned to go to the Rainforest Discovery Centre on our 2nd day in Sepilok, but changed out mind at the last minute and went back to the Orangutan Sanctuary for another visit instead.
The Rainforest Discovery Centre is a short distance away from Sepilok. Here, you’ll find trails and a canopy walk where you can observe more wildlife and tropical flora and fauna. They also offer night time hikes, which sound fun.
PIN FOR LATER: The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Borneo