sandikan - Where's Byrne?


06.01.2012 – 11.01.2012 Cloudy/Rainy/Sunny 32 °C

We looked online for places to stay in Sandikan so we could visit Sepilok, the Orangutan Sanctuary, as it was a six-hour bus journey each way it was unpractical to do it in a day. We opted for the Jungle Lodge Resort’s top rooms as it was B’s birthday. At 170RM (£34) they weren’t cheap but you have to splash out occasionally don’t ‘cha?. We emailed them to create a reservation as we weren’t happy entering our card details into the dodgy site online and set it up. Judging by the reply email, they struck me as a bit desperate. The six-hour bus ride was not good. Although we practically had the bus to ourselves and drove through the mountains and past the impressive Mount Kinabalu, it dragged and I couldn’t wait to get off. We eventually arrived at ‘the junction’, a roundabout where you jump off for Sepilok and the resorts nearby, and embarked on the 2.5km walk to the Jungle Lodge. There are taxis waiting to take you there but after that long bus journey in a temperature a Polar Bear would have been happy with, we decided to walk it and warm up. Arriving at the Jungle Lodge, I wasn’t impressed and upon entering reception there was nothing to prove me wrong. Because of this we asked to see the room before checking in and handing over 500RM odd and I’m glad we did. The Borneo bird led us out to a wooden canopy which walked through a small stretch of jungle and initially I thought I had been too quick to judge but when we turned a corner and walked into a concrete block of rooms not too dissimilar to that of a British Travelodge, I knew I wasn’t going to stay there. She showed us our room, walking down a stuffy and softly lit corridor in among eleven or so other rooms and I found myself recalling the bamboo chalet with balcony, four-poster bed and Jacuzzi available that’s displayed on the website. We were looking at a square room with double bed, balcony and fourteen inch TV. It was pleasant enough, just way, way overpriced. It was a 100RM room a night at the most so with this we left. The bird on reception wasn’t very happy but their website is misleading – we were happy we hadn’t paid a deposit. Back on the road, we headed for Labuk B&B a bit further out. We had fallen on our feet, it was a smashing choice. Log cabins were available with a huge veranda, large bathroom and TV for 180RM and I was keen but B was happy with one of the B&B rooms for 70RM a night so we took that. The room we had been given was great, with hot shower, fan (not that it’s needed) and comfortable beds. Result. The staff were over friendly which again was great, they couldn’t do enough for you, in stark contrast to the Jungle Lodge up the road and the food was brilliant, if a little expensive. A great place to use as your base. The jungle flora in the backdrop and the lake next to the swimming pool and jacuzzi too were brilliant additions. Recommended.

Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. Probably the highlight of the trip to Borneo. Or at least it was supposed to be. I was really looking forward to this, and you might be thinking moan, moan again or I’m a bit of a tough customer etc but I’m just honest. Unlike Lonely Planet or Rough Guide here you get the blokes honest opinion. Maybe the issue for me lies where I look forward to things because I thoroughly research them before hand, build them up because of the information and pictures posted but it ends disappointment because the organisers have made it something it’s not. I dunno, what I do know is, upon reflection, this probably wasn’t worth the twelve-hour bus ride.

Sepilok was just a five-minute walk from most of the B&Bs. It’s 30RM each to get in (about £6) and another 10RM (£2) if you want to take a camera in with you. You’re forced to leave any bags with valuables in lockers before you enter, even though there are signs saying ‘Don’t leave anything valuable in the lockers’. Safe. A short walk down a wooden canopy you come to a viewing area surrounded by jungle with two platforms at different heights in front of you. Signs reading ‘Silence’ surround the viewing area, not that they do any good against the idiot tourists who find it impossible to keep their gobs shut. It’s embarrassing to sometimes be lumped in with the other foreigners and collectively viewed as tourists. You then wait for the Orangutans to turn up. They don’t guarantee any will turn up which is acceptable I suppose, but luckily we had four show plus a Malaysian with a basket of fruit who could have been a fifth. It was all a bit underwhelming. The Orangutans are twenty – thirty foot away from you so the viewing isn’t great to begin with. Couple that with the poor line of sight because of the trees, jungle flora and people in front of you trying to get a look and that all they do is swing in, eat fruit and swing out again, the experience left me feeling disappointed. You stay and watch them until you get bored. We lasted about half an hour. At least there’s the sanctuary where we can see the rehabilitated and baby Orangutans next up and the nature walks too… or so I thought. The nature walks that lead further into the jungle and looped back to the entrance were closed due to flooding from heavy rain recently and the sanctuary turned out to be the real jungle they release them into and there wasn’t a building or area where you get to view them up close. We honestly saw more Orangutans displaying more varied behaviour at a closer distance for less time and less money at Lok Kawi a few days earlier. The fact these were being referred to as ‘rehabilitated’ or ‘wild’ didn’t make a blind bit of difference, from thirty foot, an Orangutan is an Orangutan. We were in, saw the Orangutans, watched the video there, went round the tatty exhibition and were out again, in two hours. Verdict: Overrated and portrayed as something it’s not.

Back to Kota Kinabalu. We left for KK the next day after being told there wasn’t much else around Sandakan apart from an expensive Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary (no thanks) and a crocodile farm (yes farm, they’re farmed for bags and shoes etc). A lovely six-hour ride later we got back to KK and checked in at the Asia Backpackers next door to X-Plorer for 20RM (£5) a night for a dorm bed. Again though, we had our own room. The group of staff they had were very friendly there so I would recommend this place over X-plorer who are at times strongly lacking this quality. Two days of us trying to keep costs down so we didn’t have to go to the ATM again, we left to go back to the Philippines. KK’s airport is impressive. The exit was just as slick as the entrance and had free Wi-Fi throughout the building. AirAsia provided us with a very acceptable flight and we were back in the Phils. I’m starting to change my mind about AirAsia..

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