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The tiny town of Sepilok offers an exciting prelude to the orangutans, sun bears, and rainforests of Borneo – in just two days. Get inspiration for your Bornean adventures from our favorite things to do in Sepilok!
Are you planning to stay in Sandakan or Sepilok but wondering what to do there? Worry no more, Sepilok’s world-famous sights and day trips to the surrounding areas could keep you busy for one week! You can go hiking or paddling; visit orangutan, proboscis monkey, and sun bear sanctuaries; take a boat to Kinabatangan River or the paradise islands; or visit the biggest cave system in Sabah – just to mention a few highlights. Read on to create your own 2-5-day itinerary to Sepilok and the surrounding Sabah area!
1. Visit Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
Get Familiar With Orangutans – and Their Babies!
Thanks to Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sepilok is the world-famous place to meet the orange-furred “men of the jungle”. Around 60 to 80 orphaned or injured orangutans live freely inside a slice of protected forest reserve.
The best thing: caretakers will bring the babies and adolescents to the outdoor nursery are just before the feeding times. You can watch mini-orangutans tumble, fight and play behind the glass of the air-conditioned observatory. Cuteness overload!
Adult sightings are not guaranteed, as the semi-wild orangutans move around freely, but here the chances are the best on earth. Daily morning and afternoon feedings in Sepilok’s Orangutan Rehab seemed to draw so many orangutans to the feeding platforms that I could only think that torrential rain might keep them in the shade of the canopy.
Double your chances by visiting both feeding sessions (entrance fee covers the whole day) and arrive well in advance. We stumbled upon orangutans while just walking around on the elevated pathways before the feeding time. Boardwalks link the entrance, feeding platform, and outdoor nursery.
Orangutan at the feeding platform of Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysian Borneo
2. Visit Bornean Sun Bear Center
Meet the Smallest Bears on Earth: the Sun Bears
Bornean sun bears are among the cutest animals we’ve ever met. These black-furred, Paddington-sized bears have golden, horseshoe like marks on their chest, which resemble rising sun. The markings are unique, just like human fingerprints.
3. Hike, Paddle, and Spot Wildlife in Sepilok’s Rainforest Discovery Center
Take a Hike in the Bornean Rainforest
Some lodges in Sepilok have private walkways in the rainforest, but you can also have your introduction to the rainforests of Borneo at Sepilok’s Rainforest Discovery Center. They even have a 350-meters long canopy walkway, from where you can explore what happens in a rainforest at the level of the treetops. There’s also a network of walking trails and paddle boats to rent by the shore.
I’d highly recommend a mini-hike inside Sepilok’s orangutan sanctuary if any of the walking trails happen to be open (all trails were closed at the time of our visit until further notice). The loops vary from 250 meters to 5 kilometers.
4. Enjoy Evening Drinks With Giant Flying Squirrels
Sepilok’s Best Place to Observe Giant Flying Squirrels
We were lucky to see plenty of giant flying squirrels during our Bornean adventure. After a numerous night walks, night drives and cruises at several locations, I confess with laughter that the best spot to watch these giants show off was our lodge’s terrace in Sepilok.
Flying red giant squirrels nest in a massive tree just beside MY Nature Resort. Restaurant’s terrace is aptly called the flying squirrel terrace, as it offers impeccable chances to observe these giants climb the tree and then glide upon you. Waiting for the squirrels to show off is evening entertainment at its best, accompanied by mouth-watering fried bananas.
The creatures are truly giant: from tail to head almost one meter. We got to see a perfect example of their skills, when one squirrel flew over us and the restaurant, arguably almost the 150 feet distance, which they are able to cover on one flight.
A Bornean Sun Bear called Loki in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center in Sabah, Malysia.
A Bornean Sun Bear climbing to a tree in the rain in BSBCC, Sabah, Malaysia.
5. Spend a Day in Sandakan
Indulge in Urban Treats and Restaurants of Sandakan
After all the praise, the downside of Sepilok is the lack of town. There’s virtually just a highway crossing an area called Sepilok with a handful of lodges scattered around the highway and nearby orangutan and sun bear sanctuaries.
Luckily, a small coastal town of Sandakan lies just 30 minutes away by a taxi or bus. The center of Sandakan has some nice restaurants and cafes – we’ll publish soon a guide on the best restaurants in town! English Teahouse up on the hills is a pleasant spot to idle an afternoon away while gazing to the turquoise ocean.
6. Take a Kinabatangan River Cruise
Spot Wild Orangutans in Kinabatangan River on One-Day or Multi-Day Cruise
Sepilok acts as a gateway to the jungle explorations and cruises on Kinabatangan River. If you’re short on time, take a day cruise. For the best chances to see orangutans and pygmy elephants, we recommend at least 2-night/3-day Kinabatangan cruise. If you’re lucky, it’s still possible to see nosy proboscis monkeys and a couple of orangutans on a day cruise.
The Best Place in Sepilok to See Proboscis Monkeys
It would be a shame to leave Borneo without seeing the iconic proboscis monkeys (Nasalis larvatus). Guarantee your chances to spot these funny looking, pot-bellied creatures by visiting Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary during feeding times (9.30AM, 11.30AM, 2.30PM, 4.30PM).
8. Take a Day-Trip to Sandakan Archipelago
Off-the-Beaten-Path Paradise Islands
Arrange a boat at Sandakan wharf and explore Sandakan Archipelago on your own. Selingan, Gulisan, and Bakungan Kecil are part of Turtle Island National Park, where you can witness hawksbill and green turtle hatching. Head to Berhala Island (Pulau Berhala) for sunrise. The stunning sandstone cliffs and boulders of Berhala have also decent rock climbing routes.
9. Marvel Puu Jih Sih Temple – And the Views!
Admire a Sunset Above the Sulu Sea
If you decide to do a day trip to Sandakan, end it in style. Puu Jih Sih Temple is among the finest Chinese temples in Sabah. The best news: it’s whisked on a hill and has a nice panorama over Sandakan’s coastline, which makes it a prime sunset watching spot.
10. Eat Seafood at Sim Sim Water Village
Old-Style Fishing Village upon Wooden Stilts
Sim Sim Water Village is among the best places to eat fresh seafood with locals. The cheerful wooden stilt houses are connected with wooden platforms. Sim Sim Water Village is located 3 km off Sandakan on Jalan Buli Sim Sim: drive through it on your way back to Sepilok.
11. Visit Gomantong Caves
Ancient Caves Filled With Bats, Birds, And Cockroaches
If the subtitle doesn’t spook you off, Gomantong caves make an exciting day trip from Sepilok or Sandakan alike. The magnificent, cathedral-like main chamber is featured in many travel magazines; it’s photogenic indeed. The cave system goes deep inside Gomantong Hill and could be explored for a full day. If you don’t have your own wheels, take a taxi for the day or combine Gomantong caves with your Kinabatangan River adventure.
Stunning view to the rainforest from our private terrace in MY Nature Resort - it rains in the rainforest!
Where to stay in Sepilok?
We chose MY Nature Resort for three reasons. Shortly: here you’ll experience the best that Sepilok has to offer in a unique way, with some added perks. The lodge is new and has the only pool in Sepilok (for now).
Elevated pathway loops the back of the resort, offering mini jungle excursions into Sepilok Protected Forest Reserve. You’re free to explore the 1500 ft route on your own from 6 AM to 5 PM, and every night there’s an option for a guided night walk. At the time of booking, we didn’t know about the squirrels, but would recommend staying in MY Nature Resort even for the flying red giants!
MY Nature Resort is tucked away from the Sepilok highway, where most of the lodges lie. It’s a short walk from Rainforest Discovery Center, the third draw in Sepilok after the orangutans and sun bears. The accommodation package includes tickets and guided tours of orangutan and sun bear sanctuaries and shuttle transfers from the hotel (twice a day, just 5-minute ride). You’ll also get an own guide who can lead nearby nature walks. Complimentary drinking water and always hot water thanks to the backup generators. Our cottage had a huge, private terrace overlooking the rainforest canopy – ask for a view!
Sepilok is located in North-Eastern Sabah, the state of Malaysian Borneo that occupies the northern tip of Borneo. Sandakan is the nearest bigger city.
Multiple daily flights cut the distance between Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan into 45 scenic minutes. You’ll fly past Mt. Kinabatangan and weather-permitting the peak is fully visible. Be sure to book left side seat from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan – and vice versa! One-way prices start at 13$ (AirAsia). Taxi drive from Sandakan to Sepilok takes less than 30 minutes.
Also, local buses run frequently the routes Kota Kinabalu–Sepilok and Sandakan–Sepilok. But you have to jump off by the highway at ´Batu 14´, (Sepilok doesn’t have a center, so you’d need a taxi from Batu 14, and it can be expensive).
Sepilok Vs. Sandakan: Why We Recommend Making Sepilok Your Base in Eastern Sabah
We encourage you to make Sepilok your base in the Eastern Sabah instead of the bigger Sandakan. Why? In Sepilok you’re closer to the areas main attractions: it’s just a short walking distance from all lodges to both orangutan and sun bear sanctuaries and Rainforest Discovery center. In Sepilok, you’ll be also closer to the jungle. Some of Sepilok’s lodges are inside the rainforest, with good chances to spot wildlife, whereas in Sandakan you’ll be staying in a soul-less city hotel.
You can do all the exciting day tours to the surrounding area either from Sandakan or Sepilok; the towns are just 30-minute drive from each other. However, if you have already chosen to stay in Sandakan over Sepilok and are wondering about the best things to do in Sandakan: the list is the same as in Sepilok!
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