The One with the Rainforest

Chatteris' own Charlotte Bland on her animal-spotting adventure.

So somehow over the Chinese New Year holidays, I found myself trekking through a rainforest in Borneo. To be honest, I never imagined it was a place I’d be in a position to visit, always presuming it would be tricky to organise, difficult to get to and the cost would be way out of my price range anyway. However, when a random Skyscanner search informed my flat mate and I that there were super cheap flights available from the Philippines (where we were holidaying first) to Malaysia and then a few google searches led us to an affordable tour, it seemed like far too good an opportunity to pass up.

After exchanging a few frantic emails with the staff, who didn’t mind how last minute we were, we booked the Kinabatangan Wildlife Safari tour. This included 3 days at the Sakau Rainforest Lodge, airport transfers, our own tour guide for our small group and speed-boat transfers to/from the lodge, which allowed us to see so much more wildlife en-route. It also included all our river boat journeys, entrance fees covered to everywhere visited and all meals and unlimited drinks of water/tea/coffee for the whole time we were there. The whole thing cost a little over £300 each and the only money I spent when I was there was on a couple of reasonably priced daiquiris and a souvenir for my dad.

Above: The outside and inside of the lodge.

Turns out it’s quite tricky to pack for both a Cebu beach holiday and a Borneo rainforest holiday, at the final hour, with only 7kg of hand luggage allowance to work with. I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to my flat mate who had to cope with me turning the living room into a bomb site as I frantically threw clothes around the room and repeatedly asked myself ‘Why am I like this?!’ over the top of my motivational packing playlist...about 30 minutes before we were due to go to the airport. Obviously, the rainforest isn't the place for a fashion show. You’re going to have to resign yourself to gym wear kind of clothing to keep you cool in the heat and humidity- thin trackies, sports t-shirts, leggings, a cap for when it’s really sunny, a sweater for when it is cooler on the boats, a raincoat and trainers.

Above: Rainforest chic ft. huge orangutan friend.

We turned up expecting basic accommodation that would be fine for the duration of our trip. 5am get ups would mean we could sleep anywhere, right? Instead, we were greeted with luxury- a huge room, comfy beds, the world’s fluffiest towels and even a dressing room area that backed onto the actual rainforest. The mosquito nets outside the windows meant we could open them right up and hear all the sounds outside without getting bitten to death and having to inform our parents we’ve caught malaria.

Above: Our room and the pool.

The Food
Oh my days, THE FOOD. They never stopped feeding us at the lodge. One day we even got two breakfasts- two- what a time to be alive! The same day we also had lunch, afternoon tea and actual tea (or dinner to Southerners). If this place isn’t food goals, I don’t know what is. I’m not exaggerating when I say the food was amazing with so much fresh fruit and vegetables and plenty of meat and veggie options too. Even better, the buffet table was built around the boat that the light of my life, Sir David flipping Attenborough, actually used during his time filming a wildlife documentary there and if somewhere is Attenborough approved, I’m sold.

Side note: He apparently wrote a letter to the Malaysian government which stopped a plan to build a bridge (which would have given poachers easy access to the animals) dead in its tracks. This man needs to be bubble wrapped.

Above: The boat and the waterfront restaurant.

The Guides
Marty, our guide, was a great character. He always had a story to share and his extraterrestrial vision ensured we saw all sorts of wildlife, especially the rarer finds. Another guide, Jonathan, spent loads of his own time talking to us about the animals, the numerous community projects Borneo Eco Tours are involved with and answering every question we had. The lodge does a lot to try and protect the environment and the animals whilst involving the local communities in their work in a sustainable way. In the past, they’ve even given doctors free stays in the lodge in return for them treating members of the community who were in need, which is pretty cool.

The Highlights
There were many ‘pinch myself’ moments during this trip but here are a few things that stick out:

Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre
We visited here to see the orangutans come and get their breakfasts from the feeding platform and... none turned up thanks to the heavy rain. On the bright side, this means they a) just didn’t fancy coming down without an umbrella or b) they must be doing okay fending for themselves- a positive sign in terms of their rehabilitation. Next, we saw the adolescent orangutans living what can only be described as their best lives in their own half-sheltered, half-wild area. They were hilarious to watch, lobbing bananas at each other, play fighting, falling off everything and looking like naughty school boys hanging their heads in shame when their keeper told them off. I could have stayed there all day watching them.

Above: A little monkey who strolled right up to our boat to say hello.

The Big Five
We got to see so, so many different animals during our time there and out of the ‘Big Five’ the tour prides themselves on helping us spot (Orangutans, Proboscis Monkeys, Crocodiles, Rhinoceros Hornbill and Pygmy Elephant), the only animals we didn’t manage to see before we left were the notoriously shy elephants. On our night-time river cruise we saw a baby crocodile and the most perfect starry sky and during the days, we saw groups of monkeys getting ready to battle it out over their territory and orangutans buildings themselves nests (one for a daytime nap and one for night-time- who knew?) and teaching their babies how to climb. We bumped into a few snakes, massive spiders and some fire ants that attacked my only bit of uncovered skin when we ventured out into the rainforest one evening, phone flashlight in hand (so prepared). We’d probably have seen more animals that night but I presume my expletives and frantic jumping up and down in pain scared them away slightly.   
Above: Not too bad a view on the way back to the lodge one evening.
We honestly never seemed to stop doing activities the whole time we were there and looking back now, I can't actually believe the trip was real. It wasn't something I ever thought would be possible but I'm so glad it was and now, I'm pretty sure I'm going to spend the rest of the year telling everyone else how much they need to do it too. 


  1. I am very jealous Charlotte what an amazing experience xx

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