Uncle Tan's cabin

Sandakan Travel Blog

 › entry 11 of 14 › view all entries


This morning we got up early to fly from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan, with a great view of Mt Kinabalu on the way.


At Sandakan we caught a taxi to Gum Gum, where Uncle Tan’s is based (the tour company we are going on a wildlife safari with). Once there, there were a couple of hours to spare so they offered to take us to Sepilok.


We went to Sepilok with Mick and Kate, a couple from Manchester, who run a bed and breakfast (they were very friendly and we talked to them often over the trip).

At Sepilok it was feeding time, so we got to see a young (six year old) orang-utan swing down to the platform to feed followed by an older female five minutes later.


The young orang-utan was obviously still in the early stages of rehabilitation, as it constantly tried to get attention from the older female, crying and throwing itself to the ground when it was ignored. It got even worse when a large male macaque came to the platform to feed as the baby was terrified of it, and kept on trying to sneak up to get food, chickening out at the last minute and throwing a tantrum. A couple of times the macaque hit the large female for food, but was ignored.


When feeding was finished we watched a short video about the rehabilitation process, and then went for a walk with Mick and Kate into the park (out of the fifty other people at the feeding, none other took a walk) for half an hour.

The walk was excellent, as we saw birds, butterflies, a troop of army ants and a whole colony of red-leaf monkeys climbing around and jumping from tree to tree.


We had lunch at Uncle Tan’s then started the trip to the Jungle Camp. It was an hour’s drive to the Sungi Kinabatangan, then we had to pile into boats (very crowded with 20 people in two small powerboats) for the two hour boast ride up river. The trip to the Jungle Camp was one of the best safaris I’ve ever been on. We saw silver-leaf monkeys, long-tailed macaques, short-tailed macaques, proboscis monkeys and a wild orang-utan. We also saw some small salt-water crocodiles, large water monitors, several flocks of hornbills (white-crowned hornbill, black hornbill, oriental pied hornbill in flocks of a dozen), herons, egrets, white-bellied sea-eagles, swifts, kingfishers (lots of common kingfishers and several of the magnificent stork-billed kingfishers with amazing colours and large bright beaks) as well as many waterbirds.

It was absolutely amazing to see the hornbills, so impossible to see everywhere else, fly over us in flocks of a dozen, clearly visible from the river while they perched in the trees. They have a very distinctive shape and flying patter due to the size of their beaks, so we learnt to distinguish them quite quickly.


As soon as we reached the jungle camp it started to pour down with rain, so we had to trek for fifteen minutes through ankle deep mud to get to the camp (twisting my ankle on the way).


The camp was really basic, with a few walkways between the five huts and the main area, but was pretty much just a couple of verandas. We had a couple of beers with dinner, and spoke to Mick and Kate, Malcolm and Kill (environmental consultants moving from England to New Zealand) and Angharad and Adam (who have both been travelling in SE Asia for several years) mostly, although there were a few others I can’t remember (two doctors from Norway, and a couple of Danish girls).


At 9pm we went for a night cruise down the river. The night cruise was very different to anything I’ve done before. We saw several troops of macaques, and we saw medium sized (1-2 metre) crocodiles in the river, but the amazing thing was seeing the birds. We saw the Buffy Sea Owl from close up, but it was the Kingfishers that were the most amazing. During the day we only got to see glimpses as they flew past, but at night we got really close up to them. They sleep on a perch overhanging the river with their beak under a wing, and while they wake up before we get close, they can’t fly due to their terrible night vision so we could come to within a couple of metres and really get a good look at them. We saw several stork-billed kingfishers and a blue-eared kingfisher. Our guide also spotted for us a flying lemur (for only the second time in his life) which looked no different from a monkey at that distance, until it jumped from its tree, spread its legs and glided down to another tree. It was a really great find.


That night there were not enough spots in the cabins, so Jo and I stayed in the staff cabin.

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14,461 km (8,986 miles) traveled
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photo by: canuck_downunder05