Shane and I arrived in Sandakan on Sunday night, and Monday morning we took a taxi out to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center to have a look at these close relatives of mankind. The orangutan feeding happens twice a day, at 10 AM and 3 PM, and we wanted to be there for the morning feeding since it often rains in the afternoon in this part of the world.
Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary
I had very high expectations to the sanctuary, and I must admit that I was a little bit disappointed. First of all, I was under the impression that the visitors would be allowed to feed the animals and actually interact with them (as advertised everywhere), but the reality was that we were watching one of the care takers sitting on a wooden plateau build around a tree and giving the orangutans bananas from a bucket. The animals were so far away from the visitors that I had to use my 300 mm lens in order to take photos. Secondly, I had expected a relatively large number of orangutans present for the feeding, but only three showed up. Of course, these animals are living in a sanctuary, and they are free to come and eat when they want, but it would have been nice to see more of these beautiful and amazing creatures.
After the feeding there was not much more to do in the sanctuary, and besides, it started raining heavily so we decided to head back to the hotel and figure out what to do next. We ended up having a chat with the people at the tourist information center in the hotel, and we book a mangrove cruise for the next day and were also advised to have a look at the Chinese temple in town. We took a taxi up to the temple, which was located on a hill overlooking Sandakan, and from there we had a fantastic view of the area. We also went for a walk around in the town center, and we discovered that the town was not very well maintained. It was interesting to walk along the harbor with all the local fishing boats, and the locals were smiling and waiving at us. Apart from that there wasn’t much to see and do in the town center, so we went back to the hotel and had dinner in the hotel restaurant.
Stilt fishing village
The next day we had to check out of the hotel in the morning, and while Shane wanted to have a look at the pool area I went for a walk. I found a road leading up to a lookout, and, to my surprise, on the top of the hill I discovered a lovely little restaurant called The English Tea House. The place looked like something being taken out of a movie from the 1930ies, and it was beautifully restored and maintained. I decided to take a closer look at the place, and I sat down for a drink and an ice cream. While I was sitting there a polite man came over to my table and asked me if everything was OK. It turned out that he was the owner of the place, and we ended up having an interesting conversation. His name was Rory Richardson, and he was a true English gentleman. He had lived in Sandakan for a while, and while running the restaurant he also participated in local cleanup projects to make the town look better and be more attractive to tourists.
While sitting there I also ended up talking to a British-Indian man who was on holiday. He was in fact in Borneo primarily to look for a new property, and he was a very interesting person to talk to. When I had to head back to the hotel to meet Shane he drove me back so that I would make it in time, since I had to be back by 2 PM because of our mangrove trip in the afternoon. However, we decided to keep in touch since it is likely that we will be able to run into each other again somewhere in this region.
At 2 PM Shane and I were picked up at the hotel by our tour guide. Two other couples came with us on the tour, one couple from Australia and on couple from England. The guide drove us down to the harbor where we jumped on a boat to get out to the mangrove area, and I didn’t really expect too much from the tour, but it turned out to be a great trip. We floated through a stilt fishing village where the kids were laughing and waiving at us, and after the village we saw a bunch of animals in the mangrove, such as huge lizards, white herons, king fishers and several groups of proboscis monkeys. On the way back we stopped in the village and took a walk on the stilted trails, which was a bit scary since they didn’t feel very secure.
The English Tea House
We were back in Sandakan town center after 2.5-3 hours, and I wanted to show Shane the English Tea House so we decided to go there for afternoon tea and dinner. Shane was just as impressed as I was with the beautiful surroundings and great service, but unfortunately he did not have the pleasure of meeting the nice owner since he had left for the day. Nevertheless, we ended up having a wonderful meal, starting with English tea and scones and ending with a lovely dinner. Shane’s lamb meal was enormous, and I was impressed by the fact that he managed to finish it. In addition, since our meal was a little delayed the waiters came out with free drinks and a snack as an apology, which is something that characterizes a high quality eating place. Shortly, I will highly recommend the place to anyone who comes to Sandakan for a visit.
We had a 9 PM flight back to Kota Kinabalu, and now we are back on the other side of Sabah. Tomorrow morning new adventures are waiting, and it is time to get some sleep to prepare for a couple of physically challenging days.