One of our greatest motivations for exploring Malaysian Borneo was to explore the incredible wildlife that inhabits this region. But many of these wildlife-viewing opportunities seemed only to be offered on super expensive packaged-tours. Although many of those tours look absolutely amazing, they’re completely out of price range for us and many other budget conscious Borneo-bound adventure seekers. So we were challenged to find budget friendly packages and DIY adventures that we could go at it independently to find wildlife in Borneo.
This post shares our three favorite wildlife encounters in Malaysian Borneo that didn’t break the bank. These three experiences provided not only for amazing wildlife sitings, but also amazing value!
#3) Orangutan Sanctuaries: Semenggoh Wildlife Center
You simply can’t come to Borneo without trying to catch a glimpse at one of its most famous residents: the orangutan. Chances are pretty slim that you’ll actually rendezvous with one of these primates just swinging around on branches in the wild rainforests. But there are a few nature reserves and sanctuaries scattered throughout Borneo where your odds become substantially greater.
Within these wildlife sanctuaries, many orphaned or formerly captive orangutans have been reintroduced into the wild. Since these guys have been accustomed to life in captivity, some of them still haven’t quite caught on to foraging for themselves. Therefore the wildlife sanctuaries provide these reintroduced-to-the-wild orangutans with twice-a-day feedings in which visitors can happily gawk at these ginger-haired primates who come down to snatch a banana or two.
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabiliation Centre, located on Sabah, is perhaps the most known among these facilities. The entrance price, which goes back to aid these rehabilitation efforts, is a mere 30 RM (~$8 USD) per person.
Yet we’d also recommend checking out Sarawak’s Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, a lesser-visitted nature reserve that’s located just a short drive outside Kuching.
What Wildlife Will You See at Semenggoh Wildlife Centre
You’ll see orangutans, of course! Our visit yielded a mother and baby that came down from the canopy for a snack. It was said the day prior there was an orangutan party of more than seven! Yet other times, you may get unlucky and none come out to play. Try to plan your visit at Semenggoh for feeding time at 9:00 am or 3:00 pm for you best chances of viewing orangutans.
How To Get from Kuching to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre
Without your own wheels in Sarawak, you have 3 remaining options: bus, taxi, or tour.
Bus: You can take bus 6 (timetable: 6:45 am, 12:15 pm / return 10:00 am, 3:45 pm) or take bus K.6 (timetable: 7:15, 10:15, 1:00pm, 4:45pm / return: 8:45 am, 11:15 am, 2:15 am, 4:15 am). Both busses cost only 3 RM each way but these somewhat infrequent bus schedules don’t align well with feeding times and you’ll be dropped you off on the side of the road where you’ll need to walk the last 20 minutes.
Taxi: A more expensive yet efficient option is a taxi which shouldn’t cost more than 100 RM ($26) round-trip, including wait time (negotiate the price in advance).
Tour: While a taxi may be a good bet if you’re traveling as a group or couple; for solo travelers – joining a daily tour actually might prove more economical, which should cost about 60 RM per person, which also includes the wildlife center’s entrance fee. If you’re the type of person who likes to book everything in advance, consider this highly rated Semenggok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre Tour from Kuching which you can easily book online. Priced at $42 per person, this tour does cost a bit more than similar tours you can book when in Kuching but you’ll have the peace of mind of having everything squared away and it even includes a hotel pickup.
Semenggoh Wildlife Centre Price
The nominal 10 RM (~$2.60) entrance fee ticket price at Semenggoh Nature Reserve is of fantastic value. But while the nature reserve itself is a bargain, it’ll still cost you a few extra bucks to get out that way, unless dealing with the busses. So be sure to factor in the transportation prices noted above for the total cost of your outing to see the orangutans of Semenggoh.
Where to Stay: Kuching on a Budget
There’s no accommodation at Semenggoh, so you’ll want to stay in nearby Kuching. HostelWorld seems to yield the largest inventory, yielding dozens of low budget places in Kuching with private rooms starting at just $5 per night per person! So searching HostelWorld is a good bet to find budget lodging in Kuching.
But if you can afford a bit more, we’d strongly recommend the 3-star LimeTree Hotel that includes an excellent breakfast buffet of both western staples and local dishes like its most delicious Sarawak laksa and, of course, there’s fresh lime juice too! We’ve seen the LimeTree Hotel as low as $34 per night, which is a great value! Just enter your dates in this link to the LimeTree Hotel on hotelscombined.com which will search all the main booking sites to find the best price.
Worthy Splurge for Semenggoh Wildlife Centre
Make an entire day of it! Do a combo Orangutan and River Kayaking Adventure tour. While the 218 RM (~$56) price is admittedly a little costly, this excursion includes not only your entrance fee but also a local lunch, kayaking & guide, transport, and even a photo CD full of pictures of the entire adventure.
This great full day (8-hour) excursion from Kuching makes for good value. We can provide our firsthand recommendation of Rainforest Kayaking and we give them a good review. You won’t see much more wildlife during the river kayaking, perhaps other than some fish in the river, yet the dramatic scenery that surrounds you during the paddle makes for an excellent float!
#2) Bako National Park
Within seconds of our arrival to this national park in Sarawak, we were greeted by a handful of mischievous macaques. A few minutes walk towards the ranger station and a heard of wild boars nonchalantly strolled past us. Immediately following that, we witnessed a number of elusive proboscis monkeys scurry across trail and up into a coconut tree. This entire wildlife spectacle occurred all within the first five minutes of coming ashore to the somewhat secluded Bako National Park. And the wildlife action didn’t stop there.
There are a number of hikes you can do around this secluded island in hopes of spotting some wildlife. Or for a more relaxing experience, hang out at the beach around park HQ and keep your eyes open for any animal friends who also may come down for a stroll across the wide stretches of sand.
What Wildlife Will You See at Bako National Park
The stars of the show here are the proboscis monkeys with their comically big noses. Be sure to look up in the palms as they can be most easily spotted by looking for the white tails hanging down from the trees. Wild boars also tend to hang around Park HQ while the long tailed macaques seemed to favor the areas closer to the boat docks.
A night walk will reveal a variety of unique insects and also some sleeping birds. You may also encounter (hopefully not too closely) with a pit viper snake. And if you’re lucky, you could chance upon a flying lemur!
Where can you find wildlife in Bako National Park? We hiked for hours on end in the intense tropical heat covering dozens of kilometers of trail that crisscrossed the island, yet aside from a few birds and many resident hermit crabs, all the big wildlife could be found right around Park HQ and the nearby beaches.
How To Get from Kuching to Bako National Park:
You’ll catch a boat to Bako National Park which leaves from the Bako Bazzar docks. These boats from Bako Bazzar docks to Bako National Park depart regularly. Despite what other guidebooks and review sites report, during our recent visit – these boats were now operating on a fixed price system (20 RM per person, each way, 7:30-4:00).
Taxi: The 45-minute ride from Kuching to Bako Bazzar will cost about 50 RM ($13) in a taxi each way.
Bus: We found it to be more worth our ringgit to instead catch one of the regularly departing busses for 4 RM ($1). It departs from Kuching hourly beginning 7:00 am and picks up passengers along the way out of town. Stop by the helpful tourism information center in Kuching where they can help you to determine a bus stop location that is near your hotel. (Note: don’t believe the folks in the minivans plying the route ahead of the bus who claim the bus isn’t coming.)
Tour: You can book a day tour to Bako National Park but you’ll most definitely be paying for the convenience. The $100+ price tag will cover your lunch, entrance fees, and even hotel pick-up and may be a good option if you have the cash to spend and your not accustomed to DIY travel. You’ll also be forgoing the opportunity to stay in Bako by using a day tour.
Bako National Park Prices
Take the entrance fee of 20 RM, add 8 RM roundtrip for the bus and another 40 RM your round-trip boat ticket and you get a DIY trip from Kuching to Bako National Park for only 68 RM ($18), which is excellent value. Going on your own and bypassing the day tour from Kuching to Bako National Park will save you a hefty chunk of change if you’re up for the adventure.
If you’re planning to stay in Bako National Park, it can be a good idea to book your cabin in advance during high season. Outside of high season you should be fine to just show up or better yet, stop by the Sarawak Forestry National Park Booking Office located in Kuching before making the trip out there. To book accommodation at Bako online, use this online booking form. Staff is responsive by email to this form and although the an automated response indicates very strictly that you need to pay the reservation one week in advance of of your reservation, we received a kind email informing us that it would be okay to pay upon arrival.
You’ll also want to factor in food costs. The cafeteria at Park HQ has a somewhat reasonable buffet that is priced by the item or scoop. Noodles, rice, chicken, and fish can all be expected. The fresh cooked food was surprisingly good but be wary of the lukewarm repurposed leftovers. Alternatively, you can bring your own meals. And if you stay overnight (suggested), factor in accommodation cost too which is detailed below.
Where to Stay: Bako on a Budget
While you can certainly make a day trip to Bako National Park from Kuching, we’d highly recommend staying for a least one night. The mornings and evenings are extremely peaceful and is when the wildlife seems to be most active. Yet staying in Bako National Park overnight will also give you the opportunity to see discover its nocturnal creatures. But if for no other wildlife reason, stay for the sunsets.
There is a slough of rustic accommodation at Bako Park HQ with lodging ranging from hostel dorm rooms for solo travelers to huge lodges for large groups. As a couple, we found the best option to be what is known as Forest Lodge Type 6 which runs a lowly 50 RM ($13) nightly.
While the room was very basic, it did come with clean linins and we were pleasantly surprised at how spacious it was. It not only included electricity but also and a mini fridge. (Pack some beers!) There’s no A/C but for $13 per night, its hard to complain and we managed to sleep fine with the ceiling fan on high.
Watch for wild boar from your semi-private front porch, which is shared with only one other unit.
Worthy Splurges at Bako National Park:
You could splurge on a tour to Bako National Park but we wouldn’t recommend that if you’re on a budget, unless you are completely unaccustomed to independent travel abroad. Instead we’d recommend considering splurging on a boat transfer while on the island.
While you’re no more likely to see wildlife on the boat, it’s the only way you’ll be able to see the famous Bako Sea Stack rock formations that Bako is often known for. Plus you can turn this into a round-trip excursion hiking one-way and avoiding backtracking. This private boat service varies in price range depending on location and can start at about 40 RM ($10) for a one-way trip. Organize this at the boat stand at Park HQ.
Another splurge to consider is to have a few of the only-slightly overpriced beers at park HQ to pair with your evening sunset views.
#1) Kinabatangan River Safari
A wildlife cruise down the Kinabatangan River is often among people’s favorite experiences during a trip to Malaysian Borneo. And it tops our list for budget-friendly Borneo wildlife experiences. Cruising in a little boat along Sabah’s longest river offers unique wildlife viewing opportunities found nowhere else around the world. Given these exceptional qualities, you’ll pay a hefty cost (often well into the hundreds of dollars) for this privilege at one of the many lodges that are based along the river’s edge.
There are no day trips and most lodges tend to offer one or two night packages that pack in a series of wildlife spotting boat trips up and down the river, in between meals at the lodges, hiking and other activities. Yet it’s the boat cruising where you’ll most likely see an abundance of wildlife that can climax with the elusive Borneo Pygme Elephant.
Meanwhile, while there are a number of affordable homestays within the area, they can be more difficult to organize and typically don’t include the wide ranging boat tours and other amenities which can make the lodges attractive.
We were determined to discover a lodge with reasonable rates and that also had a variety of wildlife viewing activities. This search led to the best option to being: Nature Lodge Kinabatangan. Here the prices were cheap, the agenda was full, and perhaps most importantly – we saw loads of wildlife.
What Wildlife You’ll See on the Kinabatangan River
In the primate category, we came across long-tailed macaques, silverback monkeys, and proboscis monkeys! Those who stayed up for the night walk were rewarded by seeing tarsiers. And it is not uncommon to encounter wild orangutans hanging out on the Kinabatangan River yet they evaded us during our visit.
Twitchers will undoubtedly get excited by the many birds soaring around and posing on tree tops. Our excursions revealed storm storks, hornbills, egrets, and even eagles.
For reptiles you’ll almost certainly see various snakes and perhaps some big monitor lizards too. Water levels may help to dictate whether or not you spot some vicious looking saltwater crocodiles who swim up into the fresh water river. If those enormous crocs are around, you may want to consider forgoing taking the kayaks out for a spin, which is otherwise offered complimentary at the lodge.
Yet perhaps the ultimate wildlife siting during a Kinabatangan River safari are the rare and endangered Borneo Pygmy Elephants. Our boatman claimed there hadn’t been any seen for months. So we were in absolutely awe when a mother and child pygmy elephant revealed themselves after rounding a river bend.
Where to Stay: Kinabatangan River on a Budget
We recommend a stay at the Nature Lodge Kinabatangan as one of the only river lodge packages you can book at affordable prices. A two-night stay at the Nature Lodge Kinabatangan includes a total of 5 full meals, 4 river cruises, 1 guided hike, and transfers to & from Kota Kinabatangan.
Accommodation ranges from hostel beds to beautiful deluxe air conditioned units with basic and superior cabins falling somewhere in between those two extremes. We opted for the basic cabins with private bathroom ($62 pp/pn). We found the smallish fan-cooled huts to be clean & comfortable and we slept well after each day’s packed agenda.
Nature Lodge Kinabatangan Prices
The private cabins currently cost $64 per person, per night which is inclusive of all meals and activities over the course of the three days. We considered this to be incredible value; particularly considering that neighboring lodges were charging upwards to 5 times that amount for what seemed to be only slightly nicer accommodation.
Be aware that the Nature Lodge Kinabatangan offers different prices through various agencies and websites. We located the lowest online prices for Nature Lodge Kinabatangan on hostelworld.com. Check it for current pricing, but at time of writing prices worked out to $43 per night for hostel bed (including meals and tours). For a private room, you’re looking at $64 per person, per night for a superior cabin (including meals and tours). So that comes to about $86 per night for the room and $172 total for the 3 days, 2 nights with all your food and activities covered in that price.
Interestingly, the prices on hostelworld were slightly cheaper than when booking using the link listed directly on the Nature Lodge Kinabatangan website. (Update: it is currently not possible to book directly on their website.) Meanwhile, somewhat strangely, the rates on hotels.com and other booking sites are ridiculously priced at more than double all other rates, nearly $500! You can price compare yourself, but needless to say, it certainly makes the most sense to book this on hostelworld.
Worthy Splurges on the Kinabatangan River
We recommend the private cabin to save a few bucks. But depending on your comfort level and budget, it may be worth the splurge for a larger superior cabin or the modern deluxe cabin that includes A/C. Even at the relatively high price of $94 per person per night, you’re still coming in far less than most all other lodges on the Kinabatangan River.
Did you find this article helpful? Pin this to your travel Pinterest board!: