Borneo: Exploring More Than Just Orangutans with G Adventures

Let’s be honest — seeing orangutans in their natural habitat is reason enough to take a trip to Borneo. But guess what? There’s so much more to explore on the third largest island in the world. Read on as Richard Kitzinger, a travel writer and a seven-time G Adventures traveler, shares the highlights of our Borneo – East Sabah Adventure. This journey marked his return to travel writing since the pandemic, and we’re excited to share his experience with you.


We’re in a speedboat, cruising along the Kinabatangan River, when we suddenly spot a pure white egret taking off from a branch and flying to another one. We follow its gaze and, to our amazement, discover a family of proboscis monkeys in a tree.

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These monkeys are quite comical-looking creatures. The males have long fleshy noses (which is why they are called proboscis monkeys), while the females have shorter noses. Either way, they always seem to have a surprised expression. We stay with these entertaining monkeys for a while before heading back to the lodge for dinner.

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This is my first time experiencing the Bornean jungle, and during the few hours we spend on the water, we witness the playful behavior of long-tailed macaques, pig-tailed macaques, and silvered leaf langurs. We also spot four different species of hornbill. Our Chief Experience Officer (CEO) Albert declares, “We are lucky. Very lucky.”

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During our welcome meeting in Kota Kinabalu, Albert asked everyone what they were hoping to see the most on this tour. The majority mentioned wildlife, especially orangutans, pygmy elephants, proboscis monkeys, and turtles. Albert mentions that there are no guarantees, but it seems like the jungle gods are favoring us.

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When our goal is to spot wildlife, I believe that research and a good guide certainly increase our chances of success. However, it ultimately depends on weather conditions and luck. Luckily, the East Sabah Adventure covers all the bases, offering different destinations and opportunities to see Sabah’s unique plants and animals.

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We have three river cruises planned, and after one of them, the travelers in another boat excitedly tell us that they just saw an orangutan in a tree. Without hesitation, Albert and our guide have us put on our life jackets and head back out on the water. It turns out that we not only see one orangutan, but a mother and her baby, who is perhaps a year old. While the mother leisurely eats figs from the tree, the little one entertains us with stretches, swinging practice, and the most adorable facial expressions.

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Later, on a jungle hike, we catch sight of the same orangutan and her baby. During our hike, we also encounter fascinating creepy crawlies like pill bugs and giant millipedes, which I thought only existed in Roald Dahl stories. Some of us have encounters with leeches, causing some pain and bleeding. Despite that, it was worth it, considering how much we talked about it later that evening.

Orangutans are synonymous with Borneo, but there’s so much more. I’m captivated by a rhinoceros hornbill flying across the Kinabatangan River and perching on a tree. Its large red horn above its yellow bill is reminiscent of a rhino’s horn. We also spot an estuarine crocodile swimming alongside us, at a safe distance, thankfully.

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One of the highlights for many of us is a jungle hike where we come across dung and footprints belonging to the world’s smallest elephant species, the Borneo pygmy elephant. We encounter a herd and enjoy their trumpeting and affectionate behavior. Something seems to be bothering them because within minutes, it starts pouring rain. It amazes me how they sensed the impending thunderstorm before it caught us off guard.

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Another part of the tour takes us to the well-known Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre at Sepilok and the nearby Sun Bear Conservancy. In this 46-hectare forest, the primates live in a semi-wild environment and are fed twice daily on a platform in front of tourists. It’s amazing to see them up close, but it’s equally special to witness them in their natural habitats.

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Although we didn’t see sun bears in the jungle, it was still nice to see some of the rescued ones at Sepilok. Sun bears, listed as vulnerable, can be found in Borneo but are rarely spotted in the wild.

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Our wildlife encounters aren’t limited to the jungle. We spend a night on Pulau Libaran, one of the islands where hawksbill and green sea turtles lay their eggs. Luckily, we get to witness the release of forty baby turtles that hatched earlier in the afternoon. For some of us, this is the most memorable wildlife moment of the trip.

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That’s the beauty of Borneo. While we all come with the hope of seeing orangutans, there are countless other unique creatures to discover. From the smallest crimson sunbird to pygmy elephants, and from turtle hatchlings to sun bears, we all leave with incredible photos and memories of these extraordinary animals.


Getting there

Ready to explore the Bornean jungle and encounter its diverse wildlife? Here are a few ways you can join us on a small group tour:

Borneo – East Sabah Adventure
Best of Borneo
Highlights of Sabah & Mt Kinabulu

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