After breakfast, we checked out at Sepilok Jungle Resort and were met by our lovely guide Elod again and commenced the journey to Bilit. it was a fair trek into the jungle (not unexpected) but the devastation of jungle by palm oil plantations was a raw sight. Farmers make much more money selling palm oil to the world than traditional farming in the jungle. As a consequence vast areas of jungle have been replaced by palm oil plantations which have destroyed the natural habitat for the orangutan as well as many other jungle inhabitants. It so sad to see.
As we trekked through the jungle to get to Gomangtong cave and came across two orangutan (a mother and baby) who had come down from the jungle to camp on a store room platform. The tree next to the platform was in full fruit with pomelo and they were enjoying a bounty. It was such a rare sight and our guide was beside himself. We got as close as we dared for some quick photos with the instruction to run quickly if he indicated!
Gomangtong Cave (admission RM30 – ours was included)
We visited this cave as it is famous for swift nests – a delicacy in Asia and eaten on special occasions and festivals. (It’s expensive!). Swifts take anything from 4-6 months to build a nest and the caves are protected with security, both inside and out, from opportunistic thieves. The next harvesters use a series of rope ladders to collect the nests high up on the cave ceiling and walls. White nests are the most valuable.
Our guide warned us about the smell, to be careful not to slip on the walkway and don’t hold the handrail. It was good advice. Anyone who has seen the David Attenborough film where he is standing on a pile of bat shit in a dark cave will have a good understanding of what this was. Grim. The walkway was covered in faecal matter, as was the handrail and in fact everything in the cave. How the security lived in such surroundings is unfathomable. The smell was overpowering. You start to assess your life choices at the point when the guide tells you there are millipedes that have a paralysing venom around us and the likelihood of being bitten, falling into batshit and being eaten slowly by cockroaches whilst paralysed is a dawning realisation. We upped the pace, took a few pics and exited the caves as quickly as we good to breathe the clean fresh air of the jungle.
We arrived at Bilit and made the short crossing by boat to our jungle lodge just in time for lunch. After a good lunch we checked into our cabins and relaxed, taking in the beautiful jungle surroundings.
Following afternoon tea (yes, really!) we boarded the small low lying boats for an afternoon, river cruise to see wildlife & birds gather along the Kinabatangan River. Thankfully the river was in flood so crocodiles weren’t lurking but this did make it very difficult to take photos of the wildlife. The boat captain did a fabulous job of spotting wildlife and bringing the boat as close as possible to enable some photos. Thankfully the zoom on my new camera is pretty decent.
As the light began to fade we headed back to the Adventure lodge for dinner and a relaxing evening in the jungle.
A very early morning start for tea at 5:45am and a morning river cruise at 6am with more animal and bird spotting. Following breakfast we planted a tree. The tree sapling was the type orangutang favour. We each painted a board with our name, date and country of origin. A small contribution to helping the fight against deforestation. After this we headed into the jungle for a guided jungle walk to the riverine forest and a trek back to Bilit Lodge. By 9:30am we had already done a lot! We headed back to our rooms for a much needed shower (it was very hot) and a nap before lunch. After lunch we had another river cruise to see more wildlife. Back in time for dinner and our second night at Bilit Adventure Lodge.
Missed the early morning boat safari in favour of taking pics of the troop of silver leaf monkeys in the resort. It was amazing listening to their calls and watching them leap through branches and trees.
After breakfast we departed Bilit for the long return journey to Sandakan. We had our lunch en route…at 11am as our flight was at lunchtime. Elod woke the restaurant into action and we took takeaway boxes. It was delicious…but as we felt like we had only just eaten breakfast and had ordered meals on the plane – this was a difficult meal to fit in. (I couldn’t actually touch the second plane meal as I had already eaten three times by then and felt like a barrel!).
This was a truly memorable holiday with precious time spent with my twin. An unforgettable experience.
Sandakan Airport (SDK)
Jalan Airport, Sandakan, SABAH, MY, 90719
(The airport is also a major tourism gateway for visitors turtle watching during peak seasons in July and September.)
Sepilok Jungle Resort
Address: Mile 14, Jalan Rambutan, Sepilok, 90000 Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia
Phone: +60 89-533 051
Bilit Adventure Lodge
Address: Bilit Adventure Lodge, Kampung Bilit, Kinabatangan River Sabah, 90000, Malaysia
Phone: +60 89-271 077
We booked through the Bamba Experience:
Tours & transfers, English speaking guide (the amazingly attentive and knowledgeable Elod), meals (all buffet), accommodation based on twin sharing(single supplement was extra), park entrance fees.
Airfares, camera fees, beverages and tips (which are RM50 a day (min) for a guide, RM50 per stay for restaurant staff, maids, drivers etc), travel insurance (although licensed guides are also insured if their guests have accidents) and The Tourism Tax Act 2017 fees as all foreigner and tourists are subject to a government tax of RM10 per room/per night (it is collected separately when you check in).
What to take with you:
Raincoat (wet season Nov-Feb), cap/hat, insect repellent (lots of it – it is the jungle and mosquitoes love to bite), sun cream, good walking shoes, socks, (leech socks are available for sale), a pair of sandals, torch light (or your phone’s torch), phone charger, comfortable cotton Tshirt (Decathlon sports shirts were ideal whereas polo shirts just stank in the end), long trousers, shorts, binoculars (if you have them), a good camera with zoom (or you’ll cry at the missed photo ops from the boat), personal toiletries (they don’t provide shampoo etc – just a wall mounted soap dispenser) and medications (anti histamines for those pesky mosquitoes).