The Sandakan airport – in the province of Sabah located in East Malaysia on the island of Borneo – is very small. By small, I mean – the entire boarding area/both gates are contained in one room. There is one x-ray machine and one line for security, but it only took about 3 minutes to get through. You land and take off on the only runway.
The runway was started by prisoners of war captured in Borneo by the Japanese in World War II for the Japanese to use as a military airstrip. Of 2,434 POW’s held in the Sandakan prison compound, only six – who had escaped – survived. The government later finished the runway and opened the airport, as a memorial to those whose lives were taken.
After arriving at this airport in Sandakan on Monday, we enjoyed the afternoon and evening at and around the very nice Sheraton Fourpoints Hotel. Tuesday morning, we started on our Borneo Adventure. We had booked a 2.5 day/2 night trip with Borneo Adventures to see some of the jungles of Sabah. (I highly recommend them if you are in Borneo.)
Eddy picked up an older British couple and us from the hotel in a van at 8am and we drove about 40 minutes to the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. Since the 1960’s this rehabilitation center has worked with over 730 orangutans to prepare them to be released into the wild. Some were pets, or animals that had been in captivity, others lost their habitat do to land being developed or natural disasters.
Currently, there are about 50 orangutans at the sanctuary. On a large piece of land, the apes run free. We visited the outdoor nursery where about 6 young orangutans played on ropes and equipment designed like a playground for them. They learn to interact and socialize, and also skills necessary for survival.
We then went to the feeding platform where we were able to see 4-5 adult orangutans snack on bananas, sugar cane and some veggies.
Then we drove back to Sim Sim water-town which is just north of Sandakan. Sim Sim water-town is one of the nicer water-towns around the Sandakan area of Sabah. We were told they have running water as well as electricity; however, they are lacking a proper sewage system. This means that any waste goes straight into the sea.
On our way to the Orangutan Sanctuary, we were informed that the government has built affordable housing (approx 150 ringgit per month or $40-45 USD) to try to get people to move out of the water villages. With so many people (around 300,000) occupying very small spaces on the water, waste has become a huge issue. Not only human waste that goes into the sea, but all trash is thrown into the water. There is a huge problem with pollution and garbage filling the water all around Sandakan. It was sad to see all the trash, but also it is their way of life.
From there we got on a boat which transferred us to Abai Jungle Lodge. The boat and our new guide Albert took us around the outside of Borneo, to the mouth of the Kinabatangan River where we continued upstream to our lodge.
Here you can follow the path of our journey, the red line is where the ferry took us on the first day – to Abai Jungle Lodge.
Along the way, we were able to spot some proboscis monkeys chilling in a tree by the river. Lunch was served at the lodge, then we checked in and had some time to explore.