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Seek Sophie Magazine

Tags: Indonesia, Malaysia, Kinabatangan River Safari, Danum Valley Trek, Ketambe Orangutan Trek, Tips,

Want to see Orangutans? Here are the 4 top places

Here are our hot spots for spotting the great red ape in Malaysia and Indonesia

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If you are planning a trip to South East Asia, seeing the endangered Orangutan in its natural habitat is a must-do. We're not talking about the reserves or the sanctuaries - while many of these claim they're set up in the name of conservation, many of them have some dubious practices which allow tourists to get too close to the orangutans, or which don't actually release the orangutans back in the wild. We're talking about seeing the majestic orangutans in their natural habitat, where they swing from tree to tree, and you need a trained eye to spot them as they whizz past abovehead. 

To see these incredible creatures at their most wild and free, there are a few places you can choose from - here's our cheat sheet! 

1. Kinabatangan River Safari (Malaysia)

This one is a favourite of ours because not only can you see orangutans but also plenty of other unique wildlife such as pygmy elephants and proboscis monkeys. And you can see all of this without breaking a sweat - just by sitting back in the comfort of a motorized boat.

This trip is ideal for families with young children, travellers with limited mobility, or anyone in absolute need to see Borneo’s animal life, as this trip provides the greatest likelihood of spotting the otherwise elusive pygmy elephants and orangutans. 

How to get there: You will need to get to Kota Kinabalu, from there catch a quick 45 minute flight to Sandakan. Once in Sandakan it is about a 2 hour drive to Sukau or Bilit, the river villages where the lodges are located. The drive from the airport to Sukau/Bilit is typically organised by the lodge/river safari guide.

Time to get there from KK: 45min flight to KK + 2 hour car drive

Physical intensity of activity: Very Low

Likelihood of spotting animals: Very High

Accommodation Comfort: From Very Basic to Very Comfortable

Price: $-$$

Book Kinabatangan River Safari 

2. Ketambe Orangutan Trek (Indonesia)

Trekking through the Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra Indoneisa is one of the most authentic explorer experiences. Searching for the red ape, craning your neck to spot them in the tall trees gives a true sense of adventure.

The journey is not too straining and the hike is suitable for beginner hikers, but you should enjoy being outdoors and camping.  The guesthouses in Ketambe are basic but comfortable.

How to get there: You will need to get to Medan, capital of Sumatran Island of Indonesia. There are a few international flights that fly there every day including from Singapore. From there it will be a fairly long but scenic car journey. 

Time to get there: It is a 6-8 hour drive from Medan, Sumatra in Indonesia.

Physical intensity of activity: Moderate to High 

Likelihood of spotting animals: Very High

Accommodation Comfort: From Very Basic (tents) to Comfortable (guesthouses) 

Price: $

Book Ketambe Orangutan Trek

3. Danum Valley Trek (Malaysia)

Borneo’s best-known name for a true rainforest experience, Danum Valley was one of the first areas to be declared a conservation area in Sabah. This legacy has helped to develop the trails and other visitor infrastructure such as comfortable accommodation. Danum Valley offers a variety of trails (varying in time and difficulty), including treetop bridges, means visitors have multiple perspectives. In addition to orangutans you can see Bornean gibbons and sun bears.

A visit to Danum Valley is good for beginner hikers, families with slightly older kids and generally those looking to make their NatGeo dreams come true. Both dormitory and private accommodation are available. 

How to get there: First you will need to fly to Kota Kinabalu and from there take a connecting flight to Lahad Datu (1 hour). From there it will be another 2 hours drive from the airport to Danum Valley Field Centre where your experience will begin.

Time to get there: from Kota Kinabalu it will be a 1 hour flight + 2 hour car drive

Physical intensity of activity: Low to Moderate

Likelihood of spotting animals: Moderate to High

Accommodation Comfort: From Basic to Comfortable 

Price: $$

Book Danum Valley Trek

4. Tanjung Puting River Cruise (Indonesia)

One of the remotest places in Borneo, Tanjung Puting provides for an adventurous way to see the big red ape while you float down the river in a klotok (boat house) for several days. The narrow Kumai River takes you across a thick jungle where the orangutans live. You also have a chance to get of the boat and go on short treks. This one allows you to get quite close to the animals. We don't have this cruise on Seek Sophie just yet unfortunately!

How to get there: First you will need to get to Pangkalan Bun, Kalimantan, Indonesia. From the airport it's about 2.5 hours boat ride to Tanjung Harapan and another two hours along the Sekonyer River to get to reach the Tanjung Puting National Park.

Time to get there: 5 hours boat ride from the airport

Physical intensity of activity: Low to Moderate

Likelihood of spotting animals: Very High

Accommodation Comfort: Basic

Price: $