For this last trip I decided I wanted to see Orangutans or more specifically my son to see them before there were no more Orangutans to visit. I investigated the easiest options for doing this and since I didn’t want to just see them in a zoo, Kuching in Malaysian Borneo seemed the best spot to base ourselves in. We flew to Singapore and then from Singapore to Kuching with Air Asia.
In Kuching we stayed in the Grand Margherita Hotel which is in a stunning position, we had a room overlooking the beautiful river setting. The hotel is perfectly located for morning sunrise walks along the river side (if your child should happen to get up ready to start the day at 4am every day due to the time difference.)…. The rooms are very reasonably priced and well suited to families with connecting rooms available. There is a small playground at the hotel and a swimming pool. Breakfasts were great with an abundance of variety with a great mix of western favourites and asian options. My son was given an extra muffin every morning to take away with him by the staff which made for a handy mid morning snack. There is a convenience store walking distance away and a shopping centre almost opposite the hotel with department stores and a supermarket etc. The walkway along the river has great quality footpaths so very easy for prams to get around.
We visited the Matang Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre which cares for rescued Sun Bears and Orangutans. This place is a bit upsetting but they do great work. There are some Gibbons and Orangutans in cages that are quite small while they are waiting for more permanent accommodations but they are doing the best the can with the funds they have available.
You can take a river taxi to the other bank of the river or pay for a boat tour with one of the local tour operators in a traditional Sarawak River boat which will take you up and down the river to see the scenery and view the river villages.
To see Orangutans or hopefully see Orangutans we hired a driver to take us to Semenggoh Nature Reserve. The Orangutans here are wild but have their food supplemented by the rangers of the park so they come and go as they choose, if their natural food sources get low they will turn up for some fruits provided by the park, if their natural food supply is in abundance they may not show up for days. The reserve also has a breeding program and cares for and rehabilitates rescued animals.
So our day to visit the Orangutans arrives, we make the drive out with a very excited 3 year old. I have tried to manage his expectations and explain that they are wild animals and may not come to see us today, but we have a few spare days up our sleeve and will come back again if today is not successful. He tells me with absolute certainty and conviction that they are coming to see him. We have been practicing being silent, I was worried he would yell with excitement if and when he saw an Orangutan.
We enter the park and are given a talk about the rules and regulations by the rangers. The Orangutans have not been seen for nearly a week so they explain the refund system to us as its likely no animals will show. All the same, they put the fruit out for the primates on platforms in the trees, call loudly through the forest to the Orangutans, then we wait. We wait around 30 minutes with no sign of them. Suddenly, one of the rangers radios our group to say one animal has shown up back at base, the large male. Everyone rushes back to hopefully get a glimpse of the big guy. As we arrive some females turn up my son sees them swing through the trees and instantly bursts into tears, he is so overwhelmed at seeing them. We feel so lucky to have seen these 3 Orangutans, the big boss male named Richie and two females. We watch them for a long time from quite a distance and just as its time to leave we hear that there is an Orangutan in the car park where our car is parked. We head back to our car and sure enough, there, just above the roof are a group of Orangutans including babies. The babies are exquisite, they are playful and cheeky and my son is in love. We saw 8 Orangutans in total and left feeling so very very lucky to have seen any let alone so many. If you are visiting Semenggoh with very small children ditch the stroller in favour of a baby carrier, you need to walk forest paths that are in no way pram friendly.
Next we moved up to Damai Beach Resort at the base of Mount Santubong. This Resort is virtually opposite the Sarawak Cultural Village but that’s about it for neighbours. There are a few small food businesses and souvenir stores in the shopping area next door including a small 7-11 for water and basics but choices are very limited. If you need something, bring it with you. The resort has several pools and nice kids club with tree houses and play equipment. The main activities on offer at this resort are swimming and relaxation.
Sarawak Cultural Village was great, this living museum showcases the tribal diversity of the region and shows the architecture, music, arts and practices of each of Sarawak’s major tribes, the village is actually inhabited by around 150+ people going about their daily village lives. The absolute highlight was the cultural performance, be sure not to miss it, also try out the dart blowing for a laugh. Tour the Long houses and try out different foods in some or see musical instruments being made (and have a go playing) in others, or participate in games and dancing. Before arriving I wasn’t sure how long a 3 year old’s attention span would last but he loved the experience, he enjoyed seeing people in their traditional costumes and loved checking out each of the Longhouses, especially that of the headhunter tribes.
Kuching is a beautiful city, we felt very safe walking around, we weren’t hassled at all anywhere. The pace is very relaxed, the food was lovely and if your kids are fussy and needing something familiar the regular western fastfood restaurants are available, as were plenty of bakeries and coffee shops serving the basics for littlies.
I really really enjoyed Kuching and seeing my little guys face when he spotted the Orangutans made the whole trip worthwhile. Its a memory I will never forget. There are tonnes of wonderful national parks to visit in the area, the hard part is choosing which suit you and what you are looking for (and how old/fit your kids are.) I highly recommend a trip to Sarawak if you’re in this part of the world.