The Sabah Loop: KK to Sepilok

It’s January 12 and we are still sitting in the marina at KK. We are waiting for an engine part from Canada, and I am once again playing catch-up on the blog. Over the next couple of days, I’m going to blitz you with a bunch of photos. These are from our road trip around Sabah that happened way back in November.

November 10, 2018: We had meant to spend a week doing a bunch of paint touchups on MOKEN with the help of our painter friend Oliver from Subic, but as that didn’t work out, we decided to make time for an extended road trip instead. We still had our rental car for another week, so we packed kitty off to the cat hotel and headed out to see some more of Sabah (formerly North Boreno). Our plan was to circle Sabah on a 1,200 kilometer loop.

Day one took us up and over the Crocker Range again, past the entrance to Kinabalu National Park and onto the road between Ranau to Sandikan. With Remembrance Day just a day away, we found ourselves on the route of the Sandakan Death March. As prisoners of the Japanese occupying forces during World War II, more than 2,345 Australian and British troops were forced to trek 260 kilometres from a POW camp at Sandakan on the coast, through dense jungle and up into the mountains to a second camp at Ranau. Only six men, all of whom had managed to escape from their captors, survived the march. As we sat in air conditioned comfort while driving through an intense rain squall, it was impossible for us to even begin to imagine the horrendous conditions which they were forced to suffer en route. Leaches would probably have been the least of their worries.

Mid morning, we decided to stop at the Sabah Tea Plantation. After paying our respects at a memorial to the fallen soldiers, a brisk walk along a muddy trail through the tea plants and a quick browse through the gift shop where I couldn’t resist buying some loose leaf oolong tea, we were back on our way.

The rest of the drive wound through the mountain for a time before coming out into lower lying land. We found ourselves back in palm oil territory. A sea of palm trees from horizon to horizon. I still find it hard to wrap my head around it. Mile after mile after mile of palm trees with nothing growing beneath them. The only breaks in the endless palm were freshly clearcut plantations that looked like red scars in a sea of green. These would be terraced and planted with new palm trees. It was all quite shocking really.

It was a relief to take a break from all that palm when we stopped for a late lunch at a small roadside Indian restaurant and ordered freshly made roti and chicken curry.

From here, we weren’t too far from our first destination. We arrived at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre with plenty of time before the afternoon feeding. Along with a couple dozen other tourists, we oohed over juvenile orangutans frolicking in the outdoor nursery, we aahed as we watched the adult orangutans and other assorted primates at the feeding platform, and we sighed over cellphone toting primates as they jostled for prime photo opportunities, took endless selfies and ignored all the signs requesting silence.

The sanctuary itself is one of the few really good examples of old growth forest and jungle left in the entire area and the orangutans are free to come and go as they please. Many of the inhabitants are being rehabilitated from life as pets or were found injured out in the palm oil plantations or near the roads. Some will be candidates for release into the wild; others will not. I’m not usually a big fan of wildlife viewing in manufactured settings like this, but with so few orangutans left in the wild, this was quite likely going to be our only encounter with them in Borneo.


If only our good Nikon camera hadn’t chosen today to pack it in. Luckily Chris was able to figure out how to get it working again, although the shutter continued to stick open from time to time, overexposing a fair few number of photos in the process. Luckily we still managed to get a few nice close-ups.

After our orangutan encounter, we drove 100 metres down the road to our overnight accommodations, the Sepilok Nature Resort. We were given a very nice, private chalet overlooking the lake and surrounded by stunning gardens. It was a good place to relax and unwind after all that driving. Apparently some guests have had orangutan encounters here too, as the resort backs onto the reserve.

Stay tuned for day two of the Sabah Loop.



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