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The Wilds of Borneo: Orangutans & Beyond

A Tropical Wildlife Quest in Search of Orangutans, Endangered Sea Turtles & More!
Day 1: Kuching, Borneo
Our adventure begins in Kuching, the capital of the East Malaysian state of Sarawak and the largest city on the island of Borneo. We transfer on arrival to our boutique hotel in the city's central district. Kuching is one of the most multicultural cities in Malaysia, melding an array of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Indonesian cultural groups and languages. 

Day 2: Kuching
Discover the charms of this riverfront city this morning as we embark on a tour of Kuching. We'll explore the mile-long waterfront promenade, walk among ancient Chinese temples, see historic buildings dating back to the days of the colonial rajahs, and enjoy vibrant street market scenes as vendors sell a bounty of produce that first brought traders to Borneo. We'll also visit the Sarawak Museum, opened in 1891 and one of the most famous in Southeast Asia, which houses an outstanding collection of Bornean ethnological and archaeological artifacts. Following our tour, we drive to the Sarawak Cultural Village, an award-winning "living museum" that sprawls over a 17-acre site at the foothills of Mount Santubong and showcases the region’s vibrant ethnic heritage. After lunch at a well-known local seafood restaurant, we'll tour the center and enjoy a multicultural dance performance in the village theater before returning to Kuching for a welcome dinner with our Expedition Leader.

Day 3: Bako National Park / Kuching
Embark on a short boat ride to Bako National Park, reachable only by sea on the tip of a peninsula where the Bako and Kuching rivers meet. Millions of years of erosion have carved the sandstone cliffs and rocky headlands into fantastically shaped arches and sea stacks, striated with colored layers formed by iron deposits. White sandy beaches sprawl below, while inland, the compact reserve abounds in wildlife. Spot proboscis monkeys in the trees along with long-tailed macaques, silvered leaf monkeys and numerous tropical bird species. A walk along the lush mangrove trails may also reveal hairy-nosed otters and Bornean bearded pigs. Though Bako is one of the smallest national parks in Sarawak, its multiple biomes harbor a great diversity of species. We'll explore the rain forest, jungle streams, waterfalls and secluded beaches along a network of established trails before returning to Kuching.

Day 4: Gunung Mulu National Park
Fly this morning to Gunung Mulu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that encompasses mountains draped in rain forest, deep canyons, wild rivers, and immense limestone caves, pinnacles and karst formations. The 210-square-mile tropical reserve contains an astounding 17 vegetation zones that harbor 3,500 different plant species—109 varieties of palms alone—and a profusion of animals. On a scenic walk through primary forest and peat swamp we reach spectacular Deer Cave, the world’s largest single cavern passage. This surreal natural wonder, sculpted by an ancient river and evocative of a moonscape, is about two miles long and 300 feet high and wide. The giant cave shelters millions of bats, which we may observe as they exit the cave en masse around sundown. We also visit Lang's Cave, featuring the park’s most magnificent limestone formations. A lacy array of stone shawls and forests of stalactites and stalagmites decorate the cave's interior, mirrored in crystalline pools on the cavern floor. 

Day 5: Mulu / Sandakan / Sepilok Nature Reserve
Travel up the milky, silt-laden waters of the Melinau River by longboat on an optional early-morning excursion to scout for local wildlife. Amidst the lush tropical jungle we keep an eye out for bearded pig, barking deer and mouse deer, as well as primates in the trees, including long-tailed macaques and gibbons. The small Malaysian sun bear—the only bear native to Southeast Asia—also lives here, though it is quite elusive. Among the park's diverse birdlife are eight different species of hornbills, including the rhinoceros hornbill featured on the Sarawak state emblem. Those who wish can also visit Wind Cave, with its impressive “King’s Chamber,” an enormous cavern filled with stalactites and stalagmites in intricate lace-like patterns. Later this morning we fly to Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, home of the endangered orangutan. The 10,000-acre protected area is named for the two rivers that flow through it. We stay on the very edge of the reserve surrounded by huge trees, lavish tropical plants and orchids in bloom.
Day 6: Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary / Sun Bear Conservation Center
Today we visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, established in 1964 to protect orphaned baby orangutans and rehabilitate them for return to the wild. Most of the orphans in the center's care have been seized from illegal captivity, after they have been taken as infants from their mothers to be kept as pets. Staff help them learn basic survival skills such as how to find food, build nests, and even climb trees. The center also aids adults that have sustained injuries or illness and require medical care before being returned to their natural habitat. Since the center was estab­lished, more than 100 orangutans have been successfully released. Its mission has also grown to include research, public education on conservation, and assistance to other endangered species such as captive breeding of rare and endangered rhinos. During our visit we'll see orphaned orangutans close up, hear from staff about the rehabilitation process, and hike on boardwalks through the rain forest, watching these charming youngsters swing from vines to feeding areas where they receive their daily fruit and milk. Keep an eye out, too, for long- and pig-tailed macaques leaping through the treetops.

Today we'll also visit the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center, founded in Sabah, Malaysia in 2008 to provide for the care, rehabilitation and release of orphaned and captive sun bears, and to increase awareness about the plight of this little-known bear. The Malayan sun bear, found only in Southeast Asia, is the world’s smallest bear species. While Borneo is a remaining stronghold for this vulnerable species, it is seriously threatened if not extinct in many areas of mainland Asia, where forest destruction and poaching have dramatically reduced its numbers. 

Day 7: Selingan Turtle Island
This morning we take a speedboat ride to Selingan Turtle Island, one of a group of uninhabited islands straddling the Malaysian and Philippine boundary in the Sulu Sea. As one of three main turtle nesting sites in Borneo, Selingan's long beaches and coastal mangroves are protected habitat for endangered green sea turtles pushed to the brink of extinction by trawling, coastal development and consumption. The island is the site of the first sea turtle hatchery in Malaysia, established in 1966.  We'll enjoy a relaxing afternoon of bird watching or snorkeling in the warm turquoise waters. Alongside rangers that patrol the beach, this evening we will have the rare opportunity to observe turtles swimming ashore to lay their eggs, and we may see tiny hatchlings as they are released into the sea. Eventually we retire to our chalets for the night—the only accommodations on the island—knowing we are among very few visitors to savor this special opportunity for an intimate encounter with the turtles. 

Days 8 & 9: Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary
Depart by boat for the dense mangrove forests of Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. The Kinabatangan River, at the center of the reserve, is the longest river in Sabah, Borneo, and provides a lifeline for a vital profusion of life inhabiting this rich ecosystem. The sanctuary is home to one of the highest wildlife concentrations in Southeast Asia—resident here are orangutan, proboscis and leaf monkeys, gibbon, macaque, pygmy elephant, wild boar, otter, river crocodile, monitor lizard and a great array of birdlife, including rhinoceros hornbill and kingfisher. Since palm oil plantations surround the reserve on all sides, it provides especially critical habitat for these species threatened by habitat loss through extensive development in the region. From our jungle lodge perched in a serene spot on the riverbank, we visit a nearby oxbow lake, take nature walks in the surrounding rain forest, and cruise up the Kinabatangan and Menanggul rivers by day and at dusk to view and hear nocturnal creatures such as crocodiles and night birds.

Days 10-12: Danum Valley
The Danum Valley Conservation Area is the largest area of undisturbed lowland forest in Sabah, with more than 200 species of trees that tower to 160 feet. This spectacular tract of ancient primary rain forest holds exceptional status in that before it received full protected status in 1995 there were no human settlements within the area, meaning that hunting, logging and other human activities were not present to disturb the habitat. Today, the nearest town, Lahad Datu, is still about two hours away via logging road. The Danum Valley, one of the planet's most complex ecosystems, harbors an astoundingly diverse array of flora and fauna and is home to a host of wildlife including clouded leopard, Bornean pygmy elephant, Sumatran rhino, orangutan and proboscis monkeys. Enjoy the lavish tropical vegetation and colorful flora as we traverse elevated walkways through the canopy and hike along the broad network of nature trails that surrounds our secluded lodge. On evening drives in open safari-style vehicles, we experience the rain forest’s multitude of inhabitants from a unique perspective.

Day 13: Danum Valley / Lahad Datu / Kota Kinabalu
This morning, enjoy an easy nature hike or a birdwatching outing on the canopy walkway. Here in the heights of the trees we may spy great slaty woodpeckers, black-and-red broadbills and giant pittas, among the multitude of species that flourish here. We then transfer by road to Lahad Datu where we depart by plane to Kota Kinabalu. This afternoon is free to explore the lively street market just outside our hotel. Our tropical adventure comes to a close this evening with a farewell dinner.

Day 14: Depart
Transfer to the airport this morning for your departing flight.

Physical Rating: Moderate to Difficult

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