Pitchers & Primates
From pristine jungle to captivating wildlife, few destinations can match the visual magnificence of Malaysian Borneo.
Start your journey in Kota Kinabalu before heading inland to the hot springs and tea plantations around Mount Kinabalu. Continue east to the wetlands of the Lower Kinabatangan, embarking on river cruises in search of the elusive pygmy elephant or Borneo river shark before visiting Sepilok to learn how orphaned orangutans are rehabilitated back into the wild. Spend time in Labuk Bay and Sandakan before ending your trip on the beautiful beaches of Kota Kinabalu & its unspoilt offshore islands. Swim among colourful fish, watch baby green turtles take their tentative first steps and relax on tropical beaches.
- International Flights: International return flights from UK to Kota Kinabalu (BKI)
- Domestic Flights: Domestic return flights from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan (SDK)
- Transport: Private guided transfers
- Activities: Guided Mount Kinabalu hike, tea plantation tour, hot springs, guided mangrove cruise, visit to Kampung Abai indigenous village, oxbow lake cruise, night cruise, Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, Tunku Abdul Rahman snorkelling
- Accommodation: 11 nights in rainforest lodges & hotels including 3 nights in a 5* beach hotel
- Meals: All breakfasts, 3 lunches and 3 dinners
- Trip Pack: Key family-friendly information about the country you are visiting with recommended activity links, places to eat and fun facts
- Join a guided trek through the lush foothills of Kinabalu National Park, enjoy a well-earned soak at Poring hot springs and witness Mt Kinabalu in all its dawn glory
- Stay in a rainforest lodge among the magnificent mangrove’s & wildlife of the Lower Kinabatangan
- Cruise to an oxbow lake, learn the ways of life of an indigenous fishing village and enjoy night hikes through the rainforest
- Watch baby orangutans and feeding time at the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary
- Enjoy museums, tea gardens and night markets in Sandakan
- Swim & snorkel the tropical atolls of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park
- Stay up late to see newly hatched baby turtles being released into the sea
- When can we go? All year-around
- What type of tour is it? Private family tour with guided transfers & activities
- Who is it suitable for? For Indiana Jones crusaders, jungle lovers, wildlife connoisseurs and active families with a penchant for underwater exploration
- What is the minimum age? We would recommend a minimum age of 8 years for this trip but this is just a guide; our itineraries can be adapted, no problem, for families with younger children
We publish ‘guideline prices’ for both the high and low season to give a reasonable estimate of what you might expect to pay per person based on a family of four (two adults, two children). To get an accurate price based on your estimated departure date and party size please contact us directly
Guide Price: Jan to Dec - £2,158pp
After your flight arrival from the UK, transfer to Kota Kinabalu where you can acclimatise to the country’s colourful assault on your senses. Known locally as KK, Kota Kinabalu is a dynamic city with a blend of cultures resulting in a unique mixture of architecture, technology and traditions. If time allows you may like to visit the Masjid Sabah, one of the biggest mosques in Malaysia, the Sabah Museum, shaped to resemble a Rungut Longhouse or the Monsopiad Cultural Village.
In the evening, if you would like to experience the true mana of the city head to the smoky stalls of the food markets or sip tea in a quirky cafe before watching sunset with the locals on the city’s boardwalk. Selamat datang!
Fun Facts: The Malay word for “fort” or “city” is Kota. A direct translation of the name ‘Kota Kinabalu’ into English is therefore ‘City of Kinabalu’.
Optional Activities: Sabah museum, Monsopiad cultural village
After being picked up from your hotel, you will be whisked straight into Sabah’s lush countryside. Pass by vibrant green paddy fields laced with rustic local villages before taking a walk on the famous “Jambatan Tamparuli” suspension bridge. Continue your intrepid journey along the Crocker Range, before a brief stop at the local handicraft market, eventually emerging at Malaysia’s first ever UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kinabalu National Park.
Mount Kinabalu is, at a minimum, astounding, a magical place that is difficult to define, changeless yet ever changing. Towering above the clouds, twisted granite shards peek through the lingering mist to create a Lost World atmosphere. Kinabalu National Park is also home to an enticing list of world-record holders; the world's biggest moth, biggest stick bug, biggest orchid… All residing happily amongst the vocal birdlife such as the ashy drongo and the chestnut-capped laughing thrush.
This afternoon take a guided walk along the nature trails in the botanical gardens, learning about carnivorous pitcher plants and rare orchid species. If you are feeling especially daring, Mount Kinabalu also boasts the world’s highest via ferrata, a breath-taking 12,000ft route over sheer rock face to the jungle below. Afterwards, continue on a 1-hour drive to the Sabah Tea Estate where you spend the evening in a charming cottage set amidst the foothills of Mount Kinabalu.
Fun Facts: In previous centuries, local Dusun tribes believed Kinabalu was the resting place for their ancestors’ spirits; its name translates as ‘the revered place of the dead’.
Included Activities: Jambatan Tamparuli suspension bridge, Nabalu handicraft market, botanical gardens guided tour
Optional Activities: Via Ferrata
Wake up to a misty morning ushering in views of the sun-draped Mount Kinabalu. After breakfast, take a tour of the colonial-era tea factory learning about tea cultivation, harvesting, processing, packaging and brewing. The guides at the plantation are especially keen on jungle survival skills if your children would like to learn how to survive in the wild.
After your tour, head to Poring Hot Springs, where steaming sulphurous water has been channelled into Japanese-styled open-air tubs. It is a lush, beautiful place, famous for its bamboo, fruit trees, hibiscus and spectacular gingers. A soak in one of the tubs is great fun if you can put up with the eggy smell! Wrap up today with an immersive exploration of Mount Kinabalu’s treetops. The Canopy Treetop Walk forms a 175m length walkway suspended 60 meters above the lush jungle vines. Keep an eye out for some rare feathered beauties.
After an epic day, return to your hotel in Kota Kinabalu for the evening.
Fun Facts: Kinabalu Park boasts an estimated 4,500 species of plants, 289 species of birds and 290 different types of butterflies.
Included Activities: Guided tour of Sabah Tea Estates, Poring hot springs, canopy treetop walk
This morning, take a short flight from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan. You will be met at the airport and transferred to Sandakan harbour for your 1½ hour boat ride into the wilderness of the Lower Kinabatangan. This area, in the heart of one of the richest eco-systems on the planet is surrounded by pristine freshwater swamps, lowland rainforest and mangrove forest.
After some local coffee and banana fritters, hop on a cruise to spot crocodiles basking in the afternoon sun or silver leaf and maroon langurs frolicking by the river bank. Superstar species such as the wild orangutan, Borneo river shark and pygmy elephants can also be spotted within this area. After dinner, geared with your headlamp, take a stroll along the boardwalks to watch the dancing fireflies or any other wildlife that may emerge after dark. A magical, memorable experience.
Fun Facts: The Kinabatangan River is the second longest river in Malaysia, with a length of 560 km.
Included Activities: Wildlife cruise, night hike
Take an early morning cruise to the nearby ox-bow lake, Danau Pitas, keeping your eyes peeled for any animals heading to the banks for a drink. The lakes are also prime fishing territory for river otters and flat-headed cats. Afterwards, visit the local fishing village of Kampung Abai to meet the local Orang Sungai (people of the river) and observe their daily activities. This indigenous community survives on river fish, locally grown veg, saved rainwater and solar energy.
In the afternoon, set off on another epic river adventure. With any luck you will be able to see hornbills flying from tree to tree, kingfishers perching on the branches and female proboscis monkeys hanging from a vine feeding their infants. After dinner, set off on a night cruise along the tiny tributaries in search of nocturnal wildlife before freshening up for dinner and letting the cicadas sing you to sleep.
Fun Facts: As a gift to the Sultan of Sulu, many speculated that the pygmy elephants of Borneo were shipped from Sumatra. It was not until DNA testing took place that scientists realized these animals were a separate wild population.
Included Activities: Oxbow lake cruise, visit to Kampung Abai indigenous village, wildlife observation cruise, night cruise
After breakfast you will be transferred by boat back to Sandakan Harbour and onto the Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary at Labuk Bay. It is here a local palm-plantation owner has created a private proboscis monkey sanctuary, enticing the floppy-conked locals with sugar-free pancakes several times a day. An estimated 300 wild monkeys live in the 6sq km reserve. The remarkable males sport large dangling noses, flat-top hairstyles and pot bellies.
Afterwards you will be transferred to the beautiful village of Sepilok which will be your base for the next two nights. Hidden amongst a veritable treasure trove of tropical trees and spectacular orchids, this village is within walking distance of the world-famous Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve. As night falls you might like to enjoy dinner overlooking the lake, surrounded by wildlife.
Fun Facts: Scientists think male proboscis monkeys use their fleshy, pendulous noses to attract mates. These outsize organs create an echo chamber that amplifies the monkey’s call, impressing females and intimidating rival males.
Included Activities: Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary
After breakfast, visit the nearby Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. Known across the world for its exceptional work with our orange-furred friends, the sanctuary covers over 40sq km of lush, dense rainforest, and exists for the rehabilitation of orphaned and injured orangutans. The animals are kept in the sanctuary until they are fit to be released back into the wild. You will get the opportunity to watch baby orangutans mastering their climbing skills before swinging down for banana feeding time. A sure-fire holiday highlight!
Afterwards we would also recommend visiting the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre, located just around the corner from the Orangutan Sanctuary. The Malayan Sun Bear, the smallest of all bears, were once widely found across much of Asia but their numbers have drastically decreased. The centre aims to promote conservation of these fascinating animals ultimately aiming to return them to their natural habitat.
In the evening we would suggest joining a night walk at the Rainforest Discovery Centre. Along the way you may spot tarsiers, slow loris, civets, flying squirrels and all other manner of night critters. The exhibit hall features child-friendly displays, whilst the botanical garden showcases tropical plants. There are also a series of canopy towers connected by walkways giving you an incredible bird's-eye view of the forest rooftop.
Fun Facts: The male orangutan’s cheeks grow puffier with age. They’re called flanges and apparently, the lady orangutans find them irresistible.
Included Activities: Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary
Optional Activities: Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre, Rainforest Discovery Centre
You will be picked up after breakfast and transferred back to Sandakan. The remainder of your day will be free for you to relax or explore a little bit of the city. You could visit the Sandakan Memorial Park, a beautiful rainforest garden marking the site of a Japanese POW camp or the Agnes Keith House, an atmospheric two-storey wooden villa, and former British colonial quarters, now renovated as a museum.
For lunch we would recommend the ‘English Tea House & Restaurant’, a beautiful stucco-pillared villa, complete with manicured croquet lawn, wood-blade fans and wicker chairs and for dinner the ‘Ba Lin Roof Garden’, a hidden treat located above an hotel, with retro paper light shades, and swallow-you-up couches.
Fun Facts: Agnes Newton Keith lived in Sabah from 1934 until after World War Two, accompanying her husband Harry Keith who was Conservator of Forests. She recorded her experiences of life in Sabah in her beautifully written, three-part autobiography.
Optional Activities: Sandakan Memorial Park, Agnes Keith House
On the morning of Day 9, you will be transferred to Sandakan airport for your short flight back to Kota Kinabalu. From here you will be met and transferred to the beautiful Kota Kinabalu coast where you can spend your final three days relaxing. Find a quiet spot and laze in a hammock, or head out to sea armed with your snorkel gear.
Fun Facts: The Giant Frog Fish, mimic octopus, the rare ornate ghost pipefish and a wide range of nudibranch are just some of the tantalising marine life you can find in the waters around Borneo.
Just a 30-minute boat ride away is the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. Comprising five tropical atolls scattered over 5,000 hectares, this park is teeming with an embarrassment of underwater riches - the walking catfish being a particular highlight! The islands are well-known for their snorkelling and diving with seasonal plankton blooms attracting some of the signature species of the tropics such as stingrays, barracudas, green turtles and whale sharks. You might also like to visit the Marine Ecology Centre or Turtle Rescue Centre on Pulau Gaya or tiny Pulau Sulug, a wooded islet fringed by a perfect comma of white sand. Families craving a little more adventure might like to try the inter-island zipline or a kayaking trip around the picturesque bays.
From your beach resort base you could also visit a cultural village to learn about the traditions of Borneo’s indigenous ethnic groups. Witness blow-pipe shooting, fire-starting and turning tree barks into traditional warrior vests, with the opportunity for rice-wine tasting before a live ethnic dance performance. You also have the opportunity to take on the exhilarating rapids of the Kiulu river on a white-water rafting trip.
Fun Facts: The offshore island of Pulau Tiga is where the first series of Survivor was shot.
Included Activities: Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park boat trip
Optional Activities: Marine Ecology Centre, Turtle Rescue Centre, kayaking, inter-island zipline, Mari Mari cultural village
Your trip comes to an end after breakfast. It is time to say goodbye to the mesmerising sights of Borneo before transferring back to the airport for your flight home to the UK.
Selingan Island hosts one of the oldest turtle hatcheries in the world and is one of South East Asia's most important nesting beach and breeding grounds for the Green and Hawksbill Turtle. On this overnight trip you will have the opportunity to swim and snorkel off the beach before venturing out under the cover of darkness to see turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs. Watch as researchers release protected hatchlings and guide them in their frantic dash to the ocean. Please be aware that accommodation on Turtle Island is very basic and turtles can come ashore at any time of night.
*The British Foreign Office are currently advising against travel to some of the islands off the east coast of Borneo. Please discuss this with us at the time of booking to see if this excursion is possible.
Wandering Tribe has travelled to all of the destinations that we feature and we like nothing better than talking about them. If you would like further information about these tours or a tailor-made quote then please contact us on 07392 742333. Alternatively you can fill in the contact form and we will endeavour to get back to you as soon as possible.