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5 Best Places to See Orangutans


Orang-utans are Southeast Asia’s big-ticket wildlife sighting. Found only in the jungles of Malaysia and Indonesia, this critically endangered species is considered the most intelligent of all primates, and our closest evolutionary cousins. 

Sadly orangutans have suffered severe population decline – owing to deforestation, poaching, and illegal trading – so there are just a few protected pockets of jungle in which they can be found.

All of the below are terrific destinations for seeing not only these magnificent primates but a whole host of tropical wildlife and birdlife too.

Sunset over Kinabatangan River Sabah

Kinabatangan River

Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

The immense and many-storied island of Borneo is shared by both Malaysia and Indonesia. Malaysia takes up the northern part of the island, split between the provinces of Sabah and Sarawak, with Indonesia taking the larger and largely untamed bulk to the south.

Malaysian Borneo’s most renowned wildlife destination is the Kinabatangan River – a lush muddy waterway that snakes through the teeming jungles of inner Sabah. Staying at comfortable riverfront lodges, you’ll take boat safaris up and down river catching sight of proboscis monkeys, wild orangs, hornbills, pygmy elephants, and crocodiles.

Canopy Walkway Danum Valley Sabah

Danum Valley

Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Even deeper into the steamy jungles of eastern Sabah, you’ll find the magical Danum Valley Conservation Area: a 438 sq km tract of millennia-old primary rainforest, home to a remarkable array of tropical flora and fauna. 

It’s also home to one of the world’s greatest wildlife lodges – the Borneo Rainforest Lodge – where you can enjoy this extraordinary setting in supreme luxury. The highlight of your stay will be a tour of the incredible canopy walk: 1000ft of rope bridges, held up by 130 million-year-old ironwood trees, which takes you dancing through the forest roof offering unparalleled views of the teeming jungle below.

Large orang utan in Semenggoh Sarawak

Semenggoh Orangutan Centre

Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo

Sarawak, on the western half of Malaysian Borneo, is known better for its cultural attractions rather than its wildlife. Visits here typically cover the charming city of Kuching and adventures into the bush to learn about, and stay with, Iban longhouse tribes. 

Journeys to and from the longhouses however can call in at Semenggoh, a rehabilitation center that cares for and then rehouses captured, injured, or orphaned orang-utans. The animals here are used to human contact and you’ll be absolutely guaranteed to see them in action during the regular morning and afternoon feeding times.

Klotok boat on Sekonyer River Tanjung Puting

Tanjung Puting

Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo

Unlike Malaysian Borneo, the vast Indonesian portion of the island – known as Kalimantan – is dense and untravelled wilderness. A few small pockets are open to tourism, chief among them the Tanjung Puting National Park, in the south of the island. 

Accommodation is simple but memorable, with overnight stays possible sleeping on the top deck of ‘klotok’ riverboats, which wind their way along the Sekonyer River looking out for swinging orang-utans and tropical birds. Tanjung Puting combines best with adventures in Java and Bali, to which there are regular direct flights. 

Bukit Lawang village Sumatra

Gunung Leuser

Sumatra, Indonesia

Sumatra is a true adventurer’s destination. A journey of around 5 hours takes you from the clogged, unloveable urban sprawl of Medan deep into the rich jungles of Gunung Leuser National Park. 

Here you’ll find the tiny riverside village of Bukit Lawang, your base for adventures into the heart of the pristine park, trekking for sightings of orangutan, rhino, elephant, and a huge array of tropical birds, reptiles, and lizards. Accommodation here is basic at best but those of an adventurous disposition which will be richly rewarded.

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