The best place to see orangutans on Borneo

The best place to see orangutans on Borneo

If you are extremely lucky, there is a slim chance you see orangutans in the wild when you visit Borneo, but if you are not born under a lucky star, you will be glad to know, that Borneo has two rehabilitation centers where you can see orangutans. One center is placed in Sarawak, the other in Sabah. In Sarawak, you can visit the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, and in Sabah you can see orangutans in the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Both centers work to secure the survival of orangutans in the wild and are partly financed by tourists.

The rehabilitation of the orangutans starts when the orangutans are brought to the centers or picked up by staff in villages where the apes have been kept as “pets” and lived in captivity. Typically the orangutans are very young when the centers get them, so the caretakers have to spend a lot of time teaching them the basics of being an orangutan so they can be set free again. In both centers, the orangutans live in reservations, and it is here you have the very unique opportunity to see them. And you should, because they are amazing creatures!


Choose Sepilok

We visited both centers and we saw orangutans at both places, but if you don’t have a lot of time in Borneo I recommend you visit the Sepilok center. The facilities are better and the place is more “prepared” for tourists.  In Sepilok, you are for example shown a movie about the work that the center does, and there are more guides in Sepilok which is not an unimportant thing as not orangutans are friendly. In Sepilok you are also allowed to walk around in the reservation which can lead to some pretty terrific orangutan-moments.

The young orangutan you see in the picture below was having a field day charming all the tourists with a little dance, and it was very clear that he/she knew there was an audience to all his/her shenanigans. After the dance, the orangutan climbed to the roof of the hut and started shutting the door even though it was very obvious the caretaker wanted it open. That resulted in an open, shut, open, shut, open-game for about ten minutes before the caretaker reprimanded the orangutan in a very stern voice. The orangutan didn’t seem to care too much.

After this little encounter, we went to see the nursery, and while I was with my back to the young orangutans everybody suddenly pulled out their cameras. I turned around, and just a few feet away from me three orangutans were strolling down a railing. That was great!


Smenggoh Wildlife Centre

In Semenggoh we were very quickly being led out of the reservation after we saw the orangutans being fed, and the guides seemed very nervous. But not for nothing we were told by our taxi driver who let us know there were rumors that an orangutan not so long ago had beaten a tourist with an umbrella.

Read more about Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre her: Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Read more about Semenggoh Wildlife Centre her: Semenggoh Wildlife Centre


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The best place to see orangutans on Borneo

15 thoughts on “The best place to see orangutans on Borneo”

  1. Pingback: A three week Borneo itinerary for nature lovers

  2. Walking around the grounds sounds critical for an authentic orangutan encounter. If you are looking at these guys through a cage, what’s the point of going to Borneo? A good guide can help enhance any activity too.

  3. Heather

    I’m huge on animal rescue and rehabilitation and it’s nice to know that both Sarawak and Sabah have organizations to rehabilitate these beautiful animals! I would love to visit either or BOTH when going to Borneo! Do they let you hold or pet any of the young babies by chance? And orangutan beaten with an umbrella? GRRRR…..

    1. Line

      Hi Heather, there is no petting the animals, and they keep underlining, that orangutans are strong and wild animals. But seeing them from a distance is also a truly great experience.

  4. I have never seen Orangutans before, but it seems like something not to miss during a visit to Borneo. I would have loved to read about how you interacted with the orangutans and what kind of moments you had with them.

    1. Line

      Hi Lena, good point! It was very funny – one of the orangutans kept teasing the caretaker. I’ll put something about it in my post.

  5. We have heard so much about the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centres in Borneo and visiting one of them is on our list. Looks like you had a fun time with the young orangutan who entertained everyone that must have been an amazing experience.

    1. Line

      You should definitely go – it is such a great experience to see orangutans. You can tell they are really “there” when you look them in the eyes.

  6. I’m not into visiting zoos but I do like visiting rehabilitation centers and appreciate their education components. I haven’t been to Borneo and I like that Sepilok allows you to walk around the reserve. Sad to hear that an orangutan had beaten a tourist. He must have been really stressed out by the situation.

  7. Renata Green

    I’m so glad they are treating these beautiful creatures better now. They were mistreated and abused for so long, it was a shame. However, I wish they could live peacefully and unthreatened in their natural habitat.
    I’d love to go to Borneo. I’ve only been to the Malayan peninsula and have the feeling that Borneo is much nicer.

    1. Line

      Borneo is little bit like another world. Love the place.

  8. Lauren Pears

    Orangutans are such gorgeous animals. It’s a shame their homes are being destroyed, but I’m glad there are places in Borneo taking action to help these animals!

  9. I have seen the orangutans in wild in Borneo last year, when I was staying in the middle of the forest. It was pretty amazing to see and to be fair we were lucky to see a few different types of monkeys. When I was at the Sepilok Rehabilitation center one of the Orangutans was sitting on the roof near the entrance which was funny because of she being cheeky at the guides. I love the fact that you guys were able to get so close to one of the Orangtan that is amazing..

  10. I’m grateful that these centres are treating these animals well and with kindness. I’ve never seen orangutans but would love to say hi to one 🙂 Borneo looks quite the place for nature and wildlife lovers!

  11. I really don´t know what to think about places with animals. I already been in a few but lately i am not comfortable with that any more, Now i have a daughter, that always travels with me and she loves animals. It´s difficult to choose places that treat well the animals. So happy to get to know this.

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