Watching orangutans with kids

What does Responsible Travel recommend?

Of all the places for watching orangutans with kids, Sabah is by far the most family friendly, so more cautious travelers or those with younger children would be advised to come here.
There are opportunities to see them in the wild – as well as at the excellent Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre and Rainforest Discovery Centre.
Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo are recommended only for the most intrepid families; teenagers may thrive on its rough-and-ready-ness, but language barriers and lack of infrastructure may make less adventurous parents nervous.

Activities for families

What to do when watching orangutans with kids

Sepilok Rainforest Education Centre started life as an education center for local schoolchildren. Now also open to the public, it remains a particularly great spot for watching orangutans with kids. The huge canopy walkway is in fact a wobble-free “bridge” – safe for even the youngest of children. Orangutans and flying squirrels can be seen in the treetops, while gardens containing pepper, coffee and vanilla plants show kids where their food really comes from. This is a phenomenally informative excursion, and adults will be as gripped as kids.
If you’d rather track them in the wild, then Sabah’s Kinabatangan River is one of the best spots to do that. You can cruise along in a boat rather than walking – much easier for little legs – and while you’re not guaranteed to see orangutans, the proboscis monkeys, macaques and hornbills should keep kids well entertained.
Sarawak is Malaysia’s cultural capital, and you shouldn’t miss the chance to stay in a traditional Iban longhouse with a dozen local families. You can buy food in the local market, cook with the community, enjoy the dances and traditional dress.
Children are wonderful ice-breakers and will soon be playing with their new Bornean friends – and discovering how life works without smartphones, laptops and TV.

Tips for families

Responsible Travel asks the experts

Kate Tyler, from our supplier Odyssey World, shares her tips on watching orangutans with kids: “A few years ago people couldn’t stand the thought of taking children on a plane for 14 hours, but attitudes have definitely changed and we do get a lot of families now. As a family, I'd rather go to Sabah. If you’ve got teenagers then Sarawak is great, they can carry their own stuff – but if you’re carrying a small child and suitcases then it’s tough! And you’re traveling by boat and plane and getting on and off the transport – I think you have to be incredibly brave! But as a family you can definitely learn some incredible things, especially at Sepilok. The staff are so genuine and passionate about what they do.”
Nicki Hollamby, from our supplier Audley Travel, shares her advice on watching orangutans with kids: “Go! It’s brilliant. If I was doing a family trip to Borneo, I’d spend half the time in Sarawak because you can base yourself in Kuching and do daytrips. It’s a brilliant city with plenty of character, and it’s more of a cultural capital. Whereas in Sabah, it’s wildlife and beach, wildlife and beach. I would always take kids over to Sabah and to Sepilok, and then along the Kanbatangan River, because although you’re in simple accommodation, there’s no trekking involved, you’re just pottering up and down the river on a boat, looking at the wildlife. You’ve got other areas in Sabah where you’re going deep into the rainforest and it’s not necessarily very good for families, because you go deep into the jungle, and it’s quite rustic. But the boat’s really relaxing."
Roger Salwey, from our supplier Odyssey World, shares his advice on watching orangutans with kids: “Indonesia is fine for families with a sense of adventure. When I went there I stayed in a lodge-type hotel with a swimming pool, but you would get more comfort and convenience on the Malaysian side. The Indonesian side is more rough and ready, English isn’t widely spoken, they’re trying to speak English but they don’t get as many visitors and so don’t really have the chance to use it.”
Photo credits: [Top image: cumi&ciki] [Sepilok: Robert Nyman] [Kinabatangan River: shankar s.] [iban longhouse: snowflakegirl]
Written by Vicki Brown
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