The heat and the humidity were hitting us hard. After a few minutes walking in the Borneo rainforest we heard some branches cracking, the trees started to move and suddenly she was in front of me, with her baby hanging around her neck. Less than a meter kept us apart. She looked at me, I put my camera down, and looked into her eyes, I froze for a few seconds and then they were gone. This was my first close encounter with an Orangutan, a dream that made me travel to Borneo – Indonesia and go on a trekking tour in the Tanjung Puting National Park.
See the Orangutans in the wild was the highlight of the trekking tour, but the whole trip became a memorable experience. Travel to Borneo and visiting the Tanjung Puting National Park is not for faint hearts. This trip will take you out of your comfort zone, and even for me a seasoned traveller, it was tough, although unforgettable.
I have always admired the primates, and the possible extinction of the Orangutans is a problem we need to understand and discuss. Visiting such a huge Natural Park and witness the Orangutans in Borneo was a big lesson and the ultimate solo adventure. Rob stayed in Bali, and I went for a 14 days trip around Indonesia, Borneo and the Orangutans were the beginning of this intense journey.
Cruising Tanjung Puting National Park in a Klotok Boat
The Tanjung Puting Tour started at Pangkalan Bun village [south-west part of central Kalimantan, Borneo], at the pier we were greeted with a dance performance and a bunch of curious kids. Photos, some laughs and it was time to board. Our house for the next two days was a local wooden boat called Klotok. The boat was simple, on the top deck was our dining table, mattress, some chairs and… that was it. Nothing fancy, nothing luxurious, even though special.
The captain and his family greeted us with a big smile and delicious food. In less than 10 minutes we were navigating through the Sekonyer River to the Tanjung Puting National Park. Around us only forest, birds, colored butterflies and the sunshine.
It took me awhile to believe that all this beautiful scenery was real. I felt like in a movie or in a book, discovering the lost jungles of Borneo and searching for wild orangutans. I know this sound silly, but I was stoked. The call for lunch broke the silence and we all dug in some delicious Indonesian food.
It took us two hours to reach the first Orangutan Camp, time enough to relax, admire the nature and get to know the people on the boat. We were in 10 [max. occupancy of the Klotok boat], people from all around the world sharing the same travel dream: get close to the Man of the Forest [orang: man, hutan: forest].
How to visit the Orangutans Camps & Trek in Tanjung Puting National Park
During the tour to Tanjung Puting National Park we visited three camps of the Orangutans Foundation [Tanjung Harapan, Pondok Tangui and Camp Leakey] one on the first day, and two on the second. Our local guide explained that there are wild and semi-wild orangutans in the park, and many of them are going through a rehabilitation process. They have been rescued from the illegal live pet trade, where the hunters kill the mother to capture and sell the baby orangutan. They also have being rescued and protect from the slash and burn caused by the large-scale palm oil plantations, that have killed many orangutans in Indonesia and Malaysia.
The rescued orangutans are taken to the park and helped to get back into the wild. The feeding platform is where the visitor can admire the orangutans, the park staff serves additional food twice a day, and we get the chance to see them from a safe, but yet close distance.
The forest is dense, making even more difficult to spot an orangutan hanging on the trees and sometimes they didn’t come to the feeding area. That’s why most of the orangutan tours visit different camps, in different areas of the park. We had three chances to spot these beautiful primates, and in all camps we were lucky enough to see a bunch of them.
To reach the first feeding platform we walked around 2Km, an easy trekking among the trees, wild boars, and a lot of birds. At the feeding spot, circa of 50 travellers were waiting in silence, trying to get the best shot, and witness the Orangutans behavior from a privileged point of view. A few teenagers Orangutans came to the platform, grab some bananas and ran away. I was already thrilled. But that was only a tiny part of the whole trekking in Borneo experience.
At Camp Leakey, the last one we visited on the second day of the expedition, that I had my special encounter. Camp Leakey was founded in 1971 by Professor Birute Galdikas and became a world-famous research center, where students from all around the world come to develop projects about the orangutans, proboscis monkey [a funny monkey with a big nose] and gibbons. Camp Leakey is open to visitors daily, but to venture yourself in the jungle you need a local and experienced guide.
At this such especial place that I had the opportunity to have an Orangutang walking in front of me, looking at me as she knew I was there to admire and respect her. I could have snapped the perfect National Geographic photo of her baby, but I didn’t. I put my camera down in respect to her, she doesn’t deserve a noisy machine pointed to her face. And I don’t regret! I looked at her direct in the eyes, not through the camera viewfinder, and the expression I saw on her face was incredible. Was a peaceful and sweet look. A moment I will never forget.
Sleep under the stars in the middle of the Borneo Rainforest
Cruising the Tanjung Puting National Park is a unique experience. From the moment you lose the sight of the town, you realise how tiny you are, and how immense and perfect Mother Nature is. The silence makes you think about life, about yourself and how you need respect nature. But it’s during nighttime that the magic happens. The sunset is an unforgettable spectacle, setting the mood for a long night with a clear sky.
The boat stopped in one of the wooden piers along the river, other boats stopped by and anchored to each other, creating a big floating island of travellers from all around the world.
Candlelight dinner and some beers to celebrate our orangutan tour. While we dined, the crew organized our mattresses and pillows on the deck of the boat. Above us the mosquitoes net and the stars. Some laughs from another boat broke the silence once a while, the temperature dropped and I felt asleep.
To be honest, I didn’t sleep well, it was too cold. Some people complained about the weird wild noise from the jungle, but for me that was fine… The wind blowing in the trees and the crickets sounded like a lullaby. At 6:30AM I woke up, made some Indonesian coffee and sit on the front of the boat, trying to believe that all that experience was real.
All the meals were served on board. Snacks, water, tea, and coffee were available during all the trekking expedition. The only down side of the boat life was the bathroom. The facilities are pretty basic, we flush using buckets of water [from the river] and the water for showering was sticky. But it’s doable, an extra dose of adventure on the trip. Some people chose “wet wipe showers”, I faced the cold water.
What you need to know before doing the Tanjung Puting National Park Cruising Tour
It’s not easy to travel to Borneo and do the tour in Tanjung Puting National Park, it involves a lot of planning and attention to details.
The Iskandar Airport is small, and Pangkalan Bun town has only one shopping mall. So bring everything you need: sunscreen, mosquito repellent, some chocolates… Don’t forget to bring your camera with zoom lenses, binoculars are also helpful, and be prepared to disconnect from the modern world. While cruising the Tanjung Puting Park you won’t have any phone or internet signal.
Now the most important question: How to travel to Tanjung Puting National Park?
> How to travel to Pangkalan Bun and Tanjung Puting National Park
You can fly from Jakarta or Bali to Iskandar Airport, the closest one to Tanjung Puting National Park. At the airport you will find a tourist information desk that can help you with orangutan trekking tours and accommodation, but I strongly recommend you to have everything booked and organised in advance. Not everybody speaks English in Borneo, and booking at the last minute can be complicated.
The flights you can search and book via Skyscanner, they have all the local airlines listed and you can compare the prices between them. The flights from Jakarta generally are cheaper than the ones departing from Bali.
> The Best Cruising Tour to Tanjung Puting National Park
The klotok boat departures from the pier at the Sekonyer River. Bring with you only what you need for two days, if you have big suitcases it’s better to leave it in the hotel, to keep them dry. The boat is very humid at night-time, and as you will be trekking in the jungle all the time, you don’t need much.
You are only allowed to enter in the Tanjung Puting National Park accompanied by a local and certified guide. That’s great because he or she will explain about the orangutans, their habits and will help you whenever you need. Most of the orangutan tours include the boat, three meals per day, snacks and drinks, the guides and the Orangutan Camp entrance fee. Bring some extra cash only to buy soft drinks or beer from the fast boats that cruise the river selling drinks.
We did the trekking tour with Orangutang Days and love it. Our guide explained about the climate, the river, the work at the camps. During our walk in the forest he showed us local plants, trees and the history behind each conservation center. The price of a two days Orangutan Tour ranges from USD 200 up to USD 500, depending on the number of people on board. It’s worth the investment, a good guide and responsible tour company are essentials.
Our boat was comfortable enough, the meals were delicious, home cooked traditional food from breakfast to dinner, plenty of snacks and drinks. While we were cruising the river I could notice that there are fancier boats with lounge chairs for sunbathing and rest… On our boat, the only thing that could have been better was the toilet, but anyway, it was only one night. Local Guides is another tour company with good reviews on TripAdvisor.
> Where to stay in Pangkalan Bun
You might need to stay one or two nights in Pangkalan Bun town, if you arrive one day before the boat tour, or to rest for one night before catching your outbound flight. There is not much to do in town, so no point to stay longer. I can recommend the Swiss Bellinn Hotel, I stayed there one night and it was fine, good shower, comfy bed and a big breakfast, everything you need to recharge your batteries after two days trekking in the orangutan island.
There is a few hotels and homestays in Pangkalan Bun, Booking.com & Agoda are the websites with more options, so you can choose a property that suits your style of traveling and pocket. It’s a very small and simple town, so read carefully the hotel reviews to know what type of room and experience you are booking.
> Health and Safety Advice for Trekking the Borneo Rainforest
Safety and health issues are common worries among people who are travelling to Borneo for the jungle trekking adventure. I’m not sure if I’m too relaxed, but some people from my trip were freaking out with the idea of sleeping on a boat, and all the dangerous insects, animals and the lack of hygienic standards. Well, it’s an undeveloped region, and there are some risks, although you don’t need to be too worried. Here are some tips on how to be safe:
– It’s an adventurous trip: so a good travel Insurance is always a must. We use World Nomads to protect our health and our stuff.
– Trekking Level: you can choose what type of trekking experience you want. The standard trekking tours are easy, with a flat path and no more than 3 or 4 kilometers. The only problem is the heat and the humidity, you sweat a lot, it’s hard to breath and you feel tired easily.
– Mosquitoes and bugs: bring your favorite mosquitoes repellent, preferably something with DEET. The mosquitoes in the jungle can be annoying and very itchy. You must be 24 hours with repellent and you will be fine. I’m super allergic to mosquitoes bites, during the trip I got bitten only once [in the airport, can you believe??!!].
– Drink only mineral water! Don’t drink from the sink! It’s fine for shower, wash your face and brush your teeth, but for drinking only bottled water.
– Food: you can eat everything, especially if it’s freshly prepared. The fish and prawns are great, tempe is a good option for vegetarians. If you are worried about food poisoning, avoid raw food, and stick with rice and cooked fish.
– Garments: choose light clothes for the day, and bring a warm hoodie or jacket for night-time. The heat and the humidity during the day are tough. Wear light and breathable clothes [even better if you have hiking clothes], a hat and sunglasses are essential. For sleeping, a pair of trousers, legging or pajamas bottom are fine, long sleeves or a jacket for those who doesn’t like humidity and chilly nights. When the sun goes down, the wind and the damp are very strong, keep your body warm and enjoy the night under the stars.
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Borneo and the Orangutans Camps are the ultimate jungle experience. If you are travelling to Indonesia, you must visit Borneo and spend at least 2 days in the amazing part of the country. The orangutans only live in Southeast Asian countries, and they are at increasing risk of extinction. Visit Tanjung Puting National Park, learn about them and help to protect nature. You won’t regret, Borneo is a place that changes you!
If you have any doubt about how to get to Tanjung Puting National Park and the Orangutan Foundation leave a comment. Have you ever seen an Orangutang before? Share your experience with us!
Need more Indonesia Travel Tips? Check out our blog posts and adventures in this wonderful country:
PS: This trip was organized by the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism. As usual, doesn’t matter who pays the bill, you receive my honest opinion and impressions. Thanks Indonesia for this great experience!
Featured Photo by Anggey Anggraini, Travel Influencer and Proud Indonesian! Tks 🙂