Blog South-East Asia -Borneo. Written on: 29-11-2023

Overview day 371 - 381

8 November - 18 November 2023


Km’s Cyled







Route door Borneo
Kota Kinabalu - Deramakot Forest Reserve NP - KOPEL - Sandakan


This time no statistics to start with, because we left our bikes in Kuala Lumpur. While our bikes are enjoying their well-deserved rest, we are going to make Rob’s dream come true. We fly to Kota Kinabalu on Borneo. Borneo is divided between 3 countries; Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Malaysian Borneo has two provinces; Sarawak and Sabah. In the next 10 days we will visit the province of Sabah, the most northeastern part of Borneo. We want to spend as much time as possible in the jungle to maximize the chance of spotting the Orangutan.

Searching for a tour

The jungles of Borneo are not a place to wander around as a tourist and take selfies for your instagram followers. Those who want to visit the jungles will have to do so accompanied by a guide. For us, the Borneo interlude is really a holiday. After a lot of research by Rob, we book two tours, independently from each other, to two different areas. The first spot is Deramakot Forest Reserve. A piece of jungle that stretches roughly 55,000 hectares where they do sustainable logging. Whatever that exactly means.

klaar voor vertrek
Ready for take-off
kota kinabalu
Arrival in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo
Getting a haircut. We want to look good for the Orang Utans.

Deramakot Forest Reserve

From KK (Kota Kinabalu) we take a bus to the national park. We disembark in a small village, where we are then picked up by our guide and driver. Around 4 o’clock we drive towards the jungle, but first we cross a lot of palm oil plantations. The road is, yes what should you call it, quite rough, lots of bumps, sand, holes and stones. We are glad that we’re not driving. After a few hours we arrive at the jungle. In the meantime the sun disappeared behind the horizon and we can immediately start with a night safari. We climb on the back of the jeep and with a big lamp we look for reflective eyes. Fortunately, our guide is trained in this and we get to see some beautiful animals on the first evening: An owl eating its dinner, a flying squirrel and 2 slow lorises. Eventually we arrive at our sleeping place. A nice but simple room somewhere in the middle of Deramakot. This is where we will sleep for the next three nights.


We leave every morning at 7 o’clock and don’t get back until around 10 or 11 o’clock in the evening. There is a lunch spot in the jungle where we have our meals prepared by Apau, the driver and cook. The food is delicious but way too much! It’s impossible to eat it all. In the same resting place there is also space to hang our hammocks, in case we are ready for a siesta. 1 of the benches at the lunch spot has been destroyed and the remnants are next to it against the tree. That’s what Brendon did.

Borneo Deramakot forest reserve
Safari in the jeep
Borneo Deramakot Forest Reserve
Spotting wildlife
Borneo Deramakot Forest Reservve
Our lunch spot
Walking in the reserve
We see an Orang-Utan but very far away
Paradise Flycatcher - zoom in needed
Maroon Langur
Maroon Langur
Leopard Cat
Leopard Cat - zoom in
Jungle safari

A safari in the jungle cannot be compared to a safari on the African savannah. Sometimes you can hear the animals up close, but because of the dense vegetation you only see some leaves moving. Also, most of the animals here are very shy. When they realize that we are there, they seek the shelter of the jungle as quickly as possible. Nevertheless, we can spot a lot, especially when the sun goes down we see a lot of wildlife. The jungle really comes alive at night. Unfortunately, that makes taking pictures a bit more difficult. And then the million-dollar question. Have you seen that Orang Utan? The short answer is yes. But the Orangutan is also very shy and can hide surprisingly well. In addition, we only see them from afar.


Only once is one very close. We hear gibbons a little deeper in the jungle and decide to park the jeep under a tree in the hope that the gibbons will come our way. We can clearly smell that monkeys are nearby, but we don’t see them. After about 5 minutes our guide feels a drop in his neck and immediately afterwards we hear the crackling of branches right above us. The jeep is parked underneath an Orangutan and we didn’t even notice it! We are curiously observed for a second, but then she calmly swings into the jungle, with her young on her heels. Before we really know it, she has disappeared behind the foliage.

Grey tailed Racer
Grey tailed racer
King Cobra
King Cobra
Borneo Pygme elephant


We also spot a few snakes. One of them is the king cobra. Our driver doesn’t see it laying on the road and drives right over it. That is clearly not appreciated by the snake in question. The cobra straightens up and targets the trunk of the jeep. So let’s go!

I don’t know exactly what it is, but there’s a primal instinct that comes into play when you’re being chased by a cobra. Even if you sit in the back of the jeep. It’s pretty frightening and you can feel it throughout your body. The well-known tickle in the stomach. Fortunately, our jeep is faster and the cobra stops after about 5 meters. It slips down the road and disappears from sight. Hopefully for good.


After 4 days full of safaris from early in the morning until late at night, learning a lot about sounds, smells and spotting a lot of beautiful animals, we also get to know Brendon. Brendon is standing a few 100 yards from the camp with his family. You will recognize him immediately according to our driver: “He is the naughty one”. And yes, in no time at all, we know who Brendon is. He raises his trunk and honks defiantly at us while the rest of the troop hides more behind the bushes.

After 4 days we leave Deramakot. A very special experience that we look back on with pleasure. Time for our next destination. We take the bus to our next jungle tour. This time we stay at KOPEL on the Kinabatangan River. Another 4 days, and we still hope to be able to see the Orangutan from a little closer.

Sleeping in the Jungle

KOPEL was founded in 1997 by an Australian but is now run entirely by locals. They have a beautiful eco-camp in the jungle that you can only reach by boat. Again a busy program. In the morning a boat trip, then breakfast. After breakfast there is a jungle walk, followed by lunch. After lunch another jungle walk and at the end of the afternoon another boat trip. We’ll be back when it gets dark and dinner will be waiting for us. After dinner an evening walk through the jungle. All activities are optional, but of course we don’t skip anything!

Again we see a lot of animals, and because we are also on foot a lot, we spot a lot of frogs, spiders and insects. Some less toxic than others. Rob in particular can’t get enough of it. Don’t worry, Isabel is enjoying herself too, but Rob is completely in his natural habitat. He could live here.

Onze kamer bij KOPEL
Our room at KOPEL
KOPEL - main jungle building
Boat cruise at Kopel with our guide in the background
KOPEL - evening safari
KOPEL - jungle walk
Orang-Utan try #2

We are very happy with our guide. He is also clearly a nature lover and can tell us all about the plants and animals. In addition, he has superhuman senses. How he tracks down the animals is amazing. It doesn’t take long before we can admire our Orangutan up close. Finally! And wow, what an experience that is! We had already learned that the Orangutan is very quiet and therefore is difficult to hear, unlike gibbons for example. But because we are now on foot, we can perceive even more sounds. Apparently they like to eat some kind of nuts/fruits and so you can hear them eating. And we hear that sound during our jungle walk. We are dead quiet and our guide goes straight through the jungle towards the sound. We eagerly wait for him to signal that we can come. The paths are forgotten for a while and we work our way through the bushes and jungle vegetation towards our guide. And yes, there you have him! At a distance of 15 meters, above us, we see a large orangutan enjoying a nice meal. Every now and then he looks around, but he is mainly busy with food. We watch with admiration. He doesn’t seem to mind. It’s amazing how such a large animal can completely disappear into the trees. We regularly have to stand in a different place or wait a while, because otherwise the orangutan is completely out of sight. Our guide wants to let us hear the sound of the orangutan, so he walks away from us and makes some monkey noises. Orangutans are territorial, so the males will make themselves heard when other monkeys come near. We get a wonderful show. What a sound! Indescribable. Our Borneo trip is complete now.

Orang-Oetan, Borneo
Borneo Orang Oetan
Borneo Orang Oetan
Borneo Orang Oetan
Borneo Orang Oetan

Tree planting

At KOPEL we also do a short tree planting activity. Each guest can, if they wish, plant a tree to regenerate a piece of jungle. And earn karma points of course. They take a smart approach at KOPEL and in combination with the location (and the price) we can only recommend this place to everyone. The people who work there do this work with a mission and that radiates from them. The stories they share aren’t rehearsed, it’s not a marketing show, and they actually work hard with the whole community. And the passion drips from them. It’s one of the most special places we’ve ever visited and finally a charity project that works. Not a bottomless pit, but actually a well-functioning company from which the local population reaps the benefits.

Palm oil

We also get to know another side of palm oil. It is of course well known that the jungle is rapidly making way for the plantations, but the Malaysian people also have to earn money with something. It’s easy to point the finger and say that the jungle needs to come back. In an ideal world, perhaps, but closing all the plantations now and bringing back the jungle would mean financial suicide for a very large part of the population. Banning palm oil is also of little use, then other crops are simply planted instead. No jungle. We are certainly not going to save the jungle in this blog (unfortunately) but that the jungle can be saved, that’s for sure. It’s not too late. But it will have to go hand in hand with the plantations. And if you want to visit Borneo, be sure to stop by KOPEL!

Back to our bikes

We leave KOPEL with a heavy heart. It was only 4 days but we are going to miss it. On the other hand, we already miss our bikes. Backpacking also comes with a lot of disadvantages. The main one is waiting for public transport. And public transport is often not even that pleasant. No, we’d rather be back on our bikes!

Proboscis monkey
Borneo Tarantula
Borneo Civet
Civet cat
Borneo monitor lizard
Monitor lizard
Borneo glow in the dark bark
Glow in the bark. Bioluminescent fungi grows on this tree so it lights up in the dark. Very cool.
Borneo glow in the dark Fungus
Borneo glow in the dark fungus
Borneo duizendpoot giftig
Millipede - very poisoneous!
Borneo black headed kingfisher
Black headed kingfisher
Horned Lizard

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