When on the island of Borneo, be sure to venture to the east Malaysian state of Sabah, home to an array of weird and wonderful creatures. Its most famous resident is the orangutan, and while seeing one of these ‘men of the forest’ in the wild is rare, there are a handful of places where you can have an up-close encounter that your own little monkeys are sure to love. The Nature Reserve at Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort near the state capital of Kota Kinabalu offers a perfect blend of beachside relaxation for families with rainforest conservation. The rehabilitation facility here educates guests about the plight of the mighty orangutan, taking families on a short walk up the mountain to the viewing platform where orphaned apes lope among the trees and play on their purpose-built playground. Gibbons often make an appearance, too, adding to the monkey mischief on display.
Sun bears and primate paradise
On the other side of Sabah at Sandakan, you’ll also find the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, with twice-daily feeding times, and its neighbour, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. Here you’ll meet the world’s smallest bears, an endangered species that grows to only 150cm. Although the BSBCC only opened to the public in 2014, it has been rescuing sun bears since 2008 and now has 37 inquisitive creatures under its care. Kids and parents alike are charmed by their unique personalities – view their profiles online and get to know the bears before you arrive – as well as their sleek black-and-gold appearance.
While in Sandakan, pay a visit to the mangrove forests of Semawang and the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. With their large, flat noses and pot bellies, Borneo’s large indigenous monkey is a favourite with families, and it’s not just because of their funny appearance. A visit at feeding time lets you enjoy their antics as they vie for attention with silvered leaf monkeys and macaques.
If your little ones would like to see Nemo and his friends, board a boat to Gaya Island for a visit to the Marine Ecology Research Centre (MERC). This educational visit is a must for all budding marine biologists, explaining the conservation work to save the giant clam and exploring the wonders of the deep in the onsite aquarium. You might even be able to plant a piece of coral, contributing to the future viability of the seas, take part in the Little ADAMB (A Day as a Marine Biologist) experience, or join in the Mariner activities for kids from seven to 17, in two age groups.