While we were in Borneo, we stayed first at the Uncle Tan’s Bed & Breakfast, and then took a 3 day/2 night journey up the Kinabatangan River to the Jungle Camp. While the three days there were incredibly hot and sweaty, we had a great time cruising the rivers looking for a variety of different monkeys, and always keeping our eyes pealed for orangutans. Our visit was marred slightly when some money was taken from our kids’ bags, but otherwise we had a great time.
Uncle Tan’s Jungle Camp
The day our tour began, we left the B&B at about 2:30. It took about 1 1/2 hours by van and then another 1 1/2 hours by boat to get to the camp. We arrived at the camp at about 6pm. We had a very brief introductory meeting, and were shown our huts.
The huts are on raised wooden platforms. They have three sides and are open in the front. There are thin mattresses under mosquito nets. We were not given blankets, although it turns out that was an oversight by the staff. But you don’t really need a blanket anyway. It is really hot. Only in the last hour or so before dawn did I ever grow a bit chilly (although somehow I continued to sweat–it was really weird).
We got dinner at 7:30. Plain yet mostly edible food.
At 9pm we went on our first wildlife spotting excursion. This was a night boat safari. It is a little creepy, stepping down into the boat in the pitch black night to go looking for crocodiles, but you get used to it quickly. The guides use spotlights to scan the shore for wildlife, and the boats putter along the river. We saw several civit cats, a leopard cat, a few baby crocodiles, a large crocodile that went into the river and disappeared before we got close, and several sleeping birds (which are cool . . . You can just get right up close to them. They don’t fly away!).
The night safari lasted a bit over an hour.
Back at camp there was general socializing. The staff (all young males) broke out guitars and tambourines and launched into enthusiastic, if slightly off key, renditions of not only several local songs, but also such hits as the Cranberries’ “Zombie,” 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up,” and the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”
After a long, sweaty night, the guides call you out at 6am (I know, a 6am wakeup call doesn’t usually mean you had a “long” night, but it was more sweating in a prone position than sleeping really). There is just enough time to go to the bathroom (bucket flush jobs at the end of a long wooden walkway over flooded marsh land that is pretty scary to cross at night) and get your morning drink of choice before the morning river safari heads out.
The morning safari lasts a little over an hour. We didn’t see squat. Well . . . I may or may not have seen a gibbon leap from a tree in the distance, but that was it. Those are the breaks. It was still nice just to be out on the river in the cool of the morning.
Breakfast was waiting for us when we got back to camp.
The staff then challenged the tourists to a friendly football (soccer) match. I didn’t join in because 1) soccer is silly, and 2) it was WAY too hot. Anyway, the staff won.
At 10:30 we set off for the jungle hike. This time of day there are no animals around. It is too hot. They are all sleeping. Only people are stupid enough to be traipsing around in the heat at that time. So, being people, that is what we did.
The point of the jungle walk is to sweat through all your clothes . . . um . . . I mean learn about plants and trees and survival skills and stuff. So we learned which kind of leaf is safe to use as toilet paper if you are ever stranded in the jungle, and we learned which kind of leaf will give you a nasty rash if you use it as toilet paper while stranded in the jungle. If you are ever stranded in the jungle and have to take a dump, I am the guy you want to have with you to show you what to wipe with.
And we got to play with lots of cool bugs.
When we got back from the jungle walk, lunch was waiting for us. Afterwords, the staff tried to get us to play badminton or some other sport with them. We opted for naps.
We spent the whole afternoon trying to move as little as possible. My middle daughter and I, who are cat nip to mosquitos, had to remain under our mosquito net. My wife managed to spend some time in a hammock (mosquitos find her disgusting).
A little before 5pm we were told that the schedule was changing. Normally, we would do a one hour boat safari at 5pm, come back to camp for dinner, and then leave for a night jungle walk at about 9pm. But due to the heat, the staff said if we did that, none of us would want to go out on the night trek. We would be too sleepy. So, in order to make sure we got to tromp and sweat through the jungle with what we were assured would be a cloud of insects swarming our flashlights, we were going to do the boat safari and then go straight to the night trekking spot. Then we would come back to a late dinner. So off we went, with three containers of mosquito repellant, four flashlights and one book reading light, shoes we hoped wouldn’t get too muddy, and vague dreams of finding a slow loris cruising through the jungle at night (our guide had never seen one in his life).
The afternoon boat safari was one of my favorites. We saw proboscis monkeys only on this outing. We saw lots of macaques, and got to see some interesting interactions. We also saw a couple of big monitor lizards, including one that was right in the middle of a group of macaques (you could just hear the NatGeo narrator telling the story of the lizard and the monkeys).
The night trek was probably my least favorite part. We walked slowly through the forest (taking an hour to go about 800 meters). No slow loris. Just bugs. And not even many cool bugs. It was mostly moths and mosquitos. And mud.
Back to camp and another edible dinner. And more guitar playing.
When there is enough room, guests get to do one last morning boat safari, and there was room for us. This turned out to be a good trip. We saw gibbons, and langur.
We ended on kind of a sour note. Sometime while we were staying at the jungle camp, someone went through our bags and removed 250 ringit ($60US) from the kids money belts. It was too hot to wear the belts in the jungle, and Uncle Tan’s website proclaimed they had never had an incident of theft. So we were less cautious than we usually are, and we got burned. You live and you learn. Take note if you go: they have a safe deposit box you can leave things in. Use it. We left most of our valuables back at the B&B, but the kids kept their emergency cash.
To add insult to injury, I was stung by an extremely aggressive bee just before we left. It hurt.
Would I do it again: probably. I really liked seeing all the different monkeys, and time on the river was all good. Take plenty of changes of clothing with you if you don’t want to smell like the deep recesses of a gym bag. Go into it with the understanding that you are just one notch above camping. And don’t expect to eat as well as you do most places in SE Asia.
And put your valuable and cash in a locker.
And I hope you find a slow loris. Because travel.