We had a late morning flight booked with Malaysia airlines (RM99 per person, 1-way Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan). This is a short 40-minute hop – the best option for us, since the trip by road goes through mountainous country and takes considerably longer.
If you want to visit mount Kinabalu, however, you’ll need to travel overland.
Where to stay and eat close to the Reserves
We had booked 3 nights at the Sepilok Jungle Resort (€37 per night, including breakfast). I had also prearranged a transfer from the airport to the hotel for RM20 per person. All went smoothly, and we arrived at our destination in the early afternoon.
The Sepilok Jungle Resort was not our first choice. When we were making our bookings 3 weeks earlier, we wanted to stay at the Borneo Nature Lodge, just across the road from the Jungle Resort. However, the Nature Lodge was already fully booked.
If you have the choice, book early and stay at the Borneo Nature Lodge – it’s a little more expensive but much nicer, with wooden chalets.
The accommodation blocks at the Jungle Lodge are old and uninviting from the outside, but functional enough on the inside – some with balconies overlooking the swimming pool (make sure you prebook one of these). The beds are comfortable, but there are no mosquito nets or other insect deterrents, so you’re advised to take your own (dengue fever is no joke).
They clean the rooms and provide fresh towels, water and tea every day, unlike most other places we stayed for a few days. They also have a very pleasant swimming pool you can use at a small charge. Breakfast is a major letdown – the worst we had on our trip (does cold beans on uncooked toast float your boat?). This is served in their restaurant, called the Banana Restaurant: a dark, dingy place which we avoided as much as possible.
Although the staff are friendly and helpful, the reception area is only open from 9 am to 5 pm, so you need to get any business sorted out within this time frame. The main reason for staying here is the proximity to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and the Nature Reserve.
Although we couldn’t book a room at the Nature Lodge, we did use their restaurant every day. It’s a much nicer place to eat than the only other option – the Banana restaurant in the Jungle Lodge just across the road. The restaurant is not cheap: in fact, at RM98 for a meal for two (with beer), this was the most we paid for a single meal anywhere in Malaysia. The food is ok but not great, with too few Malaysian dishes and too many dubious western options.
The best food we had there was the Renget chicken and Curry chicken – the only slightly spicy choices on the menu. They also have a limited and uninspired selection of fruit juices. Beer is not cheap, and wine is astronomically expensive – RM160 per bottle. However, in Sepilok your eating venues are severely limited, so we just took this one on the chin.
The Borneo Nature Lodge is beautifully situated around a lake, and is well managed and maintained. Guests have individual chalets, and can easily walk to the Nature Reserve and Orangutan Sanctuary. This place seems to attract older, mainly western foreigners. The young budget backpackers are all at the Sepilok Jungle Resort.
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