Orangutan spotting in Borneo Part 2: Shangri La Rasa Ria

If you read my previous article about The Sepilok sanctuary, you may have vague recollections about that centre being the home of the adolescent orangutans in Borneo. Most of the rescued babies, however, are taken to the rehabilitation centre at the Shangri La Rasa Ria in Kota Kinabalu. For guests heading only to Kota Kinabalu, this is the place to see orangutans and if, like us, you are staying at the sister hotel, Shangri La Tanjung Aru, then there’s a simple shuttle bus to take you across. Entry is charged and it is best to book this trip in advance but the nature reserve at the Shangri La offers many other activities including jungle and canopy walks, some of which can be combined with opportunities to see the orangutans.

baby orangutanIt was fascinating to see the contrast that comes with maturity. The babies are much less confident, more easily scared and unfortunately, the macaques seem to exploit this vulnerability, something they weren’t able to do in Sepilok, where the older orangutans were unfazed by their hovering.

But the littl’uns are undeniably adorable and the longing to hold them (however wrong I know it is) is unquestionable. We were lucky that when we arrived, there was just a drizzle of rain, clearly insufficient to suppress their eager appetites but when the downpours gathered pace, the orangutans (rather like many of the tourists) made a dash for it.

Borneo orangutanOnce you are at the Rasa Ria resort, you are free to wander the grounds or grab a snack. We ended up playing a round of croquet – not a traditional Sumatran pastime as far as I’m aware but a nice way to pass an hour and brought out the competitive side of our marriage! I lost (I usually do when I’m competing with Pumpkin) but it’s more about taking part isn’t it?

Shangri La Rasa RiaI almost forgot to share my final orangutan tale, one which occurred in Sepilok. We had been warned these creatures grab and were accordingly advised to keep our phones, cameras and food and drink items concealed away securely, ideally in our pockets. This we did and whilst they were out at feeding time, no one got pounced on. We were also advised that one poor, unassuming tourist in recent times had his trousers taken off by an orangutan.

The orangutans had finished their feed and we were making our way out in search of our own lunch, their own greedy appetites stimulating ours. We headed towards the exit along a raised, wooden, walking platform, when all of a sudden, an orangutan came from nowhere and started walking along the ledge of that very platform. When he tried to reach across the platform, we found ourselves just a few yards away from him! It’s not that we were scared as such (it’s hard to be scared when they look so welcoming) but we were momentarily aghast, unsure quite how to react.

Fortunately, the rangers are so experienced and have a truly special rapport with them and ushered us out the way while he coaxed the orangutan into behaving himself.

orangutan photoOur guide told us that he wished the tourism industry and the rest of the world would see Borneo as more than just the orangutan. This is true. There is much more to it than that – but if the orangutan is what raises Borneo’s profile to world travellers and the industry, then I think that can only be a good platform from which to start increasing awareness of other endemic species on this rich, lush island.

orangutan kota kinabaluDo any of these little guys look familiar to you? Get in touch if so – I’ll never tire of seeing pictures of them!


17 thoughts on “Orangutan spotting in Borneo Part 2: Shangri La Rasa Ria

  1. Seeing these animals from such a short distance is truly an unforgettable experience. On my bucket list!! 🙂

    1. whywasteannualleave April 12, 2014 — 11:15 am

      Thanks for commenting Agness – they are so cute! The adolescent ones on the other side of the Island were great to watch as well but I had a real soft spot for these baby ones! 🙂

  2. Aw, they are so cute! Got that typical ‘cheeky monkey’ look about them 🙂

    1. whywasteannualleave April 14, 2014 — 9:02 pm

      Thanks for commenting Catherine – yes, now I know where the phrase “cheeky monkey” must have actually come from!! 😀 They really were as adorable as they seem in the pictures – I know it’s all about helping them live naturally in the wild but I don’t know how the rangers resist the urge to cuddle them!

  3. Have you been watching ‘Monkey Planet’? The first episode starts out with Orangutans in Borneo who have a lot of human behaviors. So jealous you’ve been and seen them in person!

    1. whywasteannualleave April 14, 2014 — 9:00 pm

      Thanks Melissa – I’m also grateful to have had a chance to see them as they’re so intelligent (as well as being so adorable!)Aaah no, I’ve missed Monkey Planet – I didn’t realise they featured the Borneo orangutans so I’ll have to try and catch up on it! Thanks for the tip!

  4. I was in Borneo in January as well, and loved Sepilok and anything organutan!

    1. whywasteannualleave April 16, 2014 — 12:12 pm

      That’s great to hear! It is so easy to fall in love with them isn’t it, their intelligence and their adorable faces! Glad to hear you enjoyed it out there too 🙂

  5. I’m glad that you enjoyed your stay. My experience at Sepilok included slips and falls, the wooden walkway can get pretty slippery after a drizzle. 😀 Do visit us again ya.

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) August 21, 2014 — 3:12 pm

      Thanks so much for reading – oh no, I’m sorry to hear that you’ve slipped there before!! I guess we were lucky that it was dry when we went – I’d love to return to Borneo one day 🙂

  6. Loved reading your articles on Tanjung Aru and the orangutans. We’re travelling to Borneo in a couple of weeks and can’t decide about booking for Sepilok as well as seeing them at Rasa Ria. I’d be grateful for a bit of insight as to whether it’s worth the extra expense or a case of ‘the same but different’ if you know what I mean!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) December 29, 2014 — 10:32 pm

      Hi Gemma. Thanks so much for reading! How exciting that you’re heading to Borneo soon. I hope you have an amazing time out there! The main differences are that at Rasa Ria, you see the baby orangutans and the sanctuary there is a little smaller whereas in Sepilok, the orangutans are a bit older (adolescents and young adults) and the sanctuary is larger. Aside from that, the experience as a tourist is quite similar. When we visited Sepilok, we also booked a Kinabatangan river safari/cruise and stayed over night in a remote river safari lodge, which was wonderful so between that and the Sepilok orangutan sanctuary, it seemed worth it. But if you were planning to go to Sepilok just to see the orangutans (and are already seeing them in Rasa Ria, then you might not want to go all the way or to try and add in the river safari if you do go). Hope that’s helpful but if you have any more questions, feel free to drop me a message through the “contact me” page and I’ll be happy to give you more info 🙂

  7. Hi, thanks for your writings I really enjoyed reading about your experience 🐒we are heading to Kota Kinabalu in a few weeks and have booked a night at Shangri la RR especially to see Orangutans – they told me to book in for viewing but closer to stay back in November but sadly now they are saying you must wait till arrival! I am concerned we may miss out as we only have 24 hours there and accomodation expensive. Did you pre-book? If so how? Thank you kindly



    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) January 6, 2016 — 8:39 pm

      Hi Honnie, we were staying at Shangri La KK so we pre-booked with them just the day before arrival and they arranged a shuttle bus to take a group of guests there. If I recall correctly, they had about 3 feeding times daily so I would have thought that if you ask them to book at concierge when you arrive, you should probably be ok I would have thought. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it all works out for you 🙂

  8. I love orangutans so much! I went to Sepilok and Sarawak
    Here’s my visit –

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) September 15, 2020 — 6:48 am

      Amazing creatures aren’t they?! Feel so grateful to have had the chance to see them!

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