Young orangutan at the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok

Sepilok, Malaysia – Backpacking Guide

Sepilok is a small town in the state of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo. It’s home to two wildlife sanctuaries and is one of the best places in Borneo to see orangutans.

Easily accessible from the state’s capital, Kota Kinabalu, Sepilok is a great base for visiting some of Sabah’s top attractions, including the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sun Bear Conservation Centre and Rainforest Discovery Centre. It’s also the jumping-off point for tours to the Kinabatangan River, perhaps the most accessible location to spot Borneo’s endemic wildlife.

If Sepilok is on your Borneo bucket list, listen up! In this guide, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about this cute jungle town and help you plan your own visit!


Sepilok Map & Resources

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Sepilok, Malaysia – Travel Guide 🎒

Best Time to Visit Sepilok, Malaysia ☀️

Sabah’s dry season runs from March to October and is generally considered the best time to visit Sepilok. The climate is hot and humid so if you decide to venture into the nearby rainforest, be prepared for rain at any time!

Baby pit viper at RDC, Sepilok, Malaysia
Dry season offers the best chance to see wildlife!

If you hope to see orangutans at the rehabilitation centre, aim to visit in March/April or September/October. Sightings in May and June may be rarer. This is because these months are the height of fruiting season so there is plenty of food in the forests. This means that the orangutans are less likely to visit the feeding platform in the sanctuary, which is the best place to encounter them. (It’s not all bad news though – these months are the best time to spot orangutans in the wild!)

July and August are also good months to see the red-headed apes at the rehabilitation centre, but this is the peak tourist season and the busiest time of year.


Where to Stay in Sepilok, Malaysia 🛏️

Sepilok is a tiny place and pretty much all accommodation is within walking distance of the town’s attractions.

Best Accommodation in Sepilok, Malaysia

Disclosure: Some links on this page are affiliate links. We always write our articles before checking if affiliate links are available.

Nature Lodge Sepilok 

The dorms at Nature Lodge Sepilok are basic but clean and spacious, with both fans and AC. There are also modern private rooms. With hot and powerful showers, comfortable beds and good food at decent prices, it is a great choice for budget travellers exploring the area.

Accommodation in Sepilok, Malaysian Borneo
Nature Lodge Sepilok is a great choice for budget travellers.

Sepilok Jungle Resort 

If you’re looking for a place to relax, Sepilok Jungle Resort has a pool set in beautiful surroundings. There are both dorms and budget private rooms with fans. It’s just a few minutes’ walk to the orangutan and bear sanctuaries, and breakfast is included, making it good value for money.

Borneo Sepilok Rainforest Resort

The private rooms and dorms at Borneo Sepilok Rainforest Resort are highly rated by guests, as are the resort’s friendly staff. There is a pool and a large bar and restaurant area where you can relax or enjoy some local cuisine.

Sepilok Nature Lodge 

(Formerly known as Sepilok Nature Resort and not to be confused with the similarly named, Nature Lodge Sepilok!) Sepilok Nature Lodge is beautifully designed to nestle into its natural surroundings. The private rooms in little wooden huts provide the perfect mixture of rustic charm and modern comfort. The setting is picturesque and the lodge is located just steps away from the orangutan sanctuary.

Sepilok Forest Edge Resort

For a little luxury in the jungle, check out Sepilok Forest Edge Resort’s bungalows. The resort’s location on the edge of town means it feels private and secluded, yet it is still within walking distance of all of Sepilok’s attractions. There is also a dorm room for budget travellers looking for a little extra comfort.


Things to Do in Sepilok, Malaysia 🦎

1. See the Orangutans 🦧

The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is a world-renowned sanctuary for orangutans and the main reason travellers visit Sepilok. These beautiful great apes are endangered, largely a result of habitat loss due to forest degradation. The centre cares for orphaned and injured orangutans with the aim of re-introducing them into the wild. 

The Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is easy to visit independently and is one of the cheapest and most accessible places to see orangutans in Malaysian Borneo. Time your visit with one of the daily feeding sessions, at 10 am and 3 pm, for the best chance of spotting our hairy cousins.

Orangutan at the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok
Orangutans and humans share 97% of their DNA!

“Getting up close to orangutans is a thrilling experience and a visit to the rehabilitation centre is a fantastic alternative to spotting them in the wild. The sanctuary offers a great opportunity to encounter these great apes and learn more about them. I’d definitely recommend adding a visit here to any Sabah itinerary.”

Lisa Barham, Writer at South East Asia Backpacker

2. Visit the Sun Bears 🐻

Endemic to Southeast Asia, sun bears face the dual threats of habitat loss and poaching. The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre was established in 2014 to care for these endangered animals, working to rescue bears from captivity and rehabilitate them before releasing them into the wild. Visit the centre to see these cute, furry creatures and learn more about the world’s smallest species of bear.

And if you can’t bear to leave (see what I did there?), check out their volunteering programme to stay longer and get involved. There are two options, either a 14-day or 28-day placement. Both come with a fee but it is certain to be a worthwhile experience you’ll never forget!  

Sun bear at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, Sepilok
You’ll ‘bearly’ believe how cute the sun bears are!

3. Take a Walk Around the Rainforest Discovery Centre 🌿

The Rainforest Discovery Centre is a great place to learn about tropical flora and fauna. Explore the botanic gardens with its rich display of tropical plants before enjoying a walk along the 1 km lakeside trail. 

The canopy walkways offer a great vantage point allowing you to marvel at the rainforest from the tree tops. For the best wildlife-spotting opportunities, arrive either early morning or late afternoon. There are also night walks, during which you may encounter tarsiers, flying squirrels and civets.

Walking along the boardwalks at the Rainforest Discovery Centre, Sepilok
The Rainforest Discovery Centre is a great place to learn about Borneo’s plants and animals.

“When I visited the Rainforest Discovery Centre, I got super lucky with wildlife sightings. I saw a baby green pit viper, macaque monkeys and a Borneo black-banded squirrel! My best piece of advice for seeing wildlife (even if you don’t have a guide) is to take it slow and don’t be afraid to talk to people. If you see lots of people looking in the same direction, ask what they are looking at – you never know what you might spot!”

Sheree Hooker, Editor at South East Asia Backpacker

A Little Bit of Monkey Business! 🐒

Be super careful if you see any macaques along the walkways, in particular the alphas. They can be very territorial and may see you as a threat. If you do encounter a macaque, act calm, stay quiet and make sure you don’t make eye contact. They will see this as a challenge and it may cause them to attack you. 

Instead, turn around and walk away. If the monkeys are blocking your exit, hit the bamboo stick provided on the railing (don’t hit the monkeys!) to scare them off. If this doesn’t work, you should call the ticket counter for assistance. Check the noticeboards for the most up-to-date contact numbers. Oh, and make sure you’ve had your rabies shots, just in case! 

Macaque monkey at the Rainforest Discovery Centre, Sepilok
Just monkeying around – be wary of the macaques at the Rainforest Discovery Centre.

4. Arrange a Trip to the Kinabatangan River 🚤

Around two hours southeast of Sepilok is the Kinabatangan River – the second-longest river in Malaysia and a great place to spot some of Borneo’s endemic wildlife. The popular two or three-night trips include river cruises at dawn and dusk offering excellent chances of spotting Borneo’s Big Five: orangutans, pygmy elephants, crocodiles, rhinoceros hornbills and proboscis monkeys. Tours begin from Sepilok or Sandakan, so don’t leave town without arranging a couple of days on the river.

“There’s nothing like seeing wildlife in its natural habitat and spotting Borneo’s endemic animals on a river cruise is a true once-in-a-lifetime moment. A Kinabatangan River tour was one of the highlights of my Southeast Asia travels. It’s one of the most affordable and accessible ways to see Borneo’s amazing animals and a must-do experience.”

Lisa Barham, Writer at South East Asia Backpacker
Proboscis Monkey Kota Kinabalu
Spotting the proboscis monkeys is a highlight of a Kinabatangan River cruise!

A Note About the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary… 🐵

Half an hour north of Sepilok you will find the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, a privately owned sanctuary within a palm plantation. Some visitors have raised concerns about the ethical nature of the sanctuary, including the diet of sugar-free pancakes that are fed to the monkeys at the regular feeding times. Some people may say the organisation is simply a money-making venture, while others argue the protected land within the plantation is vital for the monkeys’ survival. If you plan to visit we would advise researching the sanctuary further to decide whether it is an organisation you are happy to support.


Food and Drink in Sepilok 🍴

As Sepilok is so small, food options are limited. There are, however, a few decent options serving tasty Malaysian cuisine.

Mango Garden at Nature Lodge Sepilok is one of the best offerings in town with good local food at very reasonable prices. Another budget option is Banana Café, which serves rice and noodle dishes as well as a few basic Western options.

The Nest by Sepilok Forest Edge Resort, serving modern Bornean food with a twist, is a little pricier but it has some more interesting menu items, such as galangal coconut soup and paku jungle fern.

The Lake Bistro offers pretty views of the surrounding nature and a selection of Malaysian and Western dishes. The picturesque views are reflected in the menu prices, which are on the higher side.

Fried rice at the Mango Garden Restaurant, Sepilok
Fried rice at a good price! What’s not to love at the Mango Garden?

Getting Around Sepilok, Malaysia 🚶‍♀️

Sepilok is very small so getting around on foot is easy. The town’s attractions and eateries are all within walking distance of the accommodation options.


How to Get to Sepilok, Malaysia 🚌

Most visits to Sabah will begin in the capital, at Kota Kinabalu International Airport. From there, the only way to reach Sepilok is by road or air.

Buses depart from KK to Sandakan three times per day (8 am, 10 am and 2 pm). You will need to alight at the Sepilok junction. Tell the driver you want to get off here so they can let you know when you have arrived. The journey takes 7-8 hours and tickets cost around 43MYR (approx. $9.20USD). Easybook.com (as the name suggests) is an easy way to book bus tickets throughout Malaysia.

Good to Know! 🎫

While it is possible to book outbound transport from KK to Sandakan, there are no routes online which service the return journey. To return to KK from Sandakan/Sepilok, you will need to reserve tickets at the Sandakan bus station in person or ask your accommodation to arrange your return transport. Tickets are available on the day but you will want to get there early – it’s a popular route which sometimes sells out. 

Flights from KK to Sandakan depart daily and cost around $15-20USD. You’ll then need to take a taxi from the airport, which is just 20-30 minutes from Sepilok. The e-hailing taxi app Grab works in Sabah and is a good way to get around.

Flying into Kota Kinabalu
Flights from KK to Sandakan depart every day.

Where to Go Next: ⛵

Sandakan: Head to nearby Sandakan, from where you can arrange a trip to Selingan Island. Better known as Turtle Island, here you can see green and hawksbill turtles laying their eggs and the hatchlings taking their first steps into the sea.

Kinabatangan River: Spend a few nights on the river and enjoy cruising the waterway at dawn and dusk on the lookout for wild orangutans and Borneo’s other endemic wildlife.

Kota Kinabalu: Enjoy a day or two in the capital of Sabah soaking up some Bornean culture or relaxing on a beach at Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park.


Contributors

South East Asia Backpacker is a ‘travel diary for everyone’. This article has been written with the help of backpackers and local experts. We would like to thank…

🙏 Sheree Hooker | Editor at South East Asia Backpacker
🙏 Tim Ashdown | Writer at South East Asia Backpacker

Lisa Barham author pic
Lisa Barham

Having always dreamt of travelling the world, Lisa finally decided to follow that dream in her mid-thirties when she left her nine-to-five in London for life on the road. After trekking to Everest Base Camp in Nepal and learning to surf in Sri Lanka, she headed for wondrous Southeast Asia, where she can currently be found solo backpacking, navigating through life and unfamiliar streets.

Follow her on: Instagram

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