Borneo Orangutan TourAs the captain parks our boat at the wooden peer for a jungle trek, we look at the long boardwalk that separates us from the jungle at the other end. As we’re walking on the boardwalk and carefully listen to the mysterious sounds of the jungle, we suddenly see an orangutan appear at the other end of the boardwalk… And she’s running towards us. We’re half way, so it is no option to walk back, and I’ve learned from National Geographic Channel never to show fear when encountering apes. So there I am on a narrow boardwalk with nowhere to go and an ape running towards me. I decide to accept that there is nothing I could do other than continue my walk slowly and confidently. As the orangutan approaches me, she slows down, curiously observing me, and fortunately showing no signs of aggression. Before I know it, we are side by side, looking at each other, and I realize that of all the things I read about orangutans I never knew they have such a strong smell. Then she decides to just sit down next to me, as if she accepts me and hopes for a social interaction.
Cruising through Tanjung Puting National ParkAre you an adventurous, budget traveler? Would you like to cruise through the lush jungle in borneo’s Tanjung Puting National Park in a private boat (or “Klotok”)? And while you are looking for orangutans in the jungle from your lounge seats in the top deck, take a sip of your coffee and be served delicious snacks? And at night sleep in the boat under the stars surrounded by the mesmerizing sound of the jungle? Who doesn’t! But then who can afford it, right?
Unforgettable, yet affordable Orangutan ToursSome things are too good to be true, but this journey was really even affordable for my budget traveler’s pocket! I did a 3 days tours in a private boat with my partner for €190 per person. And for this you do not only get an encounter with orangutans and awesome treks in the jungle with your private guide, but you get a private boat, 2 nights of accommodation, and extremely tasty meals. Just in case you don’t believe this or think there are strings attached, check out yourself the rates with the tour operator we chose. As a seasoned traveler I am not easily flabbergasted anymore, but I think that of all the experiences I have had, this orangutan tour in borneo may have been the most amazing of all.
Itinerary of the Klotok TourThe Tanjung Puting Tour starts at the airport in Pangkalan Bun, where we got picked up by our guide in a jeep. We arranged the tour in advance to be able to start the tour immediately upon arrival, as otherwise you need to reserve one day extra to find a guide and register yourself in the city hall, which is mandatory for anyone visiting Tanjung Puting. We arrive at the harbour where we meet the rest of our very kind staff – the cook, captain and boat technician – and get aboard our boat where we’ll spend the next three days in. The boat was much more comfortable than what we expected. The top deck was our personal deck, while the staff was in the below deck. On our deck, we had a dining table, mattress with mosquito nets, and a lounge area in the front. In the back we had a shower and a western toilet. Before we even managed to take a seat, we were already surrounded by only forest, birds, butterflies, and were served a delicious lunch with an eye for presentation. It took me a while to believe that all this beautiful scenery and this comfort is real. I felt like in a a book, discovering the hidden jungles in Borneo in search for orangutans. Within 2 hours we enter Tanjung Puting National Park. In short, the itinerary for the next three days consists of cruising through the jungle from rehabilitation centers to ranger stations, feeding stations or research centers (check out the complete itinerary). The aim of the rehabilitation centers is to nurture orangutans that have typically been hurt by hunters or of whom their mother has been killed by hunters as they are helped to get back into the wild. The feeding platform is where the visitor can admire the orangutans, the park staff serves additional food twice a day, and we get the chance to see them from a safe, but yet close distance. The forest is dense, making even more difficult to spot an orangutan hanging on the trees and sometimes they didn’t come to the feeding area. That’s why most of the orangutan tours visit different camps, in different areas of the park. We had three chances to spot these beautiful primates, and in all camps we were lucky enough to see a bunch of them.
Memorable encounters with OrangutansI had several special encounters with orangutans as we were walking to or through the dense forest. But my dearest experience was when we started our jungle trek as we were walking on the boardwalk with our boat on the one end and the jungle on the far end. As we carefully listen to the mysterious sounds of the jungle, we suddenly see an orangutan appear at the other end of the boardwalk… And she’s running towards us. We’re half way, so it is no option to walk back, and I’ve learned from National Geographic Channel never to show fear when encountering apes. So there I am on a narrow boardwalk with nowhere to go and an ape running towards me. I decide to accept that there is nothing I could do other than continue my walk slowly and confidently. As the orangutan approaches me, she slows down, curiously observing me, and fortunately showing no signs of aggression. Before I know it, we are side by side, looking at each other, and I realize that of all the things I read about orangutans I never knew they have such a strong smell. Then she decides to just sit down next to me, as if she accepts me and hopes for a social interaction. And my rapid heartbeat makes place for joy, humbleness and a strong awareness of the beautiful nature we share this planet with.
Sleeping in the Klotok under the starsCruising the Tanjung Puting National Park is a unique experience. From the moment you lose the sight of the town, you realise how tiny you are, and how immense and perfect Mother Nature is. The silence makes you think about life, about yourself and how you need to respect nature. But it’s during nighttime that the magic happens. The sunset is an unforgettable spectacle, setting the mood for a long night with a clear sky. The boat stopped at a seemingly random place on the river, and anchored to the trees around. And before we know it, we find ourselves in a romantic candlelight dinner, and the most delicious diner we have had in Indonesia, with the sounds of the jungle making the magical night meal complete. Then we went to bed with the mosquito net around us. The night was very surreal to me. You hear the strangest noises from deep in the jungle to the water around us (crocodiles?) and then even the innocent random noises from within the boat make an impression. But it was never scary, rather magical, and I just slept like a baby.
Facilities in the KlotokAll the meals were served on board. And with every meal we were just blown away by the creativity, diversity and size of the meal! Of all the expectations we had for this trip, we never expected to get the best food experience of our entire trip in Indonesia in a wooden boat in the jungle! And in between each meal we were continuously spoiled with snacks, fruit, lemonade, tea and coffee, etc. While we were preparing ourselves for a bucket to shower in and a whole to pee in, we actually had quite a nice shower and a western toilet! I was so happy about this, as there were so many boats we saw around us that were much more basic.
Which Tour Operator to choose?Because of the luxury facilities of our boat and the extremely good food and service aboard, my partner thought that I paid an excessive amount for this tour. But the irony is that compared to the prices paid by other other travelers we met, I paid (much!) less! For once it was obvious to my girlfriend that my preparation of carefully comparing the different tour operators in advance really paid off. 🙂 According to their website, the aim of Local Guides is to provide once-in-a-lifetime tours in a luxury setting. I can only confirm that they successfully managed with me, and according to their Tripadvisor page, I have been no exception. I believe the reason they are relatively cheap, is because you book with a local guide directly, instead of booking it via a travel agent that needs to recover its overhead costs (offices, salesmen, marketing campaigns, etc.). My guide informed me that they started this initiative because they felt that they are very dependent on receiving clients from the big agencies while they do all the work in practice. One of their clients helped them build the website and platform. So in hindsight, it even felt a bit of a fair trade deal to book with them. But regardlress of their background, I strongly recommend booking with them, as they are so incredibly passionate about their habitat that they see it as an obligation to spoil you and make it an unforgettable experience
Tips for during your tripWhen I asked this question to Local Guides, they highlighted the following points, which turned out to be extremely valuable each:
- If you drink coffee, bring your own instant coffee (or French Press). The standard coffee you get in Indonesia is usually not liked by Western visitors (it is basically hot water mixed with filter coffee, but then unfiltered).
- Some people regret that they didn’t bring their own beer or white wine to optimally enjoy the beautiful and relaxing setting from the lounge seats in the Klotok (because of the local muslim culture, alcohol is not included in the drinks). You can store these in the fridge of the staff.
- In case you have the time for it, you will appreciate staying overnight in Pangkalan Bun before and/or after your tour. You’ll start your tour all rested, finish your tour with a hot shower, and you can stay longer in Tanjung Puting National Park. You can find on the website of Local-Guides, an overview of some recommended accommodation options, although I’m sure there are plenty other sources .
- Although there is electricity aboard, it is not recommend to use the charging plugs for expensive gadgets (smartphones, tablets, etc.) because the power engine of the boat does not supply a constant voltage (this holds for ALL boats, even the so-called luxury boats). So consider to buy an external battery charger at any outdoor store to protect your devices.
- A personal tip I can give, is to not arrive in Pangkalan Bun without a booking. It is tempting to think it is cheaper to find a guide on the spot, but this is not the case:
1. The locals know that the only reason you are visiting Pangkalan Bun is the orangutan tour, and that you want to find a guide quickly so that you don’t loose any precious time. This puts you in a very weak bargaining position.
2. You should realize that it is mandatory to register yourself in the city hall before entering Tanjung Puting. By booking the tour in advance, you can simply let your tour operator take care of this in advance!
Put Borneo Orangutan Tour on your bucket list!The Borneo Orangutan Tour is the ultimate jungle experience for couples, family or lone travelers. If you are travelling to Indonesia, I can only strongly recommend you to visit Borneo and spend at least 3 days in the boat cruising through the jungle. Also, the bigger the tourism in Borneo gets, the more likely it is to win the fight against the local palm oil industry that is killing the orangutan’s habitat. So not only will a visit to Borneo change your world, it may even improve the orangutan’s world!
About the writer My name is Steven McBay and I’m a passionate low-budget backpacker. I actively search for hidden gems in this world that are still affordable and well accessible. These are tough criteria, but when I finally find a destination that meets these criteria, the hard work looking for it is totally worth it! Although I refer in this article several times to Local-Guides, I am not affiliated to them and I only refer to them because I think they are fantastic value for money for any budget traveler like me.