Visiting The Orangutan Sanctuary, Kuching ( in 2021)

A baby orangutan rides on the back of her mother.
This cute baby and mother walked past us during feeding time and demanded our undivided attention.

Updated: 16/12/20 | December 16th, 2020

I don’t mess about when it comes to chasing my goals and a common theme on my travel bucket list is witnessing wild animals in their natural habitat. I will never lose my enthusiasm for this, but for me animals that are closer in lineage to us humans, such as any family of apes are always going to stand alone.

When it comes to Orangutans, these distant relatives of ours are native to Indonesia and Malaysia and are found only in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. So after some solid research I decided to check out the Orangutan Sanctuary in Kuching, Malaysian Borneo by the name of ‘Semenggoh Nature Reserve.’ 

I left this place thoroughly impressed, I learnt a lot and I got to see way more of the hairy locals than I expected. I embraced my superpower of asking the staff at Semenggoh multiple questions before, during and after my visit and put the answers in a blog post especially for you.

Background of Semenggoh Orangutan Sanctuary, Kuching

Semenggoh Nature Reserve was established in 1975 and quickly became the largest orangutan rehabilitation centre in Sarawak. As well as being a safe-haven for displaced and abused orangutans, they educates visitors about the plight of these endangered species whilst providing the animals with a fighting chance to survive and thrive under the less than favourable conditions

The Centre is also a home for gibbons, giant squirrels, pigmy squirrels. crocodiles and an interesting variety of exotic birds.

An orangutan swings from a tree rope with fruit gripped tightly in its feet.
“Now I’m the king of the swingers, oh, the jungle VIP…”

Best Time to see Orangutans in Borneo

Good news: The best time to see orangutans in Borneo is also the best time to visit Borneo, as the main factor is the weather and how it affects feeding times of the animals. Between March and October is the sweet spot as it’s hot and humid (dry season), making it ideal conditions to see these adorable, tree-swinging gingers.

Fruit season is a common concern for tourists hoping to see orangutan, which sees its most intense period in December and January. Technically all year round is fruit season as different fruits grow at different cycles. There have been reported sightings of the orangutans during this time and also disappointed travellers who didn’t see any, so while it’s not optimal it is still certainly possible.

Essentially you can see orangutans all year around in Borneo as they don’t hibernate or migrate. Orangutans are no strangers to rain (a perk of living in the rainforest) although they have been known to hide from it under trees or by using large leaves as makeshift umbrellas, so this will affect the feeding times if the usual time is met with heavy rain.

If you can’t make it during that time don’t let it put you off visiting. Travelling during off-peak season obviously sees bargains on flights and hotels, so if you’re that way inclined you should shop around for visiting Borneo November up until March, with January and February being the tail-end of the rainy season.

How to get to Semenggoh Nature Reserve 

You will need to fly into Kuching International Airport (KCH).

Semenggoh Nature Reserve is about 30km from Kuching City, so if your hotel isn’t organising your 100 Malaysian ringgit private bus you can get the number K6 bus to 1km outside of the entrance (ask the driver to remind you at the right stop) of the centre for 3 Malysian ringgit from the bus station at Jalan Gartak.

The first bus leaves at 7:15am and there are only 3 busses, every 3 hours. I’m not sure about busses back as I got a taxi back for 50 Malaysian ringgit. 

Use the beautiful pink-domed ‘Masjid Bahagian Mosque’ as a point of reference, which is only a few minutes walk away from the bus station. The place where all the action happens is a further 20 minutes walk from the main gate, so bear this in mind when planning your visit around the feeding times.

Feeding Times at the Semenggoh Orangutan Sanctuary 

An orangutan swings from rope in the jungle.
Some pretty impressive calisthenics on display here.

Feeding times take place twice in the day; once in the morning between 9-10 and once again in the afternoon between 3-4. Note that this doesn’t particularly mean that you will 100% see them during this time, they may have had their feed already in the jungle or like mentioned before rain might change things.

However, there is still quite a high chance of seeing them during these times and it was one of the reasons I chose this particular orangutan sanctuary, Kuching seemed to have a decent amount of sightings, rave reviews and I got to see way more animals than I expected.

Facts about the Orangutans in Semmenggoh

  • The sanctuary is a rehabilitation centre for orangutans found in captivity.
  • Many of the orangutans that come for feeding times have already been released back into the wild, but their local forest does not produce enough natural food. So it’s not possible at the moment for them to be completely self-sufficient without human intervention.
  • Some of the larger males can weigh over 100kg! (I saw one of these big boys during my trip).
  • Deforestation, illegal pet trade, injuries, fires and orphaned orangutans due to this are the main threat to orangutans who come to the sanctuary and many others like it.
  • The orangutans are fed bananas, sugar cane, papayas, oranges, pineapples, hard-boiled eggs, coconuts and sweet potatoes.

Important rules to consider when visiting 

  • When visiting the Semenggoh you must respect the fact that these are wild animals, not domesticated like your dog or cat. You can get a cool enough Instagram photo without you being right up close to the orangutan and the centre asks you to respect a 6 metre rule at all times. 
  • Do not bring any food or drink into the Centre, this will confuse the animals or they may even approach you thinking that the food is for them.
  • Do not smoke or litter in the grounds of the Centre.
  • Do not collect any animals (yes, some people have done this before and still try it) or plants. This is the orangutans’ home, so don’t steal their already limited resources.
  • We were not warned about this one, but it’s important to know that camera tripods are banned. A guy set his massive tripod up and the wardens and orangutans freaked out in unison – these are intelligent animals and they suspect that you may be a poacher setting up his weapon to hurt them.

All of the above rules exist to protect the animals and also us humans that desire to see them. As cute as they are, orangutans are freakishly strong and you really don’t want to upset one!

My Experience

A cute baby orangutan takes a ride on its mother's back.

After paying my 20 Malaysian Ringgit and walking the 20 minutes we met our guide who told us the above rules after introducing us to the family of orangutans along with their names. He then led us through the forest where I impatiently sat and waited to see if today was my lucky day.

After 30 minutes or so, with the fruit already out in plain sight I made peace with myself that today wasn’t going to be the day and it seemed that at that very moment, a group of 4-5 orangutans swang towards the feeders to prove me wrong.

The athleticism of them was incredible as they lazily glided from tree to tree and sometimes built-in ropes. When they landed I was surprised to see that they grabbed the fruit by their feet, before climbing back up the trees to get stuck into their snack.

I thought that it couldn’t get any better and I’d have taken that for a perfect day, until a fully grown orangutan walked by on all fours, roaming on its knuckles. We were in complete awe, but sadly there is always that one person who doesn’t listen to perfectly acceptable boundaries and a female tourist got really close for a picture (mine looks close, but it’s just the zoom).

The orangutan freaked out and clasped both of its hands together and banged against the bit of a wooden bridge that it was walking on, I heard the wood crack. The immense strength of these captivating creatures seen before my very eyes.

“You’re making him angry,” one tourist said. The guide interjected immediately “she,” it was the mother, which makes sense as most primates stay with their mothers throughout their life until they are ready to go it alone, and pretty much every time you see a parent animal go mad when their child is under perceived threat, it’s usually the female of the species who is ready to throw down at all costs.

A baby orangutan walks behind it's mother.
“Wait for me, Mam!”

This was annoying, but it wasn’t enough to make a beautiful day any other than that. The folks at the Orangutan Sanctuary in Kuching are doing a fine job and I left the Reserve feeling grateful for the experience although there was a hint of melancholy too.

I’m not sure if he was saying it for dramatic effect, but the guide turned to me during the crawling mother and said; “remember you saw this, because they could become extinct soon.”

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A mother and baby orangutan.
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Further Kuching Travel Resources

Where I stayed 

I stayed at the Grand Margherita Hotel, a stone’s throw away from the riverside. It had a decent gym, a coffee shop and a sizeable mixed European/Asian in-house restaurant and my room had a city view (you’ll have to ask for that if it’s your preference).

I find Agoda to be the best online booking agent when travelling in Asia, but if I am wanting to live in a local apartment for a period of time I find one on Airbnb. If you don’t have an account already, sign up to Airbnb using this link for a $38USD/£34 credit towards your first trip.

Best Travel Insurance

Finding the right travel insurance can be one of the most stressful things about the planning process. After 9 years on the road (and a handful of bad experiences) I’m well-versed on this topic and I have been raving about SafetyWing ever since I switched over.

You can sign up to a monthly contract, they’re cheap as chips – starting at  $9USD per week and they cater for both world travellers and digital nomads. You can read my full review blog post here, or you can get a hassle-free quote here.

Malaysia Travel Guide 

Coming soon!

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  1. Chris Reply

    Jealous, mate! The only wildlife I see around here are my friends and I when we consume a few too many shandies.

    I’ve never actually had a shandy, mind.

    And is the ‘pull off your head and throw it into the sky’ line a reference to Labyrinth?

  2. Andi Reply

    Loved these pics! You’re right, the baby is ridiculously cute!!

  3. JoJo Reply

    Insanely cute….. They are amazing animals 🙂 x

    1. Anthony Reply

      Them Anthony Middleton’s? Yeah – lovely, unique creatures! x