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Borneo is one of the few places on earth where it is possible to see orangutans in the wild. Just outside of Kuching is Semenggoh Nature Reserve, one of the easiest and cheapest ways to see these magical animals in what is classified as a semi wild habitat.
Established as a wildlife sanctuary in 1975, Semenggoh has been taking in orangutans rescued from the pet trade and those found in distress, found injured or orphaned in other parts of the state. They are rehabilitated so that they can live their lives free in the reserve but still have the option of coming back for feeding, if fruit is hard to come by in the wild.
Semenggoh is a must visit on your trip to Kuching and is a highlight in Sarawak as a whole.
How to see orangutans at Semenggoh Nature Reserve
My visit to Semenggoh started early. I had learned that a bus departs the bus station at 7.20am (this is incorrect as you can read below). However, as I was walking towards the station just before 7.10am, I saw the bus leave without me.
I went to my back up plan and ordered a Grab taxi on the app, which cost me RM24, and took about 25 minutes to drive the 20km out of the city. I arrived about 7.45am and the ticket office was still closed. You need to register your visit with the Sarawak Forestry department, so used the time by scanning the QR code to get it done.
The ticket booth opened just before 8.00am and I was the first one in. There is the option to take an electric buggy to the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, where the sightings take place, for an additional RM15. Or you can walk for 15-20 minutes along a paved road over some slightly hilly terrain.
Upon reaching the main feeding area, there’s a small waiting area with some information boards, a TV with a looped video of some of the major tourist sites in Sarawak and a family tree of some of the orangutans in the reserve. In hindsight, I arrived far too early and although the park opens at 8am, the feeding doesn’t start until 9am. There wasn’t that much information to read for the entire 60 minutes. Arriving at 8.30am would have been perfect.
Shortly before 9am, a guide called me over (and the other 30-40 people who have arrived in that time) for a quick safety briefing asking you to be quiet around the orangutans, and to not point umbrellas or other large items towards them. There are a couple of feeding stations around and they will show you which one to go to first.
After a quick walk through the forest, a clearing appears with a standing area for guests, and a feeding platform for the orangutans. Within minutes, a guide pointed to some moving trees and the dark shape of an orangutan appears.
Watching them swing through the trees was an unforgettable site.
When the female orangutan entered a clearing, you could see a baby holding onto her! It was genuinely one of the most amazing things I had seen!
She swung down a rope, onto the feeding platform, took a bunch of bananas which she ate quickly, and a coconut which she took with her. The baby gripped on at all times.
As she swung elegantly back into the tree, the rangers announced that the alpha male of the group was at one of the other feeding zones and we should make our way there. Seeing the sheer size of the alpha was incredible, sitting on his wooden platform and slowly, gently eating bananas one by one.
After what seemed like an eternity of watching him, the alpha climbed down off his platform and walked back down a path and into the jungle.
At this point one of the rangers noted that the park would be closing at 10am and we should make our way to the exits. Others got in the electric buggy back, whilst I walked the short distance. If you end up in a queue for the buggy, it may be marginally quicker to walk.
Outside the entrance, a guy had set up shop selling souvenirs of Sarawak branded T-shirts and orangutan cuddly toys. I had to wait a short while for my Grab back to Kuching, which cost RM23. I was back in Kuching before 11am, giving myself plenty of time to explore the rest of Kuching during the day.
How to get to Semenggoh Nature Reserve
There are a variety of ways to visit Semenggoh from Kuching.
The first is public bus. The green K6 public bus departs from Jalan Gartek, on the corner of Jalan Masjid in the centre of Kuching. It departs at 7.15am and it is advised to get there early as the bus can leave early, if the bus driver feels like it. After my own experience, I would recommend getting to the bus stop around 7am.
(The time of departure being 7.20am I had taken from an old blog site, 7.15am is correct as of April 2023.)
The cost of the bus is RM4 each way and will drop you off outside the Semenggoh ticket office. The bus returns from the ticket office at 11am.
For the afternoon feeding times, the bus departs Kuching at 1pm and leaves the ticket office at 4pm.
There is also a free electric bus provided by the city council. Bus 103, has its own app and website, however, the timetable doesn’t seem conducive to visiting the orangutans. To visit the morning feeding, you would have to depart Kuching at 6am! The bus then returns from the ticket booth at 10am, however, it must have left a few minutes early again as I missed it on my trip! To get this bus you would also have to keep an eye on the time and leave the orangutans whilst they are still feeding.
It is possible to arrange private transport and tours, however, I would only recommend this if you are in a large group. The cheapest tours I have seen start at RM130 per person for a pick up, drop off and entrance to the centre. Various other tours have prices starting at $50USD per person. This is much more expensive than public transprot.
I booked a Grab taxi through the app, which cost me RM24 on the way there and RM23 on the way back. I did have to wait 10-15 minutes before I finally got a car when leaving the nature reserve as it is fairly remote. I have seen prices go up to RM40 each way during peak times. This takes about 25 minutes and is, of course, a lot quicker than the bus. If shared between a few, I believe the price difference is well worth it.
FAQs about visiting the Semenggoh Nature Reserve
When is the best time to visit to see orangutans?
The best time would be between April and October. The fruiting season is between November and March. This is when there is ample fruit available in the forest and the orangutans may not return to the park for feeding. This doesn’t mean you won’t see them, just that the chances are reduced. As with all wild animals, there is never a guarantee that orangutans will be seen, which the park make clear.
What are is the Nature Reserve opening hours?
The Semenggoh Nature Reserve is open everyday, including public holidays, from 8am-10am and from 2pm-4pm. Feeding times are 9am-10am and 3pm-4pm.
How much does it cost?
For foreigners, it costs just RM10 to visit.
Are refreshments available in the reserve?
You can buy bottles of water and light snacks from a vending machine just behind the ticket office. Make sure that all food and drinks are in your bags when seeing the orangutans. There are toilets available just inside the park and close to one of the feeding areas.
Do I need to go on a tour to see the orangutans at Semenggoh?
No, I don’t believe you do. If you really want to take all thinking out of the equation, then book a tour with a locally owned company.
However, visiting the orangutans at Semenggoh is easier enough to do without a tour due to the cheap price, wide range of transport options and close proximity to Kuching.
What is the total cost of a day trip to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre?
If you take the free bus and just pay the entrance fee, it is possible to see the orangutans for just RM10! Just less than £2 or just over $2USD! It really is a sanctuary for the orangutans and doesn’t feel like a tourist trap at all. Even if you were to take a paid local bus, it is probably the most affordable way to see orangutans in Borneo.
As I took a Grab taxi each way, my total cost of the trip was RM57. A tour, as mentioned, is considerably more.
Seeing orangutans in their natural habitat is one of the most incredible things I have seen. It was a major reason for me to visit Sarawak and Kuching in particular on my travels around Malaysia.
Seeing the orangutans at Semenggoh Nature reserve is probably the best way to see them on your trip to Kuching and by far the most affordable, as well as one of the most ethical.
Check out my other posts for travelling around Malaysia:
- Visiting Bako National Park From Kuching: A Detailed Guide
- How To See Orangutans at Semenggoh Nature Reserve
- Visiting Mulu National Park: The Essential Guide
- How To Get From KL International Airport To The City Centre
- What To Do In Kuala Lumpur: Top 10 Things
- Which Lounge Should You Choose at KLIA
- Petronas Twin Towers vs KL Tower: Which Is Best To Visit?
- Visiting Pantai Pasir Panjang, Penang from Georgetown
- The Best Coffee Shops in Georgetown, Penang
- What You Must Eat in Penang: Top 10 Foods To Try
Dan is an avid traveller from London. His first big adventure was in 2010 living in Malaysia for 3 months and becoming a divemaster. He has been on the road almost constantly since 2015 travelling to destinations that aren’t on the mainstream tourist trail.