No trip to Borneo is complete without a visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, so its number 1 on my to do list for our trip to Borneo in October 2014.
I contacted a couple of travel agents we have used previously for quotes for the day trip to Sepilok & both returned with similar costs of approximately $2,600 (AUD) for 2 adults & 3 kids. That’s more than our flights combined or our accommodation for a week in Borneo & whilst I was really keen to do the tour I just couldn’t justify spending that amount of money on a day trip. Immediately I thought there has to be a cheaper way!
First stop Lonely Planet travel guide, can it be done? Yes it can. The Lonely Planet Guide outlined costs & transportation options for getting to Sepilok on public transport, it looked do-able although I was starting to get concerned about how I would manage it all with the 3 kids in tow aged 9,7,5 years old. I didn’t want to make life more difficult that it needs to be. I felt I needed to look into this more.
Next step, hours spent searching on the internet. I came across a booking site, Viator, they were advertising day tours for $156 if you booked months in advance. Bingo, perfect, I gladly booked & paid, I was pretty happy thinking I secured a massive saving of about $2,000. The confirmation notification was taking a long time to arrive in my inbox. Each time I logged on to Viator my booked was flagged as pending, even though they had already debited my credit card. After 2 weeks I called the 1300 number & was connected with a Viator operator in America. He advised that the booking was still pending as the tour operator had not yet confirmed. No worries, he said it shouldn’t be too much longer. After a few more days I received an email from Viator.
The email advised that my booking had been placed on hold as the airfares for the tour had not been included in the stated price & if I wanted to go ahead with the booking it would be $2,600! Apparently flights from Kota Kinabula to Sandikan for 5 people cost $1,900……! I promptly cancelled that booking (my payment will be returned in no more than 10 days, meaning they had my $700 for nearly a month).
My husband checked out the flights for me & found that if we booked them direct the return flights for all 5 of us were under $300. We booked those flights. I then googled ‘private drivers in Sandikan’, a number of different hits come up.
I came across Sabah Trips, they have a Facebook page so I contacted them through Facebook. I outlined that there are 5 people & what I wanted to include in my day trip, Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sun Bear Rehabilitation Centre which has just opened, Probicious Monkey feeding & the War memorial. The reply was very prompt, within half an hour with a price of 300RM (under $100AUD). That was per day & we could do whatever we wanted to do during that time. Booked, done, so now I have all my transport booked & confirmed for under $400 instead of $2,600. The private drivers from Sabah Trips, pick you up & drop you off at the airport.
The Lonely Planet Guide lists all the entry costs for the places that I wish to visit. My expectation is to allow $100-$200 for entry fees. Even if its a little bit more I’m happy I have still saved $2,000 that I can spend on other things. I will probably take food for the kids as it will be much easier than finding something they will eat. I am sure the private driver will have some favourites he/she might want to take us to.
It continues to amaze me how much money you can save if you do your research & are prepared to go it alone! Lets hope it all runs smoothly, I will repost after our experience with tons of pictures of all the monkeys & bears.