You really have to give it to Uncle Tan's team for livening things up and doing their utmost to deal with the limitations in their new camp site. The Malaysian Govt. has really been unkind to Uncle Tan by taking away the old camp, which was overflowing with wildlife. And while the new site supposedly has more wildlife than the old, spotting them is relatively more difficult. But the camp staff go really out of the way to make the experience as pleasant and fulfilling as possible, within the limitations.
I did the 2D 3N trip, which starts with a visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. I've reviewed that separately. You need to report at their base camp at 9, eat your breakfast there, and take the van to the Orangutan sanctuary which is just 5min away. I have reviewed the Orangutan sanctuary separately.
Post the Orangutan visit, it's back to the base camp where they provide lunch as well, and then put you into a van for a 1.5 hour haul to the boat jetty.They make a quick halt just 10min down the road at a store where you can stock up on essentials. What you NEED to get definitely are a flashlight and a raincoat. The store staff however were so incompetent that they give me two batteries for a flashlight that works on three! The camp fortunately had spare batteries, otherwise I'd be fumbling and stumbling in the dark. The road passes through the Sabah countryside and you can see plenty of typical Malay wooden houses. Sadly, much of the nature you see on both sides is palm oil plantations.
It was pouring cats and dogs by the time we reached the boat jetty. Water levels were low, and we had to climb down ramps/ wooden planks with slats for footholds etc. to get to the boarding platform. Thanks to the clay and rail, we were sliding dangerously on the steep incline. Fortunately a few able bodied co-tourists planted themselves on the incline (they dug their feet really deep into the mud) to give us all a helping hand.
The boat ride to the camp is very pleasant, and you see egrets, fish eagles and stuff along the way, along with locals going about their business.
Entry into the camp is again by using a series of rickety wooden steps without a hand hold, so make sure you gain your balance before you start climbing, unless you want to go sprawling on your face at the top step like I did. (the topmost step was also at a lower height than the rest due to which I'd tripped).
Accommodation is in shared huts. The camp is board-walked throughout. An ABSOLUTE NECESSITY in the camp is a powerful flashlight. Our hut was the furthest away from the dining area, which meant a good 5min walk in total darkness, very very disorienting. I had to do this once or twice till my flashlight was fixed. (one battery less, as I said), but beware, you can't see the tip of your nose in that pitch darkness.
There is no concept of private huts, you will need to share with others. Six people to a hut. I shared mine with a lovely Chinese couple with their delightful little son. (Shared yes, I didn't say all six beds will be occupied!). Mattress are laid out in a line on the floor. No cots. No pillows provided, get your own inflatable one. A circular mosquito net hangs permanently over your bed. My only gripe with the bed was that it was too soft and too lumpy. Difficult to get a good night's sleep. Plastic buckets with clipped lids are provided at the veranda of the hut to store your valuables and things that smell- medicines, soap etc. Rodents are apparently a problem, though we didn't see any.
Common bath and toilet, both flush and shower follow the bucket and scoop method. Water is pumped into giant storage drums from the river direct, so it's usually a choclately brown in colour. Good enough to wash, but if you need to brush you teeth, I suggest buying a bottle of mineral water from the staff co-operative located in the dining area. You can also buy beer here.
After you settle in, you return to the dining area for dinner and a briefing about what 's in store. You then go for your night boat safari, where they point out various animals. It's rather unnerving to be gliding down the water in total pitch darkness with your boatman- guide steering only with the help of a spotlight. It's a miracle, and nothing short of a wonder how he manages to spot animals in the trees or riverbank in that total pitch blackness! When I asked him, he said he depends on the glint of the eye from the animal. We spotted quite a few palm civets, owls and caught the glint from several crocodiles' eyes that night. Owls stare at the light upto a point and then fly off before you can get a good look at them.
The 2D 3N trip includes: a night boat safari, early morning boat safari (supposedly the best time to spot animals), daytime jungle trek, afternoon boat safari and night jungle trek. And if it's low season, you can even have another early morning boat safari on the 3rd day: your last day in the camp where you need to depart soon after you return from your boat ride.
Facilities are basic to the extreme, the food is actually pretty good, if basic. It's a good time to meet friends. And since your group usually consists of eight people, it's usually the eight of you all the time, on all your treks and safaris, with usually, though not always, the same guide. A sort of bond develops at the end, and on the last day, you actually feel sorry to leave the camp and your newly found friends.
The Uncle Tan website may ask you to consider buying rubber shoes for the jungle treks. THey are cheap no doubt, but bloody heavy. Plus being made completely from rubber, it's impossible to wear them outside of the jungle. So save your pennies, you can hire them at the camp for the treks. They are more for the night trek anyway, you can manage the day trek with your regular shoes.
Only a few caveats and points to note:
- Accommodation is rather basic, and in shared huts. So do not expect too much privacy.
- A flashlight is an ABSOLUTE MUST: you will need it when you go to and from your hut after dark, either to join the night boat safari or night trek, to go the common dining area to eat, to feel your way while descending the long series of steps onto the boats etc.
- Don't wear expensive footwear, it's quite muddy out there. And positively no flip flops.
- You can freely use flash to photograph the sleeping animals on the night jungle trek. Don't freak them out too much though.
- The new camp site has a lot less intrusive wildlife than the old one. So if you have read interesting accounts of bearded pigs, water monitors, wild cats, monkeys etc. in the camp, rest easy, you will see none of those here.
- It's quite muddy in places, so the bottoms of your trousers (esp. around the ankles) do tend to get caked in mud.
- Don't expect too much, and you will really enjoy your time here.The staff go out of the way to be of service and in pointing out wildlife. They are really great at spotting them, esp. in the dark.
- Also Known As:
- Uncle Tan Wildlife Camp Hotel Sabah