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“You really have to give to Uncle Tan and his team”

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Uncle Tan Wildlife Camp
Certificate of Excellence
Reviewed December 2, 2013

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.

  • Stayed: November 2013, traveled solo
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Thank shankaronline
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Reviewed November 30, 2013 via mobile

A really great experience. The only animals we didn't see was an orang utan, but we saw plenty of birds, insects, macaques, proboscis monkeys, gibbons, bats and crocodiles. The camp is really nice and relaxed, a great place to meet people. Our guide was Akin, who was really great. The food is fine; though I didn't love it, it was perfectly adequate for the middle of the jungle. Don't forget inspect repellant! I would recommend covering up a bit too to avoid getting bitten.

Stayed: November 2013, traveled as a couple
Thank clinky24
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed October 19, 2013

We heard about Uncle Tans from some friends who were already over in Sandakan up in Sepilok, we met up with them when they returned from the jungle camp and their smiles said it all, a great place to go!

My wife and I stayed in the B&B/ Operations Base for two nights whilst we visited the Orang Utan sanctuary and RDC. The B&B was great value for the budget with good and clean basic rooms, all you need for a base. The food is good and there's plenty of it and the transfer to the sanctuary is a great touch.

The transfer up to the camp stops at a local market, essential for those things you may have forgotten, torch/batteries, mozzie repellent, rain poncho...
The mini-bus takes about an hour and the boat ride another hour.
We saw a monitor lizard and a pair of Fish Eagles on the way, a taste of things to come!
The river is flanked by palm oil plantations as is the journey along the road, this makes the site special in my opinion, more small corridor sites need to be protected to allow animals some breathing space.

On arrival we were met by Teo, a young man who is very passionate about the camp and what it offers its guests. The briefing wasn't really very long, other people have mentioned that it was endless, I didn't think so. The programs are laid out and then you get to see the camp.

The camp is basic, if you're not prepared to rough it for a few days, don't come! The camp is built on board walks to lift it out of the mud and consists of open wooden huts with mosquito nets and thin foam mattress's, the huts are shared with other guests which didn't really bother us but if you have a family or really want to be alone it might be an idea to talk to the staff beforehand.

The toilets are bucket flush and showering involves a bucket, ladle, river water and soap, enjoy!

The main dining/ common area is next to the footy pitch which is host to the 9am Staff v Tourists Champions League...
The food is good and varied, coffee, tea and biscuits are in abundance, you will not go hungry!

The staff relax before the evening program with guitars and songs which you're more than welcome to join in with! The dinner was excellent with plenty of veggie options and two meat choices.

That's all the boring bits covered, now the reason you go for, the wildlife!

Our night river cruise featured Owls, King Fishers, Civets, bats, a Water Monitor and a brief pair of Crocodile eyes! We got to see a very rare Storm's Stork too! We cruised for over an hour and the guide was brilliant at spotting the wildlife, the spotlight gives you a great view.

It's an early start for the morning river cruise but it was worth it! Heaps of bird species (i'm not a bird watcher so I can only give you the big ticket items...) Fish Eagles, Horn Bills, Swallows, Starlings, Sand Pipers and King Fishers.
There were large troops of Long Tailed Macaques which are a common sight along the river and we also caught a glimpse of an Orang Utan in a nest which the guys have been visiting every day since spotting it but with mixed success.

The Jungle trek was very interesting as our guide Amphong pointed out the many species of trees which are so important for the Apes and Monkeys in the region. We got to see Flying Lizard, Ground Skinks, Grass Frogs and heaps of insects. The trek is not long in distance (1 Km) but is great because you're not walking forever in the heat and the trek gives you a great view of how land can be reclaimed and protected, the area is a former logging site and is therefore secondary jungle.

We saw A huge troop of Proboscis Monkeys on the evening cruise and got great pictures of them up close! The sunset over the river is breath taking with Flying Foxes heading out to raid the palm plantations cruising above.

Take a torch with you on the night walk, not a great deal to see but we spotted sleeping King Fishers, a rare tree frog and the old faithful Huntsman Spider!

As it was low season we got to go on a bonus river cruise on the day of departure, this one smashed it! We saw a family group of three Orang Utans (Father, Mother and baby) Moving around the nest site, in full view swinging between the trees! A perfect moment.
We saw a Bornean Gibbon doing what looked like chin ups in a tree canopy and a few Proboscis Monkeys too.
We saw the same bird species but in a greater number and to top the cruise off, a sunbathing Croc, absolutely fantastic!

I've read other TA reviews that mention the small number of wildlife species, we counted over 70 in two full days, I've been around a bit and that's a large amount. Granted It's not the Okavango Delta or the Amazon basin but it ticks all the boxes a good budget nature tour has.

I can't fault Uncle Tans on the nature programs, the operation or the guides, it's a smooth, value for money operation.

I do think that the huts could be improved by better mattress's, curtains between the beds and on the door and maybe a few hammocks as a sleeping option.
The rubber boots are a great idea but need to cleaned and paired up ready for use, it's a bit hit and miss to get the right pair and forget it if you're over a size 10! (we didn't really need them as it was quite dry in the forest)

They do need to get the Cockerel an alarm clock and the guys need new strings and an electro tuner for their guitars, apart from that it's wonderful!

We did the 3D2N package which is great for the budget if you book direct but not for the feint hearted, it's in the jungle and it's as basic as it comes!

Well worth it.

Thanks to Teo and all the guides.

Room Tip: Bring a travel pillow if you have one and a silk liner to sleep in. Speak to the staff if you want a...
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  • Stayed: October 2013, traveled with friends
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1  Thank Andy B
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed October 11, 2013 via mobile

Oh my goodness - we spent a truly remarkable couple of days here. The accommodation is basic, however, this was the only thing that was basic... The loos were the clean and well kept and the shower is hilarious... I had the most fun showering ever... The friendliness of the guides, their knowledge of the animals and the surroundings and their happiness to help was splendid. The food was plentiful and delicious and much better than many restaurants. We saw loads of animals and learnt about plants too. I'd like to say a big thank you to Teo, Akin, Marco and the rest of the team for making my couple of days with you so worthwhile.

  • Stayed: October 2013
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Thank CharlotteOnion
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed October 7, 2013

Uncle Tan's camp (the new one since they have change recently their location) is in a wild place, very wild. you will sleep in a cabana with four walls and a roof, don't expect doors or any other facility.
If you are afraid of spiders, bugs or any other animal, don't go. If you like adventure, go!
We did the 2N3D package and we enjoyed a lot! it's true that the jungle is not really a jungle since you have very nearby palm plantations. They have protected area like 100 meters from the river outwards and after that you will find more palm plantations.

Anyway, staff there is great, they love what they do and you can feel it. Nice approach to the proboscis monkeys, birds, bugs and others. We saw crocodiles as well.

It's unbelievable how the staff can locate animals in the forest!!

Nice food and nice football matches!

Place I will always recommend.

Room Tip: Just enjoy the wild and don't expect nice facilities.
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  • Stayed: February 2013, traveled with friends
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Thank Nacho V
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed October 6, 2013

Uncle Tan's camp is a must stop for any travellers in this area.

We did the 2N3D trip, and the amount of wildlife we saw was fantastic. The setup they have is so organised, with your "programs" all thought out to get the most of your visit to the jungle. The staff were all really helpful, and took it personally if we didn't see any specific wildlife.

Before going here, you have to realise that this is a "jungle camp". You dont get any luxuries here! The rooms are sheds on stilts over a swamp! Mattresses on the floor with a mosquito net and some buckets, to stop the wildlife getting to any perishables, is all you will find in the room! There is no running water, and anything you do have, to wash with or flush the toilet with, is pumped out of the river. To some this would all sound horrendous. We were expecting it, and it made for a totally unique and genuine experience of jungle living. We absolutely loved it.

The wildlife we saw was amazing. You come to Borneo to see Orang-utans, and we werent disappointed. Even on the boat transfer to the lodge we saw our first one. This was an indicator of what was to come! In total we saw 3 Orang-utans, and whilst this may not sound a lot, the group the day before didn't see any. We saw 3 different types of Gibbon, loads of Proboscis Monkeys, some stunning birds, lizards, insects and loads of macaques. I think the only things we didnt see were Crocodiles, we saw one, but only a flash as it was going into the river. The Pygmy Elephants weren't there either, as they only come down river during the wet season.

Although it is easy to say having seen so much, you have to remember that these are wild animals in a jungle, you aren't guaranteed to see anything. If you want to be guaranteed animal sightings, go to a zoo!

This is so much better than anything we have done before, and that includes safaris in Africa.

I cant recommend Uncle Tan's highly enough. The whole experience is simply amazing.

  • Stayed: September 2013, traveled as a couple
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Thank mdt_y2k
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed October 5, 2013

I have been there with my girlfriend in September 2013. We were looking for a good place to spot wildlife, no matter the comfort conditions. This looked like a good option, cheap, basic but many opportunities to see animals so we decided to give it a try. We were 9 in our group, all young and nice people. The staff is very nice and helpful, we were given a briefing upon arrival in Sepilok and another one at the camp. The standard 3D/2N includes 1 night cruise, 1 sunrise cruise, 1 very short jungle trek (1km), 1 dusk cruise and 1 night trek (200m), if you're lucky and there are few people in the camp it is also possible to have another sunrise cruise the morning you leave. The staff keep saying that spotting wildlife is not guaranteed, this is obvious but also gives you a feeling that they must have had some bad experience with tourists complaining for that. Honestly we didn't see much, we went there to see Orang-Utan as many other people do but, during our stay we didn't see any, the group before us saw the back of one from far away... During one morning cruise the guide claimed we were seeing a gibbon but for me it was only a stack of hair hidden in a tree 40 meters away. Despite this I think it was a very nice experience, accommodation is really basic, don't expect anything else than you see on the pictures on TA. Food was a bit disappointing, we read it was very good from other posts on TA but for me this was not exactly the best place I found in Borneo.
During our stay we saw macaques and proboscis monkeys, tons of them, some crocodiles, several kingfishers (very nice little bird), some eagles, a couple of hornbills, many frogs, especially around the toilet area in the night, one very small snake, some spiders and a couple of owls plus several insects. I don't think you can expect to see much more, elephants were not even mentioned during the briefing as well as other nice species. I would probably try to stay a bit lower in the Kinabatangan, Sukau or Bilit area, I haven't been there but based on my experience and what I read I believe they offer better chances to spot wildlife.

  • Stayed: October 2013, traveled as a couple
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Thank Federico M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Additional Information about Uncle Tan Wildlife Camp

Address: Danau Girang | near the Lokan River, Malaysia
Location: Malaysia > Sabah > Sandakan Division
Hotel Style:
Ranked #4 of 31 Specialty Lodging in Sandakan Division
Also Known As:
Uncle Tan Wildlife Camp Hotel Sabah

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