Ricky Kresslein

Rainforest Discovery Center


On the island of Borneo there are two places that reserve a spot close to my heart and my camera lens: Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) in Sepilok, Malaysia and Bako National Park.

With an entrance fee of $8 for the whole day, one is free to roam around the paths and canopy walkways of the RDC without a guide. I have taken some of my best portfolio photos in this park.

Sepilok is a huge tourist spot in Malaysia, but the RDC feels nearly empty in comparison. Fortunately for us photographers, all the tourists go to Sepilok for the Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, where workers feed the local orangutan population twice daily for the benefit of paying guests.

I stayed within walking distance of the RDC for a week (specifics below), and I took my camera there twice a day, every day. The opportunity to get eye-level photos of arboreal wildlife cannot be underestimated, and this is one of the easiest ways I know of to do that. Most of the animals here are at least slightly used to humans and so are less skittish than they would be elsewhere.

During my time at the RDC, I saw many species, and even a couple I had never seen or heard of before:

Just to add a little info about some of these animals: The Hose’s Langur is an incredibly beautiful animal. It almost looks like it is wearing war paint or prepared for a baseball game with the black lines under its eyes. Not only is it beautiful, but I have not seen a single photograph of it that has wowed me, so there is definitely room to get the best photo of this species in the world. It is also, however, the most skittish animal I came across in the park, and even though I saw it on three occasions, I never got a photo worth sharing.

There are several Rhinoceros Hornbills in the RDC. They were one of the animals I could count on being here every day. Not only are they beautiful creatures, but the light and scenery in this park in the early morning just after sunrise is some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. If you can be there at the right time, when the light is just right and a hornbill is perched in the right spot, you could get a world class image.

The Red Giant Flying Squirrel is in the same spot every day, in a hole in a tree high above the walking platform. Here is a link to the exact location on Google Maps. You will not see it peak out of its hole until just before dark, right before or at sunset. It will typically peak out for about thirty minutes before jumping and gliding to another tree and latching on to its trunk. I recommend having a fast lens, as it is quite dark by the time it jumps.

Where to Stay

There are a couple places to stay here, but if you are looking for the closest (walking distance) hotel with limited amenities but food served at every meal, I highly recommend Sepilok B&B. It is cozy and clean, with air conditioning. What more can you ask for? The only downsides are the wifi sucks and there is hardly any cell reception.

There are nicer places nearby that cost more. You can find them on Booking.com or Airbnb. I haven’t stayed at any of these, so I cannot recommend them.

How to Get There

There are two ways to get to Sepilok - by bus from Kota Kinabalu or plane from Kota Kinabalu or Kuching to Sandakan. I chose the plane because it only cost about $20 (not much more than the bus) and only took about twenty minutes in the air. I believe the bus takes about four hours and costs around $10, but do not quote me on that.

From Sandakan, you can take a bus or a Grab (like Uber) to Sepilok. It’s about a 20-30 minute drive by car, and around 45 minutes to 1 hour by bus. I took a Grab, which cost around $10.

And that’s the basic rundown of visiting the Sandakan Rainforest Discovery Center in Sepilok! It’s one of my favorite places for wildlife photography in the world, so if you decide to visit I hope you love it too!