Wildlife was certain to feature prominently on our Kota Kinabalu itinerary and it was my goal to balance seeing Borneo’s diverse flora and fauna with my 8-year-old’s tolerances and a limited time frame. For us, a visit to the Nature Reserve at Shangri-la’s Rasa Ria Resort and Spa (our hosts) was a perfect solution because we could view orangutans, learn about this 140 million-year-old rainforest from experts and enjoy the luxury resort’s facilities for the day.
About Shangri-la’s Rasa Ria Nature Reserve
The Rasa Ria Nature Reserve was established by the resort in partnership with the State Wildlife Department of Sabah. (Sabah is one of the two Malaysian states on the north side of the island of Borneo. Brunei is also on the north of the island with Indonesia at the south end.)
When in Borneo, you must see one of their iconic orangutans. It’s so easy to become enthralled by their whimsical and cheeky moves yet a good reminder that their habit is shrinking and responsible choices made worldwide (such as sustainable palm oil) can help prevent them and other rainforest animals from becoming extinct.
The 64-acre reserve provides a home for rescued endangered and endemic animals. For the orangutans, it’s a place to heal before heading to the famous Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre—located deeper in the rainforest—where they’ll be taught critical survival skills and before being released back into the wild.
Despite a location adjacent to a spectacular five-star resort full of fabulous leisure activities, the Rasa Ria Nature Reserve takes conservation seriously (visitors are kept a safe distance from orangutans) and that became obvious immediately after our arrival. And, once you step into the reserve and are shielded by a massive canopy of green, it’s easy to forget the beach is just steps away.
The Ranger Experience and Orangutan Viewing
A wide range of educational programming is on offer including bird watching, nocturnal animal watching, jungle walks, orangutan viewing and ranger experiences. In advance of our arrival, I enrolled my daughter in the Ranger Experience which happens in combination with an orangutan viewing.
First, she underwent a brief physical examination by a resort nurse to determine whether she was healthy enough to participate in the Ranger Experience. After approval, we walked over to the Rasa Ria Nature Reserve entrance, a less than 5-minute walk from the main lobby.
Parents do not accompany kids on their ranger duties so I remained back at the Nature Interpretation Centre to watch an incredibly interesting video about Borneo and the work the Rasa Ria Nature Reserve does in partnership with Sepilok to rehabilitate and release orangutans. Kids are given special t-shirts to wear during the experience that they get to keep as a souvenir so off she went to change. I imagine that it helps the rangers keep track of who is participating.
I couldn’t see exactly what she was learning, but she told me that the kids chopped up vegetables and fruit (using plastic cutlery) for the orangutans while the keepers explained the basics of their care. I would say they were busy behind the scenes for about 30 minutes.
When the kids were finished, they met up with the rest of the group to walk up to the orangutan viewing platform. The somewhat rugged walk took about 5-10 minutes on a dirt path, passing beautiful foliage and even a snake along the way. It felt like stepping into the jungle.
I was glad we both had pants and closed-toed shoes on.
Upon arriving to the multi-level viewing platform, guests arranged themselves so that everyone had a good view. There were babies on up through adults in attendance though the ranger warned that the orangutans won’t come into view if there is too much noise. You feel very much like you’re in the forest with them—there’s no glass or really much of anything to separate you other than a waist-high fence to keep viewers safely on the platform.
The ranger poured the fruit and veggies on to the orangutans’ platform, stepped away and called for them. It took a few minutes but one eventually swung his way over. Then, the other followed. Two orangutans were in residence at the time of our visit.
Mango seemed to be the most popular choice. It was neat to watch them swing around with enviable flexibility and little tufts of auburn hair flowing in the breeze. Cute is completely an understatement.
More animal fun was on tap for the kids in the Ranger Experience program. After the orangutan viewing, they were rounded up again and led back down to near the reserve entrance to feed some of the more domesticated animals.
These crazy-looking ducks were quite a hoot, personality-wise.
At the end of the program, each smiling child was awarded with a certificate of achievement by the ranger.
The Ranger Experience, including the orangutan viewing, took about 90 minutes in total. The Nature Reserve offers programming throughout the day so you can book multiple educational experiences with breaks at the beach and the resort’s amazing restaurants in between. I look forward to sharing more about our fun day at the resort soon.
Getting to Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort and Spa
Kota Kinabalu is home to two luxurious, beachfront Shangri-la resorts. The Shangri-la’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa is located closer the airport and city life in Kota Kinabalu with easy access to the outlying islands. The Shangri-la’s Rasa Ria Resort and Spa lies on Pantai Dalit beach and is surrounded by the resort’s Nature Reserve, about 40 minutes away from the airport. Shangri-la guests may enjoy a scheduled shuttle service between the two properties to enjoy the best of both worlds for a day. Otherwise, I’d imagine you’d need to take a taxi or car.
Plan Your Visit in Advance
To keep educational programming sessions intimate and safe for the animals, the Nature Reserve limits the amount of people visiting at any one time. You’ll need to make a reservation by calling or emailing the resort’s reservations department in advance of your visit.
Why We Loved It
Meet Pongo, the adorable orangutan mascot of Shangri-la’s Rasa Ria Resort and Spa.
I’m a huge fan of personalized experiences that are fun, educational and take you a behind the scenes. Visiting the Rasa Ria Nature Reserve combines all of this with the added benefit of resort amenities nearby, which is perfect for visiting Kota Kinabalu kids (younger ones, especially). While you can visit Sepilok, the Rasa Ria Nature Reserve (though smaller) is conveniently located much closer to the city.
And, the combined Ranger Experience and Orangutan Viewing was a the highlight of my daughter’s trip.
Pantai Dalit Beach
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*Thank you to Shangri-la Rasa Ria Resort and Spa for hosting our day.