WILD ENCOUNTERS: 5 family friendly wildlife adventures
1.Orangutans & gibbons: Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia
This is an amazingly friendly village where you're virtually guaranteed sightings of orangutans on your jungle walks. Yes, they are mostly semi-wild, having been released years ago, but at least you're walking through a national park and coming across them as you go, so it's a good compromise between visiting a rehabilitation centre and trying to find completely wild animals.
Arrange for someone from your pre-booked accommodation to pick you up from the airport as getting their using public transport option is pretty difficult.
We stayed at the Garden Inn, which is fabulous, although there are other good options. Stay at this end of town as it's the nicest area by far. Another good option is the Jungle Inn (although the website is a bit basic, it's probably the nicest place to stay in town but rooms are just doubles, it doesn't work as well if you are a family and need to sleep 4). Eat at either of these or Sam's Bungalows.
Make sure to ask for Sinar as your guide. He's an older guide who has worked with the orangutans for 20+ years. He's an absolute treasure - wise and kind - and cares deeply about the animals. Many of the younger guides feed the orangutans, gibbons and monkeys to encourage them to come close. Please let your guide know that you don't approve of this if your does it (Sinar won't).
Read about our visit here
2. Puffins: Skomer Island, Wales
This is a fantastic day trip if you're in the UK. You catch a boat out to the island (limited to 250 visitors per day, so go early) and you can follow the trail around the island with a self-guided map. It's a flat, easy walk, and we saw seals, dolphins and all sorts of sea birds, including, of course, the beautiful puffins - right up close (in fact, so close, we could have touched them).
You will need a car. Take lunch, snacks and drinks as there's nothing to buy on the island.
We stayed at the Broad Haven Youth Hostel (you don't have to be members but it's worth booking ahead to secure a family room).
For more details, visit the Wildlfe Trust website
3. Proboscis monkeys: Bako National Park, Borneo, Malaysia
We stayed in the national park for three nights and the wildlife was easy to see around the accommodation and eating area, including bearded pigs, proboscis monkeys, vipers (if you're lucky) and macaques (unavoidable, I'm afraid). Further afield, you can see an amazing diversity of pitcher plants and some spectacular birdlife.
You can also go on night walks along an extensive boardwalk - either guided or unguided (guides aren't required here, day or night).
You can do a day trip to Bako from Kuching, but we recommend staying at least one night (and more if you can). You can catch a bus to the park office (from where you take a short boat trip to the park itself), but we decided to get a taxi as it was very reasonable.
To book our accommodation (which Includes a range of different lodges and hostels and a camping ground), we visited the national park office in Kuching, where you can sit down with the very helpful and patient park employees and book all of your national park stays in one go. It's also possible to book online.
You don't need to take food to the park as there's a cafe that offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, although there are barbecue pits provided if you want to prepare your own meals. Towels and sheets are provided but make sure to take plenty of mosquito repellent.
In Kuching, we stayed at the Nova Hotel, which is lovely and new but a bit of a walk to the town centre (although there are lots of shops and eating places nearby that aren't as touristy as those in the centre of town).
4. Irrawaddy dolphins: Kratie, Cambodia
This isn't very adventurous, but it's a lovely experience if you're in Cambodia, particularly if you're heading overland up to Laos. From Kratie, hire a tuk-tuk to drive you out to the village, which about 15 kilometres out of town (don't be tempted to ride a bike out - it's too hot). The driver will then wait to drive you back to town.
You'll be assigned to a boat (they are allocated to you in order to share the customers, and hence the revenue, evenly between the boat owners) and taken a short way into the centre of the river to see the dolphins. It's magic if you're the only boat as you can sit and watch the pods of dolphins swim around you, listening to them breathe as they surface.
Although it's a little out of the town centre, we stayed at Le Tonle, a not-for-profit training hotel that provides vocational training to disadvantaged youth from Cambodia’s northeastern provinces. Make sure to book ahead as they don't have many rooms. The staff are friendly and helpful and the on-site restaurant serves good food, so you can eat there if you would prefer not to head into town.
While you're in Kratie, spend half a day on Koh Trong, the large island in the river adjacent to the town. You can catch a little ferry across the Mekong to the island and then hire bikes and ride around a bike path that encircles the island. It's nice and flat and pleasantly rural.
You can read about our trip here.
5. Rafflesia flower: Gunung Gading National Park, Borneo, Malaysia
Not an animal, but a very cool flower - the world's biggest in fact. The jungle is hot and sticky, but you can cool down with a swim in a waterhole, often complete with toe-nibbling fish. This trip is not for the faint-hearted as it's hot work, and there's no guarantee that a flower will be blooming when you get there.
As with Bako National Park, we arranged our accommodation beforehand with the national park office in Kuching. You can stay in a lovely house, but you must bring all of your own food and water as there's nothing to buy on site and no shops or restaurants within walking distance.
Although there's a bus, we got a taxi so we didn't have to lug all of the food and water with us on the bus.
You can read about our experience here.