A Wildlife Adventure in Indonesia and Malaysia: Rainforests, Coral Reefs, and More

by | Destinations, On Safari, Trip Reports

Indonesia and Malaysia are the gems of Southeast Asia — each offering breathtaking natural beauty and unique wildlife experiences. I embarked on an unforgettable journey through these two countries with a journey into the heart of Borneo, wild jungles of Sumatra, and beauty of Komodo and Raja Ampat.

Tanjung Puting National Park, Indonesia
My adventure kicked off in Indonesia at Borneo’s Tanjung Puting National Park where I set sail on a traditional wooden Klotok boat. Navigating through winding rivers and lush rainforests, I was greeted by the awe-inspiring sight of orangutans swinging gracefully through the trees. These incredible creatures, both elegant and powerful, are indigenous to the region. Additionally, the side of the rivers were dotted with troops of proboscis monkeys, adding to my experience as I have wanted to photograph them since I first learned about them as a child.

Raja Ampat, Indonesia: The Diver’s Paradise
From Borneo, I headed to the remote Raja Ampat archipelago, where I met my family, renowned for its unparalleled diving and snorkeling opportunities. Beneath the crystal- clear waters, we discovered an underwater wonderland, brimming with vibrant coral reefs and an astonishing array of marine life. Raja Ampat is a true paradise for marine enthusiasts, and it left me in awe of the immense biodiversity hidden beneath the surface.


Labuan Bajo and the Komodo Islands, Indonesia
Next on our itinerary was Labuan Bajo, where we embarked on a traditional sailboat to explore the iconic Komodo Islands. These ancient reptiles — the Komodo dragons — were every bit as fascinating as I had imagined. Their prehistoric presence is a testament to the rich biodiversity of the Indonesian archipelago. Snorkeling in the pristine waters around the islands provided a refreshing contrast to the rugged terrain and legendary dragons. The highlight of this region, as agreed upon by my three daughters, was seeing the thousands of flying foxes (fruit bats) leaving their mangrove roosts to forage for
fruits as the sun set over the horizon.

Gunung Leuser National Park, Sumatra, Indonesia
After dropping my family in Jakarta for their flight back to the U.S., my Indonesian journey continued to Sumatra’s Gunung Leuser National Park. The morning treks into the park begin through a sustainable rubber plantation where you learn the economic differences of palm oil and rubber plantations and the effects each have on the environment and wildlife. Shortly into my walk, we spotted a large male orangutan, who, after resting in a tree for a while, dropped to the ground not too far from where I was sitting. Seeing this large creature, which shares over 97% of our DNA, up close was another of my top wildlife experiences.

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center and Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, Malaysia
Crossing into Malaysia, I visited the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. Here, orphaned and injured orangutans are rehabilitated and prepared for life in the wild. Witnessing their progress was heartwarming, and it was evident that every effort is made to ensure their well-being.

Nearby, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre showcased the conservation of another unique species, the sun bear. With bears being one of my favorite photography subjects, this small, enigmatic creature captured my heart with its charm and resilience.

Kinabatangan Wildlife Refuge
My journey in Malaysia continued to the Kinabatangan Wildlife Refuge, where I embarked on river safaris, spotting a diverse array of wildlife — including proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants, and hornbills. This region’s abundant biodiversity is a testament to the importance of preserving these precious habitats. In one afternoon, I saw the Borneo Big Five (orangutans, proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants, crocodile, and the rhinoceros hornbill), including an amazing sighting of a Borneo pygmy elephant swimming in the river.

Danum Valley, Malaysia
My final stop was the Danum Valley, a pristine rainforest where I had the privilege of observing orangutans and gibbons in their natural habitat once again. The lush, ancient trees and the echoing calls of gibbons made it a truly magical experience.

This incredible journey through Indonesia and Malaysia was a celebration of the region’s rich biodiversity and commitment to wildlife conservation. From orangutans swinging through the trees to the vibrant underwater world of Raja Ampat, this trip will forever hold a special place in my heart. It’s a reminder of the importance of protecting these precious ecosystems and the incredible creatures that call them home.