We braved the tropical jungle, creepy crawlies, and the wilds to bring you our top picks for a fantastic “safari” in Malaysia. While a few of our choices will lead you deep into rainforest territory, some are located in urban centers, and all are perfect for the entire family. So the next time you plan on visiting Malaysia, why not make it an educational one and get to know some of our “wilder” residents here!
Elephants at the Doorstep
Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sabah (tabinwildlife.com.my)
Deep in rainforest territory, some seven hours’ drive or an hour’s flight from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, is Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Roaming the 300,000 acres of lowland dipterocarp forest are three of the largest mammals of Sabah, namely the Borneo Pygmy Elephant, Sumatran Rhinoceros and Tembadau. Though there is no guarantee that you will see them, there have been sightings of elephants very near the reserve’s on-site resort! Also calling this place home are the 300 species of birds, orangutans, civet cats, frogs and a multitude of insects!
Exploring the area is easy and one mustn’t miss the chance to visit the Lipad Waterfalls for a nice, cold dip, or the Lipad mud volcanoes (known as an R&R for wildlife seeking their mineral intake). In the evening, take a dusk drive to look out for more nocturnal wildlife and birds coming out to look for food during this time of the day. After dinner, go for a night walk along the trail nearby the resort in search of sleeping birds, frogs, and nocturnal wildlife. Cozy jungle lodges are available to make your stay more comfortable, and we do recommend at least a three-night stay to really explore all that this amazing reserve has to offer.
Wings of Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur Bird Park (klbirdpark.com)
Nestled in lush green surroundings on top of a small hill lies the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park. So well does this man-made bird park blend with nature, that one easily forgets that it is located right in the heart of a bustling city. Convenience aside, this park really shines as the perfect place to spend a weekend morning with the children.
The bird park covers an area of more than 20 acres, with a landscape reminiscent of a tropical rainforest. It lays claim as the biggest bird park in Malaysia with the largest walk-in free-flight aviary in the world. At last count, there were some 3,000 birds of more than 200 species calling the park home. Among them are brahminy kites, rhinoceros hornbill (the largest hornbill species in the world), southern cassowary, channel-billed toucan, the rare Pesquet’s parrot (found only in Papua New Guinea) and the Moluccan cockatoo.
Here, birds are free to fly, glide or parade (as in the case of the peacock beauties) as they please. One of the amazing things to witness is the morning feeding session where birds of all colours and sizes suddenly swoop down from all sides in their rush to be the first at the feeding station.
Lucky visitors will get to witness the courtship display of the Indian Blue Peacock with its magnificent, colourful, five-foot train, or the yellow-billed stork build nests from fallen twigs. Also, don’t forget to say hello to the cheeky Indian Ring-necked parakeet, crowned pigeon (the largest of its species with a body the size of a turkey), the huge pelican, and the egrets, ibises, and flamingoes in the neighborhood!
Dancing with Butterflies
Entopia, Penang (entopia.com)
Have a fear of insects? Perhaps you can overcome it with close encounters of some of the world’s beautiful insects at Entopia. Situated at Teluk Bahang, Penang, it is a facility to learn all about insects and especially butterflies in a safe and fun environment.
Various species of butterflies “dance” freely in the so-called “The Natureland” outdoor ecological park. Those interested in entomology can walk among flying birdwing, autumn leaf, blue glassy tiger, and orange tip butterflies, among others. Certainly, one of the stars at Entopia is the beautiful Rajah Brooke Birdwing butterfly, one of the biggest diurnal butterflies in the world.
Apart from butterflies, other insects, invertebrates and small reptiles are also available at the park for study. These include the rhinoceros beetles, dragonhead cricket, dragonfly, firefly, leaf cutter ants, nephila spider, Malaysian giant scorpions, centipede, great angle head lizard, water monitor lizard, cat gecko, and many more. You can even see amphibians like tree frogs and poison dart frogs here. Learn more about them by signing up for the bug exploration sessions.
An Urban Farm
Farm in the City, Selangor (fitc.com.my)
Spread across an expansive 7 acres, Farm in the City is an animal-petting park where visitors wander around a Malaysian-style kampong or village while learning about more than 100 species of farm and unique animals from around the world.
Imagine strolling around the farm and encountering a rooster passing by, a tortoise grazing on a piece of vegetable, or an alpaca being led away! Well, that’s exactly what it’s like at this farm where many of the animals roam free.
Visitors can pet, stroke and feed animals such as fish, birds, hamsters, giant tortoise, rabbits and raccoons at selected times and under staff supervision. There is a popular section called “Longkang Fishing” where the young ones seem to have a whale of a time catching (and releasing) small fish in the ditch.
Besides the close interaction with animals, there are “briefing” sessions conducted by trained staff where you can learn more about each animal species, too. Get to know better the blue-tongued lizards, giant tortoises, star turtles, Javan deer, cute alpacas, rare white crows, Himalayan striped squirrels, meerkats, the Feenex fox, and more.
This outdoor park is dotted with various fruit trees and even has a spice and herb garden to explore. Nature guides are available and information signboard are full of information for young learners to know more about these animals and plants.
Hanging Out with Orangutans
Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, Sarawak (www.facebook.com/Semenggoh/)
Looking for friends to “hang out” within Sarawak? Take a 40-minute drive out from Kuching to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, an award-winning rehabilitation center for orangutans in Malaysia. Here’s a chance to meet semi-wild orangutans, ranging from tiny infants and boisterous adolescents to dignified mature adults, all of whom are enjoying life in a secure natural habitat.
The orangutans here have been rescued from captivity and rehabilitated so that they are able to survive in the wild on their own again. So successful is the programme that today, the surrounding forest thrives with a healthy population of orangutans who are now even breeding in the wild.
They spend most of their time roaming the forest but frequently come back to the center for a free meal. If it is the fruiting season in the forest, some or even all of them may not come to feed at the center. This in itself is a good sign and another step on the way to full rehabilitation.
We recommend that you visit during the morning or afternoon feeding sessions – this is when these gentle creatures emerge from the surrounding forest to take their meals.
But, if in the event the orangutans shy away, Semenggoh is still a great place for birdwatching. Species like Yellow-rumped flowerpecker, Bornean black-magpie, long-billed partridge, red-bearded bee-eater and much more are there for you to find.