Amongst adventure seekers and nature lovers who have
visited Sandakan, the name "Uncle Tan" is
near legendary. Over the past 10 years, thousands have
come to Uncle Tans to experience the adventure,
nature and wildlife in the lower Kinabatangan valley.
Many of these visitors have become friends, and have
returned for second, third ,
visits. By word of
mouth, these kind friends have helped us promote the
Uncle Tans Wildlife Camp so that others too can
enjoy the adventure, wildlife and natural beauty of
the Kinabatangan with us.
Thanks to the support of these kind friends, we have
in the past years developed and set up some good facilities
to make it possible for visitors to visit and stay a
few days in the Kinabatangan valley.
"Independent travel to the Kinabatangan is
Our facilities and activities are all arranged such
that our guests get involved and participate in enjoying
and helping to conserve the Natural Environment. We
do our best to employ locals, use transportation operated
by locals and get our supplies from the local communities
thus part of what you spend goes directly into
the local economy. With this, we hope you will have
an enjoyable time with us and will return home with
a better understanding of our Natural Environment and
the people in the region.
Photos: Uncle Tan's
Photo: Sompit Watkins
Uncle Tan Wildlife Adventures was founded by
the late Uncle Tan.
His real name is Tan Su Lim also known as Sulaiman
Tan but most people know him simply by the name
"Uncle Tan". Uncle Tan started out in
his early days as a cadet with the British Army.
He then went to study at the Teacher's Training
College in Singapore and took the career as a
teacher when he returned to Malaya. He married
and settled in his hometown, Muar, a small district
in the state of Johor in Peninsular Malaysia.
After teaching for a few years, Uncle Tan left
to join a book publication company in Singapore
where he serviced, among other places, the state
of Sabah. It was during this time that he grew
to be very attached to this East Malaysian state.
Subsequently, he left the company and set up his
own bookshop. The venture failed. Uncle Tan left
Uncle Tan tried many things in Sabah. He was
a noodle seller in a coffee shop, he ran a small
restaurant. He tried his luck as a small weeding
and felling contractor, opened a provision shop,
he reared chickens and pigs. He even gave English
tuition and attempted to venture again in the
book business. All of his early ventures in Sabah
were short lived as he got tired of them.
In 1988, he
converted his home to be able to take in a
few travelers and started to take people to the
jungle on a small scale operation. Soon, his popularity
boomed. Today, Uncle Tan's Wildlife Adventures
is still a small company but is well known internationally,
particularly amongst backpackers, budget travellers
and nature lovers.
As a person, Uncle Tan was a colourful character.
He was a person who had a mind of his own. He
spoke his mind without fear, especially where
it concerns environmental issues. He was the chairman
of the Environment Action Committee (EAC) Sandakan
Branch. He was a good writer, a good cook and
most of all, a person who was more than willing
to extend himself out as humanly as possible to
others. He hated people who played god. He was
a believer in the equality of mankind and made
friends with people from all walks of life. He
loved the outdoors and the wilderness.
Uncle Tans life was a mix of all sorts
of things. There were happy moments and also lots
of troubled times but one way or another
his life was never dull. He had a colourful life.
"He [Uncle Tan] is something of a maverick
in the business, with an unconventional approach,
but there is no doubting his knowledge of the
rainforest and the real value of his tour. The
emphasis is in involvement and learning the ways
of the jungle" -
Action Asia Magazine
"Uncle Tan is a local legend; he is a former
higher-up at the predecessor to the KL New Straits
Times, a longtime environmental activist, and
an ex-geography teacher who counts three current
Malaysian Cabinet members amongst his former pupils.
He regales visitors with anecdotes, cooks up five
fabulous meals every day, and draws an eclectic
mix of (mostly western) travelers. His staff,
drawn from local villages, is enthusiastic and
- Lets Go South East Asia, 1998
On 13 Oct 2002, Uncle Tan passed away suddenly.
That morning he had gone to the market opposite
where he stayed in Gum Gum which is also the Ops
Base and Bed & Breakfast premise. When he
returned from the market, he complained of chest
pains and was rushed to hospital. On the way,
he had a massive heart attack. Uncle Tan did not
make it. (click
here to view Daily Express article)
Those who have known Uncle Tan will remember
him for his infectious passion for life, his adventurous
spirit and his big, big heart. Sandakan will always
remember him for his countless community projects,
and as the man who brought tourism into Sandakan.
On the 8th of March 2003, after his death, the EAC recognized Uncle
Tan's contribution to the environment conservation
Uncle Tan is survived by five children
two sons and three daughters. Uncle Tans
children and family are continuing the operations
to ensure that the legacy lives on, and that "Uncle
Tan Wildlife Adventures" will continue to
provide pleasure, knowledge and adventure to thousands
of visitors from all corners of the world. Together
with an experienced and loyal team of staff, they
will continue to provide the best of services
and hospitality to visitors and friends, in the
tradition of "Friendship & Adventure".
In 1986 Uncle Tan started a restaurant near the
Sandakan Airport. The people who work in the Government
Offices at Mile 7 and the Forestry Headquarter often
ate at his restaurant. Coming to eat at the Restaurant
were also small groups of tourists brought in by some
Kota Kinabalu based tour operators. Most of those tourists
came into Sandakan on the first flight and left in the
afternoon flight. They came just to see the Orang Utans
Very often Uncle Tan had the chance to speak to the
tourists. They all thought they should have more time
in Sandakan . Not many tourists went to the Turtle Islands
in those days as there were no boat service or tour
companies in Sandakan then. Uncle Tan was the first
to run regular trips to the Turtle Islands using our
converted fishing trawler.
Among the Government employees who ate at his Restaurant
were people who worked for the Wildlife Section of the
Forestry Department and the Sabah Park Office in Sandakan.
These people were often approached by tourists for information
on the Turtle Islands and the Gomantong Caves. Those
Government employees knew Uncle Tan had some experience
in Tourism while working in Singapore and Johore. They
persuaded him to start some sort of a Guiding Service
and take the tourists out to the Turtle Islands and
the Gomantong Caves. Uncle Tan was the first to organise
tours to the Turtle Islands and the Gomantong Caves.
In 1987, Uncle Tan went full time as a Tour Guide and
Out Fitter and later started a small Bed and Breakfast
so that Tourists will have the chance to stay longer
A brief chronological evolution of Uncle Tan's Jungle Camp:
Uncle Tan's Bed & Breakfast; Uncle Tan takes first
group of visitors to Kinabatangan - 1988
Uncle Tan's Wildlife Camp - 1990
Kiabau Cultural Village Home Stay 1990
Pulau Libaran Home Stay 1990
Tanjung Aru Home Stay 1991
Kuamut Adventure Base 1992
Pulau Libaran Retreat 1992
Jambongan Home Stay 1992
Trangkarason Home Stay 1992
Uncle Tan's grew mainly by "WORD-OF-MOUTH"
with our visitors telling their friends about us. For
our growth we must thank all those backpackers and budget
travellers who told their friends about us, and also
wrote to publishers of Travel Guide Books about us .
We grew because of the backpackers and Budget travellers.
We are grateful to them.
From the very start we had adhere very strictly to
the Eco-Tourism Principles -
Responsible Travel with concern for
a) The Conservation of the Natural Environment.
b) The well-being of the local people.
See the Real Sabah
"We were the first to start a Wildlife Camp in
the Lower Kinabatangan area and we are still insistent
on "Come and see us as we are" - we are not
going to change just for the sake of earning some Tourists'
spending." - Uncle Tan
Uncle Tan Wildlife Adventures Sdn Bhd
(f.k.a. Elite Kinabalu Adventure Sdn Bhd)
Uncle Tan Wildlife Adventures
is a Licensed Tour Company under
Ministry of Culture, Arts & Tourism Licence No.
Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA)
Membership No. MA1867
Communication via Email:
Operations Base/ Bed & Breakfast Premises:
Lot No. 1
Mile 14, Jalan Sepilok,
or Mobile Phone +6016- 8244749