I sadly said goodbye to new friends in Kuching to head to the Danum Valley Conservation Area for some jungle trekking and animal spotting. I flew from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu, spent the night, and then hopped a 6:00 a.m. flight (gross) from there to Lahad Datu, followed by a 2.5 hour jeep ride down a bumpy road and through a river (not on a bridge – the jeep literally drove through the river to get to the road on the other side) to get to the rainforest area. If you have motion sickness, I highly recommend you take your required meds as I can only describe the condition of the road as an experience that will ensure that any loose joints or muscles will most certainly find their way back to where they should be. Free chiropractic therapy.
Lucky for us, on the drive to the rainforest, we were able to pull over and observe orangutangs feasting on some fruits as well as a family of long tail macaques. These animals are wild and have no interest in humans (so no need to protect shiny things or your lunch from the macaques), other than to ensure we aren’t a predator. When they were concerned by our presence, they just climbed further up in the trees or moved to other trees where we couldn’t see them.
There are two main entry areas to the area, either through Lahad Datu or through Tauwau. So, really up to you in terms of which part of the conservation area you wish to visit. I did both for the full range of animal spotting experiences.
There are two accommodation options: Danum Valley Field Centre (think hostel rustic) which is there primarily to accommodate researchers studying the flora/fauna of the rainforest (it is not really made to cater to tourists – and they will always give priority to the researchers before confirming availability for your stay – which makes sense. I had a great stay here but you are definitely on your own for figuring things out for hiking trails, etc. In my experience, they did not take reservations so you had to roll the dice, show up and hope for a bed) and the Borneo Rainforest Lodge (more expensive than the Field Centre but caters to the needs of tourists – I had a lovely experience here. Note to remember: the price quoted includes the services of a guide for your entire stay, accommodation, all meals, transport to/from airport via jeep, etc. You will spend no other money here unless you choose to have alcohol or buy something from the gift shop/spa. Shop around for prices…I booked my stay at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge through Downbelow Adventures as they were running a promotion and it ended up being cheaper than other providers, including the Borneo Rainforest Lodge itself).
Datum Valley Conservation Area 101
The Danum Valley Conservation Area is a 438 square kilometres tract of relatively undisturbed lowland dipterocarp forest in the province of Sabah, Malaysia. It has an extensive diversity of tropical flora and fauna and the tree canopy reaches over 70 metres in some places. It is really something quite special.
A large portion of the rainforest is a primary rainforest – meaning that the bulk of it has not been disturbed (no logging, no human settlements, no disturbing of the trees/flowers…not even by the ice age). The trees in the primary rainforest section are the original trees that are millions of years old.
The Adventure Begins
I arrived at the lodge around 11:30 a.m., just in time for lunch (or in my case, breakfast – I am certain that my system would revolt against me if I tried to have breakfast at 4:00 a.m.). After lunch and getting changed in more jungle trekking suitable clothing, we were off to start the search for animals.
Within the first 15 minutes, a guide radioed our guide to let us know that his group spotted an orangutan not far away. We quickly rushed over to watch Abu (as he is known to the researchers and guides), a 66-year-old male orangutan, enjoying some tree leaves and having a nap. I was so excited to see him as that’s all I’ve wanted to see in Borneo. And with Semenggoh being unsuccessful, it was a treat to have two orangutang spottings on the first day of my rainforest adventure. All other animal sightings would be a bonus from this point on.
After observing Abu do his orangutan thing, we continued our two hour trek through the hot, humid jungle. I finally got used to the heat in Southeast Asia only to spend my time trekking in jungles where it is a whole new level of hot.
We (I should clarify the we – Ronald (the guide), and a young couple from Ireland, and me) also saw a family of long-tailed macaques leaping from branch to branch and feasting on leaves. There were also a number of cool insects like stick insects, different coloured millipedes, lantern bugs, butterflies the size of my two hands put together (that look like leaves floating gracefully to the ground until they start flying upwards again), and various lizards.
After returning from our trek, showering and enjoying dinner, we went on a “night safari”. It is basically a pickup truck with benches on either side of it that you sit on to try to find nocturnal animals. (Bug repellant is extremely recommended).
On the night safari, we saw three different species of flying squirrels. We were also lucky enough to actually see one “fly” (they glide, actually) from one tree to another – about 20 meters in distance. We also saw a civet, fireflies, and other nocturnal lizards and insects. No clouded leopards though (they are quite rare).
- Do shop around for prices for your stay at Borneo Rainforest Lodge – prices vary wildly, including through the Lodge itself.
- Do read my post on avoiding leeches – you’ll be happy you did.