If you have nature and adventure on your mind and you want to see wildlife in as untouched an environment as possible, then Borneo is a great destination. While you can now explore Malaysian Borneo easily from the two main cities, Kota Kinabalu in Sabah (read here), and Kuching in Sarawak (read here), it does not take too much time and effort to leave the tourists behind and explore a more remote corner of Borneo: the Danum Valley!
The Danum Valley Conservation area is almost in the center of Northern Borneo, far from either coast with little development anywhere close by. It is a mostly undisturbed rainforest with a huge diversity of flora and fauna. There are more than 120 species of mammals, including Orang Utans as well as rare species like the Borneo pygmy elephant, Malayan sun bear, clouded leopard and the endangered Sumatran rhino! If you are into birds, there are more than 300 species recorded! On the edge of the conservation area is the Danum Valley Field Center for serious research!
If you want to explore the Danum Valley, and you should, I’d recommend to stay in the Valley for several days to give you enough time to seek out the wildlife. Borneo Nature Tours operates the Borneo Rainforest Lodge at the heart of the Danum Valley. From the “big city” Kota Kinabalu, you have to fly to the not-so-big city Lahad Datu and drive for about 2-3 hours to get to the Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Congratulations, you are now in the middle of nowhere, literally! It becomes clear very quickly that you are just a guest and monkeys and other animals rule here! I share my hut with a friendly gecko who surprises me in the shower – but that’s good news twice over, because they eat ants and apparently no snake is nearby – as they eat geckos! I’m prepared for our jungle walk with long sleeved pants and shirt despite the heat, a hat and leech socks to keep those blood suckers away!
The first impression of the rainforest is how little you see – you are overwhelmed by the plants, literally, and green in all its shades is all you see. It’s dark and damp and warm. It takes a while to adjust and first you hear all that is around you, little noises and rustling, with nothing to see that would cause it. And then, with the help of our local guide, we start to meet the inhabitants, starting with a giant (no, really, plate size!) spider! That was one of the moments in my live where ignorance really was bliss! It takes more time in the forest to finally see our first Orang Utan in its truly natural habitat, far up in a tree! It’s a very different experience from Sepilok, but even more thrilling! The side-by-side photo from afar and close-up (thanks to a tele lens) gives you a good idea how difficult is to spot wildlife in its natural environment. Because it is, do yourself a favor and plan on several days at the lodge to go on multiple trips, so you have a good chance to spot wildlife! In addition to the walking tours I took, they now also offer 4WD trips to give you a wider range and a more comfortable option.
The Lodge has been renovated since my visit and in addition to the very rustic (aka basic, basic) standard cabins, you now find some deluxe villas with private balconies and infinity pools, overlooking the river! Who said a visit to the Borneo rainforest means roughing it. Regardless of whether you opt for the standard or deluxe accommodation, the wildlife experience is the same and it is one of the best on the planet. I wholeheartedly recommend the Danum Valley as one of the most exciting wildlife and nature destinations I have seen in my life!