Travels around Malaysia – Part 6: Danum Valley

This is the sixth and final part of a series of blogs that describes our holiday on the Malaysian Peninsular and the Malaysian portion of Borneo.

The Agony and the Ecstasy

An early pick up took us on a two hour journey by minivan to Lahad Datu (an important centre for the palm oil industry), where we navigated the police checkpoint. There we switched to a 4X4 pickup for the remaining two and a half hours to The Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Danum Valley as some of the roads were a little rough (great – another tenderising session for my bottom). Our package included a guide (Mamu) and he joined us on the journey from Lahad Datu.  We got an early reward for the long journey when Mamu spotted an Orangutan languidly climbing a tree beside the road. So an impromptu stop set our stay off to a great start.

Rhino beetle Datum Valley is one of the oldest rainforest in the world at 130 million years old. The conservation area is a massive 438 sq km, 90% of which is covered with virgin dipterocarp forest. It is also home to an unimaginable number of plants, insects, mammals and birds..

Our guided outings started with a short introduction walk that afternoon and it soon became apparent how skilled and knowledgeable Mamu our guide was. At 8:30pm we joined him again for a night drive. We sat on padded (thank goodness) bench seats in the back of the truck, Mamu on a chair on top of the cab with a searchlight and a driver in the cab. After a fascinating two hour outing we had spotted a Civit, a flying red squirrel (and seen it fly) fireflies and a frog. The searchlight also attracted all sorts of insects including some rather large wasps. The good news is that we were ok sitting in the back, the bad news for Mamu was that he had the searchlight and got stung. Ouch!

Tree hugging Of course we didn’t need a guide to see all the wildlife. On the boardwalk that night we gave the right of way to a flying snake (well you would wouldn’t you), saw long tailed macaques from our balcony, as well as many many birds and butterflies.

Next morning it was an early start for a pre-breakfast canopy walk. The canopy walk here is about 300m long and about 27m from the rainforest floor, which puts you considerably less than half way up some of the tallest tress that loom over you. Now I’ve often wondered what this tree hugging thing is all about, but not being one to knock it until I’ve tried it, I thought I’d give it a go. On a very hot steamy morning, the bark is remarkably cool on your face, so now I know why they do it! On this walk, and a further night walk we discovered an orangutan, rhino hornbill, trogon (a bright red bird), millipede, mimosa plant (aka touch me not) that shrinks away from you when touched, rhino beetle and a tarantula which had just had babies (binoculars for me so I could keep my distance from the arachnids). A challenging three km walk on the coffin trail revealed an ancient burial site plus magnificent views across the valley. A leech on Linda's hand Leech socks were a must and they mainly did their job but Linda and Mamu got leached. The lodge supplied her with a blood donation certificate for her troubles though, all part of rainforest fun. 

We’d quite gotten used to being woken by the rainforest chorus, particularly the cicadas that were no respecter of my beauty sleep. On our last morning it was different though, we could hear the whoop of nearby Gibbons, so we set off with Mamu to find them. For two hours of trekking, through some fairly tough trails, the source of the whoop was tantalisingly close but never in sight. We were resigned to coming up empty, well they don’t work to anyone’s schedule. Just as we turned back we heard the whoop again, so close this time and two mins of hurried shoving through branches brought us the reward of the Gibbons right above eating and swinging about. That was it, time to head home well satisfied, but it was bonus time and right back at the lodge were red leaf monkeys playing in the trees by reception. Were they saying “Nah nah, you walked all that way and we were here all the time”.

Lunch The Borneo Rainforest Lodge is remarkably luxurious accommodation so deep in the rainforest. Well equipped bungalows on raised platforms (ours had a tub on the balcony so we could soak and admire the view) are complemented by the two story lodge where drinks/meals are served. Outstanding meals are served on an open verandah overlooking the rainforest. A typical lunch and dinner consisted of starters, soup, all four main course dishes and desert, plus two very full and immensely satisfied stomachs. The staff here were some of the most attentive and lovely people we have ever encountered.

We left for home with mixed feelings. The ecstasy of a great holiday that contained so much fun and new experiences. The agony that lives had been lost in the invasion, tourism was affected immediately and no doubt will be in the future. Inevitably it will have an impact on the lives of the lovely welcoming people we met. Hopefully tourists will return in numbers soon.

For holidays to Asia, Silver Travel Advisor recommends Selective Asia.

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Steve Aldridge

Award-winning travel writer

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