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I made a 4-day trip to Danum Valley Conservation Area in eastern Sabah, west Malaysia from May 30 to June 2. We stayed at Borneo Rainforest Lodge, which provided a 3-day or 4-day package that included accommodation, guided treks, all meals and soft drinks.

 

The lodge has since extended the packages as it has found that a 3-day stay did not give sufficient time to really explore the rainforest. In fact, we found that our 4-day stay was just a tad too short to see much, but Mr Kitsafari couldn’t take more leave.

 

My trip followed in the wake of @kittykatuk23 and @safarical. In his previous reports, Mr SCal gave invaluable details before and KK23 saw a myriad of flora and fauna during her trip, so I will try not repeat much of what has been said before.

 

2 weeks before we left, a mainland Chinese supervisor was kidnapped in a fish farm off Lahad Datu. There has been a spate of kidnappings along the east coast of Sabah in recent months and a few countries have issued travel advisories.

 

The kidnappings are thought to have been carried out by the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf military group or the Sulu mitant groups. The groups are based in southern Philippines which is very close to the islands off Sabah. It has become a rather lucrative trade for the militants to kidnap for ransom. They would kidnap anyone they can get hold off, mainly in island resorts because they can quickly escape in their speedboats back into Philippines waters where the Malaysian navy cannot follow.

 

So when the kidnapping happened so close to Lahad Datu, we were rather alarmed and I made a couple of calls to Borneo Naturetours, which organizes the trips to the lodge, and to the lodge itself to ask about security.

 

On both occasions, I was assured that Danum Valley is a 2.5-hour drive into the thick forest and that the Philippine militants would not penetrate there as they can’t do a quick getaway.

 

It was close to our departure date, so we decided to go for it. we returned safe and sound, and more pointedly, very happy with the experience.

 

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From Singapore, you need to fly to Kota Kinabalu before flying to Lahad Datu, the gateway into Danum Valley. We decided to fly straight from Singapore into Lahad datu to avoid staying a night in Kota Kinabalu.

 

We took an early morning flight from Singapore into Kota Kinabalu airport (2.5hr flight via Silkair from 0850hrs). The KK airport was a very sleepy affair that morning so it was a quick affair to grab our bags, went through the immigration and then check in again for the domestic flight. I had checked with Silkair earlier if we could check in the luggage from Singapore through to Lahad Datu but the customer service office told me we couldn’t as Silkair did not have any arrangement with MAS Wings (for our domestic flight to LD), which proved erroneous as we found out on the flight back.

 

We waited 2 hours in KK for the Lahad datu flight, during which we camped at McDonalds for its free wifi and bags of salt (taking the advice from SCal). The way into the domestic terminal was just next to the big M.

 

Then it was an hour flight from KK to LD (via MAS Wings), and we flew over areas where you can see huge tracts of forests that have been logged or mined, leaving ugly scars of rings on the surface. As the plane descended into LD, vast palm oil plantations rush up to meet you.

 

We arrived at 3.40pm and were taken to Borneo Naturetour’s office first to register and to be “briefed”. We booked our trip via Borneo Naturetour, which is essentially affiliated to the BRL. There are regular briefings in the morning when the main groups arrive, but because we arrived late, we had to arrange an “unscheduled” transport to the lodge, but it did not cost a lot. Cheaper than a night stay in KK.

 

Then it was a half hour drive to the edge of Danum Valley, and then another 2 hours to the lodge. The first part of the rainforest is all secondary forest, which occupies quite a vast part of the entire forest. It took over an hour before we came to the primary forest. The secondary forest used to be a logging site before the government declared the area a conservation region.

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The conservation area is spread around 438 sq km of land. It is primarily a lowland rainforest and was part of a 1m ha concession of forest given to Yayasan Sabah or Sabah Foundation set up to oversee the economic development of the Malaysian state. In 1984, the Danum Vally conservation area was designated a protected area and in 1995, it was declared a Class 1 protection forest reserve, which meant all logging was prohibited.

 

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A very mature Mangeris tree. there were several such tall trees with huge girths. typical Dipterocarpoideae trees found in the rainforest can grow to as high 80m. such a shame that many of these beautiful ancient trees have been logged in years past.

 

 

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an old durian tree along the trunk road leading to the lodge.

 

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looking through the canopy of one of the tall trees

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As early as in 2011, someone reported logging vehicles in danum valley but we didn’t see any. There were some trucks with covered tarpaulin but we couldn’t tell if they were logs.

 

The trees are thinner in the secondary forest and the undergrowth more sparse but with no major logging wildlife has returned. Our driver saw a leopard cat which quickly vanished into the bushes before we could see it. There was plenty of elephant dung along the road, but not a sign of the elephas maximus borneensis or simply Borneo pygmy elephant. It was the same story on the drive back to town.

 

According to the WWF, the Borneo elephant was declared a new subspecies in 2003, which makes them a top conservation priority but so far, not much study or research has been done on them. Natgeo estimated in 2013 there are only about 1500 of the species surviving, and with the rainforest area shrinking fast in Borneo, the outlook for them is not pretty. The guides said the government is serious about conserving the rainforest, but the logging and plantations exert enormous pressure. Money always wins out.

 

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Edited by Kitsafari
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Tricksy elephant hobbitses!

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Glad to see you are doing your report @@Kitsafari - looking forward to more! Lucky you to be essentially only 3 hours' plane flight away (well and then another 3 hours drive it sounds like - plus the 2 hours layover - ok it really is a day's travel! But imagine how long it would be for me? Yikes!)

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It's never nice to have a security scare just before departure. Nice to see you had a safe trip and 4 wonderful days of nature. Looking forward to the rest.

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Tricksy elephant hobbitses!

Indeed, who stole my precious?

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@@SafariChick I can't imagine flying all the way from the US.... But there a few groups of Americans, including a few senior citizens. I'm always full of admiration and respect for the elderly Americans who will endeavor to travel far and wide. You don't see many elderly Asians doing it, sadly,

 

@@Atravelynn thank you for reading along.

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@@SafariChick I can't imagine flying all the way from the US....there were a few groups of Americans, including a few senior citizens. I'm always full of admiration and respect for the elderly Americans who will endeavor to travel far and wide. You don't see many elderly Asians doing it, sadly,

 

@@Atravelynn thank you for reading along.

Edited by Kitsafari
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@@Kitsafari I plan to be one of those elderly Americans - once I get the kids into/through college!

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@@Kitsafari

 

Psssst ... never ever say elderly here on ST, see my TR.... ;)

 

Well, Borneo is definitely a place I would like to see some time, and I´m looking forward to your report very much - even if you didn´t see precioussss little hobbitse eles.

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@@Kitsafari

 

Psssst ... never ever say elderly here on ST, see my TR.... ;)

 

 

One person's elderly is another's prime of life said the AARP cardholder.

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@@Kitsafari

 

Psssst ... never ever say elderly here on ST, see my TR.... ;)

 

 

 

 

hahhaaaa! which TR? did i miss it? :wub: what did i start??

 

i'm already in what my government considers the elderly category...... I best seal my lips before i get myself in yet another pickle.....

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There are only two available accommodations in Danum Valley – the Danum Valley Field Centre, which is cheaper for the more basic rooms but you get close to the researchers, and the more expensive BRL. But if you compare the cost of BRL to Botswana, the cost is close to half and you still get accommodation, all meals, soft drinks, guides, transport to and from LD, and all treks.

In BRL, there are three types of lodges – the standard, the deluxe (which has an additional bathtub in the balcony) and the villas (which are very modern, new and can accommodate larger families or groups). All rooms are not air-conditioned and are cooled by a ceiling fan. I found the nights cool and had to don a cardigan one night as it had rained through the night. We had a deluxe facing the river, and I was glad we paid a little more for it. it seems sometimes deer or otters are found near the river, but they didn’t visit the river in front of our lodge.

 

here are some pix of the lodges.

 

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after a sweat-drenching trek in the humid hot forest, a nice dip in the tub is most welcome.

 

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the patio from which i enjoyed the early dawn sounds and sights, and lazy afternoons

 

 

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the view from deluxe cabin no 8. you have to request for deluxe cabins facing the river, else you may get cabins facing the forest.

 

 

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Lodge no 8 on the right.

 

 

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a short walk along the river bank

 

 

 

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the way down to the river, next to lodge no 8

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There are 2-3 treks a day, depending on how long each trek is. Generally, there is a morning walk that starts at 6-6.30am, ends around 8-9 for breakfast, then an afternoon walk and then a night walk or a night drive.

There are 2 night drives and each is on an open lorry which takes half an hour or so, depending on what you get to see. The lorry was a real shaker accompanied by such a ruckus, i will be surprised if the mammals are not scared by the noise. we took our only night drive that day we arrived at 8.30pm. it was only about 35mins as there was little to see. We did stop once and stayed silent for a couple of minutes to hear the forest sounds. Of course you still will get a couple of ignorant people gabbing away in the silence.

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this little fellow - a three-horned rhinoceros beetle - was hanging around the area where guests left their shoes before going upstairs to the dining hall. you can just about make out the three horns.

 

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this sweet tiny oriental dwarf kingfisher posed for us by the side of the road. beautiful briliantly coloured fellow.

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I didn’t need an alarm clock. Every morning, the birds would wake me up at 5.30am when they greet their families and friends. I would sit in the balcony with my Japanese green tea to warm my fingers, and listen to the birds whistling and stretching their wings in flights in the cold damp air. Across the river in the dense forest, without fail each morning, i would hear the gibbons greeting each other and noisily preparing to set out to seek food. Seams of thick mist would float out of the forest, white smoky fingers slowly touching the trees in greetings. As the sun peeped out, the mist slowly faded.

It was such a pleasure enjoying tranquil mornings, just sitting, relaxing and appreciating the forest music notes.

 

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The misty forest view from my balcony
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No luck seeing deers or otters at the river in front of the lodge
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Better luck with birds though. here's a pied fantail bulbul
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a "soft focused" cropped blue-throated bee eater. lots of them were in front of our lodge. they make their nests in the ground.
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Lovely kingfisher shot! Those trucks are really not great for night drives, the vehicles they use in DVFC are smaller flat beds with bench seats. The accommodation in DVFC is not as basic as one is led to believe actually and is perfectly comfortable if you opt for a chalet. The big difference is in the quality of the food, which is wholesome but much more basic and far less varied, the availability of alcohol (beer only at DVFC) and that you are basically left to your own devices as the walks/drive activities are optional extras. I was very lucky that Ryan had a programme of nocturnal activities that I could join, saved a bit of cost there.

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Enjoying the beauty and birds, @@Kitsafari. I love the lushness; looking forward to more.

 

I take advantage of any senior discounts I am presented and proud to do so.... :)

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There are quite a number of treks – 13 of them ranging from very easy to strenuous, depending on your level of fitness. We regretted mentioning that we had bad backs, because the guide kept us on the main road most of the time and we didn’t get much chance to walk a lot of the trails.

 

the way into Borneo Rainforest Lodge

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the various treks in the rainforest

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The first morning we were out at 6.30am with our guide Din, and we saw our first wild orang utans, or “people of the forests”. A huge tall tree laden with figs served as a buffet banquet for the great apes, and thanks to that, each morning and evening, we would see the orangutans.

the lighting was pretty bad as we had to take shots against the sunrise that morning.

 

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they swung from branch to branch, from tree to tree with such grace and agility.

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The orangutans or Pongo pygmaeus – one of the great apes in the world - is highly endangered. Sadly, poaching is still extremely high and parts of their bodies are still well sought after. The number of orangutans plunged by over 50% over the last 60 years, and the loss of habitat is another key reason for the loss. Young orangutans are high in demand as pets, often kept in cages until they are too large to be taken care of.

 

There are 2 main sub-species – the Bornean and the Sumatran. The former tends to descend lower to the ground than do the latter. There were three sub-species of the Bornean ape species but only the Ponginae survived. i’m astounded to learn that orangutans share 96.4% of the human’s genes and are highly intelligent apes- The adult males are often solitary and defend their territories quite fiercely. They eat mainly wild fruits and can crack open durians (a very hard very thorny and very strong-smelling fruit) with their bare teeth.

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The orangutans were one of the 3 great apes that Professor Leaky encouraged his 3 students to research on. Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall are household names, but not so Birute Galdikas, who still actively runs the official Orang Utan Foundation International and Camp Leakey. There are organized tours where Dr Birute will actively meet and mingle with guests. I was keen on such a tour, but it was very pricey at over US$5000 for a single traveler and the tours are taken up very quickly. Part of the price paid is donated to Dr Birute’s cause.

there are only about 41,000 of Bornean orangutans but just 7,500 Sumatran orangutans, according to the WWF.

Edited by Kitsafari
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Next was the Tree top canopy walk, but, although the landscape views were stunning and the walk sedate, we saw little. Perhaps we lingered too long with the orang utans and came to the walkway when it had become slightly warmer. It might have been a better idea to go straight to the walkway early the morning, then stopped to see the orang utans on the way back for breakfast.

 

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we heard a lot of hornbills and trogons and they stayed well hidden. The highlight was the very pretty Asian paradise flycatcher that flew and skipped from tree to tree and photography from a swaying suspended bridge was a huge challenge.

 

Asian paradise flycatcher

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termites northbound - shifting home

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Raffles malkoha

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On the walk back to the lodge, i almost stepped on a snake which i had mistaken for a small thin twig. it was lying so still and straight, except for one end which was off the ground. as i lifted my foot, i glanced down and to my shock saw a head turning towards my foot. i had to jump over it to avoid stepping on it and get bitten.

 

 

Juvenile dogtooth snake

 

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Edited by Kitsafari
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Orang-utan on your first day - and every day - excellent.. Are sightings reliable when the figs are fruiting?

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Orang-utan on your first day - and every day - excellent.. Are sightings reliable when the figs are fruiting?

@@pault orang utans somehow love fig trees and durians. fig trees fruit 2-3 times a year and all the trees don't fruit at the same time, so there is almost a constant supply of fruit.

 

we saw the orang utans at this particular tree every morning and evening when we were there, when the temperatures were cooler. but orang utans are territorial so you may not see too many males at the same area at the same time.

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