Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Borneo Rainforest Lodge

From the Shangri-la Rasa Ria Resort in Kota Kinabalu and a stopover at The Crown Hotel near the air­port, we headed via Malaysia Air­lines to Lahad Datu. A 4:30am wake-up call roused us, though we were half-awake already, the whirr of the pathetic air-con keeping us conscious. On the complimentary airport shuttle we shared stories with a rig worker from Louisiana making his way to Miri, he’d been travelling most of his life and his accent was thick; layered with the histories of places I’ll never know.

Lahad Datu is a small town in the east of Sabah. Our flight (the plane had pro­pellers) touched down at 7:30am at what can be described as a small concrete hut, not unlike a backwater railway station. J from Borneo Adventure Tours was there to meet us, six of us in all; Dar­ren and Emma from Guernsey, Jamie and Ed — medics from the UK, and Saman­tha and I.

The journey to Borneo Rainforest Lodge isn’t quick. From Lahad Datu it’s a 2h30 drive into the rainforest on a gravel road that disintegrates a little with every fork. On entering the Danum Valley conservation area a sign reads: “Rainforest Lodge 77km”. From thereon the route is lined with nothing but thick jungle foliage, which we rigorously scanned for signs of life. Months old elephant poo was scattered across the road, and the occasional eagle or oriental dart flew overhead. A wild boar, yellow skinned, did run out in front of us, while a mysterious dark eagle sat in a tree watching, but otherwise the journey was uneventful.

“Selamat datang ke Borneo Rainforest Lodge”, a wooden sign welcomed us. Two women in luminous orange shirts placed pandanus wreaths over our heads and ushered us upstairs (shoes off) for a cool lemon­grass and ginger welcome drink. The lodge is a beautiful high-ceilinged wooden building; dark wood panels on the walls, and spacious wooden floors dotted with comfy sofas. Fans spin in the rooftops and great lamps hang down into the bar.

At the back a veranda opens up to a view of Danum river, lined with tables where we’d dine for break­fast, lunch and dinner (all included). The ground floor is paved, there’s a small shop (where you buy essential bright green leech socks), reception desk and a presentation room. And of course there’s the boot-rack — where all the muddy leech-laden footwear comes to rest after a sweaty trek.

From the lodge we were shown to our room, along a raised wooden walk-way to Deluxe 15, a chalet with a river view and an out­door bath. There’s no air-conditioning, but you don’t need it. Despite the humidity and heat, the eco-friendly design of the building circulates air efficiently, pulling up cool air from beneath, and venting out hot from the roof — we were always comfortable. There’s little glass, instead air is allowed to circulate through the gaps where you’d expect windows, a tight mesh keeps out the bugs.

The room is effectively open to the unrelenting but wonderful smells and sounds of the jungle. At night the chirps of the leafhoppers, squeaks of the geckos, croaks of the frogs and distant howling of gibbons layer to form your midnight lullaby. From our room I watched a deer and her calf carefully cross the river, keep­ing a watchful eye-out for would-be predators.

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