Saturday, October 24, 2015

Nick Ups Sticks: Danum Valley, Malaysian Borneo

Danum Valley is a conservation area inside a one million hectare logging concession in Sabah. It is one of Borneo’s most biodiverse and pristine primary rainforests, home to some very charismatic animals: Pygmy elephants, red leaf monkey and the all time favourite Bornean icon – the orangutan.

Danum Valley is reached via Lahad Datu, the sleepiest of all the towns we passed through. We travelled there by long distance bus from Sandakan, which takes 3.30 hrs at a cost of 20 RM. The bus stops all over the place and is a comfortable but slow ride. The scenery along the way is disheartening: endless oil palm monocultures stretching out into the haze.

You can also catch a 55 minute flight from Kota Kinabalu. We did this on our way back. The plane is a tiny propellor number and the airport is a two roomed hut in a field. You do not need to be there anymore than an hour before your flight leaves.

There are only two options for accommodation in Danum and they are at opposite ends of the spectrum:
  • The Danum Valley Field Centre hosts international researchers who don’t mind roughing it in the name of science. It is the cheaper of the two but you are left to your own devices (i.e. to guide yourself round the rainforest) and electricity is turned off after 23.00.
  • The much more expensive Borneo Rainforest Lodge is one of ecotourism’s top destinations and operates like an all inclusive resort. David Attenborough, Bear Grylls and even the most seasoned naturalists, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, have been to stay.
No prizes for guessing which we chose. For the princely sum of £250 per person per night (a budget blowing total of almost a grand for the two of us), we were almost guaranteed not to accidentally kill ourselves in the forest. Money well spent, I think.

A driver collected us from bus station in a four wheel drive pick-up truck, took us for lunch at a near by Chinese restaurant (all included in the price) then drove us for two and a half brain-rattlingly bumpy hours on dirt roads into the forest. The roads are bad: winding, sloping, dusty. Take a travel sickness pill before you start. I didn’t take one in time on the drive back and threw my guts up.

On arrival we were greeted with a cold lemongrass drink and pandan wreath. A life long love affair with natural history meant what followed were three of the best days of my life.

Borneo Rainforest Lodge is set in the middle of the jungle. Our room was a fan-cooled wooden chalet with an outside bathtub (yes!) overlooking the Danum river. Surreal. We fell asleep listening to croaking creaking insects and awoke to gibbon song. Three delicious meals a day were eaten on the terrace while staring into the misty jungle, surrounded by butterflies and birds. Quite a contrast to hostel living, where shared bathroom blocks were reminiscent of prison shower scenes in Orange is the New Black.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Nick Ups Sticks: Danum Valley, Malaysian Borneo