Saturday, March 05, 2016

Kiki Roams - Danum Valley Conservation Area, Malaysia: Finally, Orangutans and How to Improvise Leech Socks

I sadly said goodbye to new friends in Kuching to head to the Danum Valley Conservation Area for some jungle trekking and animal spotting. I flew from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu, spent the night, and then hopped a 6:00 a.m. flight (gross) from there to Lahad Datu, followed by a 2.5 hour jeep ride down a bumpy road and through a river (not on a bridge – the jeep literally drove through the river to get to the road on the other side) to get to the rainforest area. 

If you have motion sickness, I highly recommend you take your required meds as I can only describe the condition of the road as an experience that will ensure that any loose joints or muscles will most certainly find their way back to where they should be. Free chiropractic therapy.

Lucky for us, on the drive to the rainforest, we were able to pull over and observe orangutans feasting on some fruits as well as a family of long tail macaques. These animals are wild and have no interest in humans (so no need to protect shiny things or your lunch from the macaques), other than to ensure we aren’t a predator. If they are concerned by our presence, they just climbed further up in the trees or moved to other trees where we couldn’t see them.

There are two main entry areas to the area, either through Lahad Datu or through Tawau. So, really up to you in terms of which part of the conservation area you wish to visit. I did both for the full range of animal experience.

There are two accommodation options: Danum Valley Field Centre (think hostel rustic) which is there to accommodate researchers on the flora/fauna of the rainforest (it is not really made to cater to tourists – and they will always give priority to the researchers before confirming availability for your stay – which makes sense. 

I had a great stay here but you are definitely on your own for figuring things out) and the Borneo Rainforest Lodge (more expensive than the Field Centre but caters to the needs of tourists – I had a lovely experience here. Note to remember: the price quoted includes the services of a guide for your entire stay, accommodation, all meals, transport to/from airport via jeep, etc. You will spend no other money here unless you choose to have alcohol or buy something from the gift shop/spa).

First, A Word on Borneo Airports

Ok, so I have to say a quick few words about my various airport experiences in Borneo. When you fly from one state to another in Malaysia, you must always pass through immigration. I have never experienced this in any country I have travelled to. You are still in the same country, but have to go through immigration each time you enter or leave a different state.

It’s not necessarily wrong, it’s just bizarre to me as I’ve never experienced this anywhere. (Imagine having to go through immigration every time you went to Gatineau for a beer run). I will have to ask someone why this process is in place as I’m quite curious (and secretly afraid to ask the immigration officials for fear I will be imprisoned for attempted bucking of the system).

I also suspect that there has not been a mass influx of tourists through these airports as the signage is not very tourist friendly. For example, if you are going through security in the Kota Kinabalu airport, there are actually two security areas. One for flying to other parts of Malaysia (as well as international flights) and another area if you are flying within the same state (Sabah). 

As a tourist, I can’t say I always know what cities are in what states in Malaysia. Now, I look it up on Google first before going to the airport (their wifi is really not reliable – my experience is that it did not work at all) just so I can figure out what security area I am supposed to go to.

The same signage is not tourist friendly for when you land in the airports and need to figure out if you have to go through immigration or not (as there are two luggage claim areas…so, if you choose the wrong immigration area, your suitcase will not be waiting for you at the carousel). In my case, the security people automatically assume that you are flying in from another state and try to push you towards that immigration area (my beacon white skin is always a tip off that I am not a local – I swear to God I am the most tanned I have ever been in my life), even when you try explaining that you are flying within Sabah (thank you Google).

It’s not the end of the world – just plan a few more minutes in your itinerary to accommodate the time needed to go through immigration and be sure to look up what state you are flying to prior to going to the airport.

Danum Valley Conservation Area 101

The Danum Valley Conservation Area is a 438 square kilometres tract of relatively undisturbed lowland dipterocarp forest in the of Sabah, Malaysia. It has an extensive diversity of tropical flora and fauna and the tree canopy reaches is over 70 metres in some places. It is really something quite special.