Jungle trekking in Danum Valley, Malaysia is the unique thing you can get only in the tropical climate, where the diversity of Borneo’s wildlife stands up close in front of you. The lowlands are one of the world’s most complex ecosystems with lots of endangered species. Several types of birds, insects, huge lizards and monkeys are sure to encounter. If you are lucky, you will see wild orangutans, elephants, gibbons, mousedeer, clouded leopards or East Sumatran rhinos.
Wildlife of Borneo in Danum Valley
Danum Valley is a conservation area of 438 square kilometres jungle which is home for an extensive diversity of tropical flora and fauna. Unfortunately, areas of undisturbed lowland dipterocarp forest become increasingly rare. Here, you can clearly see the beauty of the truly natural world and the ugliness of a natural world utterly manipulated by humans. After Kinabatangan River Cruise, I was disappointed about responsible tourism practices in Sabah and sad how few areas of rainforest are left on Borneo. I wanted to check, how it looks like in other places. Curiosity brought me for the jungle trekking in Danum Valley, which thankfully was a great experience. Same with the rainforest in Brunei Darussalam, which is aware of responsible tourism practisess and protects their forest really well.
If you are planning to travel in Sabah, you have to know that Borneo jungle you dreamed about, is gone. Going through hundreds of kilometers of palm oil plantations in Sabah, I finally arrived to giant forest I was looking for in Borneo. Nowadays, seeing the wildlife of Borneo is really expensive. No wonder why, as not much of the rainforest is left after extensive logging so that humans can have hardwood furniture. Second reason for deforestation are palm oil plantations which absorbed most of Borneo. Unfortunately, none of us if without fault in this situation. We consume a bunch of food and cosmetics that include palm oil. It’s not only killing the wildlife but also makes our arteries clogged.
Accommodations in Danum Valley will not guarantee seeing lots of wildlife. Sometimes you can spend a lot of money and see little. However, when you are disappointed by seeing no animals, hopefully next time you see ‘palm oil’ in food ingredients you will know why you should return it to the shelf.
In this post I will share lots of practical tips from Danum Valley packing list to how to prepare for a jungle experience. I will also give you an idea about where to stay in Danum Valley and how much it can cost. Lastly, I will share my own experience on jungle trekking in Danum Valley and accommodation I chose.
Danum Valley packing list
- comfortable sport shoes and clothes,
- swimming suit,
- torch or head light,
- rain jacket,
- patches are handy after leech bites,
- long sleeves shirts and pants,
- few cotton T-Shirts as it’s going to be humid,
- sleeping bag or mosquito net if you plan to camp.
How to prepare for the jungle trekking in Danum Valley?
Foremost, you should get ready for being a blood donor for the jungle inhabitants – leeches. You cannot count on 100% leeches free experience in Danum Valley but you can limit the bites. Preparing for jungle trekking in Danum Valley, anty-leeches socks would be very useful. Wearing long pants or double pants helps, as leech has difficulty to bite through. Apart from that you can choose the period wisely. Coming to Danum Valley when it rains a lot, will increase the chance of bites.
Some people use mosquito repellent with DEET. As I am trying to be responsible traveler and don’t want to pollute nature and my skin with strong chemicals, on the beginning I refused using it. Later, in the act of desperation, I covered with DEET all my body and clothes and to be honest didn’t see it working. The leeches were still sticking to me.
Leeches of Borneo
I have been on few jungle experiences: Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Kutai National Park in Kalimantan, Indonesia and Kinabatangan River Cruise in Sabah. Believe me, I have never seen so many leeches in my life. Jungle trekking in Danum Valley was sometimes more of taking out the leeches than looking around for wildlife. If you follow my adventures and think that I am courageous, I have to tell you that this time I was squeaking like a princess with every leech on my body. Thankfully, my guide Zeno was professional in taking the leeches away from my clothes. He was laughing loud at me being so disgusted about them and kept repeating that “they live here”.
Leeches attach to the leaves in lower parts of the forest. I saw them on up to 1,5 meters high plants, but they can also jump down from the low trees. Therefore, your legs are more exposed. What’s more, insects move around before they bite trying to find the warmest spots on your body. This is how I got a bite in between my legs when I went to swim in the waterfall. Taking the leech out was one of the most disgusting things ever!
Lastly, I don’t want to scare you. Leeches bite is not dangerous nor painful. In fact, leeches were used in medicine to purify blood, so they can even be beneficial. They don’t carry any virus, unlike mosquitos. Moreover, leech injects a kind of anaesthetic when they attach, so you feel no pain. Leeches also apply an anti-coagulant, so the blood continues to flow for some time after, which makes the whole experience even more messy.
Where to stay in Danum Valley?
Depending of your budget and expectations, you can choose from 4 options of accommodation in Danum Valley:
Taliwas Forestry & Recreation Area
The cheapest option, but at the same time the less attractive from all. It’s for those who are really tight on budget but want to have a glimpse of the jungle experience in Danum Valley. You will not hear about Taliwas on foreign websites as it’s where locals go. The recreation area has a camp site designed for school trips and jungle discovery programs for kids.
It’s the closest to Lahad Datu, on the gate of the zone under protection. This land has been heavily logged and is still not as much protected as it should be, therefore, it doesn’t guarantee seeing as much wildlife as the other places in the valley. It’s mostly meant for those who want to stay near nature, hike and camp or enjoy the waterfalls. Of course, jungle trekking in Danum Valley is available in Taliwas as well as night walks and night rides can be purchased. You can also participate in a planting trees activity. The camp site has very basic conditions. I post a photo of all the services they offer along with pricelist on the campsite. Please download it to see the prices clearly.
Taliwas is 40 km from Lahad Datu. To get there, you can rent a car or use their private transfers which cost a bit (find price on the photo). As I was going this road, I saw a little traffic, plus the campsite is not far from the villages, so I think hitch hiking can work as well. I haven’t tried, though.
Danum Valley Field Centre
Danum Valley Field Centre is another way you can visit Danum Valley independently and adapt your budget to the various options they have. There are rooms, dorms and camp site with set hammocks under the roof. Danum Valley Field Centre was dedicated for researchers, so conditions are very simple, don’t expect luxury. There is a kitchen where you can cook, if you bring your own food or you can order your meals in the canteen.
Food and accommodation are pricy for what it is. But seeing the primary forest that have not changed in millions of years and wildlife of Borneo compensate everything. Food plans costs around 111 MR per day per person. If you decide to bring your own food and cook, you will be charged for gas. Accommodation in rooms is 286 MR per room, dorm bed 91 and camp 78 MR per person. You will be also asked to pay the conservation fee 50 MR, tourist fee, camera fee 100 MR, phone fee and whatsoever fees. There are some paths you can do by yourself but for going further, you will want to hire a guide. To get there you can take a shuttle bus from Lahad Datu, which operates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Tickets cost RM100 per passenger.
Danum Valley Rainforest Lodge
The most luxury accommodation where the night costs 800€. Guests can choose between standard chalets with jungle views, river chalets, some of which have balcony bathtubs overlooking the Danum river or luxury villas. They have packages available which include impressive canopy walk, jungle trekking in Danum Valley primary forest, all meals, fees and transfers. 3D2N package will cost around 1000€ per person in the standard room and 2500€ in a villa.
Kawad Danum Rainforest Lodge
Middle price version is Kawad Danum Rainforest Lodge (KDRL) where I had a chance to spend 3 days and 2 nights. It’s quite new and off the beaten path luxury lodge located in the buffer zone in secondary forest in Ulu Segama Malua Forest Reserve. They provide packages of high level jungle experience in Danum Valley. 3D2N package costs approximately 1600 MR. As I stayed there, I will give you more details, tell you how the jungle trekking in Danum Valled looked like, how is the lodge and activities available.
3d2n itinerary in Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge
The tour started in Lahad Datu, where I found the office of Borneo Refugia which organizes the 3d2n jungle experience in Danum Valley. I arrived there at 10 in the morning for registration and 30 min later we were on the way to the rainforest. The road took us about an hour and a half to reach Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge, where I got a cold welcome drink. I fell in love with the place immediately!
After lunch my guide Zeno, took me for the first trekking during which I got to see wild orangutan chilling on the tree. I was surprised that everywhere was an elephant poo. In Danum Valley elephants are roaming free. Even though, I haven’t witnessed one, poo was a prove that they are around at night.
The second day started at 6 am with a morning walk along the road. We hoped to meet some gibbons but didn’t have luck. Instead, I enjoyed listening to the birds sounds and observing them through the binocular. We came back for breakfast to get energy for another hike through the jungle. We went to the Alibaba Waterfall. The trail was full of leeches and I got to remove dozens of them before they started to suck my blood. When we reached the waterfall, I was already tired of the leeches, and just wanted to refresh in the cool waters (where I got another leech in between my legs…).
The waterfall has two pools where I could swim. There is a natural spa of fish which eat the dead skin out. It’s the most ticklish wellness treats I have tried. Apart from fish spa, I just laid down under the waterfall to get back massage.
In the afternoon we didn’t go for another trekking. As an alternative, we went for tubbing on the river. It was a dry season, so not enough water to go fast with the tube. However, floating slowly was very relaxing and the water warm to swim.
Nocturnal animals of the jungle
In the evening, KDRL invites for a jungle ride or jungle trek. During the ride, the car goes really slowly, and the guide is trying to spot eyes reflection. He managed to spot civet cat and several flying squirrels. As for the night trekking, we had a walk in the forest nearest to the lodge. It was amazing to see birds sleeping. Some of them make a fluffy ball out of their bodies to protect themselves from cold. It looks so cute! We saw a lizard and lots of insects as well.
Staying in Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge
KDRL is 51 km from Lahad Datu inside the buffer zone II of the Danum Valley Conservation Area. It literally sits on the oldest rock formations in Sabah. An approximately 200 million years old crystalline basement shows remains of the ocean life.
A long wooden boardwalk sits on stilts as well as all the other buildings of KDRL. I felt so relaxed there and it was easy to forget the time. A herd of monkeys are permanent visitors of the lodge area and I enjoyed observing them while having breakfast or lunch. What’s more, every evening one Malayan civet cat was penetrating the area and from time to time little fireflies fly through. The lodge was a peaceful nature escape and a place I could spend hours just enjoying the views and sounds of the rainforest.
In Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge there are 10 standard and 10 deluxe room. Those are the same size and the difference is just the air conditioning. Rooms have a bathroom with basic toiletries and a hot shower. I loved to sit on the balcony with my cup of tea and just watch the greenery of the jungle. It felt so relaxing. Open concept dining hall offered 3 meals per day. The food was really delicious, and I liked how they cared about the details and display. It’s worth having a refillable bottle, so you can use the water dispenser and carry with you to the room and for the trekking. In care of the environment the lodge doesn’t provide plastic bottles in the rooms.
Activities in Kawag Danum Rainforest lodge
There are few paths for jungle trekking around KDRL. You can do all of them during your stay or choose some of the trails. The guide will advice you which are better for the sunrise and which for the night walk and so on. We walked on few of them in search of Borneo’s wildlife, and I could learn a lot about the importance of each animal in a life cycle of the forest.
The river near the lodge is perfect to refresh after the jungle trekking. You can also have fun there and go for tubbing. Talking about the water, there is also waterfall in which I had natural water massage and fish SPA. KDRL has a viewing tower for birds watching, where I could climb anytime I wanted. Moreover, one morning we went for the sunrise to the view point. It started to rain, so I wasn’t lucky to witness the sunrise. Instead, I saw a beautiful view over the rainforest with no sign of the palm oil trees. Just pure nature.
I had an amazing time in Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge. I was totally spoiled with food and kind service. This is one of the places you can really relax and be close to nature forgetting about all the problems. On my last morning in KDRL it was raining. I checked out and returned to Lahad Datu ready for my next adventure in Semporna. I left with hope that Danum Valley will be a safe place for wildlife of Borneo and develop ecotourism worth paying for.
The Bee is a nature lover and tea addict. Loves the idea of slow life and responsible traveling, constantly trying to improve to bee more eco-friendly. Appreciates old cultures and traditions, loves to immerse with locals, listen to ethnic music as well as taste regional food and drinks. Her favorite spots while traveling are family houses and street markets.