I don’t recall where I first read about Danum Valley Conservation Area when I was researching Sabah, possibly the Lonely Planet, fuck knows, but I knew that we definitely wanted to try and visit. It’s a largely untouched swathe of rainforest which still has areas of primary rainforest, a rarity in Borneo where acres of jungle are being destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations. There are two places to stay; The Borneo Rainforest Lodge if you didn’t mind hocking a few organs on the black market to afford a room (or even had the foresight to book half your life in advance), or there’s the Danum Valley Field Centre (also known as Danum Valley Studies Centre) which can still be considered pricey for those of us on a backpacker’s budget, but at least you don’t have to promise your first born to Satan.
The thing with the DVFC is that it’s not really a tourist lodge, it’s there for scientists and biologists to do researchy sciencey shit, but they do welcome visitors if you have the time and patience to get it all arranged by email. It’s a bit of a ballache, it took three weeks of slow emailing to get it sorted because the people involved aren’t a tourist desk, they’re busy coordinating scientific expeditions and other impressive stuff, but eventually, after my initial contact passed me over to a second person, everything from our dorm beds to our transportation was booked for two nights in Danum Valley. I’ll put everything you need to know at the bottom of this post. The information is correct as of August 2017. Of course if you don’t have the time or the energy then you can pay Sticky Rice Travel to sort it all out for you but I’ve no idea how much they charge.
Okay. So. Once we’d made it to Lahad Datu without Nat vomiting on the taxi driver because her stomach still wasn’t 100% sure it liked her, we checked in with the wonderful Suzan at the Danum Valley Field Centre and tried not to think about the amount of money we just parted with. Then we needed to stock up on enough food, tea, and those instant coffee sachets that are fucking awful for the environment but oh so wonderful for the facehole to get us through the next few days. Aside from painstakingly organising this little jaunt without the help of an agency, the best way to save a bit of cash is to cook your own food rather than eating at the restaurant on site. Then, at around 3pm, we were loaded onto the field centre’s minibus ready for a good two and a half hours bouncing around on unsealed roads to Danum Valley itself.
You need a permit to drive down this road and there’s a check point to make sure you have one so not just any fucker can just wander into the field centre. As we neared our destination the jungle towered above us, getting denser as we rattled along the gravel. We caught fleeting glimpses of mouse deer as they bolted across the road, and a bearded pig just before it disappeared back into the foliage. Eventually we rolled in and were shown to reception where we booked a couple of walks and a sunrise drive, and then we were driven to the dorm room. There are actually two massive dorm rooms containing 48 beds each; one for male humans, the other for females. But despite the size it doesn’t feel horribly cramped. There’s plenty of room and the beds are sectioned off into fours. I’ve stayed in way, way worse places than this!
After recently discovering that we quite like looking at shit in the dark we’d booked ourselves onto a night walk when we arrived which would be leaving from the dining area so we rocked up there armed with all manner of leech repelling devices including citronella bracelets. They were pretty strong, you could probably smell them from Lahad Datu, but a woman in the dorm room had looked at us with a raised eyebrow and advised us in no uncertain terms that they’d be about as much use against leeches as a pointy stick would be against an angry lion. We needed DEET, she told us. And leech socks. Definitely leech socks.
There are two camps when it comes to leech socks. There are the evangelical “You must have proper leech socks or you’ll be exsanguinated in minutes” brigade. They will be personally upset if you don’t own a pair of leech socks and wear them to breakfast. Then there’s the slightly more chill “Nah, just tuck your trousers in your socks, mate” crew. On account of the fact I generally err on the side of tight bastard I form part of the latter group. So did our guide for the evening it seemed. He wasn’t bothered that we were rocking the trousers-in-socks look though he was sporting a rather fetching pair of leech socks himself.
Another fun thing about night walks is the fact you can’t wear your head torch actually on your head. I put mine on my head for a minute because I needed my hands to balance and nearly fucking swallowed three moths. We did see loads of really cool stuff though. Stick insects, some manner of cricket-on-steroids looking thing, lizards, spiders which I could have done without seeing this close to bedtime, and something with so many legs it makes you feel weirdly uncomfortable on a sub-atomic level and you can’t work out why. Possibly because it’s the multi-legged beast of your nightmares and it looks like it’d jump on your face and lay eggs in your chest cavity before you can say, “I’ve seen this movie.” Unsurprisingly it started to rain about halfway through but it wasn’t too epic and after about an hour of traipsing over uneven ground in the pitch black we were dropped back at the canteen and we headed home for an early night.
Danum Valley, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia
Stayed at: Danum Valley Field Centre
Useful shit to know…
Settle in with a cup of tea for this one, there’s a lot of info and it’s correct as of August 2017.
I arranged everything by email with Rosnita (firstname.lastname@example.org) and then Dinisiah (email@example.com) as Rose became too busy organising a science expedition, who are based in KK. It can take a while for them to respond to emails because they’re not a tourist service, they’re a research centre who welcome visitors. If for some reason you can’t sort it this way perhaps you can just visit the field office in Lahad Datu and speak to Suzan, or call her on +60 8988 0441. She’s wonderful, very friendly and helpful, but please note I’ve no idea if it can be booked this way. I’d be interested to hear if you do this and are successful. Or, of course, you can pay Sticky Rice Tours to do it all for you.
We stayed in the dorm room which is huge but tidy and beds are partitioned in groups of four (two bunks) with curtains. There are two separate dorm rooms with 48 beds each, one for men and one for women. There’s food available in the dining hall (about a 7 to 10 minute walk from the dorms) but we took our own food in and used the kitchen and utensils provided right by the dorms. There are two kitchens; a regular one that we used and a kitchen strictly for Halal products.
There are other types of accommodation including private rooms and camping. The latter is in sheltered hammocks with mozzie nets provided. I don’t think you’re allowed to bring your own tent but do check. Reception told me it was RM80 a night for a hammock and the camp ground has its own kitchen. I’ve no idea how much the other accommodation would cost.
They only have power between 7am and 11pm.
Costs DON’T include the 6% tax and were as follows:
Conservation fee, RM50 per person.
Dorm bed, RM95 per person per night.
Cooking utensils, RM20 per group per day.
Gas & Stove, RM30 per group per day.
If you don’t want to cook yourself:
Breakfast – RM36/pax/meal
Lunch – RM44/pax/meal
Dinner – RM57/pax/meal
Camera fee, RM10 each, seems to include phone cameras. I believe it’s RM100 if you own a DSLR.
Transport is a small van and is only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday either way. It’s RM85 per person each way.
It leaves Lahad Datu Field Office at 3pm, arriving in Danum Valley around 5.30pm.
It leaves Danum Valley at 8.30am and arrives back in Ladah Datu at around 10am.
Rangers are compulsory for all but the short walks close to HQ and will cost RM30 per ranger per hour.
Night drive, RM160 for up to 8 people.
Sunrise/sunset drive, RM160 for up to four people.
You book and pay for these activities once you’re there as they’re weather dependant.