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Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah: Address, Danum Valley Conservation Area Reviews: 5/5

Danum Valley Conservation Area

Danum Valley Conservation Area
Nature & Wildlife Areas • Valleys
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Detailed Reviews: Reviews order informed by descriptiveness of user-identified themes such as cleanliness, atmosphere, general tips and location information.

136 reviews
Very good

Leigh-on Sea, UK20 contributions
Love this place. Yes it takes 2 and a half hours on an unmade road to get to the lodge but worth the drive. Everything about this place is wonderful. The location and staff were fantastic. I have never tasted better food, and I am vegan so this makes it very hard to find tasty suitable dishes when eating out. Our guide for the three days we were there (Ali) was so good, he took us on day hikes and night walks too. He was excellent at finding animals both large and small. He explained everything in great detail and we learnt a lot about the rainforest and it’s inhabitants whilst under his care. This is truly a special place for those that love nature. You may not see huge amounts of wild animals as this is up to the animals at the end of the day, but if you want to experience nature at its truest it’s a wonderful place to stay
Written February 29, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Franc C
Portumna, Ireland327 contributions
I think most people reading this will be as I was a couple of months ago; trying to decide where to visit to experience the “real” Borneo and have the best chance of seeing its wildlife in their natural habitat. After doing a lot of research the 3 places I ended up choosing were the Kinabatangan river, Danum Valley, and Mulu national park. Each are very different and I loved them all. So rather than just speaking about Danum Valley here I’ll give some comparisons between it and the other two.

My favourite of the 3 was undoubtedly the Kinabatangan river, due in no small part to my incredible guide (Osman) there. You’re almost guaranteed to see a larger variety of wildlife along the river there than you would pretty much anywhere else in Borneo.
Danum Valley is different in that the wildlife spotting there is mostly done on foot or from the back of a 4x4 rather than on a boat safari. It’s always a little trickier to get as close to the wildlife without them disappearing on you when you’re on foot. However, being on foot does mean that you get to see more of the unusual insects and other creepy crawlies that Borneo has to offer. The downside is that two species of leeches are amongst that list of creepy crawlies.

There are many trails of various lengths in Danum Valley but it’s forbidden to hike the longer ones without a guide. Before I got there I had been looking forward to doing some of the longest treks, thinking that if you go far enough into the jungle, far away from people, you would have the best chance of seeing wildlife. This isn’t actually the case though. Because the longer trails are full day treks you’ll spend most of the time out in the jungle during the hottest part of the day when the animals are asleep. Ironically, to have the best chance of spotting wildlife you’re better off getting up early and doing the self-guided loop trail near the Field Centre. And again doing the same trail in the evening. It’s better to do a short trail slowly and quietly than race through a longer one and see nothing.

The highlights for me were the gibbons and seeing a giant flying squirrel gliding from tree to tree during a night tour. Also, I definitely recommend the sunrise tour. Seeing the sun rise over the jungle is an incredible experience and obviously you’ve a great chance of spotting some cool animals at that time of the day too.
The lookout tower (not to be confused with the sunrise observation tower) was closed for repairs when I was there and looked like it had been for some time.

With regard to spotting wildlife, Mulu would come 3rd of the 3 places I visited. Caving is a passion of mine so for me Mulu was paradise, but it’s not as easy to spot wildlife there as it is in Danum Valley.
So, for spotting wildlife; Kinabatangan gets gold, Danum Valley in silver medal position and the bronze goes to Mulu :)

Tip: forest roadways are always a good place to spot wildlife so keep your eyes open on the road in and out of the park and don’t be too shy to ask the driver to stop if you spot something cool. On our way in we seen a large bird of prey that was just after making a kill. On the way out there was a binturong (bearcat) on the road in front of us at one place and an argos pheasant a little further along the road at another, and the bus driver let me out to photograph it.

Tip #2: I travelled independently and stayed in the Danum Valley Field Centre. It can be quite difficult to book into this place online. I have left some tips in a separate review of the “Danum Valley Field Centre”.
Written July 21, 2017
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Dubai64 contributions
Danum valley situated in the south of Sabah Malaysia is a conservation area funded by the Sabah foundation. We stayed for 2 nights at the Borneo Rainforest lodge. The location is fantastic, surrounded by virgin rainforest, by a gentle flowing river. The cabins are large, and well equiped with a nice verandah, try to request a cabin facing the river. Our guide Raybauld is excellent, a walking encyclopedia and always happy to explain about the little creatures and plants surrounding you. The food was good, not great for vegetarians, but expect that in all of Sabah, and just go for the location. Our first afternoon, we experienced a thunderstorm, and wow, when it rains, it scares you! Also there are numerous leeches, but dress well, and use tiger balm and the little buggers will not bite.
Written November 9, 2006
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

56 contributions
The Danum Valley has left me feeling cold for a number of reasons... Firstly, the prices (especially for the canteen food) are ludicrous for what little is provided. If you are not one of the first in line you will be filling up on rice and scraps! Definitely bring your own food. Secondly, it was a major hassle to organise doing anything substantial while you are there. It almost feels like you are being treated like a baby and your freedom will feel very limited. It took us almost a week to convince the powers that be to allow us to be taken to the purut falls by two rangers, a mere 7km along very distinctive and clear tracks, after being given all manner of excuses ranging from 'the river crossing is too high', 'the path is under maintenance', 'no rangers are available' and 'not possible'. None of which we saw any evidence of when we were evenually granted permission! Thirdly, it simply does not feel like you are in untouched primary forest at any point to be honest. Paths are very well forged and you will encounter fencing, signposts, waymarkers, constructions, chainsawed logs, buildings, toilets and even showers deep in the jungle. Most of the growth is very young, with the oldest trees between 70-100 years old dotted throughout the area. It rarely feels that much more of a raw and visceral encounter with nature than a walk through any woodland or forest in my opinion, and i was expecting to feel much more.. Something. Maybe my expectations were unrealistic? I just haven't been moved by my time here at all. I didn't come looking to be entertained by wildlife and animals, i simply wanted to experience something wild and pure, and unfortunately this really wasn't it somehow. I think the field centre needs to decide whether it actually wants visitors or not, because as it stands it feels like they want to take your money whilst offering very little in return. Most probably don't want to come all the way to the primary forest to be offered little more than token gesture nature trails with somebody to hold your hand.
Written February 7, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Venktesh R
San Francisco, California, United States9 contributions
I am writing this having just traveled with my wife to Danum Valley Field Center (DVFC). There was a great deal of misinformation about arranging this visit. As Lonely Planet and other TripAdvisor entries relate, there are indeed only 2 options for visiting the Valley - either Borneo Rainforest Lodge, which is a luxury experience in the rainforest, or the DVFC, which most certainly is not. But how to book the latter, and at the correct price, is very unclear. Others have described to some degree the steps that are required to arrange things directly with the DVFC staff. But what I didn't know was that there are private agencies that arrange stays at DVFC as well, but at a HUGE markup. I learned this the hard way.

Upon arrival into Kota Kinabalu, I asked the Malaysia Tourism rep at the airport for info about how to arrange a DVFC visit. She herself said that DVFC is the "budget" option, and proceeded to give me info from an online website that arranged such tours. Given that a Malaysia rep (who herself was very pleasant) gave us this info, I assumed that this was an agency that would provide true DVFC rates, one that I assumed that perhaps had some special arrangement with the DVFC. Why else would it have been recommended to us?

I only found out later that the true DVFC rates are only available by contacting the DVFC directly, which by many accounts on TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet can be tricky, since DVFC phone numbers often do not work, emails are often unanswered, transportation to the DVFC is variable, and preference is given to "researchers and scientists and students" (though they are not technically exclusive). Had we done so, the cost for a 3 day 2 night experience for me and my wife with a few nature hikes would probably have cost us to around $500 or so. Not exactly cheap, but somewhat justifiable.

By working with Inno Travel and Tour Services Sdn Bhd (head office in KK), the cost was more than double that (1750 ringgit per person, or a total of $1100 USD). At least the company claimed to be a legal rather than illegal outfit. And the agency rep Emily was very helpful, attentive, and responsible in making all arrangements work out smoothly into and out of the Valley. The guide, who was also our driver, was pleasant, prompt, and skilled, as he did manage to spot wildlife (we saw multiple wild orangutans on one nature walk that surprised even him).

But for a 100% cost increase (in absolute terms $500 increase) over the do-it-yourself option, I expected a LOT more.

The quality of the accommodation (or lack thereof - our toilet in standard rest house room did not work at all), the less than mediocre food, and average-at-best English proficiency at DVFC have been described by others. These were no different in our case. The only difference is that we had a guide, himself a former ranger, whereas others only apparently have access to active rangers who may not know any English at all and are barely skilled in spotting wildlife. We did in fact realize this on a night drive one night when the other DVFC staff took us out for an hour and we saw 1 civet. Just one. Yes, wildlife spotting is unpredictable, but still.

We were paying $550/night for these features, while others getting almost exactly the same services were paying half that (or less). I understand private companies need to make a profit, but this was highway robbery under the guise of the "budget option" to see the Danum Valley.

In retrospect, we would have either gone the distance to arrange the DVFC experience directly at the regular price or gone for the true luxury option (which was only a few hundred dollars more than what we actually paid, and, from what I hear, they have high quality guides, great food, and luxury accommodations). In other words, you get much c!oser to getting what you pay for. We, on the other hand, paid almost luxury prices for budget, backpacker services.

Therefore, beware of tour operators who provide "budget" priced DVFC experiences. To be fair, Inno Travel was open about the total costs they would charge, but the manner in which they identified themselves as a DVFC agency and the justification of why their prices are so high are highly questionable.
Written June 20, 2014
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Helsinki, Finland42 contributions
Loved it!

Remember, this is not about Borneo Rainforest Lodge, but of DVFC. They are actually almost one hour drive away from each other.

For some reason (maybe because it is meant for researchers or to keep tourists in more expensive Borneo rainforest lodge) this place is not advertised at all. You should also remember that the place is not organized for tourists, so don’t expect to be treated as a guest or a customer. Then again you can meet some awesome people here who can give you a lot of information about nature and the surrounding area.

Don’t expect them to answer phone or email. If you really need to plan your stay beforehand you might get a hold of someone by calling their office in Lahad Datu, but even then they might ask about your university connections before organizing anything.

However Danum Valley field center is open for anyone. It just takes some work to get there. Here is some information about how to do it (June/2013):

Most of the time you can just walk to the office and book your stay. They have two big dorms (male/female) that are basically never full (even with big university groups)

To get Lahad Datu it is easiest to fly. Bus from KK takes about 7 hours but is a bit cheaper option. Field center office is right next to the airport, close to the shell gas station on the other side of the road. Opening hours are 08:00-13:00 and 14:00-17:00 (mon-thur) and 08:00-11:30/ 14:00-17:00 fri. Saturday/Sunday closed!

Minibus between Lahad Datu and Field Center operates only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It leaves from Lahad Datu at 15:00 and from FC at 8:30. Takes about 2 hours one way and costs 60RM.

Accommodation options for tourists are private rest houses or the hostel. Bed at hostel cost 90RM a night. Food is available at dining hall, but it is not very special and is very expensive. Hostel has a kitchen next to it, so best option would be taking your own food along. (Using kitchen, having your camera, using internet etc. might cost bit extra, it seems to vary.) If you have university connection, such as biology major you might get discounts

Activities: 4x4 car tours cost 160RM for vehicle and can take max 5 persons. Sunrise/Sunset drives and night drives are available. Longer treks and activities can be arranged with the rangers for 20RM/hour.

However there is also two short treks that you can do yourself including several bird watching towers and an awesome tree canopy platform. Just hanging out at the field center area, sitting by the river or walking by the road is enough to do for several days!

Don’t forget to take your flashlight, drinking bottle and long trousers / leech socks and especially CAMERA! 

My trip: I walked in the office and got transportation for the same day. Stayed for 3 full days and had time of my life! We were extremely lucky to see a clouded leopard and several orangutangs. Don’t expect to see a lot of wildlife here!!! After all it is really wild and most of the animals try to avoid people. Things you could expect to see in few days: Sambar Deer, Hornbills, Macaques, Bearded Pigs, Spiderhunters, Civets, Monitor Lizard etc. If you are really lucky or stay longer you might see orangutangs or gibbons. Remember this is not for average tourists, but for people who really enjoy nature and want to see something special!

Written June 14, 2013
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

UK17 contributions
We stayed at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge for a couple of nights and found it to be a very enjoyable experience. The Lodge is in the middle of the Danum Valley conservation area, and occupies a very pretty location in a bend in the river and next to a heavilly wooded hill. Accommodation is in a number of chalets attached via walkways to a main lodge containing dining area, offices, shop etc.

The main reason for visiting is to trek the rainforest. Flora and fauna addicts will not be disappointed! Most surprisingly is the noise as dusk descends - even if you cannot see the wildlife you can hear it, its very atmospheric.

We had a chalet to ourselves with a river view. It was spacious and well equipped, however it did have the feel somewhat of a 1980s Amercian motel, with an abundance of cheap veneer! This was not a big issue, as you will want to be spending most of your time in the rainforest. Additionally, the lodge is a very nice place to spend an idle few hours with lots of places to linger and a fairly well stocked library.

Food is pretty good, albeit somewhat limited in range - most people tend to spend only a couple of nights there which seems to result in a correspondingly limited number of menus! That said, the staff were always very eager to please and if what was on offer was not quite what you wanted they seemed willing to rustle something up. This reflected the excellent and willing service received overall.
Written January 5, 2007
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Lahad Datu, Malaysia6 contributions
After a 3 days 2 night very expensive package we concluded that the lodge is very luxury and the staff is very welcoming. We need to say that we almost saw NO wildlife at all. (Just) a few orang utans and gibbons very far away, that is it! The nightride and walk were a disappointment. Do know that you are in pristine primary rainforest which is very dense, so the (big)animals wil have a better chance to hide! We know it is wildlife and wildlife can not be counted on, but the price quality value is not good. It is way overpriced when you have a guide who is not able to find any wildlife. The gibbons were spotted bij ourselves after he said: nothing here, lets go! If you want to see a lot of wildlife (gibbon,orang-utan,crocodile,proboscis monkey,birds, insects,hornbills) go to the Kinabatangan river area (uncle tan), prices are better (less than 1/5!!!) and you see way more wildlife, you have longer walks/drives and the guides are really enthousiastic and know a lot about every animal, plant, tree, etc. About the elephants, they like to stay in secondary rainforest because that is more open, so again: Kinabatangan river area. So if you (just like us) already saw orang-utans, gibbons and primary rainforest (for a LOT LOT LOT less money), this place will not give you anything special!! But if you like luxury in the middle of primary rainforest: Go there, the food and accommodation is good!, but we went there for the animals and threw away a lot of money!
Written May 30, 2012
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Ryan M
Uvita, Costa Rica102 contributions
My wife and I were at Danum Valley last summer and it was one of the most magical places we have ever been (the other being Corcovado Nat'l Park in Costa Rica). Just being in the rainforest makes one feel in awe at its majestic beauty. Also, the abundance of wildlife is astounding. However, to get the full experience of Danum Valley, you really do need a guide. They are experts at spotting wildlife that can be difficult to see in the cover of the rainforest and they also provide information to understand the workings of the ecosystem as a whole.

Our guide's name was Denny and if you can book him, I highly recommend him. We booked him through the Borneo Rainforest Lodge, but he may also do private tours, independent of the lodge. If you want to contact him, this is his personal email: Denny had what amounted to a sixth sense when spotting and identifying wildlife. He would often stop and cup his ears behind his head to listen to the sounds of the forest - a real forest man. He showed us orangutans, gibbons, rhinoceros hornbills, and much much more. At one point, while watching an orangutan build a nest, we saw a large flying squirrel gliding across the sky in front of us. None of these amazing creatures we would have seen without Denny's help. Denny took us on night walks and even led a night drive to see nocturnal animals. On top of all that, Denny was a super-nice and interesting individual. We frequently got into deep intellectual discussions about life and spirituality. He was full of positive energy and really did love the rainforest.

Good luck and enjoy Danum Valley!
Written September 16, 2015
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Bengaluru, India90 contributions
The Danum Valley is a protected rainforest that has a large amount of untouched primary rainforest. We stayed at the Danum Valley Field Centre (also called Studies Centre) which is a research facility where scientists and students conduct field research. There are a few tourists, and you can come here either through a tour agency or book directly through Yayasan Sabah, the organization that manages the reserve. We booked directly and our experience was excellent. The only minor annoyance is that one has to make a bank transfer to confirm the reservation.

We go into Lahad Datu at around 11 AM and had a 4 hour halt in the city to get lunch and relax. The minibus operated by the DVCA leaves 3 days a week at 3 PM from Lahad Datu from where it is a 2 hour drive. Please be aware that the ride is on a dirt road and is very bumpy. There was a lady in our minibus who had a severe bout of motion sickness.

Once at the centre, there is plenty to do, you can pick from the following options

Night safari is the best opportunity to spot wildlife. We saw slow loris, flying fox, flying squirrel, civets on one night and the second time we tried it we were not so lucky.

Morning Sunrise View, which is quite beautiful view of the valley. We were also lucky to see an Orangutan a few metres away. However, the Orangutan sensing our presence disappeared very quickly.

Trails- There are 2 self guided trails- Nature Trail and Orchid Trail which are quite easy and fun to do. There are longer trails available, which require a ranger to accompany you. The shortest one is the coffin trail, a 1-2 hour walk to an odd grave site. There are 2 trails that last 3-4 hours -Tembaleng Falls and Rhino Loop and another one that is an all day trek (Purut Falls). The trails are a good way to explore the innards of a rainforest, though you are not going to see primates or cats. Leeches are a real menace, though after a point of time you get used to them. Leech socks are recommended.

The centre itself has a lovely bridge across the river which is a beautiful spot. There is a riverside beach where you can swim and an observation deck where we saw hornbills and other birds.

This is a rare spot which gives us a sense of what Sabah was before palm oil and timber logging took over the state. Worth a visit and stay for 3 nights if possible.
Written July 26, 2017
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

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