I’ve been struggling to find a conclusion on the accommodation/service side of my stay in DVFC. They have the go-to ‘clause’ of not being for tourists so I feel that I perhaps can’t compare it to a fully-fledged hotel etc. However, with the alternative being the incredibly high-priced Borneo Rainforest Lodge, a lot of people are forced to become a 'naturalist visitor' and stay at the DVFC anyway. The other option is to not visit Danum Valley.
Danum Valley Field Centre doesn’t advertise to be available for tourists per se. It’s primarily for scientist research. Tourists can go as ‘naturalist visitors’; which means you are part of a research institute (University or wildlife organisation) and they have several rest houses (twin beds, private bathroom) and two large dorms (male/female separate, 48 beds in each).
There are some good facilities for a naturalist visitor; the high up tree platform is fantastic, the rooms are okay, there's a library with lots of Borneo related books.
Unfortunately it feels like the staff are happy with the 'not for tourists' arrangement; they don’t really care if you are happy and any questions are met with a sigh and impatience. The guides (20MYR an hour) aren’t very knowledgeable and most don’t speak English. I approached one and asked if he had any tips to see orang-utans, he took another smoke of his cigarette, said “I don’t know” and turned his back on me… The one guide that did speak okay English offered us some tips but when we asked about hiring him he just tried to avoid it… I don’t know if they are paid a salary and therefore don’t see any of the 20myr an hour, but it really seemed like they didn’t want the money, or to help.
I stayed from Monday to Friday so I had a decent amount of time to figure out things for myself, but some people I met here only came for one day because of the shuttle only being on Mon-Wed-Fri (and the prices restricting a longer stay) and some of them had a disaster of a one day stay. One couple organised a guide for bird watching at 8am. They were still waiting way after 9am… the staff had confused a booking (there were only about 8 ‘tourists’ in the entire centre) and so the guide had cancelled their walk and suggested a walk at 2pm instead. 2pm came and there was a storm = no walk again and a very bad one day stay.
Another negative would be the price… Although it is cheaper than the alternative, Borneo Rainforest Lodge, it still isn’t cheap… 91myr a night for a dorm bed. 286myr for a rest house. 111myr for three meals in a day… the food quality varied greatly from little choice and poor quality to not bad; its basic at best, but for restaurant prices. If it were cheap it would have been fine, but to pay 111myr a day to get cornflakes with no milk for breakfast is a little bit too far.
The proper tours (night drive and sunrise/sunset drive), were 160myr. We did a sunrise tour which provided breath-taking views of the forest. We shared with a bunch of other people so the price came down to a good price. If you were on your own or as a two, the price wouldn’t be as pretty.
The surrounding forest is spectacular. You can see orang-utans close to the hostel, reception and dining room. The walking trails are great (though hard to spot animals). Even if you don't see any impressive wildlife, a walk in the forest will still be amazing. A lot of people don’t bother using the guides; a 5 hour walk adds up.
I found it frustrating that the staff and guides didn’t seem to want to help, as the surrounding area is so amazing… Some simple changes could help so much; an information board with recent sightings perhaps, or small individual maps for the walks… for the prices they charge they should at least provide some service, even for ‘naturalist visitors’.
I know this review is mostly made up of negative points, but the last part about the forest itself does outweigh the bad points and that’s why it gets 4 out of 5 overall. I have come away with great memories and would recommend people to go… but to go with a mind-set of doing it DIY and not to rely on the staff/guides. You can, and most probably will, have a great time, like I did… I just wish the staff and organisation of the place there didn’t almost ruin it.
I am grateful that tourists can manage to go, but I wish they would decide whether to have tourist service or not…. Having guides etc. implies that they have gone half way… why not train them to be decent guides and to help visitors out?
I still think I’m being too negative so I think the best way to review this would be to have two scores:
Danum Valley Forest: 5/5
Field Centre as a tourist: 1/5
- Also Known As:
- Danum Valley Field Hotel Lahad Datu