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“DV Rainforest 5/5. DVFC as a tourist 1/5.”

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Danum Valley Field Center
Reviewed September 28, 2012

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

Room Tip: The dorms are huge..some ants and cockroaches, but it is the jungle. The guest houses are reasona...
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  • Stayed: September 2012, traveled as a couple
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19  Thank T_Killeen
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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67 - 73 of 84 reviews

Reviewed August 12, 2012

DVCA is a really wonderful experience.  The accommodation is basic but clean and comfortable, the common area is very comfortable and overlooks amazing jungle and the river.  The jungle itself is wonderful, the diversity of plants, the beautiful trails, the wonderful wildlife (though this is tough to see because of the density of the jungle).  Don't expect to have guided tours and loads of information given to you about the jungle and wildlife, you need to be an independent traveller with a sense of adventure who has good wildlife books to assist you with identifying  species.  We have spent the last few days ambling along trails, taking photos, stopping to identify birds or other species and generally just being in awe of this wonderland.  When it gets too hot (and boy does it) we come back to the accommodation and spend the hottest parts of the day swimming in the river.  This place really is wonderful.  We have seen loads of birds, elephants, bearded pigs, samba deer, mouse deer, gibbons and red leaf monkeys to name a few things.  The only thing that I didn't like were the leaches, but if you come prepared you should be fine.  Well worth the effort required to book this place, we would suggest booking as when we arrived in the office on the day of departure there were lots of walk ins being turned away and you really don't want to miss out on DVCA.

Stayed: August 2012, traveled with friends
8  Thank Soihok
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed January 15, 2012

If you can forget about the price this is a unique experience. Rooms are very comfortable though the family bungalow is far from the standard of the other rooms, very basic, without windows in the living room (only shutters, so either it is wide open or dark). Staff was very helpful and tried their best to fulfill our requests: We were disappointed to have a minivan (very bumpy, and slow), so they manage to put us on the four wheel drive on the way back. During the trip, they stop each time they see an animal (that you would never have spotted by the way). So you can take pictures.

You have to buy leech socks in the shop which could have come complimentary considering the price of the stay vs the socks.
The groups are according to the fitness and tastes so our children were never rushed.
It is full of snakes but the guide constantly look and are safety oriented. They show the children what to do with the leeches so that they were not scared.
I would love to go back and I have recommend it to all my friends.

  • Stayed: June 2011, traveled with family
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4  Thank ChineseTea
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed September 15, 2011

If you're not a wildlife enthusiast or want guides to do all the work for you then stop reading here and look at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge instead. Don't for one second doubt it, if you come here and you don't have a bit of experience in the rainforest you'll struggle.

However.....if you've a bit of an adventurous spirit and are willing to put in the hours it takes to find even a few animals and birds in the forest then you're going to love this place. I stayed both here and at BRL over the space of a week and found DVFC much more satisfying.

Good points - well marked trails which are often muddy and root-strewn, not artificial boardwalks, still perfectly negotiable to anyone with a modicum of fitness. Excellent forest surrounding DVFC, teeming with life usually small, camouflaged and damn good fun to find!), creating a fabulous atmosphere and a cacophony of sound night and day. Possible sightings of large wildlife within a short walk, and even from DVFC. I saw gibbons from the balcony, a troop of Red Leaf Monkeys at sunrise from the tree platform 300m from DVFC (watch for ants on the ladder - I climbed it in the dark, didn't see them and they basically swarmed over me and kicked my butt while I clung on for dear life!), and a trio of Orang-Utans at a fruiting fig tree a further 300m up the path. They were quite unconcerned at my presence, and that of the two friends I was with, thanks to our being quiet and moving slowly. As a result we watched some excellent natural behaviour at close quarters for an extended period.

Night time walks around the grounds of DVFC are excellent so take a very good torch. Plenty of frogs and invertebrates to look for, Buffy Fish Owls and regular visits from Malay Civets. I saw three in the space of an hour (yes, they were different individuals) and again they were quite happy to allow good views before getting tired of the annoying human and sidling off into the undergrowth. I never ever made it to the forest trails at night. There was little need.

Now all this sounds great but it is counterbalanced by one or two hurdles to overcome. Firstly the dormitories aren't uncomfortable but it's not luxury accommodation. Secondly is the whole booking cafuffle. Unless you're a student heading out there, a researcher based there, a returning visitor who's previously been allowed to stay or someone affiliated to an educational establishment (like me) then you might find it difficult to convince them to let you stay. It's baffling. There's loads of room and they could make good money but they simply turn away many people. I can assure you this is true as the place was basically empty when I was there but they'd turned away a friend of mine claiming they were fully booked. He even went to their offices in Lahad Datu to ask. Even more baffling is how another guy who stayed there at the same time as me had simply walked into the office, asked to stay and been allowed to without question and without any credentials at all. I guess you just take your chance and ask. I found that repeat e-mails were required as sometimes replies were not forthcoming.

So overall, it's a great place to spend a few days but only if you're a bit of an enthusiast. If you're struggling to book and are really keen to stay I'd probably phone their office in Lahad Datu and try to persuade them. After all, they were lovely people and the personal touch might be better received than an e-mail and could get you a little further. Good luck : )!

Stayed: August 2011, traveled solo
16  Thank Leono
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 29, 2010

We loved DVFC because of the abundant wildlife opportunities (including gibbons, red and silver leaf monkeys, deer, hornbills and frogs at night in a 3 night stay) and as non-researchers, sharing a place with students / lecturers / serious bird watchers / conversationalists really added to our experience as we were surrounded by people who were infectiously engaged with their subject.

We stayed in the hostel – it is very basic, hot and had ants – I would recommend staying in a rest house rather than the hostel if space is available.

The food was surprisingly tasty.

You should go to the centre with clear expectation that this is a research centre and is not set up for tourists. We followed the advice of other guests at the centre about good trails, what it might be possible to see where, and didn't follow the rule about taking a ranger (none seemed to follow this rule during our stay – I think our experience would have been very different if there had not been a large student group there at the same time advising us about the area).

I’d highly recommend this place if you like a communal environment, exploring relatively independently an area teeming with flora and fauna and are prepared to sacrifice on accommodation.

Tip: bring snacks, alcohol, sleeping bag, bug spray and leech socks.

  • Stayed: August 2010, traveled as a couple
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8  Thank HelsBells_9
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 22, 2010

Danum Valley Field Center : THE BIGGEST TOURIST TRAP EVER EXPERIENCED IN BORNEO !!!
The 1st thing you should know, is that there are only 3 shuttles going to the center in a week (Wednesday, Friday and Sunday). The shuttle leaves Lahad Datu à 3:30 PM, so that you arrive just for dinner time.
Before dinner, you have to register at the visitor center, where a young lady explains to you that she normally doesn't work at that time but that she only stayed so late because you were coming. Then she explains in 2 minutes how everything works in the center. When you have questions about the walks or other, her answer is : "Ask the rangers".
During the dinner we looked for a ranger, but didn't find any of them.
So the next morning, we saw this young lady again. She asked us what we've planned : nothing yet, because we didn't find any ranger! We explained her that we wanted to do the longest walk (7 hours). Yes but, she told us then that this walk leaves a 7 AM....so we can't do it (couldn't she give us this information the day before when we'd asked?!?!). We decided then to go for another 4 hours walk. For evey walk, you have to take a guide that costs 20RM/hour and who runs in front of you, explaining nothing. The 4 hour-walk was finished after 2 and 1/2 hour....the same for the second walk we decided to do (1 hour instead of the 2 to 3 hours announced)... Actually, all these walks are very well indicated and absolutely not dangerous....
In the afternoon, we tried to spend our time, but there is not a lot of things to do : no explanations about the researches you are sponsoring, only very short walks, the obseravtion tower....
The next moring, at 8:30AM, you will have to leave the DVFC but before, you have to pay :
for a resthouse room fot 2 people : 920 RM and for a person who sleeps in the 48 people dorm : 410 RM/person !!!
And what did you get for that money : NOTHING ! You felt as if you were disturbing all these scientists during their work, you've learned absolutely nothing (we learned more in a 2 hours guided walks in the Bako NP), you have to pay for every thing (a sheet of paper that they call "map", for the using of your camera, 60RM/pers for the food for the day...)
We met a group of 4 Australians during our time there who thought absolutely the same then we did.
I think that there are lots of other beautiful things to do in Borneo than spending your time (and money) at this place.
I wish you a great holiday in Borneo !
Aline + Pierre, Paris, FRANCE

  • Stayed: August 2010, traveled as a couple
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34  Thank Aline92Paris
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed January 15, 2010

Accomodations are basic, but the food was very good. The key here in Danum is to arrange for a good guide before you go (e.g. Borneo Adventure Tours); otherwise, you might have a tough time deciding where to go. We stayed here becasue the Borneo Rainforest Lodge was closed for renovations.If you have the money, stay there when they are finished, If not, Danum is a very good alternative. This is primary rainforest, not the secondary "swamp" forest you may see other places.

  • Stayed: January 2010, traveled with friends
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2  Thank TravelPat_9
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Additional Information about Danum Valley Field Center

Address: Jalan Danum Valley Conservation Area, Lahad Datu, Malaysia
Location: Malaysia > Sabah > Lahad Datu
Hotel Style:
Ranked #2 of 8 Specialty Lodging in Lahad Datu
Number of rooms: 26
Also Known As:
Danum Valley Field Hotel Lahad Datu

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