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.
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