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“Danum Valley Field Center - beware of misinformation and high costs”

Danum Valley Conservation Area
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3-Day Discovering Danum Valley Bike Tour from Lahad Datu
Ranked #42 of 211 things to do in Sabah
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Recommended length of visit: More than 3 hours
Reviewed June 20, 2014

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.

27  Thank Venktesh R
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Reviewed June 2, 2014

Particularly for people who've never experienced a rain forest, this is a great place to get much more than an introduction. We took the 3 days/2 nights package at the Borneo Resort Lodge (BRL) and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. Limited and significantly lower cost accommodations are also available at the field research centre nearby (check other reviews for this). There're a number of ways to get there. The quickest is through the small town of Lahad Datu which has a 55 minute flight connection with Kota Kinabalu. From there, it's a 2 1/2 hour drive to the BRL. About 2 hours is on gravel road but it's reasonably comfortable. You can also come from Sandakan further north. This town has similar duration but more frequent flight connections with KK. However, it also has limited direct connections with Kuala Lumpur (about 2 3/4 hours). Depending on traffic, Lahad Datu is about a 2-3 hour drive from Sandakan. The reason for coming from Sandakan is that there're lots of things to do (Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, Turtle Island, Kinabatangan River Tour, etc.) in the area so it can be used as a first stop on the east coast of Sabah.

The lodges at the BRL are rather spartan but spacious. We stayed in a standard lodge which are individual units. There's no air conditioning but it's cool enough especially at night. The included three daily meals are generally very good to excellent with a decent variety of meat, fish, vegetable and fruit dishes. Alcohol and specialty drinks cost extra.

Since Danum Valley is a natural rainforest, wild life sightings are a bit of a hit or miss affair. However, there're at least 3 guided tours a day (including night treks) so there's a very good chance of seeing orangutans, monkeys, deer and other large mammals. You'll also be able to see birds, squirrels and creepy crawlies like snakes, scorpions and tarantulas. Of course, there're also interesting trees (many old, thick and tall) and vegetation. One of the highlights is the (slightly) swaying canopy walk, nearly 300 metres long and well over 200 meters high in several places. There's also the Jacuzzi Pool at the bottom of a small waterfall where you can cool off and get a "fish massage" after a sweaty trek up to a high platform with a good view of the lodge and surrounding valley.

This is definitely a place for a memorable rainforest experience.

5  Thank Lenn831
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed May 22, 2014

The Jewel in the Jungle. Yes it's a long drive in, it's not uncomfortable and it is so worth it from the minute you get out of the car. This was three days (I so wish it was longer) of pure excellence. We stayed here 'mid honeymoon' and it was the highlight. The Lodge, our guide Paul, the staff, the organisation, the orang-utans, the red monkeys and everything else we experienced was incredible. It left a footprint on my heart and we will definitely be back.

6  Thank Debie_James
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed April 26, 2014

For the ultimate rain forest experience I cannot recommend Danum Valley too highly. With much of the world’s rain forests disappearing at a fast rate to visit the Borneo rain forest at Danum Valley is a real treat.

Danum Valley is not a zoo, so what you see during your visit is very much a matter of luck and patience. Of the large mammals even if you are unlucky not to see truly wild orang-utans, or leaf monkeys you will be sure to wake to the cries of Gibbons in the trees along the river. Walking along one of the many trails your guide will bring the forest to life pointing out not only the magnificent trees and flora but observing the many birds and insects and all the biodiversity that makes rain forests so important to our planet’s wellbeing.

If you have a particular interest; birds, mammals, insects, flora…, then I advise you to book a private guide but make sure, when you book, that the office in Kota Kinabalu passes your request to the rangers at the resort. For my third visit there this spring we were promised an experienced birder but on arrival were allocated a trainee! This mistake was soon sorted out; I hasten to add that nothing is too much trouble for Boneo Nature Tours who manage the bookings, and we were then allocated an excellent guide in the form of Adzel who became a delightful companion in the four days we spent at Danum.

Two hours or so by dirt road from Lahad Datu the accommodation and facilities are luxurious to say the least. Choose a deluxe chalet with river view, after all you have come so far so it’s worth that little bit extra, and you can luxuriate, at the end of a day’s trekking, not that the treks are very arduous, in an outside hot tub with the sounds of the forest and the gentle babbling of the river below. Meals in the open sided restaurant area are buffet style but I challenge anyone to eat better anywhere else in Sabah.

One word of warning though I would not advise you to spend the money on the animal spotting or extended private night drives. Night drives included in your package take you up the entrance road to just before the junction with the main forest road and the extended drives do not go much further. In 2010 my wife and I went on the inaugural private drive and then we turned left at the entrance and drove for a long way into the heart of the forest reserve seeing porcupines, binturong, leopard cats, civets… We were out till well after midnight and felt it was well worth the money. We wished to repeat the experience this time hoping to see the illusive clouded leopards but it was not to be. We drove to the entrance, went about 100 metres each way and then returned to base. The standard night drive that night saw more creatures than we did.

However that experience apart, Danum Valley is my favourite place on earth made all the more precious by knowing that some of the expense is contributing to vital research at the Danum Valley Research Centre nearby.

3  Thank felixstowejohn
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed March 25, 2014

Located in the center-south part of Sabah Region, at 82km distance away from Lahad Datu town, Danun Valley Conservation Area is an ancient lowland rainforest which covers an area of ​​438 sq. km. Danum Valley Centre is a research establishment for scientists and education purposes. Here can be found the biggest diversity of Dipterocarpus trees and many endemic flora species. It is also home to many birds and mammals: Orangutans, Bornean gibbons,as well as deer, wild cats and the rare Bornean Pygmy Elephant may be seen, Sun Bear and Sumatran Rhino. Almost 50 km are through the jungle. On our way to the center, we found 5 elephants standing in the middle of the road. We had to stop and waite for them to go away. Fiew wild cats, a snake cross also the road in front of us. Almost untill the center I was accompanied by the sound of elephants. In the evening, while sitting on the terrace, I could see a family of wild boars crossing in front of us, a sow with four pigs.
From here visitors can do guided walks through lowland rainforest trails, and many people go there mainly for bird watching. Other activities include night walks and drives. During day and night tracking you have oportunity to see animals and birds.
To get here you must got a permit because is a nature reservation. There is one lodge, the Borneo Rainforest Lodge for Tourists, which has private rooms and also hostels places. The food is also provided.
Reservations, transportation and all details about packages, can be obtained from head office in Kota Kinabalu and tour counters.
Is an unique and amasing experience, which can not be compared, is real jungle. You have to see and feel it by your own because can not be told!

2  Thank andreeamazilu
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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