What the Bilit Adventure Lodge lacks in luxury, it more than makes up for with its character. The main draw in the Kinabatangen River Valley is the wildlife and believe me, you will not be disappointed. But with all the lodging options available, why not choose one that makes you feel at home? The staff at the Bilit Adventure Lodge made the trip more than just another entry in the travel journal; they treated us like one of the gang and viewing the wildlife with friend,s rather than a tour guide, greatly enhanced our Sabah experience.
The lodge is owned by the SWA (Sepilok Tropical Wildlife Adventure), a licensed tour operator that also owns a much more touristy lodge right near the Sepilok Orangutan Rehab Center. But if you've ventured all the way to Sabah, choosing an overnight package on the river is a far more enjoyable experience than a roadside hotel in a crowded area. You can book packages directly from the company or from virtually any third party tour operator in Sabah. A 2 night/3 day package is a perfect opportunity to experience all the area has to offer and make sure you choose a private guide; it will make a world of difference if one of the monkeys steals your heart and you just can't leave; we think group tours are far more impersonal. (We are biased but we think you should request the services "Loy Jungleman" , our guide, who we are proud to call a new friend on the other side of the world)
Our stay was part of a 6 night package that started at Borneo Rainforest Lodge and continued on from Lahad Datu. Loy and his driver picked us up right on time and we drove past rather ordinary scenery, passing numerous palm plantations for about 2 hours. You arrive in the small village of Bilit and hop on a quick boat ride across the river. The lodge itself is set among a lush rainforest setting and consists of a collection of buildings with 4 units each. The rooms are not luxurious by any means but the air conditioner was unbelievably fantastic after 3 heat filled nights in Danum Valley; that alone makes it worthwhile. The rooms are small but adequate enough with a small shower, a double bed with average mattress and pillows and an extra smaller bed. There's no need to do anything but sleep in the room anyway.
The animals are active at dawn and late afternoon so the river cruises are conducted at 6 AM and 4 PM to allow maximum viewing. The river and its environs are filled with a cornucopia of wildlife including more macaques than you can count and so many different birds that even an avid bird watcher would be impressed. We were very lucky to see a large male orangutan hovering in a nest which is unusual. The monkeys will often walk all the way down to the river and stare at you from two feet away while they search for food. Too much fun to describe ! There are also crocodiles; they are fun because you can go right up to them and almost touch them before they scamper away. The sad reality of why the viewing is so optimal is due to the limited space that's been imposed on the native wildlife due to the clearing of forest for palm plantations. There are pygmy elephants in the area but they were not around when we were there.
Our morning cruise was shrouded in a mystical fog that lifted just in time to see lots of birds including numerous hornbills, egrets, pittas and gorgeously colored kingfishers that glide along the river searching for fish. Monkeys seem to be more active in the afternoon. Our evening cruises were spectacular; Loy, our expert guide, was able to spot and explain a lot of the wildlife to us; we shared much of our California wildlife with him also, much to his surprise. The cruises will last until darkness and the drivers will always search for the best areas for viewing.
After the morning cruise, they took us to Gomantong Caves which are world famous for the swiftlets, whose nests are harvested annually by daring (crazy) people that scale the cliffs to collect the ingredients of one of the most expensive delicacies in Asian cuisine. The cave is dark and filled with mounds of never ending bat poo and millions of cockroaches. You can walk around in a circle inside the cave but do not touch anything and ensure you wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. Personally, we were not impressed with the caves as we find indoor caves with stalagtytes more impressive. The tour usually calls for a return trip in the afternoon to see the bats but we opted to hang out on the deckside and drink beer instead.
There are also night walks available but we didn't take them because leech socks are required (we had enough of that at Borneo Rainforest Lodge and our socks were filthy and wet). If you haven't taken one yet, we highly recommend them; look for slow lorises (we did not see any in Danum but wish we did)
The meals are served on the main lodge area which overlooks the river. Because it's an ecolodge, they keep the lighting and power to a minimum. Although considered basic by most others who posted, we found the lunch and dinner to be quite tasty, consisting of chicken in a Malaysian style fricassee sauce, whole prawns, beef, delicious fresh vegetables, fruit, and best of all, "chips" (they love French fries and because everything is cooked in palm oil, they taste better than McDonald's fries). Breakfast was a few fried eggs and some sausage made without pork (no pork can be found in Malaysia due to the Muslim population), toast and potatoes. Adequate but not awesome. And bring your own coffee if you need your fix; i
There's not much to do at the lodge in between cruises which is where the character part I mentioned comes part in. When not entertaining guests, Loy and his buddies mostly hang out on the deck playing the guitar. How they know so many American pop songs from the old days is beyond me. But unlike other resorts where the staff is the staff, here you can chat it up with your guide and the whole staff. If you are the kind of traveler that enjoys getting to know other people and their attitudes, culture and lifestyle, this place is for you. Our guide Loy obviously has a passion for the area and was genuinely interested in learning about us as much as were about Malaysia. Steven, one of the teenage staff, joked with us the whole time and the personality and warmth of the staff left us feeling sorry to go. Loy even offered to let us tap onto his IPhone's WiFi connection. In exchange, I offered him a Starbucks Via instant coffee which he had never tasted (They consider Nescafe is instant a luxury)
There are many choices in the area including cheesy looking lodges with "Koom-bi-ya" like group activities. Skip all that and treat yourself to the best wildlife viewing available in Sabah coupled with a small lodge run by a great bunch of people that try hard to please you. Highly recommended.
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- Also Known As:
- Bilit Adventure Hotel Sandakan
- Bilit Adventure Lodge Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia