This post focuses on our experience at Danum Valley Field Center, and includes all necessary information: costs, transportation, accommodations and activities.
Morning bus from Labuk Bay to Lahad Datu: the manager at Nipah Lodge scheduled a van to drop us off at the bus station. We get dropped off somewhere in Lahad Datu. Without an indication as to where we were, we hitchhiked to the airport (which happened to be a kilometer away) and walked across the street to arrive at the Danum Valley Field Center Office.
From Kota Kinabalu to Lahad Datu: the cheapest alternative is to take the bus for 6-8hrs. Flying to Lahad Datu from KK takes about one hour.
DVFC is a research center, primarily accommodating researchers and students but lucky for us, they allow tourists. Accommodations are very basic. The total cost for a week-end at Danum Valley was MYR 662 for the two of us (USD $202), MYR 331 (USD $101) per person .
Shuttles back to Lahad Datu are only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Since we needed to get on Sunday, we had to request a private shuttle. Luckily, another couple was in the same predicament so we were able to split the cost: MYR 175 return shuttle (USD $53).
A bit after 3pm, we hopped in the vans and we were on our way to the tropical forest. As we pulled up, we spotted a pygmy elephant! Our first spotting, this weekend was already very promising!
We were guided to the office upon our arrival for practical information and schedule activities for the next two days. We opted for the morning observation tower tour and the night safari.
What to Bring
As we slept in the dorms and did not want to splurge on the meal plan offered at DVFC, we brought the following items:
– Food supplies for 2 days for the both of us (we didn’t bring anything fancy: noodle cups, sandwich food)
– Toilet paper
– Flip flops (for shower)
– Paper towels
– Mosquito repellent
– Leech repellent
– High socks
– Towels and shower essentials
– Water container
– Rain coats
– Long sleeve shirt
– Hat to protect from sun
Meal plans cost: We brought our own food and were able to get hot water for our noodle cups in the dining hall. We went to the dining hall for dinner only and ate on the porch of our dorms during the day. Meals plans are about MYR110 per day per person (USD$34).
Getting Around : everything is walking distance, there is a 10min walk from the dorms to the dining hall. Bring a flashlight for your after dinner walk. For activities, a 4×4 will pick you up at the dorms if needed.
Where to Stay
There are different types of accommodation at DVFC for different budgets. Of course, the cheaper option is to sleep in the dorms, but families can also opt for private rooms/chalet closer to the dining area. Since we did not visit the private accommodations, we’ll provide more information regarding the dorms
Dorm description: Basic but spacious dorms, with curtains for privacy. The dorms are not co-ed but both dorms are right next to each other.
Price: MYR 90 per person per night (USD $27)
Amenities: bunk beds and shared communal bathrooms. A kitchen is available but it was closed during our stay (it seemed like it had been closed for a while and in need of attention). We had shared showers, which needed a lot of attention as well (we were thankful for our flip flops). No Wifi in dorms, but available for a fee in the dining area.
What to do: Activities:
Sunrise on deck: wake up call before 6am. We are picked up by a 4×4, stood in the back trunk (front sits 3). We arrived at the observation deck in time for sunrise. Breathtaking!
Day hike on our own: we hiked through the forest aimlessly, though we did not spot any wildlife, we discovered the effects of doxycycline under the hot sun (which equals to me feeling extremely sick and in need of rest) accompanied by leeches. Leeches did not get to me thanks to the powerful leech & mosquito repellent we purchased (and doused myself with) but a couple reached J, who did not mind. I certainly prefer his approach to nature than mine and if we were to do it again, I wouldn’t let my mind obsess over these bloodsuckers as much as I did…I’d rather enjoy the scenery. I guess a city girl and the rainforest do not go well together but I learned to appreciate the peacefulness and calmness resting in this area.
We spotted more wildlife sitting on the deck of the dorms/dining hall than walking around the forest. Others were lucky enough to spot orangutans in the wild.
Night safari: Our last activity at Danum. After dinner, we hopped in the 4×4 perfectly accommodated with benches for our convenience. We spotted a brown civet and a non-venomous snake before the rain caught up to us…and that was the end of the night safari. The center did not charge us for the activity.
We found out later on, that it is possible to book a tour at DVFC with a travel company called Sticky Rice which provides guides for your activities at Danum Valley. You’ll have knowledgeable guides who know how to spot the different animals.
If you are looking for a more luxurious experience in the tropical forest, then I would suggest looking into Borneo Rainforest Lodge (much pricier but surely, more comfortable).
We feel very grateful to have been able to witness such beauty in nature and appreciated sharing the environment with wildlife. It was also a very informative weekend, as we got to learn from other “tourists” about the different animals spotted in the forest. If you are a nature lover, I would put Danum Valley as your #1 destination before it disappears and becomes a palm oil plantation.
Did you visit Danum Valley? How much wildlife did you spot? Or were you as afraid of leeches as I was? Share your adventures with us!