In a nutshell
Danum Valley is a true wonderland for the adventure junkie. Luscious, inconceivable deep and dense, the forest is a land packed with gems of all kinds. The few days afforded to the visiting traveller will surely go down as some of their most memorable of their time here on earth.
Why go to Danum Valley
If you have heard about Danum Valley, it's very likely that you are the adventurous type. Danum Valley is the image of Elysium for the nature junkie, 43,800 hectares of it. The forest is deep, luscious and full of beautiful wildlife.
Among the animals that you stand the chance of seeing are orang-utans, hornbills, pygmy elephants, and if you're incredibly lucky, the elusive clouded leopard. That list alone is reason enough to send me halfway across the world.
The Danum Valley Field Centre is packed with activities to keep you thoroughly entertained and exhausted at the end of the day. Three and four day hiking tours, meanders around the forest, waterfalls, rivers, and ancient burial sites. You'll be busy.
You'll need at least three days in the Centre to get the most of your time there. Pack well, bring your hiking gear and every piece of outdoorsy and rugged thing you own – it's a jungle out there.
Considering you're heading into the deep, luscious rainforest, activities are of course entangled with the wondrous greens. Things like trekking, swimming and climbing. And trekking. Several day and night treks for the more experienced are sure to allure the most keen of hikers, while the more moderate overnight hikes will cater to the intermediate.
In order to get the most of your stay, you'll need to spend at least three days in the DVFC. It's best to hold off on booking any activities before you arrive though, as tempting as it may be. You may be able to make friends with people on your bus drive in. They could help cover the cost of the guide and embark on adventures with you! Guides usually charge around MYR 21 an hour.
The guides who will assist you on your arrival are very knowledgeable and, if you're lucky, proficient in English. If you want to get clued up before you go, look up Sticky Rice Tours and look at the tours they have on offer. However, whether you are arranging tours or seeking advice about the jungle or its trails, the guides are just great. Tours vary from 3 - 4 days and explore different parts of the jungle. However what cannot be missed is the sunrise. Viewed from the tree top canopies upon Bukit Atur, this is truly something to behold.
While there are a host of routes that require a guide, there is no shortage of paths to explore and trees to climb that are free of charge. Of these things, an absolute must while in the park is an early rise and ascension up the Tree Top Tower. The fog of the morning lays thick, the sparkling sounds of birds awakening and monkeys' shuffling. A cup of coffee to go along with that seems about right.
Some of the most impressive things to do in the park include a place on a night tour around the jungle; a visit to the ancient burial cave; the Madai Caves - home to the highly valuable birds’ nests that are harvested by the local Idahan tribe; and the Tembeling waterfall.
When to go to Danum Valley
In trying to avoid the rain that will more often spoil than enrich your hikes and tours, the best time of year to go is between March and October. Beyond the rain, there is very little that will sway your intended time to visit.
Where to stay in Danum Valley
Other than the high-end luxury of the Borneo Rainforest Lodge, tour remaining options are much more rustic and in line with the feel of such an expedition. Glamping (in the way that there are toilet and kitchen facilities) is available for MYR 80 a night. You will get a hammock, a camping stove and all of nature around you. This option is less popular and so is quiet in the mornings, which is a big positive for hearing animals!
You can get yourself a hostel bed for just MYR 10 more. However, you will have to pay MYR 30 a day to use the kitchen facilities. The hostel is definitely a little nicer than glamping, but it is still very basic.
A stay in the rest house will set you back around MYR 300. For this price you will get your own bathroom, but not too much more. The VIP chalets offer air-conditioning and hot showers – which of course may be worth any amount of money after a long day hiking.
Where to eat in Danum Valley
You can organise to have three buffet style meals a day for MYR 118. The buffet spreads are sufficiently diverse and tasty. However, it is not the healthiest. There is potential to save yourself a chunk of money by bringing in your own food to cook. You can prepare yourself sandwiches for your hikes and can make more significant meals come dinner time with the utilities that are included with the various tour packages.
How to get to and from Danum Valley
Getting to Danum Valley Conservation Area is not the easiest thing in the world, but then again, it is not the most difficult. The first thing that you need to do is get to the sleepy town of Lahad Datu. Should you already be in Borneo, a bus is your cheapest option. A bus from Sabah, on the west coast will take around 8 hours whereas ones from Sandakan, Sempora or Tawua are much shorter and cheaper, considering their relative distance. Busses from the latter destinations will set you back around MYR 25.
Alternatively, flights into Lahad Datu will cost a little more but will save some of your psychic energy for your upcoming few days in the jungle.
Once you have arrived in Lahad Datu, the cheapest and most direct way of getting to Danum Valley is through the Danum Valley Field Centre (DVFC). Their offices in Lahad Datu are conveniently located opposite the road from the airport.
Minibuses leave from here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 3.00 pm. A one-way ticket will cost MYR 65 per person. Should you miss the bus, or are looking to get there earlier in the day, it is possible to charter a car for around MYR 350. The trip is around three hours and is very windy and bumpy. If you decide to book through DVFC, get to the offices several hours before your departure to plan the details of your stay in the Dunam Valley with them.
Is Danum Valley a safe place to visit?
There is very little to worry about in the way of humans hurting you or putting you in danger in Danum Valley. In fact, one of the few things that you need to remember is that you always need to have someone else around in case something happens to you. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a small medical aid bag in your backpack when you go off on walks into the forest without a guide.