Borneo – Danum Valley & Sepilok

I know when I think of Borneo I think of a far-off wilderness inhabited by strange yet amazing creatures. It’s a place you see on television on the National Geographic channel or in one of David Attenborough’s fantastic documentaries! It was always a place I only dreamed of going, yet now I am actually here myself and I cannot quite believe it! It feels very surreal to have spent our last few days and nights in the actual Rainforest of Borneo!

Our journey to get from Langkawi to Malaysian Borneo was pretty drawn out to say the least! We had to spend yet another night in Kuala Lumpur airport waiting for our flight the next morning. This is actually our 5th night in the capital, 2 of which have been in the
airport! Our second flight was actually split into 2 on the way to Kota Kinabilu and then we had another transfer to get us to Lahad Datu so all in all we took off and landed 4 times!

We hadn’t actually pre-booked our trip into the rainforest as we were going to a place called Danum Valley which is a research centre. We had put a lot of research into the place before going and honestly there wasn’t a lot of information to find, we had to drag it out of every nook and cranny in the internet. Apparently as it’s a government organisation DVFC (Danum Valley Field Centre) doesn’t always let tourists in because the researchers don’t like it. We had read many people having difficulty trying to get in touch with them via email and telephone and the staff always being stand-offish and cagey. As a result we decided not to bother with pre-booking and just to try our luck at the office in Lahad Datu.

Luckily, they didn’t turn us away or pretend they were full to get rid of us which is something we have heard they do. We managed to book onto the bus into Danum Valley the next day with little hassle or stress! We stayed the night in the closest hotel we could find just a couple of blocks away which was pretty much double our usual spend on accommodation but just to have a bed to collapse on after such a long day was bliss!

The journey into Danum Valley was spectacular, as soon as we passed all the awful palm oil plantations and we entered the real rainforest that is! We were aware before our trip into the centre that we would be lucky to see any sort of wildlife as it is not guaranteed at all. These animals are real wild creatures, untamed in every which way and totally wary and afraid of humans in general. Which is of course the way it should be; it puts both us and the animals in danger if they do become too familiar.

That said, we must have had someone looking out for us because on the way in we came across a herd of Bornean Pygmy elephants at the side of the road! They bolted before we were even close of course but just seeing them was amazing! There were about 30-40 of them in the herd but most of them had hidden themselves in the forest so we could only see around 10. The Pygmy elephant is native to Borneo and it’s the smallest species of elephant in the world. However they are still formidable creatures and it’s strange to see their huge forms disappearing so easily into the brush!

Upon arrival at the centre we paid our dues, which were pretty overpriced for the facilities you actually get. However they know that they have a monopoly on the area as this is only one of two places to stay within Danum Valley and the other is a 5 star resort!

We both had a bed in the dorm longhouses which is split into 2 buildings by gender so unfortunately we were separated for the night for the first time in a long time! I was actually the only girl in the entire 48 bed dorm so I’ll admit I didn’t have a comfortable night’s sleep! I soon found that although I was the only human in the dorm, I wasn’t actually the only living creature much to my discomfort I was sharing the room with numerous cockroaches and god knows what else! I didn’t expect anything less from a night in the rainforest but it was still very difficult to sleep with those critters running around, especially when you could hear them moving they were that big! Eeep!

I must have managed a small amount of sleep before my alarm went off at the unsightly time of 4am to get up bright and early. Someone had decided I needed some bed company though as a big fat cockroach ran off my bed when I got up and shined my torch!! When Liam finally arose from the boys’ dorm I decided to have a little bit more rest and wait dawn at least before heading out into the eternal darkness.

The sound of the rainforest was beautiful, like a perfectly timed orchestra playing a symphony they had known for a lifetime. It was strange to hear the forest is so alive but yet it’s so difficult to spot living creatures within the dense trees and bushes! We did a couple of walks in the morning through easy to follow trails on our own. We could only do the short trails alone, the longer ones we would need a guide for because it would be so easy to get lost and stray the wrong way and if we were to loose ourselves in this enormous forest I’m not sure we would ever be found again!

We didn’t see very much on the short trails apart from an enormous monitor lizard. It appeared out of nowhere and ran so quickly across our path into the sanctuary of the surrounding bushes that we barely saw it! It was probably around 2 metres long though and it looked like a monster! What must the explorers of old have thought when they first came across these strange rainforest dwelling creatures?

On the main track through the centre strangely enough we saw the most wildlife! We spotted lots of cheeky monkeys jumping from tree to tree! When at first we spotted the orange fur of a small monkey we though all our Christmases had come at once! Would this be the orang-utan we were dying to see? In this case no, yet the little Red Leaf Monkeys are no less cute! We also saw lots of wild deer in the evening moving through the rainforest across the roads and timidly away from us as fast as they could!

We decided to do at least one guided walk while we were at the centre if not just to walk a little further out and explore the area some more. We had read before that the guides from the centre weren’t very helpful in spotting animals and that they were literally just there to make sure we didn’t wander off the trail. We must have had some luck though because our guide, Jusman , was really helpful and chatty. It was good to have someone there with us point out the things that we didn’t even look twice at before, signs of life in the forest. We saw lots of signs that elephants had passed through such as their poop, footprints and the areas that we slightly flattened. He also showed us little insect nests and signs of a wild boar! Unfortunately we had no more luck with him than on our own of spotting the wildlife, but he told us that he himself had not seen an orang-utan since the beginning of the month and I don’t doubt that he would have told us if there was something to see!

Elephant Print

As we would be leaving early the next morning after just 2 nights in Danum Valley we thought we would go on the Night Drive via the centre and hopefully spot a few of the nocturnal creatures. It was just the two of us sat in the back of a Land Cruise, which Liam thought was brilliant on its own! Our spotter had a long range light and he was scanning the forest so fast as we drove slowly through the forest. He must have had keen eyes because I wouldn’t have seen anything especially in the sheet black darkness around us! He spotted a few things though; a civit, a Bornean pheasant roosting in a tree and right in the distance high up in the tree canopy a bobcat slinking along a branch!

Coming out of Danum Valley we were lucky enough again to see more elephants! Possibly two separate herds along the road! We knew they were close by because there was such a high concentration of elephant dung on the road! As we passed a couple of them a little baby one shot into the trees but for some reason it popped its head out again! So cute!

After we left Danum Valley we knew we weren’t quite finished with Borneo as we couldn’t possibly leave without seeing the big guy himself; the Orang-utan. So we decided to continue on our journey to Sepilok where they have a Rehabilitation Centre for these magnificent creatures!

When we arrived in Sepilok we found an amazing place to stay right on the forest edge, set in an amazing garden and it even had a pool to cool off in! The restaurant at our lodge was incredible as well; we both had some beautiful Thai food for a change! If we had the time I know we both would have liked to linger in Sepilok a little longer! However we managed to do what we set out to do; to see Orang-utans!

The Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre basically looks after orphaned orang-utan babies, whether they have lost their mother or from some fool thinking they could keep it as a pet, hence the name rehabilitation! The Orang-utans are looked after in different stages which we watched an informative documentary about at the centre. As infants they are cared for in every way possible and slowly taught how to climb, as they gradually get older they are distanced more and more from humans as much as possible with the eventual goal of them being released properly into the wild.

Once they are released into the rainforest the Orang-utans are of course pretty reluctant at first to move on. So they are lured bit by bit away from the centre by feeding platforms leading further and further in the rainforest. As paying guests into the centre we get to see a small part of this process as we are allowed to spectate twice a day to the feeding of the Orang-utans!

We got there a little earlier than the start of the feeding and surprisingly there were already a few hanging around……literally! It was amazing to see the flexibility and strength of these amazing creatures as they swung and climbed through the rainforest to get to the platform.  We saw a mother and baby duo which was incredible as the baby was fooling around on the ropes too, but not without an unyielding grip from its mother! There were a couple of other cheeky monkeys that came and helped themselves to the free-for-all as well. Strangely enough even though they were smaller than the orang-utans, they managed to scare some of them away for a while!

Liam and I went to both feedings of the day at the centre, it was honestly something that we could have quite happily sat and watched all day! I was a little disappointed at not seeing wild Orang-utans out in the deep rainforest; however I can appreciate that it’s difficult for even the most weathered explorers so the centre was a fantastic way for us normal folks to see them! We were advised as well that obviously some Orang-utans do stick around the centre for the rest of their lives, not venturing much further out, yet on the other hand they do also have cases where they have released one and never seen them again. Many of the released Orang-utans go on to mate and breed themselves as well as do their offspring so it’s a fantastic initiative that’s vital to keeping the species alive in Borneo! It’s nice to finally see a success story, that steps have been taken to save a species while they are still alive and well rather than when it’s far too late!!

Taking a peek!
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