Danum Valley – without breaking bank

I finally managed to tick Danum Valley off my bucket list. Like most, when looking up Danum Valley on blogs etc, I mostly came across the tours organised by various companies and staying at the very nice and very much out of my budget Borneo Rainforest Lodge. It was actually through a friend of a friend and a trip organised by one of the departments in the hospital that I found out about this considerably cheaper but just as good alternative.

The Danum Valley Field Centre, is in the conservation area itself and is usually utilised by researchers from around the world. They have opened it up to tourists as well, and some tour operators such as Sticky Rice Travel organise tours at the Field Centre.

Do take note that the Canopy walkway is part of the Borneo Rainforest Lodge and for guests only (though the lady did say they currently did not offer day passes – maybe that might change?). So if that is an absolute must do – you probably should opt to stay there or go on one of the tours instead that is not part of the Danum Valley Field Centre.

Also, majority of the prices quoted here are resident rates, and while I understand that some people aren’t thrilled that locals get a different rate, I’m really not going to get into the morality etc of it, cause it literally happens everywhere! And I’ve felt the pain when I’ve had to convert those Euros back to MYR with our crappy exchange rate. So, lets not dwell shall we?

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The main office/reception area where you will register/pay/be briefed on arrival.

Getting there 

To fly or drive?

Most people take the 45 minute flight from Kota Kinabalu. And if you plan early enough, the cheapest rate I’ve found return is about RM 250 return (if you book early of course).

We however opted to drive in and turn it into a bit of a road trip as we had planned to go to Sandakan after. Should you want to drive, it is an easy enough drive, and the roads are actually decent, so you can easily get there with a sedan. (Though a 4WD is always a better option in Sabah).

From Kota Kinabalu it should take you approximately 6 and a half hours to the Lahad Datu field office, 8 hours if you take the bus.  Not only is it cheaper than flying being cheaper, it also means you can break up the trip, spend a night in Kundasang, stop by Kinabatangan River or Sandakan on your way over which might be a better idea than driving all the way straight. Though the journey to Lahad Datu is scenic enough, so I’d recommend the drive.

1st time visitors 

First time visitors are not permitted to make their way into the Valley alone, and will need to arrange for transportation from the Field Office in Lahad Datu. It takes approximately 2.5 – 3 hours from the Danum Valley Field Centre Office in Lahad Datu town. (If you’re flying in, it’s literally just across the road from the airport)

You will meet at the Danum Valley Field Centre Office which is in Lahad Datu Town, where you can either arrange for a private charter or hop on the scheduled charter which usually departs at 3pm/3.30pm on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. The return scheduled charter is at 8/8.30am from the Conservation Area on the same days.

 

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Danum Valley Field Centre 
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The office in Lahad Datu is literally opposite the airport. Also, get WAZE! I could not locate it as easily on Maps.

The scheduled charter is RM 50 (Residents rate). RM 90 Non Resident.

The private charter is RM 350 (Residents rate).

So should you leave on any other day (like we did) you will need to arrange for a private charter, which can leave at any time.

Contact person 

I was in touch primarily with Ms Dinisiah Liasan. She is based in the Kota Kinabalu office (Yayasan Sabah) and can be contacted via email at inid69@yahoo.com or
Tel: +6088326320. I think dealing directly with Dinisiah at the office in Kota Kinabalu would be a better option as she is there Mon – Fri, 8am – 5pm, was very reliable and provided me with a quotation prior to departure.

I think dealing with the Field Office in Lahad Datu itself, is a little more taxing based on the conversations I had with other travellers, as they aren’t always there and the office is currently under construction anyway.

Payment

I paid at the Danum Valley Field Centre itself in the conservation area, but if you are in KK, you can pay at the office before hand. I’d recommend getting a quote via e-mail, it will make life a whole lot easier.

Accommodation 

There are many different types of accommodation in the Field Centre itself. There used to be a camping option, but that was not available currently. And I think the Dorms are pretty decent.

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Dorms 

Getting a bed at the dorms is pretty easy, as there are 48 beds respectively in separate male and female dorms (the two buildings are next to each other). The dorms are mostly used by university students and researchers, which makes for some interesting conversation at the common kitchen area at night.

The dorms are basic and clean, with a few wall fans. Basic bunk beds with a decent enough mattress, a pillow, a thin blanket and towel. Do bring a hoodie along, cause it can get a little cold when it rains at night. That coupled with the fatigue from the early start and long day of hiking meant that I was absolutely freezing.

The toilets are outside each respective dorm and you will have to walk down a flight of stairs, so bring a flash light at night and don’t get too frazzled by the resident Wild Boar who roams around, she’s friendly enough. There are squatting and ordinary toilet, with toilet paper provided and of course cold showers.

Also, you’re in the rainforest so bugs, snakes and cockroaches are the norm and are expected. We are in their habitat anyway.

Resident Rates RM 50/per person/night
Non Resident Rates RM 91/per person/night

Other options

  1. Private rooms/Chalet – RM 400 Non Residents
  2. Rest House – RM 150 for Residents/ RM 290 Non Residents

These are the luxury options available, but of course nothing like the Borneo Rainforest Lodge. They are basic as well. Just a little more privacy and comfort.

The only pro is that, it is closer to the main common area/lounge and cafeteria where the food is served. If you don’t opt for the self cater option at the dorms, this is about a 10 minute walk (if you walk slowly).

Food 

Now, there are two ways to go about this. There is a cafeteria on site, where they prepare three warm meals a day. The food is simple, not very varied and will get you by but is a little costly which given that everything has to be brought in from Lahad Datu (3 hour journey) is fair. It is RM 111/per person/day full board.

There is a self catering option, and if you choose to stay in the dorms, which is where a lot of the Research students from UMS stay, it is a lot easier to do this, as directly outside the dorms is a kitchen area.

The kitchen is very well equipped, there is a fridge, stove and all the utensils you need to prepare a feast – which is exactly what a couple of tour guides from Sarawak did every single night they were there. However, should you be traveling in a group, it is charged per group and per day the gas and stove charge is RM 30/day, while the utensils are rented at a cost of RM 15/day.

However, there is a water dispenser, so access to hot and cold water is constantly available. Should you opt to just go full on cup noodles during your stay (which is what we did), this is incredibly handy.

Important note : Beer RM 15/can, Soft drinks RM 5/can
(You can just pick some up on your way in Lahad Datu)

 

 

 

Fees

There is a camera fee RM 10 for hand phones and normal cameras
RM 150 for DSLR Cameras

I know a lot of people hate camera fees, but this is a conservation area and the money goes into conservation and RM 10 isn’t a lot. And if you’ve got a DSLR and you choose to sell your photos, it’s really not much at all, cause you can take some amazing photos here as well.

Park fees RM 50/per person

Ranger fees 

There are a fair few trails you can take yourself when in the Danum Valley which don’t require a guide, which take a few hours. However the longer trails will require a guide, and that is because people have gotten lost/slipped and hurt themselves etc etc. The fees aren’t much and if you make friends with other travellers who are there you can split the costs of them and the lady who organises the drives will actually help group you together as well, should you ask.

Short trail at RM 20/hour. But this can be divided by 6-8 people.
— We did the Rhino Pool Trail, which I would recommend
Long trail at RM 150/hour. Also divided by 6-8people. This trail will require an overnight stay.
Night drive – RM 160 (4 people/trip) – so RM 40 per person
Night walk – RM 50/hour (6-8 people per guide)
Sunset/Sunrise tour – RM 160 (4 people/trip) – so RM 40 per person
— The sunset tour probably would be a better bet, cause it was too foggy when we went for the sunrise tour.

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Cooling off in the rhino pool
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Part of the trail heading back to the dorms.

 

Contact details 

Ms Dinisiah Liasan
Conservation & Environmental Management Division
YAYASAN SABAH
Level 12, Tun Mustapha Tower,
Likes Bay, P.O. BOX 11201,
Kota Kinabalu
Tel: + 6088 326 320
email : inid69@yahoo.com

Danum Valley Field Centre Office Lahad Datu
Block 3, MDLD 3286,
Ground Floor, Fajar Centre
Lahad Datu, Sabah
Suzan Kilin : 013 884 6968/ +6089 880 441

Important things to bring along

Snacks
Mosquito repellent
Leech socks (You can buy this at the centre)
Water bottle
Food
Long pants
Long sleeve tops (if you have a turtle neck thats even better – these leeches are ridiculous!)
Long socks – so you can tuck your pants in them
Rain jacket/coat
A hoodie
Quick dry everything 🙂
Head lamp/heavy duty flash light

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View from the dorms during sunset.  

In total we spent almost RM 500 each on this trip. This included accommodation + food and snacks + conservation fees + camera fees + ranger fees + sunrise tour + Rhino pool trail + night drive + transport – which included a private transfer cause we only spent 3days and 2 nights there and left on a Sunday (when there is no scheduled transfer!).

Worth it? Is that even a question you need to ask?

Would I do it again? Definitely, though I am tempted to check out the Borneo Rainforest Lodge as well.

 

 

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