Borneo - Getting to know Danum Valley
Danum Valley Conservation Area protects 170 square miles of primary rainforest, and it’s teeming with wildlife. With logging and palm oil industries kept at bay, a group of lodge owners and local operators work with organisations like the WWF to protect and revive Borneo’s endangered species. It’s paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, but relatively easy to access - just two hours drive from the closest airport.
The Danum region is largely covered in lowland dipterocarp trees - those iconic giants that say ‘rainforest’ on sight, each broad trunk supporting an entire mini-habitat of vines, orchids and ferns, before unfurling into its own green canopy some 200 feet above the forest floor.
What to do in Danum Valley
- Sway through the towering dipterocarp treetops on a suspended canopy walkway at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge. The bridges have fantastic views of the Valley, and are connected by seated viewing platforms where you can comfortably observe the wildlife.
- Hike along forest trails with your guide, peering into the branches on the look-out for orang-utans, gibbons, macaques, Asian elephants, and Malayan sun bears.
- Go for a swim in a natural rainforest pool - some are calm as millponds, and others have waterfalls tumbling down from above. It’s an idyllic way to refresh after a trek through the jungle.
Instead of Danum Valley
Borneo Rainforest Lodge is fabulous, and justly in demand. As a result, it’s expensive, and you have to book it 8-12 months in advance. To the east, along the Danum River, lies Tabin Wildlife Reserve, which receives fewer visitors, costs less, yet offers many similar experiences to Danum Valley, along with a few unique ones of its own.
An uninterrupted 470 square miles of ancient primary rainforest, Tabin is home to Borneo elephant, Sunda clouded leopard, orang-utan and proboscis monkeys, along with hundreds of smaller tropical species. Many of these animals are frequent visitors to Tabin’s mud ‘volcanoes’ (they’re not real volcanoes), where the dry mud provides vital mineral salts.
Amongst other excursions available at Tabin, you can spend the night - in a hammock, with a torch - on a wooden viewing tower overlooking one of these at the Tabin Wildlife Resort.
When you visit Danum Valley, you’ll fly into Lahad Datu, to the south of which lies Sipadan Island - a diving paradise (and designated National Marine Park) due to its coral reefs, clear waters and superb marine life. To protect breeding turtles, guests stay on a little island 15 minutes away by daily boat, and there’s a multitude of exquisite dive sites to enjoy.
Insects here are numerous, and can be enormous - we’re talking hand-sized beetles! They’re also essential to Borneo’s biodiversity, and the Rainforest Lodge can only use natural and non-chemical ways to keep them out of your room. So if bugs give you the heebie jeebies, you might be better off elsewhere.
There are leeches in Danum Valley, but don’t worry - they’re harmless. Leech socks are available at the Lodge that should keep them away from your legs.
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Which animals live in Danum?
Bornean pygmy elephant, Malayan sun bear and clouded leopard, along with the species they depend on for food. Thousands of insects - aka ‘meals’ for numerous birds and small mammals - live on each tree, and hundreds of colourful butterflies brighten the undergrowth.
dramatically over recent years, and it’s now more ‘casino bling’ than ‘surfer chill’. If you crave that Cambodian coastal calm, head to the Koh Rong islands, or further down the coast to lo-fi Kep.
Due to their size and quality of wood, the trees make a valuable timber crop. The Danum Valley area belongs to a much larger tract of Borneo still managed by the organisation that farms the place for timber and palm oil. Luckily, they recognised the value in leaving some rainforest unharmed, and the Conservation Area was created. It’s grown into a major centre of study and ecotourism, with a research facility for scientists and scholars, and just one resort providing surprisingly plush accommodation for an eager trickle of public visitors.