I was on my way from the hot springs at Mount Kinabalu to the Kinabatangan area. Like many times before I was hitchhiking and was offered a ride by a scientific co-worker from the Danum Valley Field Center. After just a few words in exchange, I knew this was the kind of place I was looking for and had to visit. It turned out that it would be a little challenge to get there, but spending a few days in one of the last primary forests of the world will make up for everything. Trust me, it's worth it.
The Danum Valley Field Center is in the middle of nowhere. The only way to get there is taking a 70 km dirt road from Lahad Datu. The road is closed for public traffic but a 4x4 minivan is taking people to and from the center twice a week. You better book well in advance or you might get stuck in Lahad Datu, like I did. The center itself is pretty small and lacks any luxury, but that's definitely not what you came for.
Visiting the center there are a few things you have to be aware of. You can sleep in the more expensive, main complex or the dormitory. According to my budget, I opt for the second one. The dorm is a little further out and the walk from the main complex can get quite scary at night. I was the only person sleeping in the dorm and there are only a few hours of electric power every day. So make sure to bring a strong flashlight and keep in mind to charge your batteries.
The only thing surrounding the center is jungle, thick primary forest as far as you can see. Well, that's what you came for and that's what you get. Don't expect anyone to come around and take you for a tour. The Field Center is a research facility that offers accommodation, not an entertainment park. The best thing to do is to hang around with one of the scientific workers. Some of them haven't left the center for a year and are more than happy to get a little contact to people from outside.
A good way to get familiar with the forest is the looped jungle walk right next to the center. Take the small suspension bridge over the river and follow the well marked track. There are many explanation boards and keeping your eyes open you might be able to spot some animals. Try to memorize the track, this will be especially helpful in case you want to come back at night or early morning.
While walking around the jungle it's always a good idea to keep quiet. This way you are not scaring the animals and will have a better chance to spot some wildlife. I found this Thick-billed Spiderhunter sitting on a flower and was able to watch it from close up.
If you are not afraid of heights, the tree platform is a stunning place. Its 40 meters above the ground and gives you a great view over the surrounding jungle. To get there, cross the river on the little suspension bridge, follow the track and take the first left. After about 20-30 minutes you will reach the tree with the ladder to the platform. Climbing up is exhausting and a little scary. There's another platform at 20 meters just in case you want to take a break.
On one day I got up at 5 am and walked to the platform to see the sunrise. I was on my own and had to focus on the track to keep my mind straight to not get scared by all the noise. The ladder was wet and slippery from dew and climbing up was tough. Seeing the sun rising over the jungle, slowly fighting the fog, truly is an unforgettable moment.
The platform is no bigger than 3 by 3 meters, not to forget the huge trunk taking the center. There's not much space but the stunning view kept me for hours. I was able to see a horde of Red Leaf Monkeys crossing by, some squirrels and a lot of birds. I love Hornbill Birds and I was pleased to see them fly by quite a few times.
One animal you will definitely come across are leeches. They are everywhere. I made a rough calculation and figured out that every 10 meters you will walk in the jungle you will pick up one leech. I grew a habit of stopping every 50 meters to kick them of my shoes and trousers. Wearing leech socks is good but not bullet proof. In case one makes it through all your gear and hangs on to your skin, just touch it slightly with the flame from a lighter and it will walk of. Works like a charm, I had more than one occasion to try it.
Like with all animals it takes some time and patience to spot them. This old Orang Utan lady is well known to the center, but most of the time she is hiding somewhere in the trees. I had been waiting for several hours before she made her way to the ground. What felt like pure luck was turning into fear when she started to chase me around. Later I was told that she had a certain antipathy for young men and already attacked several people.
Just in case you are wondering where all those jungle noise are coming from, here's one of the suspects. It's a huge cicada attracted by the light. Grinding her wings it can make a great sound that is heard for miles.
Many animals are nocturnal so if that's what you came for, don't even think about sleep while staying at the center. The jungle at night is a whole different story. Normal things can turn into nightmares and wherever you point your flashlight something is crawling around. Ask the researchers if anyone is making a night tour you can join. I definitely saw more animals at night than during daylight and had lots of fun.
This guy was hanging above my head and I almost ran into it. My strong headlight was broken and I had to use a weaker one. It seams that the jungle is absorbing light. What appears to be a good torch at home turns out to be less than what you expected once you are out in the wild.
I have no idea what the scientific name of this little bugger is, but from Sumatra I know that some of them can get pretty nasty. Some centipedes are poisonous and were the only thing our last guide was really afraid of.
Okay, to be honest, this little Tasir alone would have made up for the whole trip. Tasirs are definitely among my favorite animals and I was really pleased to see this one in his natural habit. I could have stayed for hours just watching him stare at me. Isn't he cute?
I am not really afraid of spiders, but once they reach a certain size things are changing. We came across this one shortly after we spotted a tarantula the size of my hand. The good thing is, once you turn your head and the headlight is pointing into another direction, all spiders are gone.
Here's a short clip from my night walks. It's hard to film with only your headlight but I am quite pleased with the quality. You can find this video and many more in our youtube channel We also uploaded a YouTube Channel.
Have you ever seen a frog in tiger tights? Well, here it is, blinking goodbye. My trip to Danum Valley was way to short and I would have loved to stay for weeks. The few days I spent here were packed with adventurous day tracks and exciting nights. I didn't get much sleep though, but that is something I can easily bear for such an once in a lifetime experience.