| Part 5: Kinabatangan river, Gomantong
caves, Lahad Datu, Danum valley
Sukau B&B, Kampung Sukau. It seems
that two American girls and I are the only guests in this
establishment. The Sukau B&B is the last guesthouse along the road
Sukau road; the road ends here, beyond it the forest begins. This is an
advantage because you can immediately walk into the rainforest, but you
are also very far away from the Sukau village and from shops. There are
actually two more guesthouses along the river between the Sukau B&B
and the Sukau village (the Tomanggong and the Greenfield; the
Greenfield has rooms with attached bath. However it seems that both are
Weather: sunny with a few clouds the
whole day; it gets quite hot at noon.
I get up at 9:20am and am ready at 10:20am. Despite the late wake up
they still serve me a breakfast. Then, at 11:30am I start walking along
the marked trail into the rainforest. The trail actually proceeds
eastwards along the river and is not well maintained. After a few
hundred metres it becomes very narrow and overgrown with vegetation. At
12pm I run into a family of orang-utans, mother and baby, very noisy
impossible to miss. They are there right above me looking at me
curiously. I seize the opportunity and take some shots.
At 12:25pm I start walking back towards the Sukau B&B, because
lunch is at 1pm. After the lunch break, at 2pm I walk to the Sukau
village. I have no mineral water with me, the tap water in this
guesthouse is undrinkable and they do not sell drinks. They do offer
water in plastic jugs, but it's dirty. This is perhaps the biggest
drawback of this place: they do not sell drinks and except for
breakfast, lunch and dinner they do not sell food.
It is very hot at 2pm when I walk along the river, because the sky has
almost no clouds and the tropical sun is very strong. After a while I
use the umbrella as a parasol (haven't put on sun tan lotion and am not
in the mood of getting sunburnt). The river scenery is beautiful and
very peaceful, with the exception of the occasional boat passing by.
At 2:40pm I'm finally in the village. It is very small, has one school
and just three or four shops. I have a chat with a local and ask about
buses to Lahad Datu, because I'm not in the mood of spending another RM
300 for a taxi transfer. There are indeed several buses and minibuses
going to Lahad Datu at the junction (road to Sukau and road to Lahad
Datu). But I have to be at the junction at the latest by 4pm.
After that I buy some drinks and an icecream in a shop. I manage to
drink almost one litre of isotonic drink in less than a minute - must
have been pretty much dehydrated. Around 3pm I start walking back to
the Sukau B&B. While I walk two cars which I later find parked at
the Sukau B&B pass by. At least one must belong to the owners of
the B&B. They could at least have offered me a lift, instead of
letting me walk with the heavy bags under the strong sun.
By 3:40pm I'm back in the B&B and take a short rest. At 4pm the
boat safari trip starts with the two American girls and myself on the
boat of the B&B. Two hours follow along the Kinabatangan
a side arm. We first go to a place near the Sukau Rainforest Lodge,
where a few Bornean Pigmy elephants are messing up the garden of a
local. Actually it's not clear where the garden of this local ends and
the wilderness begins. It looks rather that this local set up his home
in the territory of the elephants and the elephants are hungry and are
just having dinner.
By 4:30pm we are done watching the elephants and get back to the boat.
The boat now enters a side arm of the Kinabatangan river, where several
monkey colonies are located. We find several proboscis monkey, macaques
and long tail macaques. No hornbills however. The last big find is a
monitor lizard relaxing on a tree above the river. By the way the river
is quite crowded - there are at least four boats of various tour
operators, all in the sam spots at the same time. We're back in the
lodge at 6:20pm. We have dinner at 7pm, then the day essentially is
caves -> Lahad
Hotel Mido, Lahad Datu. RM 75 for a
room with A/C, TV, phone, some furniture, attached bath with bath
tub/shower. Very old hotel, probably hasn't been renovated for at least
30-40 years. The room is full of small ants. Everything is old and
decrepit, but never mind, it's just for one night and it is centrally
Weather: same as yesterday: sunny
with a few clouds the whole day; it gets hot at noon.
I leave the hotel shortly after 11am. I have chartered a car which for
RM 100 will first bring me to the Gomantong caves and then to the road
junction from where I can take a bus or minibus to Lahad Datu. Two
children of the owner of the B&B follow me on this trip. The car
has no A/C.
After one photo stop (the area we pass through is mostly covered with
palm oil plantations) we reach the Gomantong caves entrance shortly
after 12pm. Then I buy the ticket (RM 30 + another RM 30 for the
camera; locals pay much less) and proceed along the plankway
to the cave. You first have to walk 5-10 minutes across the jungle
before accessing the main entrance of the cave. At 12:20pm we are
finally at the cave's entrance.
The cave itself is huge and impressive. Inside there is a very strong,
almost unbearable smell of ammonia. Must be the excrements of
the birds and other animals who live in the cave. In any case, the
wooden walkway is covered with fresh animal shit - quite disgusting. In
the cave there are lots of people who are harvesting birds' nests.
At 1:15pm I'm done with the cave and walk back to the car. We reach the
junction shortly before 2pm. Immediately a local asks where I'm going
to and offers to bring me to Lahad Datu. Initially for RM 30, then he
increases his price to RM 50. Maybe I said yes too quickly and should
have made a horrified face and negotiated down the price. But never
mind, the car is nice (a Toyota Avanza), has A/C and is leaving now.
I'm not in the mood of waiting a long time in the tropical heat for
additional passengers with whom to share the cost.
We manage to be in Lahad Datu by 3:20pm (actually the distance from the
junction is not that big - less than 90km). Then we look for a hotel. A
very easy task, as the centre of Lahad Datu is full of hotels (although
the first where I ask is full). I check in, leave my stuff in the room
and immediately get out to have a look at the place.
Lahad Datu is smallish, smaller than Sandakan, and has no
colonial/historical architecture worth mentioning. But this place is
very colourful and full of life. I walk around and am the only tourist
here today (don't meet any other tourists). I must be kind of an
attraction, because all the people on the street continuosly say hello
to me. They must not see western tourists very often. The fish market
is very, very lively and full of people. Lots of fish, very cheap at
RM3.50/Kg. Compare that to prices in Munich, where the fish costs the
equivalent of RM 100/Kg! If fish were that cheap in Germany, we'd
probably eat fish every day.
I'm at the centre of the attention in the fish market. Everybody is
posing for me and asking to have his picture taken, people posing with
big fish etc. It gets so bad that I have to get out of the fish market.
But on the street, along the food stalls, it's almost the same. People
continously saying hello, hello, hello... I guess I could spend the
next two months talking to everybody I meet. Everywhere else in
Malaysia people simply ignore me, but here in Lahad Datu the situation
is completely different. If you want to make friends and meet people in
Malaysia, come to Lahad Datu. By the way, the girls are unbelievably
friendly and cheerful. A pity that they are so short - not that I am
looking for somebody, as I'm happily married, but if you are single,
short and are looking for somebody, come to this place.
I spend some more time exploring the city, then after a while I get
tired and remember I saw a KFC resturant somewhere. At 4:40pm I have a
brief quick meal there, then get out and walk towards the Guardian
drugstore for some purchases. Then I enter the Millimewa mall and
manage to find an Internet cafe. The Millimewa mall itself is quite
small for Malaysian standards and has no food supermarket. There are
mostly electronics and mobile phone shops. although in the ground floor
there are a few food stalls.
I spend about one hour in the Internet cafe, browsing the web and
checking my emails. When I get out again at 6:20pm, it is almost dark.
I continue exploring the area surrounding the hotel and run into a
restaurant which offers WLAN access. So I get back to the hotel,
download the photos to the computer and around 7pm get out again to
this restaurant with the computer. While I have dinner there, I
download all emails to my computer.
In the evening I don't do much, because there is actually not much to
do here at night. You can walk along the streets, but the streets are
dirty, most places are closed and the places which are open cater
mainly to locals. Tomorrow Borneo Nature tours will pick me up at
9:30am at the hotel.
Datu -> Danum
Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Danum Valley.
RM 630 for a nice bungalow with attached bath but no A/C (RM 1260 for
the package of 2D/2N which includes transportation to/from Lahad Datu,
the accomodation with all meals and the guide). Over 30°C in the
room when I check in, I'm astonished that for RM 630 you get a room
without A/C. The bungalow I'm staying in is the one most far away from
the reception and the restaurant, it's scary to walk after dark to the
restaurant along the plankway. Lunch and dinner are good (buffet
system). Overall this place is overpriced - for what I pay they could
offer a bit more. The room fills up with insects in the evening.
Weather: sunny in the early morning
in Lahad Datu, it is however overcast already when we leave the town at
9:30am. In the Danum valley in the afternoon it starts raining lightly
at 3:30pm and after 4pm it rains like hell until 8pm.
The day starts well. At 9:30am the driver of the Borneo Rainforest
Lodge picks me up in the hotel. Then he drops me off in a bakery where
I have some breakfast and picks me up again with two other guests (an
American couple). Then we start driving to the Danum valley.
Shortly after 10am we briefly stop at the Lahad Datu Guanyin Chinese
temple. From the junction onwards (still 77km to go) the road is no
longer paved and is in fact a stone-mud road. Luckily it is not raining
right now, because I can imagine what happens to this road when it gets
The drive along this road is long and tiring. We reach the lodge around
1pm, after three hours of driving. The lodge itself is at an altitude
of 500m according to the driver. We are immediately greeted by the
friendly staff and I proceed to have lunch.
After lunch, since the first activity only starts at 3pm, I have a walk
along the easy Nature trail, which is a 600m long walk on a plankway.
Then I continue walking along the river for a wildlife. I can't hear or
spot any wildlife larger than birds. In fact, as I am told later, it is
very difficult to see wildlife in the Danum valley because the reserve
is very big and the wildlife is hiding somewhere. By contrast it is
very easy to spot wildlife along the Kinabatangan river, because all
animals there gather around the river.
At 2:30pm I walk back to the lodge. Shortly after 3pm a guide, a
British guy and I start a walk along the hornbill trail. The largest
animal we see is a small bird. I'm not surprised given that the guide
talks non-stop with his loud voice and all animals probably hear us a
Around 4 something pm we reach the canopy. This is really spectacular,
a canopy walkway high above the trees where from an altitude of 100m or
so at its highest point you can have a look at the valley. It's a pity
it is raining like hell, so strong that I can't take pictures.
The rain keeps getting stronger and stronger and now the only way back
(unless we want to track back the trail we just finished) is the
stone-mud road. Not exactly a problem (I have an umbrella) until we
reach a point which is completely muddy. Anywhere you go your shoes
sink in the soft yellow mud. I spend about 10 minutes trying to find a
way around this muddy part and my shoes get full of mud. At this point
my patience is completely exhausted and I'm more than pissed off by
this place. I decide that I will check out tomorrow. What is the point
of staying here, if no wildlife is visible and all trails are more or
less muddy? You need rubber boots to walk around here.
The scenery is actually the same as in Taman Negara, but Taman Negara
is much more easily accessible and accomodation is way cheaper. Also, I
need to wash my shoes and they will not be dry by tomorrow so I won't
be able do any walking tomorrow anyway.
I finally reach the reception, get the key and inform them that I'm
checking out one day early. Once in the room I start washing the shoes.
To remove all the mud I have to completely rinse them with water. Then
the service staff knocks at the door and enquires about my plans for
tomorrow. Some discussion and I explain again why I will leave
tomorrow. Then I take a shower.
After the shower I suddenly notice something on my hand. It's a leech
and it has been sucking blood. I try to get rid of it, but it keeps
attaching itself from one hand to the other. In the end I manage to
throw it into the water basin and kill it with the room key. I check my
hands but they look ok. It's only a few minutes later that I realise
that the left part of my body is bleeding. It is actually the belly
that is bleeding non-stop in large amounts. The leech must have
injected an anticoagulant, which prevents the wound from closing. No
idea how it got to the belly, but perhaps it got on the shoes when I
walked back in the mud. In fact I check again and find another leech on
the ground near the shoes. Now I notice that my white T-shirt has a
huge blood stain. I wash it in the water basin and try to stop the
bleeding without success.
In the meantime it is 7pm, time for dinner. I walk to the reception and
ask if they have something against leech bites. They cover the wound
with a plaster and say that this will take care of the leech bite.
However, at 9:40pm, I will notice that blood is still coming out of the
At 8:40pm a guide knocks at the door and asks if I want to join the
night drive. Starts at 8:30pm, takes one hour. When I accept, he says
that actually it is already too late. Never mind. Then he asks if I
want to participate in the 6:30am walk tomorrow morning. No thanks,
I'll pass, that is too early, besides I have no shoes. Then he asks
about the 9:30am walk. It will actually be again on a muddy trail, more
muddy than today, so I pass also this offer. I inform him that I will
simply walk to the canopy on my own tomorrow. All the trails are around
the river, so it is almost impossible to get lost.