Counting elephants up Mount Kinabalu

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Lows Peak, on the craggy summit of Mount Kinabalu, is 4,095 metres or 13,435 ft above sea level and is the highest peak in Southeast Asia, the 20th highest mountain in the world and one of the biggest attractions in Borneo.  This is because it’s a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most accessible peaks.  Lynn and I decided to climb Mount Kinabalu as part of our Borneo adventure – she is a mountain girl and I wanted to take on the challenge.  The path is clearly marked, with steps making the more tricky passages passable. The most popular itinerary is to make the climb and decent over two days, staying overnight at the Laban Rata rest house, which is at 3,270 metres or 10,730 feet.  We booked to ascend to Laban Rata via the longer (8 km) and more scenic Mesilau summit trail, descending via the shorter (6 km), and more popular Timpohon trail. Continue reading

Danum Valley, Borneo, Malaysia

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Borneo conjures up all different types of images, but probably the most common is ancient rainforests teaming with diversity and danger. So spending time at rainforest was next stop on our land based tour. Lynn, my dive buddy, and myself researched where was best and we settled on Danum Valley – a near pristine ancient rainforest and conservation area covering 43,800 hectares and is often described as a paradise for nature lovers.

Much scientific research is conducted in the Danum Valley conservation area and there is a field centre which attracts researchers, specialists and academics from all over the world.  The centre comes under the South East Asia Rainforest Research Programme activities, with may other scientific research establishments affiliated to it, including the Royal Society.

My non-scientific journey to Danum Valley started at Lahad Datu.  It’s an 90 km drive to the middle of Danum Valley, mostly on an un-metalled road. Lynn and I looked out of the window and we knew we made the right decision – mile upon mile of trees that seemed to touch the sky, with a never-ending curtain of green in every imaginable shade.  Here is a short clip of the journey…

On arrival at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge the sounds of the rainforest welcomed us.  Our guide for the next three days was the eternally cheerful Dani, one of the more experienced guides at Danum Valley.  I have to admit, what he showed and shared with us was simply incredible.  As we trekked around the Lodge we were in sensory overload. Here is a small selection of what we saw…

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We were very lucky and saw these oragutans within 10 minutes of starting our first walk! Amazing.

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We also saw pig tail macaques, long tailed macaques and  gibbons (well, I heard them but others saw them).

Trees

The trees at Danum Valley are spectacular.  Wandering around it is easy to get a sore neck! Some hundreds of years old and many were 70 m plus in height.  One of the tallest in Danum Valley was right next to our chalet – it soared up to 83 m – not enough to get in one frame!

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As well as the height and age of the trees, the root systems that supports getting water up to the leaves at the top of the canopy are also fascinating and come in all shapes and sizes.  I found the most interesting trees to be the fig “strangler” trees. They wrap themselves around a host tree, which eventually dies as  the strangler tree  takes over its essential living space.  This is Dani’s favourite strangler tree – the host tree has long since died

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This one is famous – obviously for its size…

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Smaller root oddities also caught my eye…

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The forest floor

Leaves gently fall to the forest floor all day – this is part of the tropical rain-forest life-cycle.  As you look at the forest floor where the decaying process begins, it is easy to see the signs of new life.  This type of fungi was almost porcelain like and form a cup to gather the rainwater and extract essential elements, such as sulphur.  According to Dani, this type of fungus has also inspired Malaysian architects…

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Other fungus looked like pixie umbrellas.  Again, a beautiful design

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Some fungi that grow on trees and rotting trees ….

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The variety of lichens growing on and from trees were perhaps not very rare or dramatic, but they were pretty – and eye-catching…

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Also found on the forest floor were a number of ferns and begonias, which I used to find at church fete stalls in the UK!

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Insects are also prolific on the forest floor – I lost count how many different types of ants, termites, centipedes,  armadillidiidaes and the EVER present leeches.  I had a total of five leech bites.  I did a dance of fear the first time I discovered one on my arm, but by number five I was flicking them off like tiddly-winks.  Here are two that weren’t getting enough blood, so were fighting for each other to the death ….

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Birds

All day long Danum Valley is filled with music sung by birds and other creatures of the forest.  You didn’t have to go very far to see the birds either.  I took most of these images from the outside deck of the resort restaurant! You’ll need to look hard for the first one – extremely well camouflaged!

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As well as the wildlife, flora and fauna, Danum Valley has beautiful scenery and there are a number of lovely pools and waterfalls on the dozen or so treks around the Borneo Rainforest Lodge…

The Jacuzzi pool – this is lovely for a cooling swim

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The Serpent Falls – these were the prettiest I thought…

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Fairy Falls

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..and of course the beautiful River Danum…

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The most stunning scenery is best viewed on the world famous Danum Valley Canopy Walk

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The canopy walk is 300 m in length and rises to a maximum of 27 m above the forest floor, getting you very close to nature that is normally inaccessible …

Ground level entrance and view at three tier bridge point

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At sunset, sightings of flying squirrels are guaranteed – we saw about six.  No pictures – they are simply too fast!  Great views though… I loved this view as you can see both the sun setting and the mist rolling in…

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We also made it up to the canopy walk for sunrise – although it was a bit blurry.  A very calming way to start the day …

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 All the paths in Danum Valley around the Borneo Rainforest Lodge are very well maintained, scenic and not too challenging.

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All treks are guided too, so you cant get lost! Plus there is a map …

Map Credit: Borneo Rainforest Lodge http://www.borneonaturetours.com/www/brl_trailmap.aspx

Map Credit: Borneo Rainforest Lodge http://www.borneonaturetours.com/www/brl_trailmap.aspx

A lot of rainforest wildlife is nocturnal, so there are evening treks and night safaris.  We were lucky enough to see a number of exotic frogs in a pond close to the resort.  We also saw a very unusual frog in a puddle, carrying her young on her back.  Other night sights included some deer and a Malaysian civit, although we heard many more!

Overall

Over our three days we covered between 12 and 14 km of the most gorgeous and jaw dropping terrain that was home to .a very diverse and wonderful range of nature. It is a bucket list place and I would recommend it to anyone.  It is one of those few places I will never forget and ever thankful I was fortunate enough to visit. The rainforest really is pristine,  very peaceful and you are surrounded by the most incredible untouched treasure chest of mother nature.

How to get there

By Air – fly to Lahad Datu from KL or Kota Kinabalu.  Check with Malaysia Airlines for times.

By Road – Buses run from Kora Kinabalu and Sandakan.  This site seems to be a good source of information

Where to Stay

There are two options:

The Scientific Field Centre.  Accommodation is basic and functional.  Facilities are geared towards supporting scientists and researchers.  For futher information, check their website. this can be booked independetly

Borneo Rainforest Lodge.  The majority of visitors head to this purpose built luxury resort, built on a remote river spur 97 km from Lahat Datu. We registered on their website requesting further information, but neither of us received a reply.  Booking the Borneo Rainforest Lodge is best done via a tour operator.

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The dining room/verandah and restaurant cooking station. The food was incredibly good, and plentiful.

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 There is also a nicely stocked bar and a resort store selling leech socks, sundries and souvenirs.  We were a late booking so had a stunning deluxe room. And yes, that is an outdoor bath which was unbelievably good – and private!

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The resort is around 10 years old, and has been well maintained.  Unfortunately we had plumbing issues which never seemed to get resolved no matter how many times the maintenance man visited.  This was the only downside to an otherwise flawless visit to one of the most stunning places I have visited.

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Crocodile rocks the river – Borneo by boat

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Kinabatangan River, Borneo, Malaysia

Sabah, north Borneo, is home to an abundance of wildlife – some rare and indigenous to Borneo.  There are several areas throughout Sabah where this wildlife thrives.  The Sabah Wildlife Department has responsibility for “implementation and administration of the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment, 1997”,  and this includes managing Sabah’s parks and protected areas.  The protected areas were introduced to preserve the natural heritage of Borneo, thus enabling species such as the proboscis to recover and thrive. This map illustrates the protected areas, including the River Kinabatangan  – home to the greatest concentration of Borneo’s wildlife.

Map Credit: Sabah Wildlife Department http://www.wildlife.sabah.gov.my/

Map Credit: Sabah Wildlife Department http://www.wildlife.sabah.gov.my/

Continue reading

The Pearl of the Orient

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When I toured Malaysia back in 2005, I had to choose between travelling down either the east or west coast of the peninsula. I opted for the east coast and ended up learning to dive in Redang island, so it was the right choice. I was however really disappointed I couldn’t get to Penang. My recent visit to KL gave me the perfect opportunity to head up there one weekend, make amends and tick Penang off my bucket list.

Located off the north-west coast of peninsula Malaysia, Penang is a one hour flight or 4 – 5 hour train/road journey from KL. The island has deep historical roots involving not just Malays, but also Chinese, Indian, Tamil, Armenian, Portuguese, French, Dutch and of course British explorers and traders. Penang is overflowing with history and its significance in opening up SE Asia’s trade routes to the emerging global marketplace of the 19th century cannot be underestimated. It all started in Penang, and when you wander around the older part of its capital George Town, it is easy to see why it was declared a UNESCO world Heritage site. Continue reading