Visit Danum Valley in Malaysian Borneo: a beautiful primary rainforest full of wildlife

Last Updated on by Charlotte van de Sande

Danum Valley in Sabah is one of the oldest rainforests in the world and harbours some of the richest concentrations of wildlife. Including a healthy population of orangutans! In this green paradise, we spent four adventurous days searching for orangutans, gibbons, hornbills, bears, leopards and much more. In this blog, you can read all about our experiences and everything you need to know about this natural gem, Danum Valley!


Four days of hiking in Danum Valley!

Just two minutes off the highway, the landscape has changed completely. Gone are the paved roads, houses and palm oil plantations. All made way for dense rainforest and dirt roads. Jay, the driver of Sticky Rice Travel, takes us from Lahad Datu to the Danum Valley Field Center and tells us all about the animals he has already seen here.

Occasionally, we make short stops and admire the green valleys on our way. The closer we get to our destination, the more impressive the landscape becomes and the taller the trees get. There are birds we have never seen before. We hear monkeys but cannot see them. The roads are sometimes covered in elephant and deer excrement and a snake is crossing just in front of our car. We breathe in the fresh air that is coming from the rainforest and feel on our skin that humidity is rising. If the movie Jungle Book of Walt Disney exists, this would be the place to find it on earth! We love this place already, and the best part is yet to come!

Can you spot Charlotte Danum Valley Sabah

Our guides in the Danum Valley

Two hours later we are greeted warmly by Dean and Didi, our guides for the coming days! They take us to our room in Danum Valley Field Center. During lunch, we received a lot of information about the valley and what our programme will look like the coming days.

Dean, our guide who has been working in Danum Valley for more than 10 years, asks what we would like to do and see here. Ries, of course, immediately responded that he would like to see the orangutan. After spotting gorillas and chimpanzees in Uganda and Rwanda he would love to see this ape. Seeing wild orangutans in their natural habitat was the main reason to visit Malaysian Borneo. Didi, a friendly lady who recently started working for Sticky Rice Travel, has to laugh and says. “There is certainly a chance of seeing orangutans, but we are in nature and these are wild animals. Since the animals in Danum Valley are not fed, it is never certain what we will see. They are always close by, but due to the thick vegetation it is sometimes a challenge to actually see them.” So, fingers crossed and hope for the best!

Spotting birds and apes Danum Valley Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Leeches and red leaf monkeys

We agree to start our first hike at 4 p.m. This way we can unpack our bags and relax during the hottest part of the day. Ten minutes on the road and we already see the first animals: red leaf monkeys. These cute-looking monkeys love eating their afternoon snack, green leaves, high in the trees. Soon, we also get acquainted with a very unpleasant resident of the rainforest. The one who is known for freaking visitors out: Mr. leech. They are everywhere!

Didi explains that leeches are not dangerous at all, although their bites can cause itchy wounds. Because of our leech socks, these bugs do not crawl into our shoes. After four days of the jungle, we get off well: I am bitten twice and Ries not even once!

Night safari by jeep

The same evening we participate in a night safari. With six other visitors in the jeep, we are staring at the dark sky. The spotter, who sits in front of us, shines quickly everywhere with his flashlight. He spots red leaf monkeys, deers and a flying squirrel.  Unfortunately, these mammals are the only things we see during our 90-minute ride. Sometimes you are lucky and sometimes you are not. Oh well, this is true nature, which is unpredictable.

Muddy paths and beautiful insects

After a wonderful night of sleep, we are ready for day two. It rained a lot last night, so the paths we walk on are very slippery. All four of us are covered in mud in no time, literally with our feet in the clay! While Dean tells us all about the rainforest, Didi searches for insects and other animals. The trees we walk through are the highest tropical trees in the world, some are over 100 meters high! We walk through rivers, struggle through thickets and sweat gushes out of my body. A physical challenge and it has been a long time ago since I felt so dirty. The animals we see during the way make it more than worthwhile, we quietly go after wild pheasants, we spot giant walking branches and we see centipedes the size of my long fingers. Never knew insects can be so interesting!

Walking in a pitch-dark jungle

It’s a wet afternoon: a true rainforest with some big showers. The afternoon hike is rescheduled to the evening and we are so lucky it got rescheduled. We see a flying squirrel making a spectacular leap, flying from one tall tree to another three, 200 meters away! If it wasn’t for the rain we would most probably not have seen this!

After the sun sets, we continue walking as everything around us gets very dark. Secretly a little bit scary but at the same time quite exciting. All those unknown sounds around us and the possibility of suddenly seeing scary creatures adds an extra element to the jungle night hike experience. Luckily we don’t encounter any scorpions or snakes to freak us out. Although we do spot two rare brightly coloured frogs and a lizard. And on top of the bill, we come across a huge tarantula spider!

Looking for orangutans and other apes in Danum Valley

We walk sleepily through a misty forest. It is 6 am and the sun is rising slowly. All four of us have the same mission fo the day: spotting the famous symbol of Borneo, the orangutan. While the forest is slowly waking up, we see a group of Borneon gibbons playing high in the trees. With their long limbs and fingers (that looks like claws), these animals seem to come straight from a horror movie.

Borneon Gibbon Sabah Borneo Malaysia

After walking for two hours in the dense tropical forest, our guide Dean hears the call of an ape and we all get very excited. Just a few minutes later, he knows for sure that the sound was of a nearby orangutan since he smells the defecation of an orangutan. And indeed, we see an orange spot high in the trees. As we gently get closer, we clearly see the male’s face. He looks at us curiously and at the same time keeps a close eye on us. To test us, he throws down twigs and leaves. His broad face without cheek pads shows that he is still young, no older than a teenager.

Ries shoots photo after photo and we are very impressed! It is so special and unique to find this great-ape in the wild. This would not have been possible without a good dose of luck and our great guides Dean and Didi!

Wildlife fact: did you know that male orangutans live mostly solitary? Once they reach maturity, they spend most of their time alone, or, in the case of females, with their immature offspring.

Hornbills, flying monkeys and a snake!

Could this day get any better after seeing the famous orange ape? Yes, it can! On our way back to the field centre we see different kinds of hornbills and a group of monkeys crossing the other side of the road by jumping from one tree to another tree. It almost looks like the monkeys can fly too. We realize how lucky we are to be seeing all those animals. Tired and very satisfied, we crawl into bed after a refreshing cold shower.

The next morning we take one last walk. In addition to a lot of nice anecdotes that Dean tells us, we see a large snake, we remove some leeches from our clothing and we come across a spider with a horn. And then, unfortunately, it’s time to say goodbye. To both Danum Valley as our guides. And while we are travelling back to Lahad Datu, we are starting to realize what a fairytale adventure we have just experienced! An experience to never forget!


Everything you need to know about Danum Valley

Danum Valley is located in northeastern Borneo in the state of Sabah, Malaysia. With 130 million years, it is one of the oldest rainforests in the world. Even older than the Amazon rainforest (which is 60 million years old). This beautiful jungle is over 438 square kilometres in size and in healthy condition due to years of conservation. Danum Valley is the first area in Borneo to be protected, thanks to researcher Clive Wallis Marsh. It has been a protected area since 1983. The result: Danum Valley has been recognized as having one of the most complex ecosystems in the world!

Tip: there are always researchers working at the Danum Valley Field Center. So you are very close to the place where new animals and plant species are discovered, how cool is that!

Danum Valley sign

Which animals can you see in Danum Valley?

With over 300 different species of birds, reptiles and amphibians, 120 species of mammals and 40 different species of fish, Danum Valley is a great paradise for animal lovers. In fact, almost all the animals you wish to see when you visit Borneo, live in Danum Valley. Hereby a small overview of our favourite animals in Danum Valley!

  • Orangutan
  • Malaysian sun bear
  • Pygmy elephant
  • Hornbill

  • Red leaf monkey
  • Leopard cats
  • Flying squirrels
  • Tarantula spiders

  • Borneon Gibbon
  • Armadillo
  • Deer
  • Python


Sticky Rice Travel

We spent these four days in Danum Valley at the invitation of Sticky Rice Travel. Sticky Rice Travel is a travel organization that focuses on responsible travel in Borneo. This means the balance between tourism and conservation is very important to them. The focus on responsible travel is crucial for us when we decide to visit the Danum Valley with Sticky Rice Travel. Sticky Rice also organizes trips for National Geographic on Borneo.

Visit Danum Valley with Sticky Rice Travel

We opted for the four-day excursion to Danum Valley where we slept in the Resthouse. Multiple packages are possible, so you can choose other accommodation or stay here for only three days.

A customized program for Danum Valley

Together with your guide of Sticky Rice Travels, you put together a program for your time in Danum Valley. Your guide checks what your needs are. Do you want to hike a lot, is your focus on the animals here or a combination of the two? With five hike moments in a day and many different routes, you can cover considerable distances. But taking it easy is definitely an option!

We made an average of three hikes a day, for us the perfect amount! In between the hikes, it is really nice to have some time for yourself. Take a shower, view photos and read.

The guides are in contact with other guides and spotters all day long, so they know where the most beautiful animals are. In the evening there is the possibility (for a small extra charge) to go for a night drive.

Note: Danum Valley is not for everyone!
A visit to Danum Valley is adventurous! You will be sleeping in the middle of the jungle. You only have cold shower and the electricity is between 7 am until 11 pm. There is no or limited internet connection. In your room, you might encounter unwelcome insects and during your hikes, you certainly will meet leeches, sandflies or other insects that might bite you. If the latter scares you, Danum Valley might not be your thing.

However, if you want to see the most beautiful and exotic wild animals in their natural habitat, experience a super cool adventure and you are not afraid to get dirty from time to time, then you are definitely going to have an amazing time in Danum Valley!

Look there Charlotte Danum Valley Sabah Borneo Malaysia

The food in Danum Valley Field Center

Because of hiking, you will get hungry, very hungry! Three meals are served every day in buffet style. Simple but so tasty! For me as a vegetarian, the meals in Danum Valley were the best food of our entire trip through Malaysia! The menu always contains different types of vegetables, with rice and chicken or other meat. For vegetarians, there are seasoned tofu or tempeh. And for dessert, fresh fruit is served! Meals are included with a stay in Danum Valley with Sticky Rice Travel. Drinking water, coffee and tea are available for free all day long.

Lunch at Danum Valley Field Centre

Visit Danum Valley with a tour operator or arrange everything yourself?

Going to Danum Valley on you own without a tour operator, is possible. We talked to a few travellers who came to Danum Valley on their own and they explained how much of a hassle it was to arrange transport, access permits, photo permits, sleeping places and finding rangers to guide you through the park (which is mandatory). Yes, it costs a little bit more (although the difference is not much) if you book with a tour operator like Sticky Rice Travel. However, Danum Valley is one of the places where it is absolutely worthwhile to hand over all the hassle that comes with arranging everything yourself!

Green rainforest

Accommodation in Danum Valley: where do you sleep in the jungle?

There are various accommodation options in the Danum Valley, all close to the Danum Valley Field Centre. There is a campsite available, a hostel, a resthouse and chalets. We slept in a spacious double room in the resthouse, which was very comfortable. We had our own bathroom and slept every night like babies!

Keep in mind that you are surrounded by nature. Telephone range is limited. With provider Maxis, we had enough range in the Field Center to use Whatsapp. There is running water, but no hot water. Finally, there is electricity between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.

Camping in Danum Valley!

Are you in for an even bigger adventure? Then staying at the Danum Valley Field Centre Campsite might be a cool option! Imagine waking up to the sound of gibbons and going to bed after a wonderful campsite cooked meal by the in-house chef! This beautiful campsite, nestled amongst a stunning forest setting, offers a unique and adventurous experience for those looking for a full jungle immersion. Perfect for solo travellers, backpackers or people on a shoestring budget.

The campsite is provided with stretcher hammocks along with mosquito nets, shared toilets and shower facilities and communal/dining area. The Danum Valley camping is offered from 15 June till 15 September 2020 and is priced from RM1,300.00 (€288) per person.Field center Danum Valley Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Book your trip to Danum Valley with Sticky Rice Travel!

The trip we made with Sticky Rice to Danum Valley starts from MYR1,530.00 or €339 per person. For questions, more information and a price indication, contact Sticky Rice Travel via e-mail or take a look at their website! Click here to go directly to the Danum Valley trip of Sticky Rice Travel.

Sticky Rice Travel
3rd Floor, 86, Jalan Gaya
88000 Kota Kinabalu
Sabah, Malaysia
+(60)19 982 9005
[email protected]


Packing list: what do you pack for a visit to Danum Valley?

You don’t have to bring many extra things if you want to visit Danum Valley, but a few things are indispensable in your bag!

On arrival, you will receive special leech socks from Sticky Rice Travel, just like a very useful drinking bottle!


How do you travel to Danum Valley?

The entrance to Danum Valley is about 80 kilometres away from Lahad Datu, a city in the northeast of Malaysian Borneo. Sticky Rice Travel picks you up at Lahad Datu and takes you with their four-wheel drive to the Danum Valley Field Center.

How do you travel to Lahad Datu?

There are several ways to go to Lahad Datu, where travel-time is the biggest difference. The options below all depart from Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the Sabah region.

Way to Danum Valley with Sticky Rice Travel Sabah Borneo Malaysia


Free travel guide: Everything you need to know about Kota Kinabalu!


Flying to Lahad Datu
There are many daily flights from Kota Kinabalu to Lahad Datu via airline company Malaysia Airlines. The cheapest flight is MYR 170, €40, you are in Lahad Datu in 55 minutes and when the weather is good you have a view of Mount Kinabalu.

With public transport to Lahad Datu
Buses also go to Lahad Datu several times a day. You are on the road for eight hours by bus, but you do get the chance to enjoy the beautiful landscape. The cost of a one-way ticket from Kota Kinabalu to Lahad Datu is MYR 52, €11.50. You can book your bus ticket online via easybook.com.

Drive yourself to Lahad Datu
Finally, it is possible to rent a car and drive to Lahad Datu yourself. You can rent a car from MYR 100, € 21 a day. You take about seven hours on the ride from Kota Kinabalu to Lahad Datu. Note: it is not permitted to drive through Danum Valley without a permit and guidance.


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Danum Valley in Sabah, Borneo. all you need to know about a four day visit to spot orang-oetans in the rainforest


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