Sabah 1997

What to take,
Where and when to go
Danum Valley Field Centre

What to take

If you travel a lot on buses and boats you want to take as little as possible. For a six week trip, we each took a large rucksack for clothes and a small pack for day use

A waterproof jacket was useful in the rainforest - it's so hot and humid you get wet anyway but something you can zip up with a hood is handy to keep the worst of it off. Mt Kinabalu was misty and wet especially in the afternoons. Lightweight walking boots are a necessity for slogging through the forests. Otherwise a minimum of clothes is required - most hotels can do laundry within 24 hours

A Swiss Army Penknife, a money belt, a water bottle and a few medical supplies are about the only other essentials

We both have Opticron 10 x 42 binoculars - the 'High Resolution' and Sequoiah models. A telescope would have been handy for using from the tree platforms at Poring and Danum Valley but it was too much clutter to carry around.

'A field guide to the birds of Borneo, Sumatra and Bali' by MacKinnon & Phillipps covers most of the birds apart from a few of the Australian species we saw in Indonesia. I drew sketches of these and managed to identify Rainbow Lorikeet and Zebra Finch when I got home.

Where and when to go

Our two aims on this trip were to see Komodo Dragons and some primary rainforest in Borneo. As a bonus we also got to see Orang Outans and egg-laying Turtles. The time of year doesn't matter too much as it's near the Equator. May to July is a bit drier and there is a monsoon November to February. Spring would be best for birds as you catch the migration but not so good for Komodo Dragons (see below).


The Botanic Gardens are easy to get to and quite a relaxing place to sit around. Bukit Timah Forest was a bit harder to get to and gave us our first opportunity of forest bird-watching. i.e. no sign of any life whatsoever. With a bit of patience however you learn to pick up on the slightest movement. This is about the only 'wild' bit of Singapore there is.


This was our relaxing bit of the holiday so we didn't go chasing Bali Myna. Not much around Kuta Beach but inland at Ubud there is a 'monkey jungle' with a few birds in it and a river and paddyfields.


Labuanbajo is a small fishing town and you can soon walk into the countryside. There were Lorikeets in the trees and sea-birds on the way to Komodo and Rinca Island. The islands themselves were very dry which meant the Dragons congregated at water holes. In the winter wet season they disperse round the island and are harder to see.

Malaysian state of Sabah - North Borneo

This was the bird-watching bit of the holiday. The capital Kota Kinabalu has some wonderful coral islands just offshore. There is also a lagoon at Likas full of Herons and Egrets. Mt Kinabalu Park, Poring Springs and Pulau Selingan are all very good places run by the Sabah Parks Authority. Danum Valley - Borneo Rainforest Lodge was the highlight of the trip especially the Pitta's. We were frustrated in trying to get permission to visit the Field Centre but eventually got to go into the research area over the river and were rewarded with Garnet Pitta. I would recommend getting permission to do this before you go, rather than trying to do it there.


As a precaution we took Malaria tablets. We were advised to take Larium which gave me nightmares, especially if taken with alcohol ! Next time I would go for Chloroquine. Also it's essential to stick to bottled water and make sure the top is properly sealed.

Leeches are a nuisance but not as big as I expected ! If you stand near damp vegetation they sense the heat of your body and leap onto you. If you spot them in time you can just flick them off. They can get into your shoes or under your clothes but you just end up with a bleeding bite mark which is not too painful. Most of the time we just walked through the rainforest in shorts and just kept an eye on each other for the little critters.


We flew Manchester - Amsterdam - Singapore flying with Singapore Airlines. Then Singapore - Denpasar (Bali) and later Singapore - Kota Kinabalu (Sabah). Pretty good flights with individual video screens which give you a choice of in-flight movies. Reasonable food as well but a bit mean with the drinks.

From Bali we flew with Garuda (Indonesian) to Flores which was a bit erratic with departure times but it got us there.


In Singapore we went for a cheapish hotel on Bencoolen Rd which was handy for the tourist sights and restaurants. On the way back we arrived in the dead of night and booked a modern place from the airport.

In Bali we stayed at Kuta Beach, hopeless for birding but a happening holiday resort.

In Flores there's not much choice in Labuanbajo and the Hotel Wisata was a clean well run place. They also organised a boat out to the Komodo National Park.

In Sabah we stayed in a variety of places. In Kota Kinabalu we had one night in the centre which was so noisy we moved out to Faridas B & B in the suburbs which was a nice quiet family run place. It was also handy for Likas Lagoon. In Kinabalu Park we stayed in the cabins which were good for Laughing Thrushes first thing in the morning and giant Atlas Moths. The hostel at Poring Springs was clean, cheap and cheerful. Uncle Tan's HQ near Sandakan was a hovel - we stayed in the 'garden room' which was full of ants and bugs and damp - presumably getting you ready for his Jungle Camp - dread to think what that was like. The Lagenda in Sanadakan town centre was a clean modern place which could get you the latest Hollywood Blockbusters on video.

The highlight of the trip was the Borneo Rainforest Lodge (BRL) in Danum Valley. Very expensive but it includes all meals, a guide, transport etc. Don't bother with Silam Lodge which is not worth the time or expense - go straight to BRL.

It is now possible to stay at the Danum Valley Field Centre and this following information was correct as of 29.11.02

Danum Valley Field Centre tariff

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