1. After Sandakan, Danum Valley Conservation Area (DVCA) was our next destination before heading SE to the coastal towns of Tawau/Semporna. We thought a stay in the conservation area could be interesting and educational.
2. DVCA is a 438 square kilometres tract of relatively undisturbed forest. It is managed by Yayasan Sabah (which holds the timber concession to the area) for conservation, research, education and physical training purposes. Located in the area are Danum Valley Field Centre (a research establishment for scientists and education purposes), lodge called the Borneo Rainforest Lodge for tourists to stay, reforestation programmes etc. From here visitors can do guided walks through lowland rainforest trails, go bird watching, night walks and drives.
3. To get there, we traveled first to Lahad Datu, some 100 km South of Sandakan, before turning right into a logging track, an unsealed, gravel road. The gate into the DVCA was a few kms from the main road. We got there at about 11 am but was told by the guards that without a permit we were not allowed into the DVCA; and the permit could be purchased at Fajar Centre in Lahad Datu. We backtracked about 10 km to buy the permit and hopefully to book a room there as well. Of course, Yeow Pheng and I were puzzled as to why permit could not be sold at the gate, even if there was a need to control the number of permits issued. We were sure we were not the first one having to be turned away and to backtrack to Lahat Datu.
4. At the Fajar centre, the first tour agent told us that they do not sell packages without transportation to the DVCA. At any rate, at more than RM 1000 for a 2 nights package at the Boreo Rainforest Lodge, it was beyond our budget. At the adjacent office, we found what we wanted, at RM 180 a night, RM5 for car permit, RM30 entry fee per pax, food and tours separate.
5. At about 3 pm, we traveled back to the DVCA, handed in the car permit at the control gate and proceeded along the logging track to Danum Valley Field Centre (DVFC) where we had booked a night to stay. All in, it took us 3 hrs to travel the 70-80 km from the main road; the last 10 km was particularly bad, very stoney, and we crawled our way in, reaching the CVFC just before dark and just in time for dinner at 7 pm. Along the way, we were blocked by an elephant family taking an evening walk. Three huge logging trucks passed us, churning up a dusty trial behind them.
6. The room (they called it the rest-house) was very basic, no frills. The light in the toilet was not working. Our torches came in very handy here. And, of course, no internet in the room. Cafeteria was pleasant and sufficient. At the centre were a group of 20-30 students doing a one month course in tropical zoology. Spoke to one from Germany and one from Papua New Guinea. Also a good number of Caucasian tourists- 2 ladies from Netherlands staying for 3 days, and a young man from Germany staying for a week, specialising in photography.
7. At 8.30, we decided to join in the night drive, hopefully to see some roaming animals. Soon, we discovered we were the only ones on the night tour. We sat behind in a Land Cruiser. As the vehicle moved forward, one of the staff would throw a strong beam of light against the road and trees, hoping to catch a glimpse of the animals. We asked him how he could see. He taught us to look for the eyes of the animals. In the 1 hr drive, we saw a few deers, and a cat up in a tree. The staff tried but it was really not easy to "catch" the animals. Cost us RM160. Yeow Pheng and I agreed that once is enough.
8. We slept early that night. At any rate, there was absolutely no power after midnight, as the generator was turned off. No fan, no aircon. Next morning, we were up at 6 am. We took a short walk and did qigong near the suspension bridge. Yeow Pheng tried that in the middle of the suspension bridge. His vibration nearly took the bridge down.
9. After breakfast and after checking out, we decided to visit a nearby reforestation programme. At a 10 ha site, Infapro ran a nursery, with half a million saplings to undertake reforestation programme in areas cleared by loggings. Face Foundation of Netherlands provided the funding, with the Sabah government providing some assets for the operation. Started in 1992, it has a staff of 60. Up to date, it had planted 1.2 mil saplings in 1000 ha of land. The 2 staff who showed us around were knowledgeable and professional. They have their numbers all at their fingertips.
10. Just before lunch, we left DVCA for Semporna, the launch pad for divers to Sipadan and other nearby islands. As Yeow Pheng does not dive, I decided to give diving a miss in this trip but thought it would be good to go and see this town where divers congregate. We reached Semporna around 4 pm and after a brief scouting decided to check into Dragon Inn, at RM 90 a night. Located on a huge floating village, I could visualise its charm when it was new. Water below looked clean and we could see some fishes, but it was a pity that we could see floating trash as well. A framed picture at the reception showed that it was once voted one of the top 10 floating hotels in the world.
11. At the nearby Uncle Chang dive shop (me outside the shop), we checked up dive to Sipadan. Was told there was a slot available on 24 Oct and 2 slots on 25 Oct. As dives at Sipadan were controlled, a nearby shop said only Uncle Chang sold dives to Sipadan. A RM560 day trip would include boat ride to Mabul island for breakfast, 3 dives at Sipadan, rental of necessary gears and equipment, and return boat ride. I shall return.