A trip to Borneo is never complete without enjoying the beauty of the tropical rainforests.
These places will give you the chance to do trekking through its rainforest and spot unique wildlife in the area. Due to the fact that both Danum Valley and Tabin Wildlife Reserve have a lot to offer, people tend to have a hard time choosing where to go during their trip in Borneo.
Through this article, we will be giving you information to help you decide between Danum Valley and Tabin Wildlife Reserve.
Both Danum and Tabin are in the east part of Sabah, Malaysia on the island of Borneo. The nearest town from these destinations is Lahad Datu which is accessible overland from Sandakan and Tawau and by air from Kota Kinabalu via Malaysia Airlines.
Tabin Wildlife Reserve is about 1.5 hour-drive (part of it on a gravel road) from Lahad Datu airport. Scheduled transfers from the airport to the reserve are organized by the Tabin Wildlife Resort which is included in the package. The scheduled land transfers are from Lahad Datu at 08.30hrs and 12.00hrs, and from Tabin at 13.30hrs.
There will be a surcharge for unscheduled transfers if you arrive or depart on a different time.
Tabin Wildlife Resort is can also arrange a private transfer from Semporna, Tawau, Sandakan and Kinabatangan River.
Danum Valley, on the other hand, is about 2.5 hour-drive (part of it on a gravel road) from Lahad Datu airport. The transfer from the airport to the lodge are scheduled once per day and is included in the package.
Tabin is closer to Lahad Datu and this could be an important factor for those who do not want to spend too much time on the road.
Many customers ask us if it’s possible to visit Tabin and Danum within just one day. The answer is NO, at least two (2) nights’ stay is required for both Danum and Tabin.
In these destinations, you will find various types of accommodation
In Tabin Wildlife Reserve, the only accommodation you will find is the Tabin Wildlife Resort which has a total of 20 units of wooden chalets scattered in the forest. There are also 10 units of River Chalets with a balcony at the back overlooking the river, and 10 units of Hill Chalets; which are deeply immersed within the forest but is far from the main building of the resort.
The chalets are simple yet comfortable. Each is equipped with basic amenities such as air conditioning units, ceiling fans, and hot water shower.
For those who are more adventurous, you can opt for the package which includes one night at the Mud Volcano Watch Tower. Experience waiting for wildlife to come and drink water from the Mud Volcano in the deep of the night! Due to Borneo’s biodiversity, this activity is highly possible and it is something to remember.
Danum Valley, on the other hand, has two lodges: the Danum Valley Field Center, and the multi-awarded and luxurious Borneo Rainforest Lodge.
Danum Valley Field Center was created as an accommodation facility for scientists and students who are conducting research in Danum Valley. Some of its rooms are reserved for guests including standard and deluxe chalets and hostels. It is a very simple and cheap accommodation that is very ideal for backpackers.
Borneo Rainforest Lodge, on the other hand, is an accommodation located in the heart of the rainforest on Danum Valley Conservation Area which offers maximum comfort as well as total immersion in nature. The lodge only has 30 chalets. Every chalet has a private balcony and the Deluxe Chalet has an outdoor bathtub.
Guests also have varieties of chalets to choose from such as; Standard Chalets (Jungle View), Deluxe Chalets (Jungle or River View), and newly built Premium Villas.
The VIP services offered in Borneo Rainforest Lodge which you may enjoy include personal escort tour guide, personal butler, transfers with a private jeep, and buffet lunch at the Jacuzzi Pool.
For us, Danum Valley is the winner because it offers both luxury and budget options, and therefore, able to accommodate different types of travelers.
Tabin and Danum are not suitable for those who cannot or do not want to walk too much, in fact, the main activity is the jungle trekking.
The trek is quite easy and suitable for anybody. There are options for private or a group trek. Groups are usually very small, between four to eight travelers. Private tours are good for you if you like to walk at your own pace with a personal tour guide.
Tabin Wildlife Reserve features extremely easy walking trails on mostly flat ground.
The most popular trail leads to Lipad Mud Volcano which is about 30-minute walk from the lodge. Lipad is one of the several mud volcanoes found in Tabin Wildlife Reserve and the one located nearest to Tabin Resort. The mineral-rich mud volcano which acts as “salt-licks” is frequented by animals and birds.
Another popular trail leads to Lipad Waterfalls. The serene and shady area of the Lipad falls is the ideal place where you can dip yourself in the inviting natural pool after a sweaty trek through one of the humid nature trials.
Many of the animals that live in Tabin are nocturnal and the best way to see them is during the night-safari-drive on an open-air jeep and the night-safari-walk. Night safari is an activity arranged by the lodge every night depending on the weather conditions.
In addition to the activities offered in the basic tour package, it is possible to request a customized itinerary which includes bird watching, cycling, and other special interests.
Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Danum Valley, on the other hand, has an extensive network of trails through the forest.
The most popular trails are the Hornbill Trail, the Nature Trails, the Coffin-Cliff trail that leads to the Jacuzzi Pool and an ancient burial site of a local tribe. The most spectacular waterfalls, Serpent and Fairy, can be easily reached from the lodge.
During the heat of the day, it is almost impossible to see animals in Danum because they hide in the dense vegetation of the rainforest, but walking along the trails is a good opportunity to experience the spectacular tropical rainforest and admire rare species of plants.
One of the most amazing things to do in Danum Valley is the Canopy Walkway, suspended from the treetops that are 27 meters high above the forest floor creating a mystical atmosphere.
In addition to the trekking, visitors can also enjoy the night safari drive on an open truck or night safari walk along the nature trail.
Even at the Danum Valley Field Center, there are several trails in the forest and an Observation Tower in Bukit Atur that offers the best panoramic view of the rainforest canopy at dawn.
Both Danum Valley Field Center and Borneo Rainforest Lodge offer customized itineraries for special interest groups such as bird watching,, photography, and botanical.
Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Danum has a better variety of trails and activities than Tabin.
Although both Tabin and Danum provide habitat for a vast array of flora and fauna, wildlife sightseeing is never guaranteed.
During the heat of the day, animals hide in dense vegetation and the best time to see them is early in the morning and in the evening, just before the sunset.
Night safaris provide a great opportunity to see animals which are rarely seen in daylight.
Tabin Wildlife Reserve serves as home to various endangered wildlife such as the Orangutans, Gibbons, Borneo Pygmy Elephants, Flying Squirrels, Wild Cats, and a multitude of bird species.
The fauna of Danum Valley, on the other hand, can be regarded as being representative of a once abundant habitat (lowland dipterocarp forest) that is now rare, at least in an undisturbed state. There are more than 300 species of exotic birds and 120 mammal species, including all of the ten species of primate that occur on the eastern side of Sabah. Danum Valley provides an important habitat for Orangutans, Bornean Pygmy elephants, Banteng, Malayan sun bear, Clouded leopard, Bearded pig, and several species of deer.
Many people say that Tabin is better than Danum is terms of wildlife viewing, while others say that Danum is better.
Actually, one is neither better nor worse than the other. They both are blessed with abundant wildlife. Seeing wildlife depends mainly on being in the right place at the right time. It is all about luck.
As it is in many tropical areas around the world. Borneo’s rainforests are being cut and degraded for timber, palm oil, pulp, rubber, and minerals.
Nowadays, only a few remote forests remain untouched and among them are the Maliau Basin, Mount Kinabalu, Kayan Mentarang, Danum Valley and Tabin.
Danum and Tabin are two places in Borneo where it’s possible to see the lowland dipterocarp rainforest.
Tabin Wildlife Reserve encompasses 300,000 acres of tropical rainforest bordered by palm oil plantations. The core area consists primarily of virgin lowland forest, while the rest is covered by secondary forest.
A secondary forest (or second-growth forest) is a forest which has re-grown after a timber harvest until a long enough period has passed so that the effects of the disturbance are no longer evident. Secondary forest is characterized by less biodiversity, younger trees, and a very thick undergrowth.
Tabin Wildlife Resort is located on the edge of the reserve, close to the palm oil plantations. Although palm oil plantations are regularly visited by wild animals that are particularly attracted by the palm kernel, they are not what we expect to see in a rainforest.
All the trails are located in the secondary forest and along the plantations; unfortunately, at this moment there are no trails in the core area where you can experience the “real rainforest”.
The Danum Valley, on the other hand, is one of the few remaining primary rainforests in Borneo where the trees reach 50 meters in height, and it’s characterized by an incredible biodiversity of flora and fauna.
Primary forest (also called old-growth forest, virgin forest, primeval forest,) refers to untouched, pristine forest that exists in its original condition and unaffected by any human activities.
For a real rainforest experience go to Danum Valley.
Cost of the tour:
Damum and Tabin are exclusive and low-impact-tourism destinations. The prices are slightly higher than other products such as Kinabatangan River, Mulu, and Mount Kinabalu.
Here are some prices that will give you an idea:
3D2N Tabin Wildlife Reserve from RM 2,050 per person
3D2N Danum Valley Borneo Rainforest Lodge from RM 3,500 per person
3D2N at the Danum Valley Field Centre from RM 1,855 per person
*Please note that prices are esteemed and subject to change