Discover the forested landscapes of Sabah, where more than half of the state is dominated by thick jungle and home to an amazing array of wildlife. Expect orangutans swinging from treetops, pygmy elephants munching their way through thick foliage and crocodiles skulking in the shallows. From walking the world’s highest via ferrata in Kinabalu to witnessing more than 80 types of orchids in Maliau, read on for five of the best hotspots for rainforest adventures in Sabah, Malaysia.
1. Danum Valley
This is tropical jungle at its most pristine. Danum Valley sprawls across 10,600 acres of protected reserve, where menara trees tower almost 300ft into the air and dense thickets conceal a mind-boggling variety of animals. Sharp eyes may glimpse wild cats, orangutans, macaques, gibbons, pygmy elephants and — if you’re very lucky — the rare, clouded leopard. These elusive cats are notoriously shy, and there are less than 200 living in the park, though stringent conservation measures have seen their numbers climb in recent years. For a bird’s-eye view, with the peak of Mount Silam beyond, walk along the Tree Top Canopy Walkway or, for something even more adventurous, tubing the Danum River is a wet, wild and truly magical way to experience the jungle. Samba deer regularly come down to the water to drink, so look out for herds gathering along its banks.
Sandakan’s Rainforest Discovery Centre offers an insightful, well thought out introduction to Malaysia’s incredible ecosystems, and is a great way to get a taste of the rainforest. Its wooden walkway takes visitors high up into the jungle canopy, and for more than 300 metres, you’ll be walking among the treetops. Birdlife abounds with more than 300 avian species recorded — from the Bornean bristlehead and blue-headed pitta to the majestic Wallace’s hawk-eagle. And when the sun starts to dip below the trees, an evening boat trip along the Kinabatangan River will reveal nocturnal critters like the giant red flying squirrel. Almost bat-like in appearance, this russet rodent can grow to almost two feet long and soars between the trees at dusk. Don’t just spend too much time looking up — estuarine crocodiles frequent these waters, and glowing eyes in the darkness are a sure sign they’re close at hand.
3. Kinabalu Park
Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kinabalu Park is a wild stretch of parkland. Towered over by the country’s highest peak, Mount Kinabalu dominates the skyline, and treks to its summits take three days, traversing the reserve’s varied terrain. In fact, this walk crosses four climatic zones, beginning in tropical lowland before gradually shifting into Alpine meadows as you start to climb. The trek also involves navigating the world’s highest via ferrata, which, at 12,400ft, will get even the most hardened of hikers’ adrenaline pumping. The flora in Kinabalu is staggeringly diverse; no fewer than 5,000 plant species have been identified here, and a side trip to the area’s botanical gardens may throw up sightings of the rare rafflesia plant — the largest flower in the world.
4. Tabin Wildlife Reserve
A mud volcano may not sound the most visually appealing, but such is its mineral content that this bubbling, oozing pit attracts a whole host of animals. An easy-to-follow, well-marked trail leads through Tabin Wildlife Reserve to an observation tower at its edge, from where you can see pygmy elephants dousing themselves in mud and bearded pigs wallowing in the shallows. One of Sabah’s biggest reserves, covering 485sq miles, Tabin is renowned for its exemplary breeding programme, and the nine species of primate that call this jungle home can often be spotted with babies in tow. Night safaris, meanwhile, offer a whole new perspective on the forest, where tiny, bug-eyed tapiers skitter up the trunks of ironwood trees and adorable slow lorises dangle from drooping branches. Temperatures soar in these humid, lowland rainforests, so cool off in Lipad Waterfall before continuing to explore.
5. Maliau Basin Conservation Area
Known as Sabah’s Lost World, the Maliau Basin Conservation Area is one of the few remaining pockets of untouched wildernesses on the planet. Bounded by an imposing escarpment plunging 6,000ft, access to the circular basin is almost impossible, providing protection from logging companies or those seeking to cultivate the land. The result: around 230sq miles of the deepest, darkest jungle, sliced through by the Maliau River and effectively an ecosystem in itself, where wildlife thrives, and you can see some of the rarest plants in the world. More than 80 types of orchids have been recorded in the basin, their appearance and colour varying wildly, from the tiny, snow-white epiphytic orchid to flowers as big as a hand with striking yellow-and-red petals. The word Maliau means ‘land of the giant staircase,’ derived from its step-like landscape and countless waterfalls. No less than 19 have been discovered so far, including a seven-tiered beauty at the mouth of the river that rises almost 100ft into the air.
Flights to Kota Kinabalu fly regularly from Heathrow via Singapore or Kuala Lumpa. From there, buses are the easiest mode of transportation between Sabah’s main cities and towns. For a deep dive into Borneo, book onto G Adventures' East Sabah Adventure tour for expert guides and luxury accommodation. For more information, visit sabahtourism.com