I’m being greeted at the tiny Lahad Datu Airport by a well-mannered uniformed driver. The flight from Kota Kinabalu is disturbing – you see vast areas of logged land that are now home to palm-oil plantations. As my luggage is loaded into a specially adapted Toyota Land Cruiser, and we head straight to Borneo Nature Tours’ office, where I complete registration and sign a waiver. Because it’s lunchtime and my package is for three nights, I’m decide to buy lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant, before getting into the two-and-a-half-hour drive to the heart of one of the area’s last territories of virgin forest.
The lodging place is a sustainable tourism operation in the Danum Valley Conservation Area, 44,000 hectares of primary rainforest that is habitat to about 1,500 orang-utans, plus thousands of other animal and plant species. There are 30 chalets which available, accommodating a maximum of 60 people at one time.
Most rooms are almost the same size, normally being classed as standard and deluxe – deluxe rooms complete with river view and outdoor bath. Rooms are built mainly of sustainable wood, with natural airing, built-in insect screens, a modern bathroom with rain shower (hot water is provided through heated solar panels and using filtered stream water), comfortable beds, a convenient minibar, sofa, tea- and coffee-making facilities, dressing area and safe. You’re surrounded by the unique and pure sounds of the forest and river, but entrenched in relative luxury.
Most guests you can find here are middle-aged Europeans, mainly British and German, with the rest will be a mixture of American, Australian, Singaporean and Japanese. Some have special interests, such as birdwatching and photography. The inviting open-air restaurant, bar and lounge area has gorgeous views facing the river and forest. However shoes must be removed at the entrance.
The mostly Malaysian staffs here are all friendly and very much helpful, and seem motivated by the fact that the income generated from tourism is paying their salaries and protecting their environment. In the restaurant, my plate was immediately cleared as soon as I had finished eating, in a caring manner rarely seen in the hospitality industry today.
Despite being in a remote area, the food served here would have put many five-star hotels to shame. The buffet here features a huge choice of at least 10 freshly cooked hot main courses, as well as starters, soup and a dessert – plus, there’s a live cooking station for fresh fish, chicken, steak, satay, noodles and pasta. The breakfast buffet served here is almost the same every day, but still offers a similarly large selection of fresh fruit, juices and hot and cold dishes. Most importantly, all food is halal.