Hotel insider: Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Danum Valley, Borneo, Malaysia
I’m met at the tiny Lahad Datu Airport by a uniformed driver. The flight from Kota Kinabalu is disconcerting – you see vast areas of logged land that are now home to palm-oil plantations. My driver loads my luggage into a specially adapted Toyota Land Cruiser, and we go the short distance 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 bought lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant, before making the two-and-a-half-hour drive to the heart of one of the area’s last tracts of virgin forest. On arrival at the lodge I’m met by a staff member called Daniel from Kota Kinibalu, who proffers a pandan-leaf garland, checks me in and takes me to my room.
The lodge is a sustainable tourism operation in the Danum Valley Conservation Area, 44,000 hectares of primary rainforest that’s home to about 1,500 orang-utans, plus thousands of other animal and plant species. There are 30 chalets, accommodating a maximum of 60 people at any one time.
Most rooms are the same size, classed as standard and deluxe – deluxe rooms have a river view and outdoor bath. Rooms are built mainly of sustainable wood, with natural ventilation, built-in insect screens, a modern bathroom with rain shower (hot water heated by solar panels and using filtered stream water), comfortable beds, a minibar, sofa, tea- and coffee-making facilities, dressing area and safe. You’re surrounded by the sounds of the forest and river, but ensconced in relative luxury.
Most guests are middle-aged Europeans, mainly British and German, with the rest a mixture of American, Australian, Singaporean and Japanese. Some have specialist interests, such as birdwatching and photography, and when I stayed, there was a crew from National Geographic TV in residence. The inviting open-air restaurant, bar and lounge area has gorgeous views over the river and forest. Shoes must be removed at the entrance – you walk barefoot on the dark-wood floors. It’s functional and stylish.
The mostly Malaysian staff are all friendly and 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 cleared as soon as I had finished eating, in a caring manner rarely seen in the hospitality industry today.
Despite the resort being in a remote area, the food served here would put many five-star hotels to shame. The buffet 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. It’s different at every dinner and lunch, with dishes including chilli prawns, Nonya-style noodle soup, fish curry, lemon-grass mackerel, sautéed local greens, banana blossom in coconut and various types of rice. The breakfast buffet is the same every day, but offers a similarly large selection of fresh fruit, juices and hot and cold dishes. All food is halal.
The environment and character of the lodge.
The rooms are connected by a wooden boardwalk, which is very slippery when wet. On the first day, I fell quite badly. The Wi-Fi connection is via satellite, which is affected by bad weather. Despite using insect repellent, I was badly bitten by mosquitoes.
Nature-lovers won’t regret a trip here.
The bottom line
A three-day, two-night package at Borneo Rainforest Lodge (www.borneonaturetours.com) costs from 3,190 Malaysian ringgit (Dh2,770) per person, including room, taxes, food and a selection of activities. The lodge can also be booked on a bigger itinerary by Lightfoot Travel in Dubai (www.lightfoottravel.com; 04 455 8788).
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Updated: December 3, 2015 04:00 AM