Category Archives: Wildlife

Bat Cave of Serinsim: Home of Thousands Worm

Climbing to the cave

Whenever you see people go caving in a movie, you know something terribly wrong is gonna to happen next. Soon they would find some skeletons laying around, then they become the dinner of some unknown monster, or accidentally awaken a thousand-year-old demon. To most, cave is a dark and hideous world full of creepy and creeping dwellers.

going to Bat Cave (Gua Kelawar)

Hendrick is my guide who took me to Bat Cave (Gua Kelawar)

On the other hand, exploring cave is thrilling to the adventurous hearts, as one may expect to find treasure inside. Well, you can make a fortune from saliva and dung. I meant the edible bird nest (US$2,000 per Kg) and guano fertilizer (good quality as it’s rich in nitrogen, phosphate and potassium), which are the real treasure from a cave. To me, whether it’s a monster or Batman inside, cave is always a mysterious place that draws me.

Dense rainforest of Serinsim Park

Dense rainforest of Serinsim Park

In Sabah, only a handful of caves are really huge, for example, Gomantong, Madai, and Japanese War Tunnel. Most other so-called caves listed in tourism brochure are more like crevices between boulders less than 20 Meters deep, with some smelly guano, noisy bats and stinky cockroaches that wait to be screamed at.

Therefore, at first I didn’t expect much from the Bat Cave (Gua Kelawar) in Serinsim Park (in Kota Marudu, Sabah, Malaysia). When I checked it out, I was really excited to see something new and special. And for the first time, the video of this cave is available online.

Going to Bat Cave (Gua Kelawar)

Gua Kelawar (translated as Bat Cave) is located in Serinsim Park (or Sorinsim), a substation at the north of Kinabalu Park about 130 KM away from Kota Kinabalu City (KK). In the park, you need to walk 5.5 Kilometers (one way) on a jungle trail to reach the cave, and you must be escorted by a guide. You can request Sabah Parks (management of Serinsim) to get you a guide. The guide fee is MYR60 (about USD$15), you can hire one guide for your group and share the cost among yourselves.

Guide clearing the trail

Guide clearing the trail

A round trip is 11 KM in distance. FYI, I departed around 7:30am and arrived the cave about 11:30am. You better go in the morning, so you can come back before nightfall. Do bring water, packed lunch and raincoat with you. Dry bag is optional but good to have because you will cross two rivers. Hendrick is my guide. Though he looks very serious in my photos, he is really friendly and helpful.

Genat, a friendly village dog wanted to follow us but stopped by a river

Genat, a friendly village dog wanted to follow us but stopped by a river

A village dog named Genat (means flash or lightning in Dusun language) was following us. Genat was always running 10 Meters in front of us. He would stop and wait if we were too slow. Sometimes he would go missing in action, then suddenly pop out of the wood next to us. According to Hendrick, Genat had followed the tourists to the peak of Mt. Nombuyukon (Height: 5,550 feet!) a few times. Sadly, after 3 KM, he was stopped by a river. After barking at the river for a few minutes, he headed back to village in disappointment, poor dog…

Interesting plant in jungle

Interesting plant in jungle

The jungle trekking is not so tough. The first 3 KM is mostly flat area, with some short walk on gentle slopes, followed by a walk on undulating terrain for the last 2.5 KM. Blood sucking leeches are present in this warm and humid rainforest, so you better wear a leech socks. I saw some interesting mushroom and plant along the way, and happy to see two hornbills flied over the canopy.

Different type of fungi in Serinsim Park

Different type of fungi I saw. Note the mushroom at upper left is like having a drop of blood on it.

Hendrick is a very responsible guide who has been guiding tourists since 2006. I’m sure whatever shit happens to me, he will make sure I go back in one piece. He is 44 years old and a Dusun lives in Serinsim Village.

Crossing the Serinsim River

Crossing the Serinsim River

We had to cross a few streams and two rivers. One of the streams is called Thomas River, because a white man missionary died there during World War II. The rivers are about 2 to 3 feet deep (Be careful of the uneven depth). To avoid getting wet, I crossed with my underwear only lol.

Bull eye fungus (edible)

Bull eye fungus (edible). Some local girls use its “jello” as hair conditioner or facial mask

After we crossed the second river named Sungai Serinsim Gibang, Bat cave is only 200 Meters away.

Outside the Cave

As we were approaching the Bat Cave, I could smell the ammonia of the guano. This is a bat zone, evidenced by their dropping on the vegetation.

Mushroom near the Bat Cave

Mushroom near the Bat Cave

Interesting rock formation near the cave

Interesting rock formation near the cave

Then we saw a beautiful rocky knoll, which is about 20 Meters high and mainly constituted by dark colored conglomerate.

Rock wall that looks like man-made structure

Rock wall that looks like man-made structure

Dark rock wall before the Bat Cave

Bat Cave is behind this dark rock wall

My first impression of that knoll is – it looks like a rock castle of a vampire, and something belong to another world.

Begonia at cave area

Begonia at cave area

Though I was near to Bat Cave, I was so enticed by the peculiar surrounding, so I spent more time around to explore more. The cave area is a flourishing zone for begonia. More than 190 species of begonia are found in Borneo and more than half are endemic species.

A small cave outside Bat cave

A small cave outside Bat cave

Colorized rocks in a small cave

Colorized rocks in a small cave

Probably due to some chemical reaction, the bat dropping “dyed” some rocks into green, orange and purple colors.

Rock wall outside Bat cave

Rock wall outside Bat cave

Mold-like substance on the rocks

Mold-like substance on the rocks

Some rocks seem to have mold growing on them and turn whitish.

The spot where the rebel Sigunting slept

The spot where the rebels slept

More than a hundred years ago, this place was one of the hiding places of Sigunting and his followers, a guerilla group who rebelled against the British colonial government.

Exploring the Bat Cave

The entrance to Bat Cave is about 12 Meters above the ground and doesn’t look inviting. Frankly I was a bit scared because I had 0 info about this cave, and didn’t know what was waiting for me inside.

Climbing to the cave

Climbing to the cave

Hendrick and I climbed over some boulders with bare hands and came to a 15-feet aluminium ladder that led to the opening of the cave. The aluminium ladder was covered with mud and probably bat shit, quite disgusting, but I didn’t plan to flinch once I started.

Hendrick standing at the entrance of Bat Cave

Hendrick standing at the entrance of Bat Cave

The smell of guano got stronger, and from the loud volume, I could tell there were a lot of bats in the cave.

Narrow passage to Bat Cave

Narrow passage to Bat Cave

After I climbed up the ladder, in front of me is a narrow passage that is only 4 to 7 feet wide, enough to cause some panic attack to those with claustrophobia (Fear of Confined Spaces).

Near the entrance of Bat Cave

Near the entrance of Bat Cave

I entered the tunnel. It’s quite steep, with 30 to 50 degree of slope. I moved up slowly on pile after pile of rocks with uneven surface, and had to use the rock wall as support. Hendrick was about 10 feet behind me. I worried some loose rocks would be freed by my footsteps and hit his face, so I asked him to stay closer.

Earthworms crawling everywhere

Earthworms crawling everywhere

Even though it wasn’t raining outside, the cave was really wet with water dripping from the top. Thanks God we reached a relatively flat and wider area after 25 Meters. It gets really dark and dingy, so I turned on my torchlight, then I noticed something like snake crawling next to my foot.

Earthworms all over the cave

Earthworms all over the cave

It’s a… no, thousands of big and long earthworms everywhere! Most of them are over one foot long, with disgusting red segment rings. Aren’t earthworms living underground? I can’t explain why they lay around on exposed rocks from the ground to the wall as high as 10 feet.

Big earthworms in Bat Cave

Big earthworms in Bat Cave

There were some cockroaches ran away from my light. Compare to earthworms, they are like a minority in this cave.

Cockroaches lurking in the dark

Cockroaches lurking in the dark

My spidey sense kept pressing me to leave the cave, but I ignored my tingling goosebumps and moved further in and faced another steep climb.

Deep layer of guano

Deep layer of guano

When I looked up and pointed the light to the top, Oh-My-Gosh, I saw a dense dark cloud of restless hanging bats. Their echolocate may have detected intruders, so they jittered. The deeper I went in, the more intense and louder the bat screeching, it’s getting almost unbearable. I knew for sure that I was not welcomed.

Bat dropping on the ground

Bat dropping on the ground

Thousands of bats in the cave

Bat tornado on top of my head

Suddenly they all took off and flied in panic. It’s like turning on a giant fan and create a strong turbulence of air in the cave (I’m not exaggerating here). My heart was thumping like crazy.

Rock wall of Bat Cave

Rock wall of Bat Cave

I didn’t see any stalagmites and stalactites, so this is not a limestone cave I guess. After walking for another 20 Meters, we came to an edge of a 10-feet drop to a trench filled with guano. I could see light at other end of the cave. I estimate this cave is about 200 Meters long.

Guano pool near the end of cave

Guano pool near the end of cave

I had no idea how deep is the guano pool, so I better didn’t try to walk over it for the sake of safety.

Deep inside the Bat Cave

Deep inside the Bat Cave

Hendrick says I’m the first tourist who goes inside Bat Cave. I would not recommend you to try this, as it carries some risk. It is not a touristy cave which have boardwalk for you to explore the cave illuminated by colorful light. If you really want to explore, bring a very powerful torchlight or LED headlamp.

Yellow bat dropping, brown dirt stain and red blood stain (leech bite) on my pants

Yellow bat dropping, brown mud stain and red blood stain (leech bite) on my pants

My body is full of stains of bat dropping, mud and leech bites. This is the filthiest trip that I have experienced so far, but fun.

Photos taken in Kota Marudu, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC), Sandakan

Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC)

The Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) is one of the most accessible natural rainforest in Sabah. It sits by a lake at the edge of the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve in Sandakan. RDC has been in operation since 1996 for environmental education purposes. Today, it is a 3-in-1 park (i.e. wildlife, bird and plant) for nature lovers and bird watchers where they can see the unique flora and fauna of Borneo. To students, it’s the best outdoor classroom to learn the rich biodiversity of rainforest ecosystem.

Lake of Rainforest Discovery Center

Lake of Rainforest Discovery Center. Boat is available for rent for RM5.00

Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) is managed by the Sabah Forestry Department and one of the most popular Environmental Education (EE) centers in Sabah. A pristine lowland dipterocarp and Mangrove forest with astounding 300 species of birds are recorded in the area.

Entrance of Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC)

Entrance of Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC)

The 4,300-hectare Sepilok-Kabili Forest Reserve has gained birders recognition worldwide for its iconic Bornean Bristlehead, Black & Crimson Pitta, Blue-headed Pitta, Giant Pitta, Black Hornbill, Rhinoceros Hornbill and more.

Jungle Trails

Visitors can walk along the trails and become acquainted with green giants such as the mengaris tree, one of the tallest tree in Borneo. Besides soaking up the sight and getting a good workout, visitors can refer to the interpretive panels along the trail, which has descriptions about unique residents of the forest.

Giant red flying squirrel (left) and Prevost's Squirrel (right). Giant Squirrel, which is the largest tree squirrel and almost as big as a cat, is sighted sometimes.

Giant red flying squirrel (left) and Prevost’s Squirrel (right). Giant Squirrel, which is the largest tree squirrel and almost as big as a cat, is sighted sometimes.

Alert the little ones to keep an eye out for darting civets and flying squirrels (which can glide up to 100 Meters)! And lucky visitors have also spotted animals such as the elusive red leaf monkey, gibbon (the fastest moving primate in tree canopy), mouse deer, civet cat and many odd looking insects such as stick insect.

Trail map of Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC)

Layout map of Rainforest Discovery Center with extensive nature trail network

The tree that you must check out is Sepilok Giant, a Yellow Seraya tree (Shorea acatissima), which is about 65 Meters in height, with an estimated age of 800-1,000 years old.

Sepilok Giant, the oldest tree of Sabah

Sepilok Giant might be the oldest tree of Sabah

Another tree worths a good look is Belian Borneo Ironwood (Eusideroxylon zwageri), the 7th hardest wood in the world.

Plant Discovery Garden

RDC also has a Plant Discovery Garden, which covers about 3 acres of land. This garden will make any botanist smile with its collection of hybrid orchids, arid land plants, aquatic plants, pitcher-plants, economic crops and tropical American plants.

Orchid garden of RDC

Orchid garden of RDC

Carnivorous plant in the garden

Carnivorous plant (from America) in the garden

There are colourful outdoor interpretive panels with descriptions of all the plants, which makes learning not only easy but also fun.

Info signage with photograph and interesting facts of each plant

One of the Interpretive Panel with photographs and interesting facts of each plant

For serious learners, there are just too many local and exotic plants (flowers, herbs, spices, crops) to look at, just to name a few, peach palm, vanilla, tongkat ali, rubber, cassava, cinnamon, fig, and cycad (a living fossil and food of dinosaur).

Fruits in Plant Discovery Garden of RDC

Fruits in Plant Discovery Garden of RDC

Canopy Walkway

The main attraction of RDC however, is of course the Canopy Walkway. Visitors can climb to the top of the observation towers and take in the breathtaking view from the 347-meter long and 25-meter high steel walkway.

Observatory towers of RDC

There are two observation towers (named as Bristlehead and Trogon Tower)

The walkway is two meters wide, is very sturdy and can hold the weight of a large crowd. RDC has two towers that are named after the Bristlehead and Trogon and a single-column shelter called the Sunbird.

Canopy Walk of RDC in Sepilok rainforest

The 40-meter white tree is mengaris tree (Koompassia excelsa), it can grow up to 86 M.

The designers of the canopy walkway made sure that it was not only safe for adults, but also for young children who are at kindergarten-level.

Fruiting next to canopy walk

Fruiting next to canopy walk

To the team at RDC, the younger children exposed to the wonders of Mother Nature, the better appreciation they will have for our rainforest.

Steel tower and walkway of RDC

Steel tower and walkway

The top platform of towers is about 17 Meters (56.5 feet) above the ground. Many birds, wildlife, fruits and insects live high on the tree, so these towers provide a great viewing point for bird watching and wildlife sighting. I’ve seen mother orangutan with her baby there before (see video).

Orangutan feeding on a tall tree at RDC

Orangutan feeding on a tall tree at RDC

Bornean Bristlehead normally feeds up in the mid and upper layer of tree canopy, and best seen from Canopy Walkway. You have higher chance of seeing them near Bristlehead and Hornbill Towers in RDC.

Canopy Walk of Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC)

Canopy Walk of Rainforest Discovery Center.

I’m very confident to say RDC has one of the best setup for bird watching in the world.

Information board about the tall rainforest trees in RDC

Information board about the tall rainforest trees around this area

Many trees here are very old and over 50 Meters tall, most of these emergent trees are from the family Dipterocarpaceae, the main timber family of Sabah.

Macaque is commonly seen near to the canopy walk

Macaque is commonly seen near to the canopy walk

During fruiting season, you will see many birds and wildlife coming here for feeding.

Bird Watching

Due to the tourist-friendly canopy walkway and nearby virgin rainforest where over 300 lowland bird species reside, RDC is really a haven for nature photographers and birdwatchers. RDC is also the most promising spot to see Bornean Bristlehead, the trophy bird species of birders, but you still need some luck. I saw it only once after three visits.

Bird watching is a popular activity at RDC

Bird watching is the most popular activity at RDC. Bring a binocular so you won’t miss the fun.

Many endemic, rare and colorful birds are active around RDC, for example, Bornean Bristlehead, Hornbills, Pittas, Kingfisher (8 species), Trogons, Malkohas, Leafbirds, Minivets, Spiderhunters (6 species), Crested Jay, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Broadbills, Woodpeckers, and Bulbuls. For full list, you may see this Checklist of Birds in Sepilok.

Endemic birds of Borneo in Sepilok

Endemic birds of Borneo in Sepilok. The red-headed bird at left is Bornean Bristlehead

Therefore, for visitors who don’t want to travel far, RDC is the best alternative birding sites to Danum Valley and Tabin Wildlife Reserve, the world-class birding sites in Lahad Datu.

Trails in Rainforest Discovery Center

Trails in Rainforest Discovery Center

Some forest birds spend most of their time on canopy and best to be observed from RDC Canopy Walkway, while some prefers habitat in understorey and forest ground, so you need to explore the jungle trails for such birds. (Note: leeches might present during wet season)

Birding trails of RDC

Birding trails of RDC

According to birding community, the 1.9-KM Kingfisher Trail is very productive (many birds). There are many direction signages in the RDC trail network, so you should have no problem to get around. What I really like is – RDC also places many information panels in different spots to inform you what birds, trees and wildlife are (probable) nearby.

Info signage in Kingfisher Trail

Info signage in Kingfisher Trail

Inside the forest there are small ponds used by many birds as natural bird bath for bathing and drinking. Most birds only dip their wings to splash water on their backs. Parts of the bath is just about 2 inches deep, just enough for small birds. Keep an eye for Red-eyed Bulbul, Emerald Dove and Hairy-backed Bulbul there.

Brown Barbets taking bath in tree hole

Flock of Brown Barbet taking bath in water of tree hole

Garden birds such as sunbirds, spiderhunters and flowerpeckers are common too.

RDC is one of the race sites of Borneo Bird Race

RDC is one of the race sites of Borneo Bird Race

RDC is the most preferred venue for Borneo Bird Festival, which is usually held in Sep or Oct annually, the best visiting time for bird watchers who are looking forward for exciting activities such as bird race, talks, bird photography contest and exhibition.

Exhibition Hall

The main visitor building has an exhibition hall that features the unique flora found in Sabah, plus the various icons in our animal kingdom including the Bornean pygmy elephant, orang utan, proboscis monkey and many more.

Exhibition Hall of Rainforest Discovery Center

Exhibition Hall of Rainforest Discovery Center

Visitors can also find information on reptiles and the main groups of birds. The building also has a multi purpose hall, which is often used for talks, screenings and other activities.

Information about flora & fauna of Borneo (available in both English and Malay languages)

Information about flora & fauna of Borneo (available in both English and Malay languages)

Besides animals, visitors can browse good collections of plant, fruit, tree and insect specimens in the hall. The information is presented in gallery style, with a lot of beautiful photographs with minimal text, available in English and Malay languages.

Crocodile specimen in exhibition hall of RDC

Crocodile specimen in exhibition hall of RDC

This Exhibition Hall is air-conditioned, so I love to come here after a long walk under hot sun outside LOL (and for the toilet too).

Ghost Durian (Durian Hantu)

One of the display item: Ghost Durian (Durian Hantu) has no spikes and inedible, though it’s under the same family of Durian fruit

The Exhibition Hall of RDC is great for learning the biodiversity of Borneo

The Exhibition Hall of RDC is great for learning the biodiversity of Borneo

I must say the Exhibition Hall does a very good job in giving visitors an interesting overview of Borneo’s nature.

Other Facilities

The infrastructure of RDC is quite well-thought, this makes RDC an excellent attraction, as well as a great location to organize mid-scale events.

Keruing Cafe of RDC

Keruing Cafe of RDC is located at the starting point of Canopy Walk and it serves simple meals and drink. The food tastes so-so.

Exhibition about Borneo birds in Drongo House

Exhibition about Borneo birds in Drongo House

Kabili Mini Theatre of RDC

Kabili Mini Theatre

Entrance Fee

Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) is open from 8am to 5pm every day, but the trails and canopy walkway close at 8pm, so some visitors can do night walk and evening birding. RDC is a park opens to public, any walk-in visitor can buy a ticket to enter (see ticket prices below).

Malaysian Foreigner
Adult (18 & above) RM7 RM15 (≈USD$4)
5-17 years old RM3 RM7 (≈USD$2)
Below 5 years old FREE FREE

For more information, call +60 89-533780 / 533781, e-mail rdcsepilok@yahoo.com or visit RDC’s official website and Facebook.

Mural outside Visitor Building

Mural outside Visitor Building

All proceeds from ticket sales are used to organize environmental education programmes for students, teacher training courses and other environment-related activities.

Night Walk

Most wildlife are nocturnal. You may not see a lot of wildlife during daytime in RDC, but a night walk there would probably give you some pleasant surprises. Depend on your luck, you would see civet, moonrat, Malay badger, sleeping birds, glow worm, owls, stick insect, firefly, frog, bearded pig, flying lemur, etc. You hit jackpot if you spot Bornean Tarsier or Slow Loris, the most mysterious primates of Sabah. Known as Ghost Monkey locally, Bornean Tarsier is the smallest primate of Borneo and has huge eyes bigger than its brain.

photo album of RDC
See more photos of RDC

Night Walk is available from Mon to Fri only (conducted between 6pm-8pm), you can register for the walk at ticketing counter (before they close at 5pm). The fee is RM30 (≈USD$8.50) per adult and RM15 (≈USD$4) per child (5-17 years old) for a minimum of 2 hours, RM15/person for each additional hour. A minumum of 4 visitors (but no more than 10) is required to form the night walking group, or you have to pay for the full amount RM120 (≈USD$34). Do bring torch-light (flashlight) and raincoat with you. You can take photos but no camera flash is allowed for small animals.

How to get there

The Rainforest Discovery Center is located at Sepilok, Sandakan, Sabah, about 25 KM to the west of Sandakan City (see Location Map). Public transport to Sepilok is available readily and the journey takes about 45 to 50 minutes one way. You can hire a taxi for a return trip for about RM100 per car (≈USD$28)(negotiable).

RDC Shuttle Service (within Sepilok Only)

I strongly recommend you to visit Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center and Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center, which are only 2 KM away from RDC.

RDC Shuttle Service (within Sepilok only) is available only when licensed taxi not around and depend on staff availability. It’s no guarantee but good to know this option anyway. The standard rate is RM10 (≈USD$2.50) per car. You can request for transport in following time:
9am-5pm: enquire for taxi or shuttle service at ticketing counter
5pm-8pm: enquire shuttle service at security hut

Rozella Mahjhrin

Author: Rozella Mahjhrin is a singer-songwriter from Sabah, Malaysian Borneo (check out her website at rozellamusic.com). She is also the founder of True Complexion, a photography project that challenges the concept of “normal” and “beautiful” in our societies. She also enjoys travelling and writing about it.


Photos taken in Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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