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Lupa Masa Jungle Camp in Borneo Rainforest

Lupa Masa Jungle Camp

Some people prefer to camp in park equipped with Wifi, air-conditioning and cozy bed. To truly appreciate the nature, some campers want to get away from civilization totally and live among trees and wildlife, like Lupa Masa Jungle Camp. Lupa Masa means Forget Time in Malay language, you would lose sense of time there when you forget about your Facebook, your computer and your boss.

Lupa Masa campsite
Lupa Masa is located between Borneo rainforest and lower montane forest at the foothill of Mt. Kinabalu, the UNESCO Natural Heritage Site of Sabah. To visit the camp, I met the camp manager, Michael from Scotland, at Poring Hot Springs. He marries a sumandak (girl) from Tamparuli and able to speak Malay fluently. He already blends into the community and now behaves more like a Sabahan wearing a “orang putih” skin (Caucasian). However, he hasn’t fallen in love with Durian yet.

crossing river
Pic: Michael crossing a stream with a gas tank

Michael got some groceries from Poring and led the way. We walked on a gravel road in village and plantation for about 10 minutes, then we entered a soil trail that took us deep into the forest. The forest is an aged regenerated secondary forest that gives us much needed shade in muggy day. The trail is mostly mildly inclined, with a short section of steep slope.

trail to Lupa Masa
Pic: nature trail to Lupa Masa

The walk was supposed to take about 30 minutes. I was carrying two bags weighed over 15Kg and one of them broke, so it took me an hour to reach the camp. Since this camp is near the boundary of Kinabalu Park and situated between rainforest and cloud forest, you would see wildlife from both habitats. This attracts naturalists who are expert in snakes, mammals, birds, etc. to stay in Lupa Masa. A snake expert even found 12 snake species in a day. But please note that wildlife sighting is depend on luck.

Camping in Lupa Masa

My “room” is only a basic hut with raised floor and a canvas roof over my head. Albeit being pounded by heavy rain a few times during my stay, the roof didn’t leak. It is near the edge of campsite and far away other shelters, so I feel so alone at night.

camp of Lupa Masa
Pic: my private “chalet” surrounded by greenery

As there is no wall between me and the wood, I was fully exposed to the wildlife territory. In the morning, I was always waked up by a flock of noisy Buff-rumped Woodpeckers, and countless chirping birds came to check me out. Then cicada took the afternoon shift to continue the rainforest choir, at night it was the sound of frogs and crickets that sent me to dream land. I was like an outsider. Perhaps I should have tried to join their orchestra by making some rhythmic calls too.

camper bed of Lupa Masa Jungle Camp
Pic: my bed on bamboo floor

My bed is a few camper beds enveloped in mosquito net. Mosquito is the most active during dusk and I would find 4 or 5 of them bumping the net from outside. In other time, there were very few mosquito in the campsite. The temperature here during daytime is about 25°C (77°F) but can drop to 15 (59°F) or below at night. The camp provides blanket or you can bring your own sleeping bag. There are a few wires for me to hang my cloth between the poles in the hut. My clothing never turned dry in cold and humid days though.

camping tent in Lupa Masa Jungle Camp
Pic: camping tent in longhouse

If you want more privacy, you can choose to stay in shelter that has camping tent. In Lupa Masa, there are 6 shelters that can host up to 25 campers. The accommodation costs about RM70-90 (≈US$22-28) per night. Food is included, mainly vegetarian meals because they don’t have fridge to keep the meat. Some of the food that I had there were rice with curry vegetables, French toast, oat meal with fruits, fried rice, etc.

Night Walk

Night Walk is the highlight of Lupa Masa. You can see far more animals in the dark as most wildlife are nocturnal. You can choose easy walk that takes 2 to 3 hours, or long challenging trek that requires you to cross river and climb steep hill with more rewarding sighting. The guide fee is RM30 (≈US$9.40) per hour, RM75 (≈US$24) if 3 hours. You can share the cost with others if you go in group.

mating beetles
Michael seemed to be more excited than me in night walk. After dinner, we started our night safari on foot at 8pm. Spotting animals in the dark is no easy task because of their camouflage. You need a good torchlight and great eyesight. Anyway, you won’t need both when Michael is around, as he is an excellent spotter. Even if he showed me the things he found, it still took me quite a while to see it. His secret is to look for light reflection in animal’s eyes.

big stick insect
Pic: big juicy stick insect, endemic to Borneo

In case it rains, you better bring a raincoat. Leech is expected, so wear your anti-leech socks. I didn’t get any leech bite though there were many leeches around. We shined our torchlight to every corners to find those critters hiding in burrows, tree holes, bark, river rocks, shrubs and fallen log.

sleeping birds
Pic: sleeping birds. Note the kingfisher has only 3 claws.

We saw a number of sleeping birds on the trees. It’s interesting that they turn into “fur ball” while asleep.

frogs in forest
Frog are everywhere. I saw and heard many of them after rain, e.g. Lesser River Frog, Black-spotted Rock Frog, Giant River Frog, Montane Litter Frog. Some leaped away before I got close enough to take a photo. “You have to approach them like a Ninja,” Michael said.

long-horned beetle
Pic: a big long-horned beetle

Other animals that we spotted included Small-toothed palm civet, long-legged millipede, Agamid lizards, white lantern bug, spider, scorpion, tree-hole crab, dead-leaf grasshopper, trilobite, geckos, katydid and a green pit viper.

big forest snail
Pic: a giant forest snail

Suddenly Michael paused and smiled, “How much you would pay me for spotting a horned frog?”

Bornean Horned frog
Oh yeah, we found a Bornean Horned Frog, no, two!

Bornean Horned frog in Poring
Bornean Horned Frog looks like a little devil. Actually it’s a gentle frog. Its “horn” is an extension of its eyelid, to make its body shape looks like a leaf.

Horned frog tattoo
From his tattoo, obviously Michael is also a fan of horned frog lol.

moth infested by mind control fungi
Pic: a moth which was infested by parasite fungus which turned it into a “zombie.” This fungi can mind control its host to climb to the higher spot, to spread its spores.

fire ants
Pic: Beware of aggressive fire ants on forest floor. Their stings can penetrate sock and very painful hence the name.

luminous fungus on rotten log
Pic: animation to show luminous fungus with the light on and off

Then Michael showed me something really special but we needed to turn off our torchlight. It’s luminous fungus that glows like green neon light on a decaying log. The glow is quite bright in the dark. We saw a few glowing mushroom too.

Some “trophy species” of wildlife photographers such as Western Tarsier, Slow Loris, Bornean Leaf Nose (snake), Wallace’s Flying Frog and Caecilian (a limbless amphibian) are known to be present at Lupa Masa, but you will need some luck to see them.

Day Walk

During daytime, you can take a stroll in the campsite or surrounding forest. Walk slowly and quietly in the morning, you would find a lot of birds around the camp. This place is great for birding because flock after flock of sunbirds, flowerpeckers, bulbuls and other forest birds frequent this camp during dawn and dusk. I saw Orange-bellied flowerpecker, Crimson-breasted flowerpecker, Broadbill, Ashy Tailorbird and Kingfisher during my stay.

lace orchid
Lupa Masa campsite is a garden by itself, planted with vegetables, fruit trees and flowers. The blooming orchid here attracts butterflies such as Rajah Brooke butterfly, tree nymph and birdwing butterflies in different colors.

ginger flower
Pic: Ginger flower that looks like a birthday cake (Species: Etlingera fimbriobracteata),

Poring forest
The boundary of Kinabalu Park, the most bio-diversified forest of Borneo, is just a few minutes walk away from the camp. The jungle is well lit by daylight, so you can enjoy the view of standing tall trees. The zappy Pygmy squirrel, the smallest squirrel in the world, is commonly seen busy moving up and down tree trunks. Look high above you would find bird’s nest fern and wild orchid on the trees.

red forest fruit
Pic: a fig fruit that looks like red chili

Lupa Masa is one of the few places where you can find three types of corpses flowers, namely Rafflesia, Rhizanthes and Titan Arum (Samurai Flower). Their flowers take many months to bloom, so you should be very happy if you see such rare sighting.

River & Waterfalls

During hot day, one of the favorite activities of their guests is to soak in the icy river or pond of Lupa Masa Waterfall nearby. You can enjoy the cleanest (and Chlorine-free) flowing water from Mt. Kinabalu.

river near to Lupa Masa Jungle Camp
Pic: clean and unpolluted river from Kinabalu Park is only 10 Meters from the camp.

The water is shallow so it is safe for a swim, or you can just sit in the river for a free massage from river current (do bring beer with you).

clean river from Kinabalu Park
Pic: you can tell how clean is the water from the photo. It’s so crystal clear that I can’t see the water. Sometimes otters and kingfishers forage for fishes here too.

Lupa Masa Waterfall
Pic: Lupa Masa Waterfall near the camp (7 minutes walk)

For those who are adventurous, they can hike one hour uphill to explore the “hidden” waterfall, which is five times bigger than Lupa Masa Waterfall.

Amenities

The camp was started by Tom in 2010, with the concept of providing authentic jungle experience, so the amenity is basic. The campsite has solar panel and power generator but electricity supply is not available most of the time, so you better bring a torchlight (with spare batteries). There is no outlet to charge your phone and battery. No Wifi in camp, but my phone can receive 2G connection, slow but able to use Whatsapp and SMS.

activity hall of Lupa Masa Jungle Camp
Pic: activity hall where guests can sit around and relax

You can sit at the deck facing the river and dense forest, looking at starry sky and firefly. Tom said, “I’m so glad that this forest wasn’t turned into a paddy plantation.” Looking at the beautiful trees and river, I can’t agree more.

dining table
Pic: table where guests can have meal, chit chat and playing cards.

mini bar of Lupa Masa Jungle Camp
Pic: “mini-bar” for you to buy some soft drink, beer and wine. The hanging object is a shed snakeskin.

reading corner of Lupa Masa Jungle Camp
Pic: reading corner. Guide books on animals such as birds and snakes are available.

kitchen of Lupa Masa Camp
Pic: kitchen. The lucky guest would see Slow Loris around here at night. I saw an ant mimic spider the other day.

toilet of Lupa Masa
Pic: the toilet with creative door design.

toilet
Pic: you can choose to sit or squat

bathroom
Pic: bathroom with bamboo shower head. The water is from the river, very cold and refreshing (I advise you to bath before the cold evening approaches).

Contact

To stay in Lupa Masa, you need to contact the camp to book a place prior to your visit.
Tel: +60 19-5813863 / 019-8020549
E-mail: LupaMasaBorneo@gmail.com
Facebook: Lupa.Masa

The camp also welcomes volunteers. You can get free stay and meal if you contribute some labor work. There is no fixed requirement but you need to have special skill such as cooking, carpenter and house-keeping. You may contact them for more details.

photos with Tom and Michael
Pic: photos with Michael (left) and Tom (right). I look like a dwarf next to them lol. Thank you for your hospitality!

Tom has stayed in Borneo for 15 years. He is actively helping the local communities across Sabah and Sarawak to develop their local attractions. One of his latest project is Lupa Masa Longhouse in Kudat. You may visit the website of his company (Adventure Alternative) for more info.

Getting there

You can take a bus to Ranau town from Inanam Long Distance Bus Terminal (see Location Map) or Kota Kinabalu Merdeka Field (see Location Map). The fare costs about RM15 one way (≈US$4.65) and the bus reaches Ranau in 2 hours. In Ranau, get a cab or bus at taxi station (see Location Map) / bus terminal (see Location Map) to Poring Hot Springs (where the staff meets you), the fees are RM40 (≈US$12.50) and RM10 (≈US$3.10) one way respectively and the ride takes about 25 minutes. It takes 30 minutes to walk to the camp from Poring.

More Photos

You may check out my photo album to see more pictures of Lupa Masa:
photo album of Lupa Masa Jungle Camp

Photos taken in Poring, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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Tabin, the Sanctuary of Borneo Wildlife

Pig-tailed macaque

Located in east coast of Sabah, Tabin Wildlife Reserve is one of the best kept lowland rainforest of Borneo. I don’t want to hide the fact that most lowland of Sabah is now blanketed by oil palm. Tabin is surrounded by sea of oil palm, making it an oasis of the ecology desert (oil palm). In fact, this 112,000-hectare protected forest reserve harbors some of the rarest and endangered Bornean animals such as Pygmy Elephant, Sumatran Rhinoceros and Orangutan.

morning rays in rainforest
Last month I visited Tabin for 3 days. Though large part of Tabin is secondary rainforest being logged in the past, the forest regenerates really well over the decades. Tabin also has 9,000 hectares undisturbed primary forest known as the Core Area. Do you know that there are nearly 1,000 tree species in 50-hectare area of Borneo rainforest (Temperate Forest is up to 100 species only)?

Macaques

Guess what was the first animal I saw in Tabin. Can you recognise the “aliens” below?

butt of macaques
Pic: “Aliens” in Tabin

LOL they are actually the butt of pig-tailed macaques, a common but cheeky monkey. At the left is a male with its testicles, the sexy red butt at the right belongs to a female ready to mate.

pig-tailed macaques
In late afternoon, you would see dozens of macaques gathering on the ground feeding, socializing and grooming one another. Tabin Resort doesn’t feed them so they keep a distance from human. But you better lock the door and leave nothing outside your room, because these monkey know how to open door and ransack your stuffs.

macaque gathering
I was surprised to see a long-tailed macaque among a herd of pig-tailed macaques as if it’s one of the members. Wonder if both species speak the same language.

Bornean Gibbon
Pic: Bornean Gibbon foraging on a fruit tree. You can always hear their “whoop-whoop” loud and long call early in the morning at Tabin.

There are 9 primate species in Tabin, but gorilla isn’t on the list (though the movie says King Kong is from Borneo). The most famous primate here is Orangutan. Tabin is one of the releasing spots for rehabilitated orphan orangutan from Sepilok. To ensure they can survive in the wild, rangers will track and evaluate the new comers for 2 weeks.

Tabin Wildlife Resort

Tabin Wildlife Resort is the only accommodation and tour operator in Tabin Wildlife Reserve. To visit Tabin, you can book a full board tour package with them (Accommodation, meals, transport, activities and guide services are included). They also offer special tours such as bird-watching and frog camp. Please note walk-in tourist might not be entertained.

River Lodge of Tabin Wildlife Resort
Pic: River Lodge of Tabin Resort

After an hour of bumpy ride on 44-Kilometres of unsealed road from Lahad Datu town, I checked-in to River Lodge of Tabin Resort around noon. River Lodge is just next to Lipad River and you would see foraging animals at the river bank sometimes.

room of Riverside Lodge
The chalet looks small from outside, but the room is really spacious and completed with attached bathroom/toilet, private balcony, air conditioner, ceiling fan and hot water shower. The accommodation is comfortable and electricity supply is available 24×7. I’m happy.

Hill Lodge of Tabin Wildlife Resort
Pic: Hill Lodge of Tabin Resort

For honeymooners, Hill Lodge offers more luxurious and private space, so nobody can hear what you both busy doing in your room. I think it’s great for family too.

Sunbird Cafe of Tabin Wildlife Resort
Pic: Sunbird Cafe of Tabin Resort

Sunbird Cafe is where I have my buffet meals (and free flow of coffee) and it is the gathering point for all activities. The cafe has Wifi so you can check your Facebook, but the line would be slow if too many guests are sharing the connection.

Dusk Drive & Night Safari

Compared to my jungle trips in other places of Sabah, the activities at Tabin are really leisure, nothing made me gasping for air there. But I sweated a lot, as rainforest is warm and humid, when the dense trees trap the heat and moisture under their canopy during daytime.

dusk drive at Tabin forest
We started our Dusk Drive at 5pm. Unlike Africa, where you can see hundred of animals on open grassland. In Borneo, you need to look quite hard for the animals hiding among the dense wood. Luckily, the guide does the job for us. A napping monitor lizard high on a tree set off the excitement.

oriental-pied hornbill in flight
As the habitat of about 260 lowland bird species (FYI, oil palm estate only hosts 9 to 12 species), Tabin is a favorite destination of bird-watchers. Out of 8 hornbill species in Tabin, I saw 4 of them (Oriental Pied Hornbill, Rhinoceros Hornbill, Wrinkled Hornbill and Bushy-crested Hornbill) during my stay. If you are a hardcore birder, they will bring you to Core Area (virgin forest) to look for Blue-headed Pitta and Blue-Banded Pitta, which are endemic to Borneo.

crested serpent eagle
Pic: Crested-serpent eagle is the most common eagle here. We also spotted Wallace’s Hawk-eagle and Changeable Hawk-eagle.

Bornean Falconet
Pic: Bornean Falconet

The highlight is Bornean Falconet (a.k.a. White-fronted Falconet), which is endemic to Sabah and the smallest raptor in the world (about the size of a palm). There was a group of three perching on a tree very far away from us. Fortunately, our guide let us to have a better look with his high-power telescope. I tried to photograph them through the scope but the photo was blur, well. 🙁

pygmy elephants
Then we heard a loud roar from the elephants deep in the forest beside us. “It was a mother calling its calf”, our guide said. Though there are 200 to 300 elephants in Tabin, sighting of them is not guaranteed. We waited there for over 15 minutes but no sign of them coming near. When I almost gave up, two Bornean pygmy elephants emerged from the wood behind our truck! After wandering on the gravel road for a while, both of them headed to a neighboring plantation for juicy young shots of oil palm. Somehow this smart mammal figures out the time when electrical fence is being turned off lol.

common palm civet
The daylight was out soon and lot of fireflies flickering on the trees, but we didn’t stop the fun drive. On the way back to resort, our guide turned on the spotlight and here we went for a night safari. Besides a pair of sleeping Rhinoceros Hornbill on the tree, we saw other nocturnal animals such as Common Palm Civet and Leopard Cats. We were also watching a red giant flying squirrel took off from a branch, it could glide 100 Metres from tree to tree, we were told.

Buffy fish owl
Pic: a Buffy Fish Owl. A Brown Wood Owl was nearby too.

Night Walk

Dusk drive is cool but it would be more thrilling to walk around and search for other forest dwellers in the dark. After dinner, everyone grabbed a flashlight and explored deep in the jungle. We pointed our light to the shrubs, tree top, forest ground, tree bark, etc. and came across something interesting.

Crematogaster inflata
Pic: Crematogaster inflata, these ants look like carrying a “gold” knapsack, which is the enlarged metapleural gland that can secrete whitish defensive fluid and their bites are very itchy. Thank you Arthur Chung for the ID.

A single tree of Borneo can house 1,000 insect species. There are at least 50,000 insect species in Tabin, which is enough for you to explore for a lifetime.

mushroom on elephant dung
Pic: mushroom growing on an elephant dung. Everything in rainforest is recycled and exist for a reason.

snake
Pic: a small snake waiting quietly for its prey.

giant river toad
Pic: a giant river toad covered with irregular bumps. The big glands behind its eyes secrete poisonous fluid so don’t touch it!

Lipad Mud Volcano

The next morning we went to the Lipad Mud Volcano, something that makes Tabin special. The jungle trail to the mud volcano is 700 Metres and requires only 20 minutes trekking. We saw some fresh and old elephant dungs along the way, an evidence that elephants frequent this area. Anyway, I only found a tiny mouse deer and a few forest leeches.

jungle trekking in Tabin forest

coral fungus
Pic: a coral fungus

Lipad Mud Volcano
Pic: the Lipad Mud Volcano is as big as a football field and it is still growing. This might be the largest mud volcano of Borneo. Can you spot the tiny people in the photo?

animal tracks at mud volcano
Pic: elephant tracks at mud volcano

Animals love mud volcano as it is rich in sodium and calcium, the vital minerals that are not readily available in their normal diet. That’s why this is a good spot for wildlife sighting, as animals come here regularly for “salt lick” in late afternoon.

collecting mud
We love mud volcano too, not for salt lick but for skin care. Some says the mud is really good for skin so we collect some for facial SPA later.

face SPA with volcano mud
Some prefers to enjoy the muddy face mask on the spot.

walking in mud volcano
However, the outer ring of mud volcano is dry mud mixed with coarse sand. To collect the finest and silky wet mud, you have to go to the sources located in the centre, where you can see fresh mud burping and bubbling up from the ground. The mud in centre is deep and soft, so your shoes would be trapped in it. Some even lost their pant here (yes, that happened before).

Observatory Tower at Lipad Mud Volcano
Pic: the 5-storey observation tower next to the mud volcano. You can overnight there for more animal sighting.

mud volcano certiticate
Pic: making handprint certificate with volcano mud.

Lipad Waterfall

After getting ourselves dirty in mud volcano, we got on our truck and moved to Lipad Waterfall. The nature trail to the waterfall is only 400 Metres but we needed to cross a river as deep as our waist level.

Lipad Waterfall
Because of the heavy rain the night before, the water looked a bit murky, but it was clean and cooling. We washed away our mud at the river and took a dip in the waterfall pool.

Lipad Waterfall pool
Pic: Lipad Waterfall, pristine and unpolluted.

Other Activities

There are more things to do in Tabin. Just to list a few here.

You may check out the exhibition in Trogon Hall gallery, where they display some photographs and information of Borneo bio-diversity.

exhibition in

elephant skull
Pic: elephant skull in the Gallery

After a long day of trekking, it’s time to relax your tired feet by trying out the Rainforest Foot Soak at Eagle’s Nest. Various traditional tropical herb and plants (e.g. Kaffir lime leaf, Aloe Vera, Lemongrass, Betel Leaf, Pandanus Leaf, Galangal, Tumeric) are put in the hot water, and you can rub your feet against the smooth pebbles at bottom.

Rainforest Foot Soak

foot SPA at Tabin

So that’s my Tabin trip. You can see that our rainforest is an eco-treasure worths protecting and preserving. The good news is – Sabah government and NGOs are working together to connect all the isolated forest of Sabah, so wildlife can migrate freely among them for food and mates. In future, Tabin forest reserve will be part of the Heart of Borneo.

More Photos

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Photos taken in Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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