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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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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)?


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.

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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