Tag Archives: wetland

Oxbow Lake and Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp

I bet you love the beautiful seas and rivers of Sabah. The flowing water invites you for a playtime. But when I say “lake”, you would feel different emotions, like calm, laid-back and peaceful. These are exactly how I describe the beauty of Tanjung Bulat, one of the largest oxbow lakes in Sabah. An oxbow lake was used to be part of a big river in U-shaped. As river changes course, a body of water is cut off naturally from the main river and forms a lake.

ready for river cruise on Kinabatangan
Pic: ready to depart

To go to Tanjung Bulat Oxbow Lake (see Location Map), you can take a 25-minute boat ride from Bukit Garam, which is a riverside village 75 Km from Sandakan City and accessible by road. For my tour, I took the boat from Balat Jetty of Deramakot Forest and the ride took about 2 hours.

Bukit Garam Village

visit Bukit Garam
Bukit Garam (literally means Salt Hill) is a small village at upstream of Kinabatangan River. We stopped there shortly to buy some stuffs before going to Tanjung Bulat. I saw power line but electricity wasn’t fully utilized. Almost every house has satellite TV, but every grocery stores have no light on, except refrigerators that keep the soda drink cold.

flood marker in house at Bukit Garam
Pic: the most interesting house in Bukit Garam

Bukit Garam is just next to Kinabatangan River (Sungai Kinabatangan), the longest river of Sabah, and it was flooded occasionally during heavy rain season. I even saw a house with water level markers of all major floods happened between 1963 and 2010.

river cruise on Kinabatangan River
Most of the land around Bukit Garam is clear for plantation, so very little forest cover is left. I noticed some tree replanting going on in a few sections of riparian to restore the forest along the river.

map of Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp
You can see from the diagram above that Tanjung Bulat Oxbow Lake has a small tributary that connects to Kinabatangan River. If the water level is high, our boat can send us straight to the camp. However, it’s dry season so we had to get off our boat, walked 450 Meters to the oxbow lake, then take another boat to the camp.

walking on forest of oxbow lake
The walk takes about 20 minutes on a soil trail. Luckily the staffs of Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp helped us to carry our heavy luggage. The trees near the lake is so dense and tall. It’s part of a forest reserve where logging, hunting and farming are off limit.

Tanjung Bulat Oxbow Lake

muddy river bank of oxbow lake
It’s an easy walk and we came to an open area at the edge of Tanjung Bulat oxbow lake. This is the second Oxbow Lake I visit after Uncle Tan Camp in Danau Girang but the first time I was being so close to the lake. During rainy season, the Kinabatangan River will flood this lake and brings in fresh water.

silungapid tree
Pic: silungapid tree next to the lake

I admire the beautiful tree trunk of silungapid tree, which is abundant around the lake. This tree can survive the flood in wetland and its fruit is an important food source for proboscis monkey, the endemic monkey of Borneo.

little jetty of Tanjung Bulat Oxbow Lake
Pic: transit to another boat to jungle camp

When I was still busy enjoying the scenery, everyone was already waiting for me onboard. You may check out the short video below to know why I like this place so much:

boat ride on oxbow lake
For those of you who spent your childhood in outdoor, you would understand why lake holds such a special place in my memory. Every kids that time had a “secret” corner where they loved to hang around in group, and lake is the coolest place because we could swim and fish in it. Unfortunately, today most of my old-day nature playground has been cleared to make way for estate and agriculture.

going to Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp
That’s why I was so excited to see that Tanjung Bulat Oxbow Lake is kept in near pristine condition. It’s like a hidden lake in a dense jungle and it’s huge. The lake surface is about 95 hectares, with depth up to 30 Meters.

oreintal darter (snake bird)
We saw 4 or 5 Oriental Darters (Anhinga melanogaster) on the way to jungle camp. Also known as Snake Bird, Oriental Darter spears fishes with its long and sharp beak. It’s a threatened bird species, but you can find a good number of them at Tanjung Bulat. Great egret is also common here.

Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp

Here is a brief but inspiring story about the camp. Tanjung Bulat Oxbow Lake is well-preserved as a marvelous destination because of one fisherman, Mr. Malik, who started the jungle camp in year 2010. Malik is born 40 years ago in a fisherman family of Orang Sungai community. He was used to swim (that time had no crocodile) and fish in this lake since he was six. During that time, fishes were plentiful and wild elephants were everywhere.

oxbow lake
Pic: Tanjung Bulat Oxbox Lake

However, over the three decades, the well-being of the lake was gradually compromised when people used destructive fishing methods such as poisoning, and the forest was encroached for plantation. The situation became so severe that the lake got no fish for a year, so Malik decided to protect his beloved lake from further deterioration. We both share the similar childhood so I fully understand his sentiment.

photo with Malik
Pic: photo of me and Mr. Malik (right). He looks serious but he is a friendly guy who is passionate about his work.

The lake and its adjacent land is a 450-hectare area under multi-layer land title of State Government, oil palm company and villagers, so Malik had to work with the authorities and different parties to conserve the oxbow lake. Some villagers were so unhappy initially.

stand of tall trees at Tanjung Bulat Oxbow Lake
With the support of native chief, Tanjung Bulat was included as part of the 1 Village 1 Product Rural Campaign and helped the village won the national and international championship in Gerakan Desa Wawasan (Rural Vision Movement). And villagers saw the fishes coming back, so they turn from against to acceptance. Now the fish stock gets a 60% recovery.

Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp
Back to our tour. Within 10 minutes, Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp was in sight. The wooden building with stilts in the photo above is the dining and activity hall. The camp is built on high ground so it is safe from flood even during wettest season.

settle down in Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp

lake view at Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp
Located in high point, the camp overlooks Tanjung Bulat oxbow lake. Every visitor is automatically drawn to this hall for this panoramic killer view. I would say Tanjung Bulat has one of the most spectacular lake view in Sabah. Without other man-made structure at the lake, it’s a 100% wilderness.

oxbow lake of Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp
You can see half of the lake from the camp. At the left of photo above is an isolated (almost) forest surrounded by the lake. It’s mainly marshland with dense wetland trees, which is a little paradise for birds, reptiles and arboreal animals.

fish farm and oxbow lake
Pic: fish farm with black and red Tilapia (freshwater cichlid fish). Two Little Herons were fighting there for this prime fishing spot. The highly sought after seafood such as udang galah (giant river prawn) and Freshwater Gobi also found in this lake.

cloud reflection on Tanjung Bulat Oxbow Lake
The weather was so good and we could see the reflection of cloud on the lake surface. I was completely immersed myself in this tranquil environment as if the clock had stopped ticking.

monitor lizard
Pic: a 2-Meter monitor lizard that wanders near the camp. Monitor lizard always avoids human contact so it isn’t a threat (except infant).

crocodile in oxbow lake
There is also a 3-Meter crocodile living in the lake. It is wary of the human presence and keep a distance from our camp. It always patrols in the water, and its movement is so slow that it looks more like a floating log. We like this croc so much that we name it “Dicky”.

meal time
After we checked in, a tasty lunch buffet was already waiting for us, and it’s really nice to enjoy our meals next to a lake.

panjaram a.k.a. UFO cake
Pic: Panjaram Pancake, a famous local snack of Bajau people

We had fried noodle, chicken wings, tomato fish, local vegetables (fern) and a deep-fried pancake called panjaram (a.k.a. UFO Pancake).

chilling out at Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp
We were supposed to have a river cruise in late afternoon to check out the crocodiles, proboscis monkey and other wildlife around the lake, but it was raining dog and cat. So I just grabbed a coffee, enjoyed the nice breeze and view. It was so relaxing that I fell asleep. During dusk, I saw Rhinocerous and Oriental Pied Hornbills, Brahminy Kites and Blue-eared Kingfisher. I also heard screeching of proboscis monkey in the forest across the lake. Tip: bring a binocular for more excitement.

Accommodation and Amenities

Though the accommodation of Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp is basic, it is clean and comfortable. We got mobile phone network coverage. The signal is weak but we can call and text the outside world.

accommodation of Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp
The camp can fit about 15 people at a time. Electricity by generator is available from 7am to 9pm. You can even ask them to on it until 11pm. But noisy generator is too near the camp so it’ll be off during bedtime.

beds with mosquito net
Pic: our bed with mosquito net. It was warm during daytime but cooling at night. We all had a good night sleep.

toilet and bathroom
Toilet and bathroom are only 15 Meters away. The water from the lake is crystal clear. Malik told us that he used stones, sand and cotton to filter the water, a simple but effective technique he learnt from a Japanese engineer. The water of the lake looks murky, but it is almost as clean as the tap water, because it’s from the upstream of Kinabatangan River.

toilet and bathroom of Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp
The toilet and bathroom are clean and basic too (no funny smell). Hot shower is not available but you will love the freshness of having a cold shower in hot day. As there is no lighting, you better bring a flashlight so you can find your way to toilet in the dark.

Tree Planting

Since the camp started 5 years ago, over 500 trees were planted to contribute to the Corridor of Life project. Basically it’s a long term conservation effort to restore the forest along the riparian of Kinabatangan River, to connect the fragmented forests, so the wildlife can use the forested river bank to move freely to other forest for food and mates.

tree replanting area
The next morning we were brought to the tree re-planting area just behind the camp, to plant some trees before we left. Many trees have grown tall over years and some have bear fruits. This dense wood also becomes home for some birds such as Hooded Pitta. During fruiting season (especially in August), orangutan would be sighted here.

planting trees for Corridor of Life
Actually the staffs had done the hard work for us. They cleared an area for the tree planting. All we needed to do is to dig two holes and planted two seedling. The common trees chosen for replanting are Pokok Bayur and Asam-Asam (wild mango), which provide nesting place and food for orangutan respectively.

planting a tree
As a city folk who seldom uses hoe, it’s no easier than I think. The soil is held firm by many tree roots. Just digging two small holes already made me sweated in the morning. Anyway, I’m glad that I’ve left some green footprints, a perfect way to end my journey here.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

To visit Oxbow Lake Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp (or Danau Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp), you can book the tour with Aseh Travel & Tours, a licensed travel agent which practices Responsible Tourism.

Below is the contact of Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp:
E-mail: tgbulat_junglecamp@yahoo.com
Hotline: +60 12-8656773
Website: kinabatangantbjc.blogspot.com

more photos on Flickr
For more photos of Tanjung Bulat Oxbow Lake, you may check out my photo album.

Photos taken in Kinabatangan, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

Firefly Eco Camp – Good Morning to Borneo monkey

Firefly Eco Camp in Klias

Proboscis Monkey is the superstar of Klias Wetland. Every evening Klias River is like a busy canal, when hundreds of tourists come to visit this peculiar monkey. One guest even said, “there were more tourists than monkey.”

Therefore, the Best Time to see Proboscis Monkey is in the morning, when there are very few tourists around. The monkey is less stressful and you can get really close to them. That’s why I spent a night Firefly Eco Camp.

Firefly Eco Camp
Pic: Firefly Eco Camp

Firefly Eco Camp is located next to Klias River. Staying there will allow you to see what other ordinary tourists miss – the starry night and misty morning over Klias River.

night safari in Klias

I checked in to the camp around 6pm. After the dinner, we started our night river cruise at 8pm to look for firefly Xmas trees and crocodile, when other tourists had left. Though we didn’t find any crocodile, we saw many “summer Xmas trees”, where hundreds of fireflies congregated and flashing in synchronized manner like heart-beating.

dining hall of Firefly Eco Camp
Hour later we returned to the activity hall next to the jetty, to enjoy a serene evening next to Klias River.

Night Fishing in Klias

Klias River is inside Peat Swamp Forest with brackish water, which looks murky all the time. The river seems lifeless, but you will know that you are wrong when you fish.

night fishing
Klias River is connected to the sea. During high tide, fishes will follow the current entering the river for feeding. If you fish during that time, you will catch something in minutes.

fishing bait
Pic: our fishing bait is hot dog LOL. But it works well!

fishing in Klias
Most of us are first-time anglers. We were so excited when it was almost effortless to catch big fish in a few minutes.

fun of fishing
Pic: one caught to make one family happy

May be you want to watch our fishing video below:

All the fishes we caught that evening was catfish (暗钉 in Chinese, means “Hidden Nail”). It is a very common fish, though edible, locals consider it a lower-grade (dirty) fish, due to the impression that it eats human dung fallen from riverside toilet. It has venomous thorns on its pelvic and dorsal fins, which can cause severe pain when poke into your skin. Be careful when you remove the fishing hook.

giant freshwater prawn (udang galah)
Actually we targeted for Giant Freshwater Prawn (Udang Galah) that night, so we released all the catfishes. It was fun anyway.

riverside camp of Firefly Eco Camp
Pic: the hut where I slept

We had a couple of beer while fishing at river side. We talked until late night. I couldn’t wait to enter my small hut as it was so cool.

room of Firefly Eco Camp
The hut may look small from outside, but it can fit two people comfortably. Though there are only bed, light and fan inside, to me it’s a “luxurious camp”. I slept really well throughout the night.

Morning River Cruise in Klias

The next day I waked up early, sat at the small balcony to enjoy the nice river view. It was quiet in the morning and I saw some movement in the canopy. The monkey had waked up earlier than I did.

balcony of Firefly Eco Camp

river cruise in the morning
After having some light breakfast, we were ready for a morning river cruise on Klias River.

misty morning of Klias River
Pic: the misty swamp forest in the morning

Klias River of Sabah
Pic: the calm river of Klias with beautiful reflection on water

female proboscis monkey
Very soon we spotted the first proboscis monkey. It’s a female with pointy nose.

Borneo proboscis monkey
Then we saw the male proboscis monkey with big nose. From their eyes, we could see that they were not quite concern about our presence, a big contrast to evening time when there were too many tourists and boats around. We were the only tourist boat on the river that morning.

yawning proboscis monkey
So we could get really close to them for a good look. One of them was so relax and even yawned. This one was just on top of our heads. I was so worry that it would poo. Our boat found about 5 to 6 herds of proboscis monkey.

silver leaf monkey
Pic: silver-leaf monkey. There were some macaques too.

mangrove of Klias River
Pic: the mangrove trees of Klias River.

river cruise in Klias River
Pic: Peat Swamp Forest is an important habitat for rare Borneo wildlife

Nibung palm in Klias
Pic: Nibung Palm, a tree that grows between swamp and dryland. Its straight and strong trunk can be used for building houses and bridges.

mangrove fruits
Pic: fruits are abundant in the swamp but no monkey eating them, probably they are poisonous.

mangrove trees in river
Pic: mangrove trees that can survive in the water during high tide.

birds in Klias
I saw some birds such as Brahminy Kite, Oriental Darter (Snake Bird), Stork-Billed Kingfisher, Hill Myna and Greater Coucal. Sometimes you can see hornbill and woodpecker around this area too.

Below is a short video of our Morning River Cruise:

How to get there

Firefly Eco Camp is about 80 Kilometers away from Kota Kinabalu (capital city). It is very accessible, just next to the road (left side) to Kuala Penyu (see location map).

entrance of Firefly Eco Camp
Pic: the signage and entrance of the camp at roadside. You won’t miss it.

activity hall of Firefly Eco Camp

riverside lodge
Pic: the dining and activity hall of Firefly Eco Camp

Below is a short video of the camp and its dining hall:

view of Firefly Eco Camp from the river
Pic: view of Firefly Eco Camp from the river

long house of Firefly Eco Camp
If you have a big group such as 20 students, you can book the long house dormitory.

long house dormitory
The room rate starts from RM68 (≈USD20, as of Aug 2013) per head per night. You also can consider a 2-day-1-night full-board tour package for RM298 (≈USD90, as of Aug 2013) per head, which includes transportation, meals, accommodation, 3 river cruises, etc. They also offer optional tour to Sands Spit Island and other places.

For booking or latest info about Firefly Eco Camp, you may contact Borneo Starcruise (星程生态旅游公司) at:
E-mail: info@borneostarcruise.com / borneostarcruise@gmail.com
Website: www.borneostarcruise.com
Facebook: Click Here
Address: Ground Floor, Lot 7, Jalan Pasar Baru, Kampung Air, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.
Tel: +60 88-212009 / +60 17-8137911 (hotline)

Photos taken in Beaufort, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo