Swimming in the waterfall pond

Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge in Borneo Jungle

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Do you fancy a holiday in Borneo rainforest? The top choice is to stay in Danum Valley of Sabah, which is located inside a 130-million-year-old virgin rainforest. The world famous Borneo Rainforest Lodge is a high-end resort in Danum Valley, luxurious accommodation but comes with 5-star price. Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge nearby offers the similar nature experience at a budget price and is considered as the second best choice.

About Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge (KDRL)

Built in 2014, Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge is a jungle lodge located in the buffer zone (edge) of the Danum Valley Conservation Area and part of 242,000-ha Ulu Segama Malua Forest Reserve (classified as Fully Protected Forest).

The accommodation of Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge
The accommodation of Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge

KDRL offers basic but comfortable chalet style accommodation and has 10 standard rooms (fan) and 10 deluxe rooms (air-conditioning) for tourists. 24-hour electricity is available in the lodge.

Dining hall of Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge
Dining hall of Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge

Kawag means cursed place. Locals believe that the forest there is resided by Bunian people, the elf-like supernatural beings usually live in remote forest or mountain. People who went there would have weird dream or gone missing. Don’t worry. Nowadays Kawag is a tourist-friendly destination.

Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge is located in the buffer zone of the Danum Valley
Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge is located in the buffer zone of the Danum Valley
The rooms of Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge
The rooms of Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge

One of Kawag’s highlight is good chance of seeing the highly endangered Bornean pygmy elephants. I saw a herd of them at the roadside while I was on the way to KDRL. When our van approached, the adult elephants formed a defensive circle with the calf in centre. Too bad I didn’t see any orangutan, which said to be abundant in Malua forest.

A group of elephants near Kawag
A group of elephants near Kawag. Note there is one with satellite collar for tracking of migration

During my stay I saw a wild bearded boar named Rudy foraged around the lodge, and a Malay civet hunted insects attracted by the light. Everything there reminds visitors that they are in the wild.

Meal served at restaurant of Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge
Meal served at restaurant of Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge

Nature-Based Activities

Though this lodge is surrounded by secondary forest, the forest is regenerated well and thick enough to house rich variety of flora and fauna. Kawag rainforest is characterised by younger trees and denser undergrowth but have almost everything a typical primary rainforest offers.

Fun at Ali Baba waterfall
Crazy people lol. Photo says it all.

Therefore, you can have fun with many nature adventures such as jungle trekking, night safari, bird watching and river tubing, to fully experience the jungle. I really enjoyed my 3 days 2 night stay with KDRL. Thanks to their in-house guides, Mr. Donny and Ms Hana, for sharing the interesting stories of every animal and plant in Kawag.

1. Exploring Jungle

Birds and wildlife are thriving in Kawag. In day one, after lunch at the lodge, we went for a short guided walk at 3pm on the Kawag trail. We looked at the biggest tree in Kawag, which is a 80 to 100 years old Seraya tree (species: Shorea johorensis), a popular timber.

Lantern bug, pygmy squirrel, Serpent Eagle and 3-color tree
What we saw in hiking: Lantern bug, pygmy squirrel, Serpent Eagle and 3-color tree

Then we found a 3-in-1 trees, i.e. Kayu Malam, Seraya and Jati trees grow like they are hugging one another. The guide showed us a Bayur tree that produces salty sap, which was once used by villagers for cooking during the World War II, salt was scarce that period because Japanese seized from them. Sometimes deer chews the bark for salt supplement (a behavior called Salt Lick).

Locally known as Belian (means Diamond in local language), Borneo ironwood is one of the hardest and most valuable timbers. There is one that stands over 120 years in Kawag.

lizard and snake
Some would be excited to see these, while other probably don’t.

Iconic Borneo wildlife such as gibbon, elephants, banteng (wild cattle), orangutan, deer and leopard cat have been sighted on the Kawag trail.

Herd of elephants in Danum Valley
Herd of elephants in Danum Valley

During my two hiking, I spotted Trogon bird, Black & Yellow Broadbill, pygmy squirrel, giant orchid, Goshen Hawk, Barbler, and long tailed macaques. We also heard Great Argus not far away.

My friend in front bumped into an albino mouse deer (Kancil) before it ran away. Too bad I missed it. I was told that a limestone cave next to the trail has white bat. I didn’t see it but found some white tractor millipedes. This added more sense of mystery to this forest.

After dinner, we climbed up to the back of a pick-up truck for a night safari tour. The car drove slowly along the road. The guide used spotlight to scan the forest and bushes at roadside for nocturnal animals. It’s a very relaxing activity, we enjoyed the breeze and amazed by blue and green light fireflies pass-by occasionally.

Malay Civet spotted in night safari
Malay Civet spotted in night safari

Our guide did the hardwork of searching and found us sleeping Prinia, Ashy Tailor bird, flying Colugo, slow loris, etc. The jackpot is western tarsier, an odd looking small primate which has eyes bigger than its brain, and can turn its head almost 360 degrees. No wonder locals call it Ghost Monkey.

Western Tarsier
I saw Western Tarsier in my second visit to Kawag

The next morning, we walked to the higher ground to see sunrise shined over the misty forest. The trail condition of Kawag is ok overall, but a bit slippery after rain. And always watch out for leeches and fire ants.

group photo with misty forest as background
Climb up to a hill to see the misty forest during sunrise

2. Bird Watching

In the morning you can walk to a 15-Meter-high observatory tower near the lodge. From the top, I saw Bornean Forktail, Serpeant Eagle and leaf bird, and heard loud morning call of Gibbon.

The 50-feet observatory tower in Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge
The 50-feet observatory tower in Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge

Based on a Bird Survey 2015 in Kawag Forest Scientific Expedition, over 100 species of birds can be found here. Just to list some cool ones, Great Argus, Scarlet-rumped trogon, fish owl, babbler, White-Crowned Shama, green leaf bird, black and red broadbill, sunbird, bulbul, crested hawk, oriental darter, oriole, and hornbill. 5 species of Pitta, the most colorful birds of Borneo, can be spotted in Kawag.

observatory tower for bird watching
This observatory tower is a good spot for bird watching

Jason, my professional bird guide friend found Raptors, Hornbills, migratory Dark-sided Flycatcher, and Large Frogmouth in Kawag. You may check out his birdwatching blog.

Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge in the morning
Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge in the morning

If you are interested in bugs too, you would be happy to see Mantidfly, Hornet / wasp like praying mantis, strange looking goat moth, Rajah Brooke’s birdwing butterfly, endemic Borneo damselfly, and lantern bug. (Thanks Dr Arthur for the info)

3. Ali Baba Waterfall

Borneo forest is a warm and humid place, so a bath at their Ali Baba Waterfall is very welcomed. The 2.4-Kilometre walk to this waterfall takes about 1.5 hours.

Jungle trekking to the Ali Baba Waterfall
Jungle trekking to the Ali Baba Waterfall
Fresh elephant dungs in the forest
Fresh elephant dungs in the forest

We saw some fresh elephant dung along the trail. The trail was quite flat so it didn’t take much effort to reach Ali Baba Waterfall.

The gazebo next to Ali Baba Waterfall
The gazebo next to Ali Baba Waterfall
water of Ali Baba Waterfall from the unpolluted rainforest
The water of Ali Baba Waterfall is from the unpolluted rainforest
tea color of Ali Baba Waterfall caused by the tannin of rainforest plant
The tea color of Ali Baba Waterfall is from the tannin of rainforest plant

It’s dry season so this waterfall pond wasn’t deep for a swim but good enough for a dip. Do you know gold can be found in river of Danum Valley? I tried to see through the clear water hoping to find a gold nugget or two. The water appears golden color because of natural tannin from the plant rot in water.

tourist playing Tarzan
Playing Tarzan lol

With me was a friendly European couple. The guy stood in the water and started giggling hysterically. Thinking that he found gold, I walked closer and found that he was actually excited with the small fishes nibbling his feet like giving a fish massage.

Something cute nibbling the feet of tourist
Something cute nibbling the feet of tourist
Fish massage in the pond of Ali Baba Waterfall
Fish massage in the pond of Ali Baba Waterfall
Different fish species in the water of Ali Baba Waterfall
Different fish species in the water of Ali Baba Waterfall

We climbed up the cascading waterfall and saw two more waterfall ponds. One of them is 4 Meters deep. The handsome man is keen to be my model to play Tarzan in my photos. Thank you friend.

The waterfall pond of Ali Baba Waterfall
The waterfall pond of Ali Baba Waterfall
Safety rope in the pond of Ali Baba Waterfall
The waterfall pond of Ali Baba Waterfall is a bit deep. Note the safety rope in the water.
Tourist enjoys running stream of Ali Baba Waterfall
Tourist enjoys running stream of Ali Baba Waterfall
Swimming in the waterfall pond
You can swim in the waterfall pond

How to get there

KDRL is located in Lahad Datu district, east coast of Sabah, Malaysia. No walk-in tourist to the lodge allowed. Without a permit for you and your vehicle, you will be blocked from entering this protected forest. You must book the accommodation with the operator Borneo Refugia in advance. Below is contact information and more details for you to find out more:

Tel: +60 88-267637 (Kota Kinabalu office), +60 89-862451 (Lahad Datu)
E-mail: info@borneorefugia.com, ann.neogia@gmail.com
Facebook: Kawagdanumrainforest
Website: borneorefugia.com
GPS Coordinates: 5.049416, 117.972651 (see Location Map)

Entrance to Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge (KDRL)
Entrance to Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge (KDRL)

A 3-day-2-night full board tour package costs around MYR2,000 per person (about USD480), which includes accommodation, return transfer (between Lahad Datu Airport and KDRL), meals, guiding service, and permit. Check their Facebook before booking, sometimes they have deep discount promotion.

Long boardwalk to Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge (KDRL)
Long boardwalk to Kawag Danum Rainforest Lodge (KDRL). Sometimes elephants walk under it.

They will pick you up at Lahad Datu airport, and drive 1 hour 45 minutes on 52-Kilometre gravel road to the lodge. You need to get your own flight ticket (from Kota Kinabalu to Lahad Datu) via MASwings airlines, which is available every day.

Things to Bring

Clothing, towel, toiletries, swimwear, anti-leech socks, raincoat / poncho, insect repellent, hiking shoes, flashlight, sandal / slipper, backpack, camera, phone and power bank.

Photos taken in Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

Leave a Reply