The state of Sabah in the Malaysian part of Borneo has long been on my 'bucket list'. With the added lure of plenty of good mammals as well as birds Belinda and I booked flights to Kota Kinabalu last June and planned our trip over the following months.
We flew with Royal Brunei Airlines from Heathrow via Dubai and Brunei on 24/25 March and returned on 18/19 April at the cost of £585 per person.
Our final itinerary of birding sites looked like this:
26 March - Tanjung Aru Beach, Kota Kinabalu and Klias Wetlands
27 - 30 March - Mount Kinabalu National Park
30 March - 1 April - Poring Hot Springs
2 April - Crocker Range
3 - 4 April - Sepilok
5 - 8 April - Kinabatagnan River/Gomantong Cave
9 - 10 April - Sepilok
11 - 15 April - Danum Valley
16 - 17 April - Mantanani Besar Island
18 April - Kota Kinabalu
Our accommodation and main movements were:
25 & 26 March - Hin Loi Guesthouse, Tanjung Aru
27, 28 & 29 March - Nabalu Kundasang, Kundasang
30 & 31 March - Sutera Resort, Poring Hot Springs
1 April - Tambunan Inn, Tambunan
INTERNAL FLIGHT, KOTA KINABALU - SANDAKAN
2, 3 & 4 April - Sepilok Forest Edge Resort
5, 6 & 7 April - Kinabatagnan Jungle Camp
8 & 9 April - Sepilok Forest Edge Resort
TAXI, SEPILOK - LAHAD DATU
10 April - Bike and Tours Bed & Breakfast, Lahad Datu
TRANSFER BY SCHEDULED MINIBUS TO DANUM VALLEY FIELD CENTRE
11, 12, 13 & 14 April - Danum Valley Field Centre
TRANSFER BACK TO LAHAD DATU
INTERNAL FLIGHT, LAHAD DATU - KOTA KINABALU
15 April - Jessleton Hotel, Kota Kinabalu
PICK UP AND TRANSFER BY MINIBUS AND BOAT TO MANTANANI BESAR ISLAND
16 April - Mari Mari Backpackers, Mantanani Besar
TRANSFER BACK TO KOTA KINABALU BY BOAT AND MINIBUS
17 April - Jessleton Hotel, Kota Kinabalu
We booked a hire car from 26 March to 1 April to drive the Kota Kinabalu, Mount Kinabalu NP, Poring Hot Springs, Crocker Range loop. The cost was only c£140 and petrol is really dirt cheap being a quarter of the price it is at home. Driving was easy as Malaysians drive on the left although some of roads are bumpy and have patches of half-finished gravel road works.
Most of our hotel bookings were made on Booking.com or Agoda except Kinabatagnan Jungle Camp and Danum Valley Field Centre which were booked direct by email and the Mantanani Island package which was booked through Amazing Borneo
To contact Robert Chong who runs Kinabatagnan Jungle Camp use firstname.lastname@example.org or look at their Facebook page
To contact Danum Valley Field Centre is a right pain in the arse because they are notorious for not replying to emails. After at least 10 emails I eventually got a reply from email@example.com but if you have real problems Sticky Rice Travel can arrange things with them (but the cost doubles as they insist on providing a guide). Also, the wonderfully friendly owners of Bike and Tours B&B in Lahad Datu (Simon & Tisha) offered to contact DVFC for us for a small admin fee if we continued to have problems.
All of our birding was done without a guide except at Kinabatagnan Jungle Camp where the birding consists of boat trips on the river with an excellent guide called Romzi.
At this point it is probably worth pointing out that the forest birding in Sabah is tough. Sometimes you can walk for an hour or two without seeing a single bird but perseverance is the key. You'll always find something even if it's often not what you're looking for! This year has been very dry in Sabah and most birds are well into breeding meaning there was little response to playback. The good news with that is there are few leeches about although I got one on my leg at Poring Hot Springs and a couple at Danum Valley after rain.
Here is a clickable interactive map showing birding locations and accommodations which may also help. Birding sites are in red and accommodations in orange