15 Best Things to Do in Danum Valley (Malaysia)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Danum Valley is among the planet’s most biodiverse and ecologically important regions.

The protected rainforest sprawls 438 square kilometers in eastern Sabah. Danum Valley Field Center sits in the heart of this jungle with a world-class research facility.

Picture waking to the buzz of activity in the thick jungle air. Or imagine watching the orange equatorial sunrise over the ancient valley.

Danum Valley remains free of human interference.

Apart from a handful of pagan tribesmen roaming the forests centuries ago, the jungle is like it was millions of years ago.

Crazy Tourist uncovers the top 15 things to do in Danum Valley including where to go hiking, see wildlife and making the most of its research facilities.

1. Jungle trekking in an ancient rainforest

Danum ValleySource: Nokuro / shutterstock
Danum Valley

Danum Valley lies inside a 130-million-year-old rainforest. Today’s jungle habitats look the same as they did when dinosaurs roamed.

Hiking is the best way to see and experience this mysterious and primeval rainforest.

Follow the Orchid and Nature Trail around the Field Center. Travelers can hike through these short and easy routes without a guide.

Keep your eyes open for gibbons and red leaf monkeys swinging in the tree branches.

2. Explore the jungle with an expert

Danum Valley TrekSource: Craig Ansibin / shutterstock
Danum Valley Trek

Danum Valley’s rangers have decades of experience and can take visitors on longer hikes through the jungle.

Some trails pass through the dense primary forest to waterfalls. Others lead to vantage points and canopy walks.

Guided tours usually last between two and seven hours depending on the trail.

Arrange your trek with the ranger the day before.

Embrace their wisdom and knowledge to gain a deeper insight into the rainforest, ecology and conservation.

Bring leech socks to defend against the ever-present blood-sucking menaces.

3. Test your nerves in the treetop canopy walks

Danum ValleySource: Jeremy Red / shutterstock
Danum Valley Ladder

Canopy Walks are rope bridges suspended high in the treetops with observation platforms.

The vantage points give views of the surrounding forest and are ideal for spying on the wildlife, in particular, birds.

Danum Valley has a handful of canopy walks located near the Field Center.

Guides take visitors along jungle trails to the giant dipterocarp trees where the ropeway hangs above.

But they’re not for the faint-hearted or those with a fear of heights.

The only way is by climbing 30 meters (98 feet) up a ladder attached to a tree.

Keep your eyes open for monkeys and colorful tropical birds. Rangers will show you where to look.

Canopy Walks are among the best places to see wildlife at Danum Valley.

4. Spy on rare and endangered birds

Danum Valley BirdsSource: feathercollector / shutterstock
Danum Valley Birds

Danum Valley’s protected rainforest houses hundreds of types of birds. Scientists regularly discover new species.

Aspiring or experienced twitters embrace the chance to identify these tropical birds.

Look up and watch the occasional hornbill soar overhead. Or inspect the tree branches searching for the rare blue-headed pitta.

Grab a book from the Field Center’s library. Rangers can take you to the regions where the birds nest.

Otherwise, sit in the canteen’s terrace overlooking the rainforest and watch dozens of birds flutter by.

5. Relish one of Earth’s most biodiverse areas

Danum Valley Sun BearSource: Yusnizam Yusof / shutterstock
Danum Valley Sun Bear

The jungle houses more than 100 species of mammals, 300 types of known birds and thousands of insects.

Primates howl as families of orangutans swing between the branches. Sambar deer poke their head through the foliage while small sun bears hang lazily in the treetops.

Luckier visitors might see a herd of pygmy elephants (the world’s smallest elephants) roaming near the river.

Look on the ground and see supersized insects patrolling like an army of disciplined soldiers.

Few places on the planet offer such biodiversity. Make the most of it at Danum Valley.

6. Search for wildlife in the dark

Danum Valley NightSource: feathercollector / shutterstock
Danum Valley Night

When the sun sets, the jungle burst with life and buzzes in a cacophony of noise.

Most of the millions of inhabitants come out to play when it’s dark. Night safaris provide a chance to see some of this nocturnal wildlife.

Rangers take tourists out in a 4×4 jeep to cruise along the logging roads near Danum Valley Field Center.

On a good night, you’ll see civets, sambar deer and the occasional flying fox. Otherwise, you might only see an owl and thousands of insects (including tarantulas).

It’s not a zoo. Not everyone sees animals.

Instead, focus on savoring the experience of being in the heart of the jungle at night.

7. Feel mesmerized by the sunrise over a prehistoric jungle

Danum Valley SunriseSource: Nokuro / shutterstock
Danum Valley Sunrise

Few activities compare to watching the sunrise in a mystical environment.

At Danum Valley, tourists can watch a spectacular and vibrant sunrise over the equatorial jungle.

Rangers make the short drive to a vantage point near the Field Center in the fresh morning air.

The real magic starts during the transition from darkness to dawn as the jungle springs to life.

Insects buzz with increasing intensity. Birds open their eyes and sing their morning songs.

The occasional orangutan sits in the nearby trees too.

8. Soak and revitalize in natural pools

Danum Valley WaterfallSource: Patricia Dulasi / shutterstock
Danum Valley Waterfall

Waterfalls cascading into natural rock pools are along some jungle trails.

Taking a dip in these pools is about as refreshing as it gets after a few hours in the hot, sticky jungle.

Either sit on the rocks and dip your feet into the water as tiny fish swarm around them. Or dive in and cool down under the falling water.

Rangers will take you to either Serpent Waterfall or Jacuzzi Pools.

Be aware of leeches when you’re in and around the water.

9. A refreshing swim in the river

Danum RiverSource: BorneoRimbawan / shutterstock
Danum River

The Danum River splits the jungle into two.

On dry days, visitors can go for a dip in the slow-moving river near the Field Center.

Swim out to the shallow middle and cool down after a sweaty few hours of hiking. Or capture photos of the meandering body through the bordering verdant landscapes.

You can only go swimming with a guide. Never underestimate the slow current. It can easily carry you into deeper waters.

10. Understand Borneo’s ecology and conservation

Danum Valley Field CenterSource: Vasas Andras / shutterstock
Danum Valley Field Center

Danum Valley Field Center is primarily a conservation research facility.

International scientists come to research conversation, ecology and endangered wildlife. Travelers have access to this wealth of knowledge in their library.

Pick up a book and discover the full extent of the rainforest’s biodiversity. Or learn the cutting-edge techniques used to protect Danum Valley’s flora and fauna.

Take the chance to enrich yourself with all the knowledge and expertise at your disposal.

11. Rub shoulders with leading experts in global conservation

Danum Valley Research CentreSource: BorneoRimbawan / shutterstock
Danum Valley Research Centre

World-renowned scientists, post-graduate students and experienced rangers stay at Danum Valley.

Travelers who sign up to their meal plan will eat with researchers in the canteen. This gives a perfect opportunity to strike a conversation over breakfast.

Those looking to gain a deeper appreciation of rainforest ecology and habitats will jump at the chance to interact with leading experts.

Take the chance to get first-hand accounts and explanations from those at the pinnacle of the Borneo’s research.

12. Hike to mystical pagan graveyards

Danum Valley GraveyardsSource: Craig Ansibin / shutterstock
Danum Valley Graveyards

Before mainstream religion, many of Borneo’s indigenous were pagans.

The Orang Sungai (translating to ‘People of the River’ in English) once lived inside today’s protected zone.

A handful of their burial sites remain.

The pagan graveyard is about 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) along a light trail from Danum Valley Field Centre.

The deceased were buried in decorated wooden coffins and placed on natural shelves along the rock face. Mysterious ceramic burial jars lie nearby.

Rangers will explain more about the ancient people who roamed the forests centuries ago.

13. Look for the alien-like carnivorous pitcher plants

Pitcher PlantSource: Elena Odareeva / shutterstock
Pitcher Plant

Pitcher plants are both elegant and deadly.

The inverted bell-shaped green plants live in certain parts of Danum Valley’s rainforest. But unlike other flowers who use insects for reproduction, these eat them.

Pitcher plants release a sticky substance enticing armies of bugs from the forest floor.

They become trapped after marching inside the sweet smelling interior. Pitcher plants slowly digest its victims in the same way as a venus flytrap.

The bigger ones have been known to consume tarantulas and even mice.

Carnivorous plants are rare. See them in their natural habitat at Danum Valley.

14. Stay at a jungle lodge fit for a king

Rainforest Lodge Danum ValleySource: Craig Ansibin / shutterstock
Rainforest Lodge Danum Valley

In 1996, Sweden’s King Gustav and Queen Silvia visited Danum Valley.

Prince William and Kate Middleton followed in their footsteps in 2012.

On both occasions, the European royalty stayed at the ultra-luxurious rainforest lodge.

And you can too.

The spacious bungalows have all the home comforts of a five-star resort, but in the middle of the rainforest.

Guests fall asleep to the constant background hum of the jungle. And then watch it burst into life again from their bedroom at dawn.

15. Hike where few have hiked before in Maliau Basin

Maliau BasinSource: Esther Kolis / shutterstock
Maliau Basin

First-time visitors to Danum Valley instantly recognize how wild and remote it feels.

Maliau Basin takes this isolation to the next level.

Covering an area similar in size to Singapore, the UNESCO-listed forest to this day remains mostly unmapped.

Few people have hiked to the summit of the basin. Even fewer have walked through the dense foliage.

Privileged travelers can arrange a trip to this lost world from Danum Valley.

15 Best Things to Do in Danum Valley (Malaysia):

  • Jungle trekking in an ancient rainforest
  • Explore the jungle with an expert
  • Test your nerves in the treetop canopy walks
  • Spy on rare and endangered birds
  • Relish one of Earth’s most biodiverse areas
  • Search for wildlife in the dark
  • Feel mesmerized by the sunrise over a prehistoric jungle
  • Soak and revitalize in natural pools
  • A refreshing swim in the river
  • Understand Borneo’s ecology and conservation
  • Rub shoulders with leading experts in global conservation
  • Hike to mystical pagan graveyards
  • Look for the alien-like carnivorous pitcher plants
  • Stay at a jungle lodge fit for a king
  • Hike where few have hiked before in Maliau Basin