Bilit Rainforest Lodge Kinabatangan River (July 4-7)
We traveled from Danum Valley back to Lahad Datu and met our transfer at at the offices of Tropical Gateway Tours. We met our new guide ” Bennie”. She turned out to be just an amazing guide and was our guide the entire stay at Bilit.
We booked our stay at this lodge through Tropical Gateway Tours and specifically-Jimmy Lucas. Jimmy was VERY responsive and willing to accommodate our changes and requests.
We arrived at Bilit Lodge around 3:30pm. and immediately hit the KinabatanganRiver for our first of many wildlife river cruises. One of the reasons we chose Bilit, is we read that their boats are quieter than other lodges’ boats—and that was absolutely true. The lodge itself is simple as is the food with not a lot of choices. But what the lodge may lack in food choices, the large rooms with great air conditioning more than made up. We also enjoyed the locals that came in and danced after dinner-real fun for our kids who jumped right in. But this stop was all about the River and its wildlife. Our guide Bennie and the boat operator were awesome at spotting wildlife. We had amazing views of the resident large male orangutan that Bennie referred to as “Tanjung”. Just a spectacular animal at close range. We had many highlights along the river, but the Proboscis Monkeys are a sight to behold. Every river cruise was different and the night cruise was amazing. We missed the Pygmy Elephants as they had retreated-we heard them and saw the thick brush moving-but no sightings. The River is a Hornbill heaven-so many everywhere. Some highlights:
- Long Tailed Macaques
- Proboscis Monkeys
- Grey Leaf Monkeys
- Silver Leaf Monkeys
- Morph of Silver Leaf Monkeys
- Small Clawed Otter
- Many large Saltwater Crocs
- Palm Civet
- Reticulated Python
- WaglersViperMangrove snake
Gomantong Caves (July 9)
We left Bilit at 7:30 am and on our way to Tabin Wildlife Resort, we of course made the obligatory stop at Gomantong Caves. While not for everyone, the sights and smells will never be forgotten by our group. This was a highly entertaining stop. We wore ponchos and took a short hike through the cave on very slick (bat poop) wooden platform. Doesn’t that sound like fun!!! The bats, smell and cockroaches made for an incredibly memorable-but relatively short hike in the cave. No need to freak out and our group was glad we made this stop.
Tabin Wildlife Resort ( July 7- 9)
After GomantongCaves, we drove to Lahad Datu and made the office transfer for Tabin Wildlife Resort. We arrived at Tabin around 1:30pm- it is a relatively short drive from Lahad Datu (about one hour). This resort did NOT disappoint. In fact, Tabin offered some of the best wildlife viewing-both in diversity and volume. If we could have stayed longer, we would have. Two nights was not enough. The Main Lodge/Sunbird Cafe are beautifully located. The grounds are gorgeous. We all stayed in the rooms along the river. The lodges are beautiful, large and air conditioned-and at least some hot water (unlike most places). We had heard that the lodges on the hill were better but from what we observed and experienced we preferred the river lodges— as well as their location. The food here is good-but not nearly as good as Borneo Rainforest lodge-and much less selection.
Our guide was Israel and he was an amazingly patient, knowledgeable and kind guide who worked very hard for us. Rain ( as was the case everywhere in Borneo) was a constant challenge here but we found enough breaks. Night dives are an absolute must do at Tabin. On night drives we saw Malay and Common Palm Civets, Pygmy Elephants, Lesser Mouse deer, Samba Deer and many Leopard cats. During the day we saw heard of 11 Pygmy elephants with three young up close and for an extended period of time. We had GREAT viewings of Bornean Gibbons as well Grey Leaf Monkeys. Kudos to our guides for setting us up to watch a Red Giant Flying Squirrel leave its nest at dust and “fly” across the jungle.. We loved the visit to the mud Volcano and enjoyed the afternoon foot soak.
The wildlife that we saw at Tabin included the following:
- Gray Leaf Monkeys
- Long Tailed Macaque
- Pig-Tailed Macaque
- Bornean Gibbon
- Pygmy Elephants
- Giant Squirrel
- Prevost’s Squirrel
- Red Giant Flying Squirrel
- Malay Civet
- Common Palm Civet
- Leopard Cats
- Bearded Pigs
- Lesser Mouse-Deer
- Greater Mouse-Deer
- Samba Deer
- Monitor Lizard
- Filed-Eared Tree Frog
Mataking Dive Resort ( Sipadan)
We concluded a spectacular trip on the tropical paradise —MatakingIsland. Having just completed 8 days in the Rainforest, Mataking Dive Resort was a great way to finish up a fantastic trip.
The logistics and food were all very good. The lodging and staff were excellent. We booked the directly and Dilah and the Mataking staff were great to work with. While considering adding the Celebes Sea to the trip, we were very concerned to secure Sipadan permits for snorkeling. Most resorts could only commit to best effort or required a full week stay to ensure permits. Mataking was very clear on the permit process and they were able to accomodate all 13 of us over 2 days.
The journey to Mataking starts in Semporna where you are brought to theIslandin a very nice high speed boat. The day we traveled was calm and the trip was no more than 40 minutes. One thing to be careful on is the coordination of your boat trip out to the island. We arrived early from Tabin and were going to have wait 3+ hours for another party to arrive before departing. There is very little to do in Semporna. We negotiated with the boat service to take our group out independently. It wasn’t cheap (~$400), but we bought almost a 1/2 a day of daylight for 13 people on a spectacular island. In hindsight, this was a particularly good decision as we later learned the party we were going to have to wait for, was delayed. The arrival in nice weather is breathtaking. The moment you step off the boat you are looking into crystal clear azure water full of underwater wildlife.
Our group was split across 3 standard deluxe rooms and 2 villas. The Standard Deluxe rooms were very roomy and up to date. The villas were extremely luxurious and appeared to have been recently redone. All the rooms were very clean and very well maintained (with AC). We had read mixed reviews on the food at Mataking. Overall, we found the food to be very good. There was good variety and usually a special each day (we really enjoyed the fried Wantans). The restaurant staff made a special effort to remember our names and greet us which was very nice.
The Island itself was great for both walking and for snorkeling. The underwater wildlife a few feet off the beach was excellent and very safe…even with the resident 5 foot Barracuda under the main dock. We saw a wide variety fish, sea turtles and great coral within 100 feet of the beach. The dive shop was excellent to work with. We did take advantage of the local snorkeling trip that takes you out to points close to the island that you would never find or were to far away to safely swim to. The day we went, it was a little choppy and the visibility was actually better close to main island.
The Sipadan excursion was well worth the planning and the effort. The Mataking staff and boats are really well set up for this adventure. We had been concerned with the distance and a couple members of our group that are susceptible to sea sickness. We split our group over two adjacent days and the trip was easy both times. Sipadan lived up to expectations. The island itself is beautiful and we were treated to 3 dives (perfect amount). The sheer quantity of wildlife and variety was incredible (black tipped reef shark, sea turtles, bump head Parrot fish, rays, etc) .
We were all novice snorkelers and loved it. Swimming with enormous schools of big eye jack fish was unlike any land animal experience we have had.
When we were not in the water or eating; Mataking island is peaceful and very enjoyable. There were variety of activities available. We were there for the release of a small army of baby turtles that had hatched that day. We also went on a guided evening walk in search of Sea Turtles laying eggs. We didn’t see any in action, but it was a fun walk nonetheless. The beaches are beautiful and it is fun to walk out to the adjoining island at low tide.
The trip back to the USA from Mataking is a long one. We took the 40 minutes boat ride to Semporna where we were met by a nice coach bus to Tawau. From Tawau it is possible to get direct flights to KK or KL. We were well rested from the visit at Mataking and ready to re-enter the real world.