Blog Archives: Malaysia


In search of Malaysia’s wildlife

Orangutan on platform in the forest

“Hope to see everything and expect to see nothing.”

Our guide at Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Ned, spoke these few words to us when we first arrived and this phrase stuck with me throughout my stay. I kept replaying it in my mind, over and over again. Some people travel with a checklist of what they want to see and then get disappointed when they don’t get to see it. I try to travel with an open mind and take in everything I see as a gift, a blessing, a wonder. It is wildlife after all, it’s always in the small print… there are no guarantees!

Driving down the bumpy unsealed gravel path, I struggle to keep my eyes open after the 04:00am start that morning. “Look, look” the driver yelled. Suddenly wide awake and alert I spot the elephant right in front of the vehicle. “Wow,” I remark out loud, my eyes transfixed on this beautiful creature. It looks so healthy and happy, chomping away at the shrubs at the side of the road. We sit waiting patiently just watching, excited to see its next movements. “Look, look” Again? What now? Behind the car this time, a mother and her baby. We clarify with the driver. These are pygmy elephants however, there is nothing pygmy about them, they are huge! I must admit of all the animals I expected to encounter on venturing into Danum Valley, an elephant was not one I had in mind. Luck perhaps, or just a wonderful case of being in the right place at the right time.

Throughout my time in the Danum Valley, we trek through the untouched primary rainforest. I feel like a child with eyes wide open on the lookout for new, fascinating sights. When I first ventured out with the guide, he pointed out all the wildlife. I was bewildered as to how on earth he spotted it all. By the second and third day, I found myself looking out for any spot of movement in the trees and listening out for every unfamiliar sound. Either of those things meant a sighting, which meant a rush of excitement and an intriguing desire to learn more! 

My checklist, not that it was ever my intention to make one, starts to grow every minute. Pygmy elephants, red leaf monkeys, otters, slow loris, tarantulas, monitor lizards and snakes, to name just a few. As my journey takes me to the Kinabatangan River, my list expands further. Proboscis monkeys, macaques, orangutans, owls, flying lemurs, kingfishers and hornbills, such an abundance of wildlife! 

I begin to realise that watching their behaviour from the boat on the river is my favourite way to learn. The orangutan is a solitary creature in the wild and makes a new nest every time it rests. The male proboscis monkey has many wives and the bigger the nose, the more attractive the wives find him. The macaque is cheeky, and you should never look it in the eyes or show your teeth in front of one. So many fascinating habits to learn by observation and by constant quizzing of my guide.

Sun setting over the Kinabatangan River, Malaysia

A night cruise gives a whole new perspective of the Kinabatangan River. Although feeling slightly on edge after observing crocodile swimming in the waters, it was so quiet, so peaceful. The stillness was broken only by the odd cry of the ‘what what’ frog as all the other animals were sleeping. Suddenly all the torch lights are switched off. We are in the pitch black. Our eyes slowly adjust to see the river bank light up like a Christmas tree. Thousands of fireflies glow in the mangrove trees; again I feel like a child, eyes transfixed on this magical display. It was a moment in time that I will never forget.

Goodnight Kinabatangan, I hoped for everything and you did not disappoint!

Dreaming of the Datai

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Nestled in an ancient rainforest and metres away from one of the top 10 beaches in the world, is the Datai Hotel on the north coast of Langkawi.

This was to be my final stop on my two week trip around Malaysia. On the 40 minute drive from Langkawi airport in the south west of the Island, to the Datai in the North, I began to see why this Island attracts visitors year after year. With its dramatic limestone cliffs, dense vegetation and clear blue waters, it’s no surprise that this is known to many as a ‘tropical paradise’.

On the final approach to the Datai, I could see a few men milling around in the lobby, wearing traditional Malay clothing. As the car pulled up outside the entrance, the smartly dressed men moved closer. I stepped out of the car with a feeling of importance, to be greeted instantly with smiles and nods. I had grown quite accustomed to this form of greeting during my trip, although there was something very personal about this display before me. I felt like I was the most important person there. Of course this is how every guest would be welcomed. I then understood why this is one of the leading hotels of the world.

As I was guided towards the reception area, I was amazed at the quietness. The only sound was coming from the very large pond in the lobby where frogs were basking in the warmth of the Malaysian sun. I began to wonder where all the guests were hiding.

My room was beautiful, with views of the rainforest and Andaman Sea from its veranda. I was advised to be very cautious about leaving the veranda doors open, due to the very cheeky monkeys that would take all my belongings if given half the chance. Excited to explore more of the hotel and make an acquaintance with the monkeys I ventured out.

I walked past a large swimming pool situated close to the main building and spotted a few guests relaxing on the large sunbeds.

 

It was then that I saw the large stone stairway leading down from behind the pool, into the dense rainforest. As I approached the bottom, I noticed a narrow boardwalk that veered into the lush forest. I followed its winding form, stopping every few minutes to gaze around and breath it all in. I spotted two wild boar to my left, and then a few monkeys appeared a few metres ahead of me. At no point during this 10 minute walk did I pass another person, which made it all the more special. I was in my very own sanctuary.

I walked a little further and came to a clearing where a restaurant and bar were located. A small path led me down to the most beautiful expanse of beach I’d ever seen. This was Datai Bay, and it was easy to see why National Geographic has rated this as one of the top 10 beaches in the world. Aside from a handful of couples walking hand in hand close to the shoreline. I stood rooted in the same place for what seemed like ages taking in its beauty.

Dipping my toes in the warm turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea was a blissful way to ease the heat and complete my welcome to the Datai.

 

My evening consisted of a nature walk around the property, guided by the internationally known Naturalist, Irshad Mobarak and dinner at Gulai House, a restaurant situated in the heart of the rainforest, where the Malay curry was the best I’d ever had.

Staying at the Datai was a step into paradise; a feeling or complete relaxation and rejuvenation. I pledged that I would return one day, but until then I will spend my days dreaming of the Datai.

To experience the Datai for yourself do get in touch with me on 01285 880980 or email inspire@steppestravel.com for more information.