“ Eco-friendly accommodation in a nature reserve in Borneo. „
Kinabantangan River Lodge, Borneo
We spent a couple of days in Sepilok before getting a speed boat up the coast from Sandakan jetty and into the Kinabantagan river,which is longest river in Sabah and Malaysia's second longest river. The journey by speed boat took us about an hour to get as far as Abai Jungle Restaurant which is around 50 km from the river mouth . We stopped here for our lunch.
In our boat were about six other people and they all disembarked at Abai to stay for a couple of nights. After our lunch I am so glad we chose the Sukau lodge further up river as it was not great. The other couples joined us at the next lodge after two nights and they confirmed my feeling that it was not as nice as Sukau and the food was very average.
After our lunch we continued up the river towards our lodge and we were so lucky as on the way we found a small herd of pygmy elephants eating in the vegetation just beside the river. They were al lot bigger than I thought they would be but a lot smaller than either Indian or African elephants are. There were about half a dozen that we saw including a baby.
After watching them for about ten minutes we continued our journey to the lodge. We were met by the staff smiling and welcoming us with cold flannels and cold fruit drinks and our keys. The main lodge area is all wooden polished floors and every time you entered you had to take your shoes off which was a bit of a palaver but I can see why. It is a rainforest and as such it rains a lot so muddy footprints would spoil the floor and anyway Malaysia is a Muslim country and Muslims do take their shoes off before entering people's houses so not really surprising.
THE MAIN BUILDING
This was pretty simple with no side walls and build of local wood . Inside there were tables where we ate and a few more comfortable chairs where you could sit and relax, play games or have a drink from the bar. The bar was also the reception where you left your key every time you went out, if you forgot then your room was not cleaned nor did you get clean towels. We discovered this to our cost as we had wet towels for a second day.
Also in this main lodge was a small cinema/TV where programmes about proboscis monkeys and other BBC productions shot in the area were shown. There was also a small gift shop but nothing very tempting unless you wanted postcards, T shirts or other less attractive souvenirs, really NOTHING of any interest at all which was a shame as I would have bought a small animal or two for the grandchildren.
There were also toilets for guest use so you didn't have to walk back to your room which was handy when it was raining as you could get VERY wet getting back.
The rooms were all small bungalows on stilts , each 'bungalow was actually two rooms and they were built up son stilts that when the river floods they are still above water level. You get to the rooms on wooden walkways which are also to ensure you are above the river flood level. These wooden walk ways were lethal when wet and so I took my shoes off whenever it rained even with my good walking trainers I nearly went over a couple of times.
There are around fifty rooms but when we were there I would say that possibly only half were occupied. Under the walk ways and also on wooden patio area there were orchids and other tropical plants. In the middle of the 'resort' was a small garden with benches and lovely plants but it was ether raining or dark and full of mosquitoes when we were there so we didn't spend any time just sitting there.
In the front the lodge was right on the river with its own landing platform. At the back the lodge was straight into jungle vegetation and not too far away was Sukau village where some of the staff lived. I will go into how the lodge works with the local people a bit later.
Our room had two single beds, both pretty hard with okay pillows, a little on the hard side but I managed. There were no spare pillows so you had the one and that was it. Both beds had mosquito nets and the room windows were also meshed. The door was not so you had to be quick when coming in at night so that you didn't bring in any extra unwanted guests. They did provide a plug in mosquito repellent and we went to bed wearing deet and as a result we didn't suffer from any bites so something worked.
Once again the floors wee wooden polished and the walls also wood. There were windows on three sides of the room with very thin curtains. We tested them and indeed in the dark with the light on they didn't offer much privacy so I changed in the bathroom.
We had a small table thing and a mirror and a place to put our bags, either a small table or wooden slatted stool. Anyway that was all that was offered as storage apart from a couple of pegs on the wall. There was no TV but we were not expecting to find one in an eco lodge really. Each bed had a light above it and there were lights centrally in the room but I did struggle to read by them as they were very low wattage eco lights.
There was no air conditioning but we did have an over head ceiling fan which was pretty efficient and sounded like an aircraft taking off when on full.
This was pretty basic. There was a basin and a toilet. A wall divided the room between the shower and toilet and then a shower curtain that came across and limited the water going into the rest of the room. I found it was easier to leave the shower curtain open as it kept blowing in and sticking to me, I then took the shower nozzle and held it to shower myself pointing it away from the open bathroom and into the wall. The small towel bathmat spent most of the time soaked as my husband isn't as clever as I am in stopping the shower going everywhere.
The towels were quite small and not that thick so after a shower in the morning, one when we came in hot and sweaty in the middle of the day and again later on before dinner meant that by the third shower we had very soggy towels. When we forget to leave our key we didn't have these changed so I had to go and ask for some new ones.
The bathroom was clean as I said but the floor was tiled and lethal when wet. The shower recess was tiled and not that attractive, functional would be the most apt description. We did have hot water though which was a plus in the morning but by the evening we wanted cold showers as it was VERY hot.
WHAT MAKES THIS AN ECO LODGE?
This lodge was set up in 1994, by S.I.Tours who work with the locals as they not only pay a monthly rental fee for the land but they also hire locals to take care and manage the lodge.
Everything is locally sourced and built using local materials. The water in the lodge is rainwater and they also use Reverse Osmosis water purifier system. The rain water is collected in huge tanks and is filtered before use. In the dry season this is supplemented by river water , which is treated and sand filtered before use. The water is heated for the rooms by electric storage heaters which are switched on by guests as they go into the room; the switch is just outside the door.
The lodge had 24 hour electricity by mains electricity but they also had diesel 'Green Engine Generators' in case of emergency power cuts.
One thing I was particularly impressed with was that they hire a local service to send out the rubbish from Kinabatangan to maintain the natural unspoilt quality of the river and rainforest.
WHY STAY HERE?
The wildlife that you see is the answer. This small area is one of the most likely places to see proboscis monkeys, orang-utans and pygmy elephants in the wild. We saw all of these as well as long tail and pig tailed Macaques . This river is where a number of BBC documentaries have been filmed and indeed while we were there we saw another camera crew filming so will be looking out for when that comes on to TV.
We spent most of the day out on the boat and one morning we had breakfast with an Orang-utan who was sitting in a tree just above us eating some brightly coloured figs. We were there for about half an hour watching him.
Another evening we saw either the same or a different group of pygmy elephants in the river wading and eating. We could have touched them if we had wanted to.
While at the lodge we also visited the Gomatong Caves which have the bird's nests used in the Chinese 'Bird nest soup'. I plan to write a review on those sometime in the future as it was a very different visit!!
FOOD AND MORE
The stay in the lodge was all inclusive as there really wasn't anywhere else to eat. All meals were served from a central buffet area. The staff served out parts of the meals while other bits you helped yourself too.
Breakfast was fruit juice and fruit with toast and spreads as well as this, there were cooked options with bacon and scrambled eggs, I can't remember a lot of the cooked stuff as I don't eat any.
Both lunch and dinner were similar and you had a soup with French bread followed by a buffet of local river fish (served by someone), river prawns, rice , cooked vegetables, salads and a meat dish. Dessert was always fresh fruit.
You could have water or buy a drink from the bar. The choice was pretty limited and we had local beers but there were a number of soft drinks like coke but neither of us are keen on fizzy soft drinks.
When we first arrived in our room there were two sarongs on the beds, one male patterned one and one female design. They showed us how to wear them and asked if we would wear them for the dinner. Most people did join in and wear them and we thought that was a nice way of making everyone feel part of the place and saved you dressing up for dinner. They were also very loose so it meant that you could eat a lot and not feel uncomfortable!
WOULD I RECOMMEND?
Yes indeed. This was a wonderful wildlife experience. Although the lodges were pretty basic and the food was not exactly cordon bleu it was all comfortable enough and the food was certainly not bad. The opportunities for wildlife viewing were really amazing and we saw something every time we went out in the boats. The local guides were so good at spotting the animals even when we were quite far away they saw things on the river bank and took the boat up as close as they could without disturbing the animals.
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