On Attenborough’s Footsteps: Sukau Rainforest Lodge, Borneo

Sukau Rainforest Lodge

There was a time when, as a traveller, I was avidly searching for opportunities to see the man-made wonders of the world: the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, the Hagia Sophia. Schönbrunn , Versailles, Neuschwanstein.

Living in Europe meant that Paris, Rome, Istanbul or Barcelona were a mere 2-hour flight away, so city trips came easy to me.

And while I would be a lying hypocrite to say I didn’t enjoy visiting all those iconic man-made places, over the last 7 years I found myself less interested in landmarks, and increasingly more drawn to nature travels. (Yes , it also helped that my travel budget got a steady boost over the years.)

A Borneo Dream

We had dreamt of Borneo for almost two years. Sleeping in the rainforest, waking up before the sunrise to inhale all the sounds of a waking jungle, disconnecting from the modern world, even if only for a few days. And of course, meeting the man of the forest: the orangutan.

So when, on a whim, we launched the idea of a city trip getaway to Kuala Lumpur to some of our friends, it was only obvious that Borneo’s time had finally come.

Shared between three nations – Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei – Borneo is the third largest island in the world, and home to Asia’s last great rainforest.

Sukau Rainforest Lodge: What to Expect

Sukau Rainforest Lodge

The highlight of our two week trip to Singapore and Malaysia was, without a doubt, our short stay at Sukau Rainforest Lodge.

Sukau Rainforest Lodge is part of the exclusive list of National Geographic Unique Lodges, and provides a great example of true ecotourism.

Sukau Rinforest Lodge has received the distinction of National Geographic Unique lodges Of The World not only because of its spectacular location, but especially because of their pledge to conservation, sustainability and eco-friendliness.

There is no AC, but regular fans will do. While there is running water, it’s all recycled or from rainwater (including the swimming pool water). Electricity is solar panel powered. Food is sourced locally. Towels and bedding are sent for washing all the way to Sandakan, to minimize impact on the nature.

Perched on the Kinabatangan river, in the Malaysian Borneo rainforest and a three-hour boat drive away from Sandakan, for us Sukau Rainforest Lodge was pure bliss.

So in no order of priority, here are my most favorite moments:

The Hospitality

Sukau Rainforest Lodge  kinabantagan river

Sukau Rianforest Lodge’s perfect response to my food allergy concerns? Perfect catering, making me feel the most relaxed I’d been in all the two weeks of our trip.

The lodge’s chef came up to reassure me, informing me that they’d removed all traces of sesame and nuts from the kitchen, to make sure I can eat EVERYTHING. I still have tears in my eyes, remembering the moment he said I can eat anything.

Fun fact : the boat that David Attenborough and the BBC crew used to film in October 2011 has been converted into a breakfast buffet table!

The Wildlife at Sukau Rainforest Lodge

Sukau Rainforest Lodge  kinabantagan river cruise

Moths the size of my palm, hiding from the voracious bats under the relative safety of our lodge (the same one that David Attenborough occupied , on his stay at Sukau Rainforest Lodge back in 2011.

The night cruise on Kinabatangan river, spotting a plethora of birds, some crocs, and fireflies.

The abundance of proboscis monkeys traveling in large harems across the canopy.According to a-z-animals.com their numbers are thought to have dropped as much as 80% over the past three decades, with only around 7,000 proboscis monkeys left in the wild today.

The resident orangutan, who leisurely took us on a tour of the grounds for almost 2 hours, swinging from tree to tree doing his foraging , at times coming as close as 10 meters from us.

Dangling from branches  until you couldn’t tell arms from legs, our orangutan was taking his sweet time to munch on different figs and leaves, giving us a glimpse of his daily routine before finally building himself a nest, to take cover from the inescapable daily rainforest showers.

A Plunge in the Darkness

Sukau Rainforest Lodge  kinabantagan river broadwalk

If you end up visiting the Sukau Rianforest Lodge, take a night walk along the broadwalk. It’s the perfect immersion into the rainforest, with all the comfort and security. The woods are black as tar, with virtually no light penetrating the foliage.

Make sure to pack a flashlight, then go into the depths of the broadwalk, and shut off your lights. Let me know how long you last without getting the jitters.

The cacophony of sounds in the Bornean rainforest and that humbling moment we shut our flashlights, immersing in the living forest – a memory of a lifetime.

While we’re on the topic, keep an eye out for Bioluminescent mushrooms! If I hadn’t known of the existence of these mushrooms, I probably would have waved it as an optical illusion.

Clumps of small, little finger-sized Mycena manipularis mushroomss use bioluminescence to attract insects that help spread their spores. At first, you think that the complete darkness is playing tricks on your eyes.

The Canopy at Sukau Rainforest Lodge

Sukau Rainforest Lodge  kinabantagan canopy

Of course, the first things that’ll strike you are the rainforest giants, the dipterocarp trees (literally “two-winged fruit”) with over 700 known species of tropical rainforest tree species.

In the primary rainforests that still endure, there’s a constant race to the skies; and these trees will grow to 100 meters or more

The forest canopy is so dense that little sunlight can penetrate it, and all plant life competes for what little precious light it can catch. If the tree has no competition nearby, it’ll slow its length, and grow in diameter instead, ever expanding its network of roots instead.

In The Secret Network of Nature: The Delicate Balance of All Living Things by Peter Wohlleben, you’ll learn that trees “breastfeed” their young too, giving them precious nutrients to sustain life a they grow taller (remember, little to no sunlight reaches the undergrowth beneath the canopy)

Sukau Rainforest Lodge  kinabantagan canopy

It’s Not All Perfect

Or course, no one really likes to think sad thoughts while travelling. But we need to keep reminding ourselves that the natural world we love to visit is on a constant battle to survive, sitting on a fragile and precarious edge.

The Human Footprint

The desolation of hundreds of acres of palm tree plantations that were looming behind the sliver of rainforest still surviving along the banks of the river.

In places, this secondary rainforest was so thin that it couldn’t hide its gaping wounds: the palm trees had won here. The brown, muddy waters were silently denouncing the tree massacre that was still happening upstream.

This was the landscape we unfortunately kept seeing since landing in Kuala Lumpur. Even sadder: Malaysia fares well compared to neighboring Indonesia, where the cutting rate has been skyrocketing for decades.

So what would I do differently?

  1. I’d save money se we could spend more time in Borneo.
  2. And I would definitely add Danum Valley and Maliau Basin to the trip.

So, Sukau Rianforest Lodge: Until we meet again! Roll Credit:

sukau rainforest lodge arrival hall
sukau rainforest lodge plunge pool
sukau rainforest lodge dining  terrace
sukau rainforest lodge the broadwalk
sukau rainforest lodge the rainforest giants dipterocarp
sukau rainforest lodge  river safari water lilys
sukau rainforest lodge  the rooms
It's easy to be SEAduced by Borneo
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