“Adventure, challenging & amazing” – Hatti, Guide
These three words are the perfect way to describe this unforgettable and unique experience. I would highly recommend the 4 nights, 5 days tour for anyone who is looking for venturing on the path less travelled and for the opportunity to connect with wild Borneo. The team at Sticky Rice Travel are highly professional, helpful and a pleasure to travel with making the experience even more enjoyable and memorable.
What should I expect from this expedition?
Day 1: Kota Kinabalu to Maliau Basin research Centre
Estimated travel time: 5 hours inclusive of transits
Notable Fauna seen on night Safari: fruit bats, flying squirrels, Bear cat, Banded civet, Common Palm/Borneo striped Civet, leopard cat, Sabah Deer
Today is an early start and a travelled filled day if you are departing from Kota Kinabalu. Sticky Rice will arrange transportation pickup from your hotel at around 7am in a modern van. The van is comfortable and the driver friendly and chirpy for the duration of the 2 hour leg to the bus depot where you will change vehicles to a utility truck. From the depot the trip takes approximately 2-3 hours to Maliau Basin Gate. At the gate you will register before having lunch at the Maliau Basin Information centre.
The Maliau Basin Studies Centre is approximately 1 hours drive from the Shell Maliau Basin Gate. The studies centre can only be described as a tranquil retreat nestled within the jungle. Enjoy time in this peaceful paradise before venturing on an afternoon wander to experience the Sky Walk. The Sky Walk is a wonderful opportunity to meander along the tree trope taking in views of the Maliau River and enjoying glimpses of busy squirrels scurrying through the branches.
Your evening will see you watching a short documentary, after a delicious dinner, to inform you of Maliau Basin and all it’s riches. The night adventure proceeding this is an awesome experience to witness the nocturnal wildlife at play. This involves a ride in the back of a utility truck with a spotlight, keeping your eyes peeled for bedding eyes to give away the hideaways of these wonderful animals. See above for a list of creatures we were fortunate enough to see on our adventure before retiring to our comfortable hostel beds.
Day 2: Agathis Camp to Nepenthes Camp formerly ‘Camel Trophy’
Approximate Total distance: 7.5 km Estimated time: 4 hours inclusive of rests
Notable Fauna seen: Mouse Deer, Malay Civet, Roul Roul Patridge, Big Tail Macqua (monkey), Barking Deer, leeches
Agathis Camp got its name from the Borneon species of Agathis tree which can only be found in Maliau Basin. Agathis Camp was destroyed by Pygmy Elephants in 2014 which is now the basis for you to begin your expedition on Day 2. From here you continue along the flowing river, crossing over bamboo bridges before continuing up through undulating forests and climbing steel ladders to reach the rim of the escarpment. This aspect of the journey continues for about 3 km. From about the 2.5 km mark we were welcome by torrential rain which continued to about the 5 km marker.
Throughout the journey you will notice that the rainforest scenery changes from Lower Mountain forests, Hilly Forests to mossy forests before reaching Karangis forest (Eucalyptus). From the mossy forests you will witness an array of Pitcher Plants (Nepenthes species) for you to view. Maliau Basin is home to all 6 species of Pitcher Plants inclusive of the Hybrid species Stenophylla (red and brown splotchy). The Veitchii Nepenthes is only found in Maliau.
Once you reach the rim you have a much more enjoyable and easy walk ahead of you. From the rim, the last 4.5 km is relatively flat. Take your time and enjoy the wonderful nature surrounding you.
Upon arriving at camp climb the 40 metres Agathis tree to take in the spectacular view of the fern valley with the helicopter pad and your home for the evening. Formerly known as Camel Trophy named after the group of people who constructed the camp within 48 hours. We spent the afternoon and evening playing cards, bonding with our forest family and observing our new pets ‘Justin & Rachel’ the Malay Civets. We retired after a delicious and nutritious meal cooked by our team.
Day 3: Nepenthes Camp to Ginseng Camp
Approximate total distance: 7 km Estimated time: 3.5 hours inclusive of rests
Notable Fauna seen: Borneon Gibbon, Fruit BatsThis is a pleasant part of the trip and a much more enjoyable walk then yesterday as you are covered by greater vegetation, eliminating the heat and the incline variant is substantially less. This aspect of the loop trail takes you past rivers, streams and waterfalls with rock and log bridges created to make your stroll more pleasant and safe.
The first 1-2 Km of the track is a combination of varied up and down paths meandering past a vast array of Nepenthes resulting in a botanists delight. At the 2.5 km mark we were greeted with gibbons crashing through the treetops accompanied with a backdrop of hornbills and various other bird life sounds.
The majority of the track is flat but keep your eyes focused on the ground to ensure you do not trip on any intertwining vines and roots which cover the lush jungle floor. Between 4.5-5.5 km the track is a steep decline, which is exceptionally slippery particularly during the wet season. Approach this area with caution and pay attention to the route of your guides.
The last km leading to the Ginseng Camp continues to decline and leads you closer to Camp by following the roar of Ginseng Waterfalls. Your journey will lead you across a suspension and log bridge over the flowing rivers which are the tops of the waterfalls. This truly is a pleasure for the eyes and soul.
Ginseng Camp is nestled amongst the flora and upon arrival you will notice it is much bigger and more aesthetically pleasing than Nepenthes Camp. Ginseng falls can be heard thundering as you relax and enjoy your time at GC. Visiting these falls takes 10 minutes and a swim in the fresh water is a rejuvenating treat after your days walk.
Day 4: Ginseng Camp to Maliau Falls return trip
Approximate Total distance: 11.5 km Estimated time: 5 hours walking time
Notable Fauna seen: Borneon Gibbon, Red Leaf Monkey, tracks of the Sun Bear, Black Spotted Frog, Poison Rock Frog, Rhinoceros Hornbills.This is the toughest part of the journey due to the slipperiness of the track particularly after inevitable down pours in the wet season. Your day begins with a 700 m steep incline from Ginseng Camp to the M Falls intersection. From here you continue along the rim of the Basin slowly rising and falling with the trail until you reach old Lobah Camp on the ridge.
Ensure you have a rest stop and take in the wonderful view of the Basin from the ridge of Lobah Camp. You will certainly need your energy and focus from this point as the trail continues on a steep and slippery 3 km decline to the Falls.
To get to the Falls you climb down wooden ladders, over multiple fallen tree trunks and clamber down rocks with ropes to assist and guide you. Eventually you will reach the 6th tier of the 7th tier waterfalls where you can spend some time taking in the immense power and scale of the Maliau river.
This river is responsible for draining all of the water within the Maliau Basin catchment area emphasising its importance in the Maliau Basin ecosystem. After spending a few days within the jungle you will soon understand just how much water this river receives, especially during the wet season.
The 6th tier vantage point is the only access point to the Falls along the river. To view all 7 tiers you must see via helicopter. During the dry season the water will appear clearer and the size of the falls will be substantially smaller compared to the wet season which sees brown coloured waters and overflowing pools.The return trip to Ginseng Camp follows the same route meaning the slippery descent is now a challenging ascent. You can expect to return to Camp in the late afternoon and enjoy the sounds of the jungle for one last evening.
Whilst today is one of the most challenging walks it is highly rewarding especially once you are greeted with the impressive sights of Maliau Falls. During the evening our guide shared with us photos of the Falls from each visit he has had there. It is worth noting that you can expect to see something new and spectacular with each visit, as no photo was the same, ever changing as Mother Nature has intended it.
Day 5: Ginseng Camp to Agathis Camp
Approximate Total distance: 9 km Estimated time: 2-3 hours walking time
Notable Fauna seen: Woodpecker, Monitor Lizard, Back of a King Cobra Snake as it entered a holeThis day is the last leg on what has been an unforgettable journey. Our hearts are filled with a much greater respect and appreciation for nature as we, for the last time, put on our wet footwear and stinky clothing ready to embrace the last day.
From Ginseng Camp the trail rises, to the left of trail you arrived on, for about 1 km before reaching the ridge. The trail topography can be broken down into thirds and outlined as the following; the first 1 km is the steepest ascent and part of the trail although from 2-3 km it is still a consistent climb. The 3-6 km part is a descending trail and an easy walk with the 6-9 km track being more undulating.
We found today a breeze in comparison to the Ginseng Camp to Maliau Falls aspect, with far less leeches and falls, and it taking us only 2 hours and 40 minutes from Ginseng Camp to Agathis Camp. The car to return you to Maliau Studies Centre should be waiting for your arrival. We requested to have lunch with our Forest Family at the centre, after a shower in the hostel, instead of on the trail which was a fantastic option as it gave us the opportunity to express gratitude, tip and share our experiences.
It is important to know that the walking times in this article have been calculated from our experience alone. These times are for a guide only and will be dependent on a number of factors inclusive of but not limited to individual fitness level, rainfall, season, temperature, wildlife present, trail conditions etc.
Please also note that every journey is unique and therefore what has been written in this article is subject to personal experience and may not be consistent with each individual expedition. For more information on journeying to Maliau Basin please read my articles What to pack for Maliau Basin and Maliau Basin the Lost world.