Even in the midst of uncontained urbanization, there is a haven; and in the wake of uncurbed chaos, an oasis of silence. It is older than the Amazon, larger than France, spreads across two countries and fosters over 18,000 species of life.
It is called Borneo and this Photo Tour is an attempt to revel in its intrigue.
- A riveting 9-night/10-day adventure in the oldest rainforest in the world
- Optional pre- and post-Tour extensions for the most comprehensive experience
- A productive excursion to one of Earth’s richest biodiversity hotspots
- A possibility to make excellent photographs of the highly endangered Bornean orangutan, pygmy elephant, proboscis monkey, rhinoceros hornbill and many other special species
- Extensive on- and off-field photography-assistance
- A wealth of learning on photography and natural history
Imagine a rainforest 130 million years old and 743,330 square kilometres large enrobing the part-Indonesian and part-Malaysian island in a veil of green, and you begin to envisage the scale, significance and the striking uniqueness of this paradise.
With the South China Sea, Java, Sulawesi and the Philippines as its neighbours, the island stands as the largest in the Malayan Archipelago and the third largest in the world as a paradigm of natural affluence and a paradise for the green at heart.
Composed of a mind-boggling variety of flora, ancient caves, serpentine rivers and endemic faunal species, many of which are being discovered newly even today, mystical Borneo provides, allegorically and literally, a breath of fresh air to the naturalist disillusioned by a world otherwise bent upon self-destruction from the juggernaut of development.
Located in Sabah, eastern Malaysia, the Kinabatangan is the second longest river in Malaysia, flowing all of 560 kilometers from origin to ultimate destiny and it is renowned for its astounding wildlife and attractions such as the limestone caves at Gomantong Hill, dry-land and riverine and swamp forests, oxbow lakes and salty mangrove swamps near the coast.
It seldom gets better than this.
Situated in Sabah, the Danum Valley Conservation Area is a 438km2 tract of undisturbed lowland forest. With deleterious human activity like logging and hunting virtually absent until it was declared a conservation area, this unique wilderness site located near Lahad Datu is home to a research establishment for scientists and the sublimely located lodges for tourists.
This is Nature as Nature intended.
With arms seemingly longer than those of the law, a flange in many males that is used for vocal performances, and strong sexual dimorphism, this lovable primate is the largest of Asia’s Great Apes, and along with its Sumatran cousin, the only one exclusively native to the continent.
And that is enough reason to be excited about our visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sandakan, the best place on earth to observe this very special fellow-earthling from close range. Established in 1964 to rehabilitate orphaned baby-Orangutans, the sanctuary is located amidst the lush Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve and has a viewing gallery and a feeding platform, from where long-tailed macaques also can be observed to good effect.
A subspecies of the Asian Elephant, the Borneo pygmy elephant constitutes the second major mammalian attraction. Believed to be of a domestic descent tracing back to the Sultan of Sulu, who introduced Elephants to the Borneo jungle in the 18th century, the Borneo Elephant soothingly radiates the same serene and harmonious feel as does Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and a sight of them grazing by the river can help you appreciate the privilege of biodiversity more than ever.
A handlebar nose and a sizeable paunch are seldom more adorable than on the endangered proboscis monkey. Locally known as ‘The Dutchman’, this stately simian isn’t as indolent as you might think, with water sports being counted among its part-time interests. Clearly the most aquatic of the world’s primates, it can swim several metres submarine and even cross rivers amid short-haul flights between treetops, proving that a pot-belly is no barrier to an active lifestyle on land, under water and in the air.
The state bird of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, the rhinoceros hornbill rules the Bornean skies with its imposing build, robust bill and of course the horizontal horn that, unlike its counterpart on the mammal the bird is named after, appears like some advanced aerodynamic device like a suction duct on a racing car. The sight of a breeding female boxed into a tree-hole while the male brings her food, can tug at your heartstrings and grip you in photographic frenzy.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg; the mere surface of a spring that runs quite deep and supports over an astounding 200 species of mammals and twice the number of resident bird species including specialties like the spectacled flowerpecker and the tarsier, besides the clouded leopard and the gibbon.
Chief bird species include eight species of hornbills, apart from kingfishers, owls, broadbills, storm’s storks, hawks and eagles, ospreys, falcons, pheasants, parakeets, woodpeckers, pittas, forktails, warblers, flycatchers, orioles, and spiderhunters, among others.
After reaching and settling in the resort in Sandakan, the Tour Skipper will facilitate a mutual introduction and serve an orientation to the Tour. After dinner, head out for an optional night walk in the forest to search for nocturnal wildlife.
Early morning wake up for a dawn walk on the canopy walk for bird watching and searching for mammals. After breakfast, continue on to the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary where captive orangutans are reintroduced into the wild. You will be able to observe them at their feeding stations in the rainforest. Return for lunch at the lodge. In the afternoon, we will head for trekking in Sepilok Forest Reserve and then continue to the canopy walk at dusk to see giant red flying squirrels emerge from their nests. These squirrels can “fly” up to 500 feet between trees, which is a spectacle to see. Return for dinner, and then head out for a night walk to search for nocturnal wildlife.
This area focuses on great up close photography of orangutans in the sanctuary. The light is good because there is a large opening in the canopy around the orangutan feeding platform.
*Large telephotos have a big camera fee at Sepilok Orangutan Center (above 400mm is 250usd per person). Using a 100-400mm is plenty for the environment here.
Optional dawn birdwatching walk behind the lodge. Head to the Bornean Sun Bear Centre for a morning visit. We will stop at Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary for a quick visit. Continue to the Kinabatangan River, home to one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in Borneo. Settle into our lodge and take a cruise at dusk to look for orangutans, pygmy elephants, silvered langurs, hornbills, and proboscis monkeys. On a night walk, see nocturnal fauna such as the slow loris, western tarsiers, civets, and more.
The Kinabatangan River is the longest river in Sabah known for the highest concentration of primates in North Borneo. The forest is secondary forest, with a large amount of ficus racemosa, a preferred food source for a variety of species. The focus of this area is river cruises and photography from the boat. Photography is great here because of the open area around the river. Light is good and the wildlife is generally cooperative for photography. There are also beautiful riverscape photography opportunities as well. Common species – orangutan, proboscis monkeys, silvered langurs, pygmy elephants, hornbills, macaques, etc
Watch the sun rise during an early morning river safari cruise. Return to the lodge and set out on a jungle walk to search for wildlife. Before lunch, there will be a talk by an orangutan expert. After lunch, we will take a short boat ride and overland transfer (15 minutes) to Gomantong Caves. We will spend the afternoon walking in the reserve and visiting the bat cave. At dusk, we will have an opportunity to see the bat exodus, where over 1 million bats come out of the cave to feed in the night. Return to the lodge for dinner. After dinner, set out for a night cruise to search for nocturnal wildlife on the riverbanks.
This is an amazing experience, with great wildlife around Gomantong Caves (orangutan, hornbills, red leaf langurs, birds, etc). If it is a clear day, shooting the million bats emerge from the cave is a spectacle worth seeing. Long ropes of thousands of bats come out at a time, with raptors waiting to hunt the bats mid air. Can hike up to the top of the cave for eye level of the exit, but this is a hard hike up.
Watch the sun rise during an early morning river safari cruise. Return to the lodge and set out on a jungle walk to search for wildlife. In the afternoon, head out for another cruise for more photography opportunities. After dinner, take a night walk to work on macro photography of amphibians, reptiles, etc.
Marco photography workshop is great for filling after dinner activities. There is an abundance of smaller things to photograph, snakes, frogs, insects, etc. If people are interested in this they should bring gear for night macro photography (lightbox, macro flash, wireless flash).
Travel to Danum Valley (2 hours to Lahad Datu, 2 hours to the field centre), known for its 400 square kilometers of virtually undisturbed primary rainforest. Spend three days exploring the local nature trails on your own or with a guide. Keep an eye out for rare species, including the pygmy elephant, clouded leopard, Bornean gibbon, and maroon langur. Bird life is especially diverse, with some 275 recorded species. Take a guided night hike when the forest is vibrant with wildlife. Watch a dazzling sunrise over the valley from atop an observation tower—and enjoy a light breakfast with a stunning view. We will be focusing the days searching for wildlife around the center; venture out on night safaris to experience the forest when it is vibrant with wildlife. There is a large network of trails to explore in Danum Valley, with great photographic changes.
In Danum Valley, the photograph will all be by foot. Walking on well maintained trails to focus on photographing orangutans. Notable species are orangutans, red leaf langurs which hang around close to the center, hornbills, gibbons, deer, owls, and more. Snakes, lizards, insects, and frogs are also fantastic. The frog pond nearby has a good number of species and are great for photography. Photography can be challenging in Danum Valley. Even though you get up close subjects during the day, the canopy is very tall (100-140 feet) and it can be quite dark on the forest floor. A tripod and a lens with a wide aperture is recommended. Cameras that handle well with high ISO is also recommended for this. Macro workshops are great in Danum as well for evening time.
Pre-dawn wake up for a drive to the top of Danum Valley. We will watch sunrise over Danum Valley. As the sun emerges, the sea of mist dissolves as the forest appears in the valley below. Upon our return to the center, there will be an optional final morning trek before checking out from the field centre after lunch. Return to Lahad Datu for our flight to Kota Kinabalu (2 hour drive on dirt track, 50 minute flight).
Check into the hotel, and we will head to our final dinner together to celebrate an incredible journey through the jungle.
The landscapes of Danum Valley are great for photography.
After breakfast, be transferred to the airport for your onward journey. If you have a later flight, your guide will be able to assist you with finding activities in the city.
- Per Person on Twin Share Accommodation
- Per Couple on Twin Share Accommodation
- Per Person on Twin Share Accommodation
- Twin-sharing accommodation in comfortable lodges
- All meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) as mentioned in the itinerary
- All transfers within Borneo
- Guide and Photography Skipper services
- Entrance fees for all listed activities (please see itinerary)
What’s Not Included?
- All airfare
- Camera fees (please see the FAQ section for payable amount)
- Any extra accommodation availed of
- Any kind of personal expenses or optional tours, extra meals and beverages ordered
- Insurance, laundry and phone calls
- Bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages
- Vaccination, visa and insurance expenses
- All applicable taxes
- Anything that is not included in the inclusions list
- USD 1000 booking amount (non-refundable)
- Remainder 150 days before departure
All figures per person.
- USD 500 on or before 149 days from the day of departure
- USD 2000 on or before 90 days from the day of departure
- USD 3000 on or before 60 days from the day of departure
- No refund between 59 days and the day of departure
Please note: The date of written (email) communication of intent to cancel is the date considered for calculation of the cancellation fees.
While Toehold Photo Travel is one of our most popular offerings, we work as a travel agency without bringing the photography guide element in to your travel. In short you would be using our travel experts service to just plan the vacation and execute it.
- Unlike a Photo Travel experience, your Vacation is completely personalised.
- The dates, style of travel, class of hotels and lodges, destinations, everything is tailor-made to suit your custom requirement.
- A Skipper or a photography guide doesn’t travel with you to guide you unless you decide to take our customised and guided photo travel experience.
So take advantage of the immense experience and field knowledge that we bring in to your Vacation’s planning without having to pay for our time and costs. Plus, we don’t charge an additional fee for our time and travel planning services.
What are the requisites to participate in this Tour?
Apart from interest, a valid visa and related documents, and a minimum level of fitness are essential. Visa assistance will be provided.
I am a newbie in nature photography. Am I eligible?
Absolutely! This Tour is meant for fledgling as well as experienced photographers. Beginners get all the advantages of learning on and off the field from Toehold’s eminent Skippers. In fact, if you are a newbie, you should jump on this terrific learning opportunity and sign up right away! However, in order to make the most of the Tour, we recommend that you be familiar with at least the basics of photography. Please talk to us for more details.
By what mode or modes will we explore Borneo? What is the level of physical fitness required on this Photo Tour?
We will travel between the destinations by road, but most of the photography will be done on foot, which is why a moderate level of physical fitness is required.
How sure are you about photographing wildlife on this Tour?
Considering the meticulous attention to timing we pay while scheduling Tours and the local expertise we leverage, we believe that it would be extremely unfortunate if our sightings and photography were unsatisfactory. Borneo is a country blessed with the greatest biodiversity, and the destinations we’ll be visiting are teeming with wildlife, but since we will be in an uncontrolled environment, we do not claim that sightings of specific species are guaranteed.
Are rains predicted during the Tour?
We will be exploring the rainforests of Borneo, so there are all chances of it raining. Please carry adequate protection from rain for yourself and your camera equipment.
What equipment do you suggest on this Tour?
For birds, a lens with a focal length of around 400mm is essential. For mammals, a telephoto zoom lens in the range of 100 to 400mm works very well, but a longer lens is fine too, and macro lens to photograph nocturnal life. A wide-angle or normal zoom to capture landscapes or creative perspectives of wildlife is a must, along with a macro lens for closeup flora work. A tripod and an external flash unit are necessary. However, if you do not have appropriate equipment, there is no need to fret. Toehold offers an exhaustive array of cameras, lenses and accessories for hire, so you can always hire what you need. Visit our Rental Store to see what we offer.
What is the structure of the camera fees in Borneo?
Please note that the following camera fee structure is not included in the Photo Tour cost.
The following camera fees apply for usage of fixed-lenses having a focal length of 400mm, 500mm, 600mm and 800mm.
Sepilok Orang Utan Centre, BSBCC, and Gomantong Cave — RM 1,000 per lens per location
Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary — RM 500 per lens
Danum Valley — RM 500 per lens
Please note that lens fees may change before the Tour without notice.
How different are your Photo Tours from ordinary tours?
Unlike travel agents who plan your holiday from a remote destination to places they sometimes haven’t experienced themselves, Photo Tours offer a comprehensive toehold to experience a place through the guidance of a professional photographer. The common ingredients in all our Photo Tours are fun and a lot of learning and knowledge-sharing. Besides, most or all of our Tour participants are photography enthusiasts, which keeps the group in harmony and helps make your experience focussed.