Trek into the heart of Sabah and explore the unexplored. Maliau Basin, known as Borneo’s ‘Lost World’, is one of the few remaining relatively untouched wilderness area on this Earth, home to one of the most diverse collections of flora and fauna.
Deeper within the remote interior of North Borneo is the Maliau Basin Conservation Area, equidistant from Sabah’s east and west coasts, and romantically referred to as “The Lost World”.
The Maliau Basin is the stuff of legend, a lost world to humans until 1988, when the first recorded expedition took place. Only 30 per cent of the region has since been explored.
The conservation area, almost the size of Singapore, is home to one of the most diverse collections of flora and fauna on Earth.
The rain forest is rich in dipterocarp trees, fruit trees and legumes and as a consequence is packed of wildlife, all of it blissfully unaware that the world beyond has been so ravished by man. The basin hold by far Sabah’s high density of primates and wild cats, while on its upper reaches, above the oaks, chestnuts and laurels, dozens of rare orchids have been recorded.
It has remained undisturbed partly due to the difficulty of access and the geography of the basin. From the air, it looks like a vast natural amphitheatre, measuring up to 25 km in diameter and surrounded by steep cliffs up to 1700 m in height. Scientists believe that the crater was made through sedimentary forces over 15 million years ago, combined with major geological shifts, creating more than 30 spectacular waterfalls in the valley.
A network of trails linking a series of basic scientific camps provides some of the best, and toughest, trekking in Northern Borneo. The treks pass numerous spectacular waterfalls, including the famous multi-tiered Maliau Falls and Takob Akob Falls, over 38 m high.
The majestic Maliau Falls are the highlight of the adventure. Visitors can also take a walk on a “Sky Bridge”, a canopy walkway that gives a unique view of the world from up in the trees; and visit to the observation tower on the rim of the basin, where it’s possible to look down on the extraordinary basin.
It’s not often you can say you travelled to a Lost World, so here are some brief information about 5-day Maliau Basin Full Loop that will be useful to know before you go. :-
The journey from Kota Kinabalu to the Lost Wold, takesapproximately 5 hours (about 350km). The road is paved and in relatively good conditions until Maliau Check Point. A 4WD jeep is required, because this last stretch of road through the buffering area is steep and during the rainy season it can get very muddy.
Maliau Basin Study Centre is an oasis of comfort in the jungle. There are several types of accommodation ranging from standard/deluxe chalet with ensuite bathroom, campsite and hostel.
On the first day there is a couple of treats in store: first, a walk on a “sky bridge”, a canopy walkway that gives you another unique view of the world from up in the trees; second, a night safari for viewing nocturnal wild animals such as civets, flying squirrel, frogs and many others.
The following day the real trekking expedition into the unknown begins. The starting point is the Agathis Camp; this can be reached by 4WD, about 45 minutes from the study centre. The trail from the Agathis Camp to Nepenthes Camp or Camel Trophy Camp is 7km and trek takes approximately 4-6 hours. Time will depend on the condition of the trails as it can be slippery and muddy when it is wet. This is a challenging trek since the first half of the trail is predominantly uphill with some steep sections. The trails includes few ladders to climb (which are at almost 90 degree angle) and fallen tree trunks to cross the rivers.
As you head deep into the jungle, you will have the opportunity to see the rare species of carnivores plant (Nepenthes), wild orchids and the Jurassic Agathis trees. Many animal species inhabit the forest and you may be able to spot gibbons, snakes and several different species of insects.
Nepenthes or Camel Trophy Camp is isolated and offers a true sense of wilderness. This camp is very basic with shared bathroom and bunk beds. Here it gets pretty chilly at night so bring a sleeping bag and wear long pants.
At the Camel Trophy camp, visitors can enjoy the view from a 30m canopy observation platform or continue to trek to the near waterfalls – Giluk Falls 1 hour and Takob Akob Falls 2 hours.
On the third day you’ll be woken up by a chorus of Borneo gibbons in the morning. From the Nepenthes Camp, the trekking expedition continues toward the Maliau Fall and the Ginseng Camp – a total of 18 km. The 10/12-hour trek across the rim is definitely the longest and the toughest, but at the same time is the most exciting as it leads to the fabulous Maliau Falls.
The first 5 km though a beautiful heath forest, the trail goes up and down steep ridges. Heath forest is found on well-drained, sandy soils that are extremely nutrient-poor. Heath forest is characterized by lower canopy and dense stands of smaller sized, smaller crowned trees that often have small leaves. Plants that flourish in heath forest have specifically adapted to the lack of nutrient and are, therefore, rarely found elsewhere.
Once the trail reaches the rim of the Maliau Basin, the trek descends more steeply, over increasingly rocky terrain making the going more difficult. Here there four metal ladders going down. Finally the trail leads to the breathtaking Maliau Falls, a seven-tiered staircase that flows into a lake in the heart of the rainforest – just one of the 19 waterfalls in the basin that have been discovered so far. These are the largest and most famous of the falls in the area – the highest drop is 28 metres.
The way back is so steep until Lobah Camp which is located on the rim; this trek takes approximately 1 and half hour. From Lobah Camp the trail continues toward Ginseng Camp. After about 4 km you will arrive at the Ginseng Camp where you will spend the night. Generally the arrival at the camp is estimated around 7.30pm, so bring along torchlight as at latitudes closer to the equator the night falls at about 6 pm all year round.
Ginseng is basic like all the other camps run by the Yayasan, it has no external walls, only a roof. There are bunk beds equipped with mosquito nets and shared bathroom.
On your final day of the expeditions, you will visit the observation tower on the rim of the basin, where it’s possible to look down on the extraordinary world in which you were trekking.
Maliau Basin is not the easiest destination to visit in Borneo, the terrain is not flat and there is a series of steep ridges. The trekking is also challenging due to the tropical weather and humid condition.
A journey to Maliau Basin is like traveling back in time, to a prehistoric world when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings.
Maliau Basin offers a unique wilderness experience not suitable for a normal holiday. Maliau Basin will fulfill your spirit of adventure, curiosity, and exploration. The full loop expedition is pretty expensive due to the remoteness of the place.
This particular tour cannot be organized low-cost. A 4DW jeep is required as a normal car can get stuck in the mud. The maintenance of a 4WD jeep is very expensive and the allowance of a tour guide who is capable offroad driving is higher than an average tour guide.
Personal First Aid Kit (anti malaria pills as a preventive measure)
Sleeping Bags or Sleeping bag liners
Long-Sleeved T-Shirts (Maliau is cool at night)
Quick drying clothes
A lightweight towel
Comfortable covered trail/ hiking shoes
Hat and Raincoat or waterproof jacket
Refillable water bottle
Energy snacks e.g. chocolate, nuts, biscuits, sweets, energy bars
Heavy Duty Backpack as guests are encouraged to carry their own backpack
Porters can be arranged in advance. The fee can be paid directly to the porter himself.
Porter Fees:RM 100 per porter per day (12kg)
As the trip to Maliau Basin involves three days of trekking and lots of up and down the hill, it is highly recommended that visitors are reasonable fit, at least to endure 6 to 8 hours of trekking per day.