Walking on rainforest trails in Borneo is an amazing experience, but everyone that looks up into the dense, green canopy overhead has to wonder where all the hidden sounds of life are coming from. The Rainforest Discovery Centre in East Sabah on Borneo came up with the perfect solution: A network of elevated steel walkways that allows visitors to view life from above the canopy!
A matrix of sturdy, steel walkways and three towers allow visitors to the Rainforest Discovery Centre to view over 250 species of colorful birds from 100 feet above the ground. Visitors are even sometimes treated to orangutan sightings. The RDC is situated inside the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve - home of the famous Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.
Of all the natural attractions to be found in East Sabah on Borneo, the Rainforest Discovery Centre just outside of Sandakan should be your first stop. Learning about the native plants and animals of Sabah early in your trip will greatly enhance your visit on this diverse island. Sadly, the Rainforest Discovery Centre is often given a miss by the hordes of tourists bound for the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.
The RDC first opened in 1996 as an Environmental Education center and then later opened its doors to the public in 2006. Despite being open for tourism, the friendly staff at the RDC remain true to their primary mission of educating people about the importance of conserving the rainforest. The exhibition hall inside the visitor's center is filled with displays and informational boards about life in the Borneo rainforest; they do an excellent job of educating the public with fun and interesting facts that will have you exclaiming over and over: "I never knew that!"
Visiting the Rainforest Discovery Centre
- Admission: Adults - $3.50; children - $1.70; children under 6 years old enter free.
- Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.
- Food and Drink: Currently there is no food available on the grounds, however a new cafe is under construction. Water is available for purchase at the ticketing counter.
- What to Bring: Wear good shoes for walking the trails and climbing the steps to the towers. Carry lots of water, the humidity in the rainforest will make you sweat more than usual!
- Time: Allow yourself three to four hours to do some hiking and to see the plant discovery garden.
- Weather: Don't let the rain stop you! The steel canopy walkways are designed not to get slippery when it rains. There are many covered wooden shelters along the trails to wait out the brief showers.
Birds in the Rainforest Discovery Centre
An estimated 250 species of birds live in the canopy at the Rainforest Discovery Centre, making it an absolute paradise for birdwatchers. With a little luck, extremely rare Bornean bristleheads, trogons, pittas, brahminy kites, and kingfishers can be seen from the observation towers.
Plant Discovery Garden
A beautiful plant discovery garden full of sweet smells and interesting sights rests behind the visitor's center. Visitors can see bizarre pitcher plants, orchids, and a staggering variety of flora all neatly labeled with educational signs - a botanist's dream!
Trekking in the Rainforest Discovery Centre
Several pleasant loop trails offer visitors a chance to spend some time on the ground beneath the canopy walkways. Trails are well-groomed and easily walkable in around two hours. Check out the "Sepilok Giant" - possibly the largest tree you will see while in Borneo!
Much of the wildlife in the rainforest is inactive during the heat of the day. At night the forest comes alive with sounds and shiny sets of eyes watching you from the trees. Among other animals, tarsiers, giant stick insects, and mouse deer - the smallest deer in the world - can be spotted from the trails during a night walk.
The Rainforest Discovery Centre offers guided night walks through the rainforest on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. To participate, you must meet at the ticketing window before 6 p.m. and pay the $10 fee which includes the guide fee; children under 18 years old cost $5. A typical night walk lasts for two hours and can be extended for $5 per each additional hour.
There is no public transportation back to Sandakan available in the late evening. You must arrange a pickup or taxi in advance.
How to Get to the Rainforest Discovery Centre
The Rainforest Discovery Centre is located 15 miles outside of Sandakan along the same road to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Several buses a day leave Sandakan from the lot near Gentingmas Mall to Sepilok - look for buses marked with "Sepilok Batu 14". Ask the driver to stop when you see the big sign for the center on the right. A bus to the Rainforest Discovery Centre should cost around $1.
Alternatively, buses going to Batu 32 or Sukau pass through the Sepilok road roundabout. Ask to be dropped at the road junction and begin walking toward Sepilok. The Rainforest Discovery Centre is on the right approximately 1 kilometer - or 20 minutes of walking - from the road junction.
A taxi from Sandakan to the Rainforest Discovery Centre should cost between $10 - $15.
Contacting the Rainforest Discovery Centre
To contact the RDC, call 089-533780 or 089-533781.