Gomantong Caves Sandakan Sabah


Gomantong Caves in Sandakan, Sabah is one of the renown caves for birds nest harvesting and located in the lower Kinabatangan area or Gomantong Rainforest Reserve. Consisting of two cave complexes which are Black Cave (Simud Hitam) and White Cave (Simud Putih), these caves have been harvested for the prized birds nest for many years even till today.

Entrance to Gomantong Caves

Visiting the caves are quite easy as the caves are located about two hours from Sandakan town by car or van. Tour companies offer various packages to visiting the caves so you can customize your visit or if you rent a car, you can self drive to the caves. On my recent trip here in Dec 2009, I visited the entire Sukau-Kinabatangan area for the rich Eco-Tourism offered here and it was made possible with the assistance of Sabah Tourism.

Cave information

On arrival at the caves main entrance arch, there was another five minute drive in to the visitor center where you purchase your tickets. Nothing stood out there as there were only two buildings visible. No caves sighted and I asked my nature guide - Ben, "where are the caves?" He simply smiled and told me that we needed to take a small trek inside.

Start of the wooden walkway to the caves

And so our exciting cave journey began. A wooden walkway at the back of the ticket building leads into the rainforest while everything around is covered in greenery and nothing in sight ahead of you. Ben claims that this wooden platform above the rainforest floor was actually one of the initial treks that he created many years ago during his heyday of nature guiding here. Ben also states that the original path was another way from the old ticket office and he used to take his guests through this path as it was more interesting. The time it takes to reach the cave area is about a 5 minute walk along here.

Enjoyable rainforest walking to the caves

Judging from the walk we had, it was rather interesting with many things pointed out along the way. But on the return back through this walkway, there were more interesting items spotted so read about this further in in article.

Rare sighting of a Red Leaf Monkey

Once we reached the clearing to the main cave entrance, there was a small commotion up ahead where a number of guests were excitedly pointing up. Ben then turned around and asked me to hurry up and get to where the action was. Apparently, something rare was sighted.....

Red Leaf Monkey looking at me

It was orange brown from a distance and immediately my camera went into action with maximum zoom. "What kind of monkey was that?" I asked Ben and with a big smile on his face he replied that it was the Maroon Langur or Red Leaf Monkey. He also expressed that I was very lucky to have seen this u at the cave entrance as they rarely come this close. Without hesitation, my camera was snapping away and I got the video out as well since this was indeed a rare sighting.

Red Leaf Monkey outside Gomantong Caves

Red Leaf Monkey, Maroon Langur, Maroon Leaf Monkey or Presbytis rubicunda as they are called and also some other local names which I forgot. Well, for more detailed information you can also read about this unique primate here from the Forestry Department site.

Entrance to Gomantong Caves

The main cave entrance of Simud Hitam (Black Cave). A walkway leads into the caves and the strong smell of bat guano starts to get strong as you get closer. Something not highlighted by most people are the bat sightings in the evenings. This is exactly the same Bat Watching at Mulu Caves in Sarawak and you get to see millions of bats leave the caves from around 4-6pm daily. Also depending on the weather so if it rains, it's a no show.

Video of Gomantong Cave


Inside the Gomantong Caves

Once inside, you will notice that the wooden walkway goes around the main cave in a circular direction exiting the same way you entered. The caves also measure about 30 meters wide and about 100 meters high.

Cave crabs

As you walk along the wooden walkway which is slightly above the cave ground, you will come across a cave stream in the beginning. If you look closely in the water, you will see small crabs which dwell here. Fascinating to know that crabs are available in caves considering that I always thought that crabs belonged to the sea.

Cockroaches on the wooden handrail

Another highlight which I was pre-warned about was the cockroaches that live in the caves. Cockroaches? I smiled, what are a few roaches going to do as I am not afraid of them but when I got it deeper along the walkway, I must have seen thousands of them. On the walkway, the ground and even the handrails of the walkway. I would warn those scared of these things - Do not visit this place if you have a major fear of roaches.

Video of Gomantong Caves inside


Bamboo Piatau

When I walked deeper inside, the shouting of the Birds Nest Harvesters were getting louder. There were two groups doing the harvesting and there must have been about 20 to 30 of them there.

Video Birds Nest Harvesting in Sabah


Birds Nest Harvest workers waiting for orders

Apparently, the Birds Nest Harvesting here at the Gomantong Caves are regulated by the Wildlife Department to avoid over-exploitation of this. The collection is only done twice a year and licenses are issued to collectors. Each group takes turns to do their harvesting and ant any one time, only two groups are allowed to do so.

Ropes used for Birds Nest Harvesting

In total, there are about 25 limestone caves that are home to the swifts but only two have high number of the bird nest which are Gua Gomantong and Gua Madai in Lahad Datu.

View from below

As the Birds Nest can fetch up to US$12,500 a kilogram, this dangerous skill involves the gatherer to climb up a hundred meters to the ceiling of the cave using ropes and rattan ladders. I witnessed this amazing feat by one of the climbers while the entire entourage waited down below to help steer the bamboo platform up there.

Birds Nest Harvesting Video


Harvesters at work in Gomantong

So if you do visit Gomantong Caves and see the harvesters at work, spend some time to se ehow they do it. It is absolutely amazing to watch them at work and the WWF describes the caves as the best managed edible birds nest in the world too. There are four swift species in Sabah which spawn the white nest (Collocalia Fuciphagus), black nest (Collocalia Maximus), moss-like nest (Collocalia vanikorensis) and white-bellied birds (Collocalia Esulenta). Only the white and black bird nest are edible and have high nutritional and medicinal value.

Jungle Lianas growing freely

As we exited the caves and headed back to the main building, we took the rainforest path again and this time, I saw some jungle highways known as Lianas. Branches that twist and grow around trees and from tree to tree. some of them as thick as my thigh too.

A Borneo Pigmy Squirrel is spotted

At one point on our walk back, Ben stopped and was looking as if he has lost something near one of the trees. I asked Ben and he casually told me that this tree was home to the Borneo Pygmy Squirrel (Exilisciurus concinnus) which is the smallest squirrel in the world. Well, I had to see it to believe him as he had a smile on his face when he mentioned this. Eventually after a few minutes of waiting, the little squirrel appeared and I was absolutely amazed with the size of it.

One of the strange snails the size of a golf ball

Another unique critter Ben pointed out to me was the strange snail the size of a gold ball eating away on one of the leaves. The rainforest here has quite a number of insects, reptiles, birds and animals so when you visit Gomantong Caves, be on the lookout for these.

Lookout security tower outside the caves

Finally on our way out, Ben pointed up to the hills and I noticed a couple of huts located there. They were guard houses to keep poachers or thieves from entering the caves. How interesting I thought. A security post way up on the hills, this was something new to me.

Caves in Sabah map

There are a number of caves in Sabah and if you are into caving and exploring them, check out the forestry department in Sabah Parks. Unless you are interested in nature and how birds nests are harvested, make a visit here. Otherwise it could be an experience worth telling everyone if you had no clue what to expect when you got here.

Best times to visit the caves:
  • The Gomantong-Kinabatangan region can be visited all year round, though it is often flooded during the wettest part of the year in December and January.
  • The best time to visit the caves are during the Birds Nest Collection during February and August and in the late afternoon till evenings.
How to go to Gomantong Caves:
  • Airasia or Malaysia Airlines flies to Sandakan from Kuala Lumpur and from there, engage a tour company for your cave visit.
  • Taxi is available from Sandakan and prices vary according to distances.
  • A bus leaves Sandakan town for Sukau at RM17.00 (US$5) per trip. However, you will only be dropped at the junction and from there it is another 6km (3.7 miles) to the cave. Getting back will be another issue so I would avoid this if possible.
  • Various tour operators around Sandakan and Sabah offer packages to Gomantong and Kinabatangan so you might want this option instead.
  • GPS Coordinates to Gomantong Caves are - 5° 33' 0" North, 118° 6' 0" East
General Tips:
  • A general note that the caves are full of Guano (Bat Poo) and it smells.
  • To avoid this, use smelling salts or perfume sprayed on a towel or handkerchief.
  • Proper covered shoes are recommended as the floor can get slippery. Avoid sandals or open faced shoes and for the fashionable - no high heels please!
  • For the photo lovers, cave photography is no easy task. Flashing will not work so you will need a tripod and custom settings to achieve beautiful pictures inside. Check with your camera-pro friends about this.
Admission / Entrance fees to Gomantong Caves:
  • MyKad Holders - RM5.00 (Below 18 yrs - RM2.00)
  • Others - RM30 (US$10) and below 12 yrs - RM15 (US$5)
Camera Equipment Charges;
  • DSLR Camera, Compact Camera, Video Camera - RM10 each (US$3.30)

Gomantong Caves from the Sabah Tourism Website
More information on Gomantong Caves on Wikipedia

Official website for Sabah Tourism
www.sabahtourism.com


Map to Gomantong Caves Sabah

View Gomantong Caves, Sandakan Sabah in a larger map



*Pictures were taken with a Nikon D60, Lens: 18-105mm

Sandakan is in fact a true Eco paradise with almost every attraction here catered to this industry. Most nature and eco lovers would choose this part of Borneo to explore. For the adventure, wildlife and nature lovers, if you are visiting the Kinabatangan-Sukau area, your package would most likely include a visit to the Gomantong Cave in Sandakan Babah.

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