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Top Bird Watching Places in Malaysia

Top Bird Watching Places in Malaysia

After exploring many areas, I have come up with a list of the top birdwatching places in Malaysia for anyone interested to know where and how to get to these locations.

This list of places for birdwatching in Malaysia is also in no order and is purely based on popularity, infrastructure, and accessibility to these places, where many birders have visited.

Top Bird Watching Places in Malaysia 
  1. Kinabatangan River, Sabah
  2. Taman Negara, Pahang
  3. Fraser's Hill, Pahang
  4. Langkawi Island, Kedah
  5. Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sabah
  6. Awana Genting, Pahang
  7. Paya Maga, Sarawak
  8. Bario Highlands, Sarawak
  9. Danum Valley, Sabah
  10. Maliau Basin, Sabah
  11. Rainforest Discovery Center, Sabah
  12. Crocker Range National Park, Sabah
  13. Deramakot Forest Reserve, Sabah

Sarawak Bird Watching Borneo
Bird Watchers at the Borneo Highlands in Sarawak

Some places mentioned above require travelling via two flights, overland journeys, and even river cruising or trekking. And being in a tropical climate, Malaysia offers over 600 species of birds covering many different terrains.

There are tropical rainforest, coastal, island, montane and wetland locations to spot the different species of birds in Malaysia, suitable for all kinds of birders.

With so many locations being offered and published in magazines, books, and online sites, it must be tough to decide which are the best places to go for birdwatching in Malaysia.

However, the list below will briefly explain the places and what kind of experiences you will get. They are also visitor-friendly, without having to cut through the thick jungle and walk for miles.

A flock of Straw-headed Bulbul's in Kinabatangan River, Sabah. Photo by Wokoti

1. Kinabatangan River, Sabah Borneo

One of the best places to see natural wildlife and birds is the Kinabatangan River in Sabah. Located about four hours from the city of Sandakan, the visitors are mostly nature lovers and photographers.

What is excellent about Kinabatangan is that you can cruise around in boats to spot birds and wildlife here, with early morning and night boat trips highlighted here.

Star Bird for Kinabatangan River: Straw-headed Bulbul, Storms Stork

To get here: Book your tour with North Borneo Safari, a company specialising in birdwatching tours or bird photography tours in Sabah.

Birding Taman Negara
A Great Hornbill was spotted in Taman Negara National Park, Pahang.

2. Taman Negara, Pahang

The oldest national park in Malaysia is Taman Negara National Park, where it takes only about 5 hours to travel one way.

Over 450 birds are found around the national park and at the main park resort area; one can easily spot birds here.

A nature lovers' paradise, the luxurious Mutiara Taman Negara Resort in the park and many other hotels and guesthouses outside the national park provide standard accommodations for bird watching in Taman Negara.

Other places around Taman Negara include taking a boat ride up the Tembiling River and Lata Berkoh, which is highly popular for bird watchers.

The Taman Negara Canopy Walk is another place for birding, but by trekking there.

One of the new areas for birdwatching is at Hornbill Valley or Lembah Enggan, where several species of hornbills have been spotted apart from other lowland birds.

I visited this place in April 2017 to check it out and saw a Gold Whiskered Barbet from the main road. A couple of Minivets were also spotted easily here.

Star Bird for Taman Negara: Garnet Pitta, Large Frogmouth

To get here: Ivy Holidays in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur, provides birdwatching tours to Taman Negara.

Whistling Thrush Malaysia
The Malayan Whistling Thrush, photographed by Janetli SF

3. Fraser's Hill, Pahang

The closest place to Kuala Lumpur to go birdwatching is Fraser's Hill in Pahang. It only takes two hours to drive up here, and you can do this on a day trip or even an overnight trip.

This place is also home to the Fraser's Hill International Bird Race for more than 30 years, and every year, there is a healthy growth of bird watchers coming here to participate.

Over 270 species of birds have been recorded here, with quite a good number of endemics too.

There are many easy treks available here, and birds are easily spotted. Note that you will see many bird photographers over the weekend, and you may even make new birding friends here.

Star Bird for Fraser's Hill: Malayan Whistling Thrush

To get here: You can self-drive from Kuala Lumpur as it is only a 2-hour drive. For birding tours, you can contact Mr Durai, probably the best birdwatching guide for Fraser's Hill.

Langkawi Mountain Hawk Eagle
Langkawi's Mountain Hawk Eagle, photo by Allan Hopkins, c/o www.hiveminer.com

4. Langkawi Island, Kedah

Often known as an island getaway, Langkawi Island is a birder's paradise with many hornbills to be spotted.

Because Langkawi is an island, you get the best of rainforest, lowland birds and coastal birds.

Self-birding or guided birding can be done here as the island is easy to drive around. Many hotels ranging from luxury to budget are available on this duty-free island.

Star Bird for Langkawi Island: Brown-winged Kingfisher and Mountain Hawk-Eagle.

To get here: Most people will find their way here via flights from Kuala Lumpur. Once on the island, you can contact Wendy Chin, as she is one of the pioneer birds and nature guides on Langkawi Island. She will assist you in arranging everything to have a leisurely experience here.

Tabin's Starbird, the Long-tailed Broadbill. Photo by Jason Azahari Reyes of Sabah

5. Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sabah Borneo

Located on the east coast of Sabah, Tabin Wildlife Reserve is another premier birdwatching location guaranteed to let you see some endemic birds of Borneo.

Over 220 species have been recorded here; if you stay long enough, you could see 70% of them.

The bird guides are also some of the best principles I have worked with; they know their birds. I wanted to see some Pittas on my last trip here, and they called them naturally by whistling.

Tabin is a natural paradise as you see many birds, plus there are not many tourists here but more nature lovers.

Elephants are also sighted apart from clouded leopards and other wildlife. The resort is also very nice and one of the best rainforest resorts in Malaysia that I have stayed at.

Star Bird for Tabin Wildlife Reserve: Long-tailed Broadbill

To get here: Contact Tabin Wildlife Resort, as they are the only resort that provides birdwatching and nature tours.

Black-Thighed Falconet Awana Genting
The smallest raptor in the world, at Awana Genting. Video capture by Loh Ming Lee.

6. Awana Genting, Pahang

Halfway up to the resort city of Genting Highlands, or Resorts World Genting as it is now called, you will stop at a place called Awana Genting.

The great thing about this place is that you have the opportunity to spot montane birds in the cool highlands.

Recommended to go up early, before 7.00 am, to catch the active birds up here. I once went up in the morning and spotted the Black-thighed Falconet on a tree.

Star Bird for Awana Genting: Black-Thighed Falconet

To get here: Self-drive one hour to Awana Genting. There are no special tours available currently.

Paya Maga Black Oriole
The star bird of Paya Maga, Sarawak - Black Oriole. Photo by Tony Saw
7. Paya Maga, Lawas, Sarawak Borneo

A relatively new birding spot in the north of Sarawak is Paya Maga, and it is only here where you can find the endemic Black Oreol.

However, getting to the location will take you over 5 hours of travel and trekking. Along the way, many lowland birds can be spotted.

This is still one of the lesser-visited places for bird watching in Sarawak and one of the most desired locations.

Star Bird: Black Oriole

To get here: You need to book a specialist to visit this place. Only one or two people are probably operating this bird tour for Paya Maga.

Sarawak Dulit Frogmouth
The rare Dulit Frogmouth in Sarawak, photographed by Yeoh Siew Teck of Birding Borneo.

8. Bario and Bakelalan Highlands, Sarawak

The highlands of Sarawak Borneo offer some exciting bird watching, and there are two places called Bario and Bakelalan suitable for this.

Both highland villages are located northeast of Sarawak, and the closest city is Miri.

One must fly to these towns 1000 meters above sea level and with the most simple traditional lifestyle.

There are no hotels or modern infrastructure here, only homestays managed by the local ethnic people of the highlands.

I have been personally birding in Bario over the last three years, visiting four times and each time with bird guide Scott Apoi.

The beauty of birding here is that the cool highlands provide a great walking and birding experience. The Dulit Frogmouth was last spotted about two to three hours out of Bakelalan town.

Star Bird for Bario Bakelalan: Dulit Frogmouth

To get here: Contact Scott Apoi of Nigmat Ayu Homestay in Bario, as he used to do bird watching and still does it on and off. He knows the best places to see birds in Bario and Bakelalan.

Bakelalan Trip Report: I visited here in October 2018 and did a Bakelalan birdwatching trip report for anyone interested.

Danum Hill Blue Flycatcher
Danum's Hill Blue Flycatcher, photographed by Apisit Wilaijit of Thailand.

9. Danum Valley, Sabah Borneo

One of Malaysia's excellent birdwatching locations in Danum Valley comes complete with a good selection of Borneo Birds and a luxurious rainforest staying experience.

The bird guides here are also some of the best in Malaysia, with in-depth knowledge of the local birds.

A great place to bird watch is the Danum Canopy Walk, one of the most unique in the world. Other areas require much trekking, and night birding is also recommended here.

Star Bird for Danum Valley: Hill Blue Flycatcher

To get here: You can book directly with Borneo Rainforest Lodge, which manages the exclusive resort, or contact North Borneo Safari Tours, which organises specialised birdwatching tours to Danum Valley.

Bird Watching at Maliau Basin Sabah
A bird watching guide at Maliau Basin in Sabah
10. Maliau Basin, Sabah Borneo

One of the more challenging areas in Borneo, located about 4-5 hours from Kota Kinabalu, is the Lost World of Sabah or Maliau Basin.

This fully protected conservation area is non-commercialised and requires a permit and tour company to bring you in. By saying that, you can only imagine what is waiting for you.

Star Bird for Maliau Basin: Blue Banded Pitta

To get here: North Borneo Safari Tours provides specialised birdwatching trips here.

Bornean Bristlehead Sabah
One of the most sought-after birds in Sabah the Bornean Bristlehead. Photo: Lee Teck Seng

11. Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC), Sandakan Sabah

The RDC (common name) in Sandakan is one of the very popular places for bird watching on the east coast of Sabah.

Here, you will find the mascot of birds in Sabah, the Bornean Bristlehead, a bright-coloured endemic of Sabah and Borneo.

RDC also boasts the country's best modern canopy walk system, a massive steel canopy walk that stretches almost one kilometre long.

There are also three towers for birdwatching along the canopy walk, making this place really interesting.

The RDC is also home to a bird festival, but from time to time, the festival moves around Sabah and eventually, it will be held at the Rainforest Discovery Center.

Star Bird for Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC): Bornean Bristlehead

To get here: North Borneo Safari organises day trips, or you can make your way here from Sandakan city.

I recommend you use the birding specialist as they know where the best spots are to see the birds versus walking around on your own.

Sabah Bornean Ibon
The Bornean Ibon, photo by Wong Tsu Shi, Borneo Birds

12. Crocker Range National Park, Sabah Borneo

Located just under two hours' drive from Kota Kinabalu city is one of Sabah's up-and-coming places for bird watching. The Crocker Range National Park has been visited by avid birders for many years.

Recently, after promoting the Borneo Bird Festival, which was held in the city and at the national park, more bird watchers are starting to visit this place because it is not overcrowded.

Watch this place as it will eventually become a popular birdwatching spot in Sabah due to its proximity to Kota Kinabalu. 

Star Bird for Crocker Range National Park: Bornean Ibon

To get here: Travelling from Kota Kinabalu City via van takes about two hours. Birdwatching operators usually offer packages that include guides and transport.

You can also rent a car and self-drive here using Waze or Google Maps. There is a minimal park entry charge. For beginners, it is recommended to engage one of the professional bird guides in Sabah. 

Sabah Maliau Basin
The magnificence of Maliau Basin in Sabah, photographed by Cede Prudente.

13. Deramakot Forest Reserve

This is one of the new destinations that many bird watchers are discussing. Deramakot is located in Sabah and is currently one of the hottest places for birdwatching.

I have yet to visit this place but will be doing so shortly, and when I have done birdwatching in Deramakot, I will be sharing my experience on my other dedicated site, Bird Watching Asia.

Conclusion

The list above is compiled by me, David Hogan Jr, an amateur bird watcher since 2008. Since then, I have been writing about birdwatching and am always ready to explore any new birdwatching places in Malaysia.

Most of the birding places listed above have also been visited by me, but I am not a serious bird photographer.

One of my recent projects is a dedicated website called Bird Watching Asia. Which aims to promote bird watching all over Malaysia.

You can also read about my other birding adventures locally and worldwide, namely, bird watching in Indonesia or the many Malaysia birdwatching events throughout the year.

For birders who plan to travel to this beautiful tropical country, I hope this list of the top birdwatching places in Malaysia will come in handy for your trip here.

And always remember to get a professional bird guide for your trip, depending on which part of Malaysia you want to do bird watching.

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