When love meets outdoor adventure and nature!

Lahad Datu - Borneo Paradise - Danum Valley (Taliwas)

“I am so stressed! I need a getaway, back to nature, I need to sweat out the stress, to be fit and most importantly add more spark to my relationship!! But I don’t have 10 days to do your Borneo Eco Ride. If you have a 3 to 4 days trip, then Josh and I will be there!” expressed a very close friend of mine. Based on these specific requirements the idea of Romantic Eco Getaway took shape.

Story by: Itisha Mahadi

Having worked as a recruiter for a few years in the busy city of Kuala Lumpur, I could so relate to the stress that my dear friend was facing. It is a Standard Operating Procedure to juggle the demanding work life, meeting deadlines and sales target, and calming myself when I am stuck in traffic for hours. Whilst it is nice to chill and unwind at the malls or coffee joints during the weekend, too frequent of this leisure lifestyle pattern could lead to boredom and often damaging to the wallet! Which is perfectly not wrong, but one tends to miss out on the natural beauty Malaysia has to offer. Tourists from around the world travelled thousands of miles to experience our natural wonders and support our eco tourism. But as a local, I myself at one point used to fall into the “creature of comfort” category and would rather unwind or distress at the convenience of the malls. Could it be that we just don’t know where or what to do anymore during our off days or short holidays? Is it fair to say that we take things for granted? This topic was discussed when Bike and Tours was recently invited to appear on Malaysia’s reputable talk show Bella on NTV7. The outcome of this discussion also proved that Bike and Tours’ intentions to craft shorter tours for West Malaysians to visit East Sabah is worthwhile as the trend is moving towards outdoor activities to unwind and spend some quality time with their loved ones

Day 1: Romantic Eco Getaway – Let the Beauty of Nature Unfold….

Last weekend, Bike and Tours accomplished our mission by running the first Romantic Eco Getaway with a lovely city couple – Coco and Fazzy. They contacted us three weeks earlier when they were browsing our website and discovered our soon to be launched Romantic Eco Getaway tour. Though they know that we are running a competition to win a voucher to the Romantic Eco Getaway, they find that their timing to experience this tour was in the near moment.

And so two weeks fast forward; we met them at the Lahad Datu Airport at about 3.30pm. Both equipped with their backpacks and were adorably dressed in matching clothes – black polo shirts and brown shorts! The couple were excited to discover what we had arranged for them for the 3 days 2 nights tour. We then headed to the jetty where our boat was waiting. Secured with the orange safety jackets, the captain took Coco and Fazzy along the coast towards the direction of Kunak. The couple enjoyed each other’s company with the sun shining on their face and the sea salt breeze blowing in their hair. They were presented with picturesque backdrop of the aquamarine sea, the locals waiving from the floating villages nearby and the sights of the national protected marine areas. The boat slowly meandered its way towards a calm stream that was fringed with mangrove trees. The couple spotted monkeys hiding and peeping from the layers of the leaves – curious if it was Mowgli and Shanti from the Jungle Book visiting them in Borneo!

Before long, they reached the quaint eco resort in Kampung Sabahan known as Borneo Paradise. The charming resort is managed by the highly regarded Munang family who has a deep appreciation towards nature. Mr Munang has tastefully planted gorgeous hibiscus, fern, mango and pandan coconut trees to name a few of the flora and fauna species at the compounds of his eco resort. As the boat approached the deck, the friendly Borneo Paradise team – Merlin, Anita, Haslina and Marvin greeted Coco and Fazzy warmly and served them with their welcoming drinks. The couple looked into each other’s eyes as they sipped the naturally sweet pandan infused coconut juice that was adorned with a huge scarlet colored national flower –the poised hibiscus.

Haslina led the way to the couple’s room as Coco and Fazzy walked hand in hand behind her. They were brought to their cozy wooden chalet that was attached to a balcony on stilts, hence the close proximity to the river. During high tide you could just go fishing from this balcony. The shy Fazzy, said that it is almost like going back to kampung with the lovely view of the mangrove stream! The couple was given some time to freshen up and knowing that they had a long day travelling, Bike and Tours had a little TLC surprise for them – what’s a holiday without a massage rite? Merlin and Marvin both trained in foot reflexology, were the masseuses for the day. With the right pressure and aromatic massage oil, it was not long till both Coco and Fazzy fell into an hour snooze.

As night unfolds, the couple felt rejuvenated from the relaxing foot massage and was ready for dinner. They were aware that it was going to be a romantic dinner but little did they know that Bike and Tours had infused a bit of outdoor adventure for the couple to experience as a team before feasting on the delicious charcoal grille food. Coco and Fazzy were led to the river bank where two canoes were rocking like a see saw at the surface of the water “Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to present to you, your eco ride to dinner” said Marvin as he handed the paddles to Coco and Fazzy. The two looked at each other in surprised but quickly jumped in the canoe like excited children getting a new toy.

Together they paddled and headed from the brackish water towards the sea. The full moon painted the running stream with its reflection, adding more depth to the romantic atmosphere. The weather was ever so lovely that night; the sky was sprinkled with thousands of diamond looking stars. The silence of the night was only broken with the sounds of rippling water caused by the paddling movements. And of course with Coco’s questions to satisfy her curiosity as to where they were heading.

It was not long till they saw the sights of old fashion lights and bamboo torches lighting the secluded area of a pergola on stilts. The pergola was strategically placed in the middle of where the sweet water meets the sea. As their canoe approached the stairs to the pergola, Bike and Tours team extended our hands to assist the couple to their dining area. “That was amazing! We usually drive or walk to the restaurant! Never before have we canoed to our dinner place!” said Fazzy! As the couple gingerly climbed the stairs, they were presented with a lovely set table complete with flower arrangement and tea candles decorated on top of batik table cloth. Besides crafting tours, Bike and Tours are also passionate about food and entertaining their guests. And so for that night, team Bike and Tours took the honor to cook and serve the couple at this exclusive private spot. The air was filled with the wonderful aroma of charcoal grilled seafood teasing the couple’s appetite.

As they wine and dine to the delicious grilled seafood at this secluded area, they could not help but admire the “out of this world” ambiance as indicated by Coco. In her own words she expressed “I never imagined such a thing, dining here on pergola stilts, away from people - just me and him, enveloped by enchanting sights and sounds of nature. I mean look at this…” said Coco as this petite sized lady gestured with open arms to refer to her surroundings. Indeed they were encircled with magical source of lights from tea candles and bamboo torches; the dramatic long legged mangrove roots silhouetted against the graceful majestic moonlight, the cool breeze blew comfortably their way……. It was experiencing nature at its best in an adventurous romantic style!

Day 2: Romantic Eco Getaway: The ride of love….

After a hearty local breakfast at Borneo Paradise, Coco and Fazzy had a serene start for the day with a slow boat cruise heading towards Silam. That morning when the boat passed the magical area where the couple dined at ‘out of this world ambiance’, Coco was quick to say “hey, that was where we had dinner yesterday and this was how far we canoed!!!” she exclaimed, unable to hide her beam of pride that she was indeed capable at paddling the distance for an captivating escape to dinner. Fazzy nodded agreeing with Coco as he gave her a huge smile, his eyes almost disappearing from this action! They turned back as if to bid their farewell to this mystical spot as the boat headed further away from the brackish water. A sea eagle was seen flying making a halo right above the boat just before taking off towards the vast sea that stretched beyond the horizon. The smell of sea salt filled the air. The speed boat left bubbles of white trail on the surface of the gleaming turquoise water.

Before reaching Silam the boat made a stop at a lovely, undisturbed beach. It was indeed Lahad Datu’s hidden treasure. A slice of haven for the sun seekers and outdoor enthusiast! It was far and away from the “touristic” crowd. The view was mind blowing, gorgeous colorful school of fishes and marine life underneath the shimmering crystal clear sea. The sight of scalloped sandy beach stood right ahead. Water baby Coco could not contained herself any longer; before we know it she was gracefully swimming and commenting how nice it was to dip in the cool crisp seawater. The two sun seekers continued swimming till their fingers got wrinkled. The captain proceeded and took the couple to Silam where Simon was waiting for their arrival.

Coco and Fazzy hopped on the 4WD and proceeded to the Danum Valley junction. All the swimming earlier helped built the couple’s appetite for carbohydrate fix and so they stopped for lunch at a local joint just at the outskirt of the Danum Valley junction. As their carbohydrate fix filled their tummy, Simon gave them some guidance on the dos and the don’ts when the couple starts cycling the 20 plus km to Taliwas. Coco was both excited and apprehensive. She admitted that she has not been on a bicycle for a very long time. Simon advised that the couple should cycle for a bit at the junction first, just to acclimatize themselves to the mountain bikes.

Fazzy was a natural, Coco on the other hand just needed to get her momentum back on the wheels. When she practiced all eyes were on her, we could sense that she was not too comfortable at practicing in front of her new fan club. We asked her if she would prefer to start cycling a little bit later down the trail when she is not being watched. A huge smile plastered across her face when she was given the option to hop on the 4WD before hitting the wheels. Fazzy on the other hand was all game to enjoy the few kilometers on the snaky downhill! And so while Coco hopped back on the vehicle which had a sign that said “Awas!!! Cyclists ahead” at the back of pickup, Fazzy and Simon enjoyed the rewarding relaxation of the downhill! Despite the scotching weather, the cool gentle breeze of the rainforest did its wonders at cooling the adrenaline junkies like Fazzy and Simon.

At the end of descend, the terrain leaded to a rather flat gravel road towards the villages. Coco who has witnessed such adventure from behind the 4WD screen, gained courage and since there were no ‘audiences’ at sight, she decided to give it a try and join in the fun! And so, Coco secured the helmet on her chestnut colored hair, swung her right leg over the frame of the Polygon bicycle, hit the pedals in a standing position while being cheered by both Fazzy and myself. Simon was just next to Coco for support and guidance. By this time, she has confidently sat on the saddle whilst cycling. As the saying goes, the journey begins with a single pedal push! Turns out that she did very well, a bit shaky in the beginning but it was not long till this petite sized girl gained momentum and pedaled steadily like a champion. Haaa! Don’t be fooled by her size! She has indeed conquered the wheels when she shouted over her lungs “what are you guys waiting for????” sending all of us like three stooges to continue what we were doing before Coco took the gutsy move to cycle again!

And so off they went pedaling on the pebbled road, other times it was on rocky trails and sometimes on butterscotch colored mud terrain! On the wheels the couple enjoyed the beautiful ride through the tropical rainforest that was canopied with trees of different heights and layered with different sizes and shades of green leaves. There was barely any traffic which allowed the couple to take their time to appreciate the gorgeous panorama of the reserved forest. The atmosphere was filled with the lively sounds of the jungle. As the couple cycled, they were also on the lookout for the wildlife. They spotted a few kingfishers that perched on the branches of the trees. As they were about to go downhill, Fazzy pointed to what they could clearly see from a distance of about 100m was the beastly wild boar. The beast seemed to sense the foreign presence, turn to look at the couple and Simon before dashing back to his jungle wonderland!

The journey led them to a few bearable up-hills and rewarded them with a few breezy down-hills. Coco and Fazzy took a few breaks in between to quench their thirst with 100 Plus and snack on the Sabah’s pineapple jam filled biscuit. They clearly enjoyed themselves riding together, chatting and snapping photos of different posses! Two things you can’t take away from us Asians – our rice and our photo snapping habits!! LOL.

Having cycled for close to two hours, without any signs of warning and notification, the puffed up black clouds blew in our direction and rain began to pour. I supposed since they were in the rainforest, they might as well experience the rain there! Right? The couple was not shy of the rain, they looked at each other as if to say “bring it on!” Simon asked if they were alright with cycling in the rain. Fazzy looked at Simon as if he had stepped on his foot with metal shoes! His eyes grew bigger and wider “Of course, we love the rain!” he answered smiling as he continued pedaling. Coco chipped in “I was thinking of the rain to cool off this place for a bit. This is perfect as it adds on the intensity of the adventure” she said cheerfully.

Lady rain stayed with them for a bit then migrated to other areas. Before they know it, the couple was getting closer to their destination, but it is not over till they ride the final challenge. What lies ahead was a steep rocky hill; this would require the right state of mind, energy and of course motivation to ride this baby. Simon advised the couples to go slow and steady, not to pour out all the energy at the beginning and lose focus mid way. They were lead with Simon cycling the terrain ahead, like ‘drunken snakes’ they pushed the pedals and made their own windy mark as they ascend their way. Sweat pouring down their face and caramel latte mud splashed on their backs as the wheels made its turns. Their expression seems to ask “how long more do we have to cycle??” Simon was consistently giving them encouragement and cheering them on. Not ready to be defeated both put on serious warrior faces and battled the hill. With such warrior spirits, both managed to reach the top!!

The experience left both with wobbly knees, heavy breathing and a priceless sense of pride! They finished off the cycling journey with an amazing downhill followed by a flat terrain before reaching the lovely spot in Taliwas. Taliwas is a first class forest reserve area in Danum Valley, that is managed and maintained by Yayasan Sabah. The friendly staffs at Taliwas led by their dynamic leader Mr Albinus were all ready for the arrival of both Coco and Fazzy. They greeted them with the true Sabahan humble hospitality. Diana, Eric, Yohanis and bubbly Kak Lela did a great job at setting up the place accordingly to our liking. The couple was guided to cycle straight to the river bank side where their tent and bbq pit was already set by the staff at Taliwas. The jungle trees of different heights provided coziness to their camping side. The couple was indeed impressed with the set up. The interior of the tent was filled with the luxury of a mattress, pillows, plush blanket, torch light and even massage oil!!

Not far from their tent was another gazebo that was covered with thick red canvas roof and curtained tastefully with mocha shaded batik materials. “What’s that?” asked Fazzy. “Check it out” replied Simon with a sense of anticipation to the possible reaction from the couple. Coco was quick to investigate, “Wow!!! An outdoor bathroom!! How amazing!!!” she almost shouted. “Thanks! I made it on my own” replied Simon sheepishly.

Indeed, Simon had insisted on having an outdoor bathroom to enhance the experience for the guests. This was inspired through his personal cycling expedition from Switzerland to Cape Agulhas. After sweating it out from all the pedaling, he really looked forward to the warm shower in the wilderness (the water source contained from his Ortlieb water bags). And so for this Romantic Eco Getaway, Simon was intrigued to do something similar. He has taken some time over the past few weeks to create a unique outdoor bathroom. He has even tested the practicality of this bathing concept outside his own home during the initial construction. Much to the neighbors’ curiosity! After some trial and errors, the outdoor gazebo bathroom has been perfected for couples to enjoy the experience of warm bath out in the dramatic frames of nature.

While waiting for their warm bath to be ready, Coco and Fazzy took a dip in the cool clear water at Taliwas. There were extroverted schools of fishes that joined the couple for a swim. Coco is not a typical city girl that I would normally encounter. What shocked both Simon and I was when she demonstrated her capabilities at catching fishes with her bare hands! No sounds of the normal girly screams. Just a cool Coco doing her thing. A little later when I asked how she did this, she casually said that she goes for the coward fishes. “What do you mean by that?” I asked rather confused. She explained that the “coward fish” will hide under the rocks, and that’s Coco’s target. She admitted that there were times when she tried to scoop the fish out from their hiding that she was bitten by what she believed was baby crab! Please note that the fishes caught by Coco are immediately released again to their habitat.

As night falls Eric the young ranger from Taliwas and his team were busy preparing for the night safari. Simon and I on the other hand started the fire for the grill and set the table which was closely located next to the river. It was a lovely night with cool breeze and a canopy of diamond stars in the sky. The sounds of hornbills and running stream filled the night. The bamboo torches added more charm to this close to nature backdrop! After the blissful warm bath the couple stepped out from their tent looking very relaxed and rejuvenated. As they sat and enjoyed their dinner, I couldn’t help but relate this picture to the Survivor series. It looks as if the couple was rewarded for winning an immunity challenge! “Their ride is ready” Eric’s voice brought me back to reality.

Not long after dinner, the couple sat on the bench at the back of a 4WD pickup. All geared to catch a glimpse of the nocturnal life. But just as the vehicle started to move it rained! Heavier than it was in the late afternoon. Eric was quick to hand the couple an umbrella for shelter. In the middle of the heavy rain, Fazzy said “this is a sign that we all should get a good rest and call it a day”. He smiled and pulled his girl closer to him. And so the couple returned back to their tent and dozed off to the sound of raindrops and an orchestra competition between the crickets and Freddy frogs………

Day 3: Romantic Eco Getaway: Footprints of love to the natural whirlpool!

There is sunshine after the rain…the couple woke up to the sound of chirping birds, the ray of sunlight that weaved its way down the different sizes of green leaves and the fresh aroma of Tenom coffee wafted through the air. As they stepped out of their tent and walked on the soft dewy blades of grass, the sight of warm local breakfast was readily set in the beauty of Mother Nature. If Mowgli and Shanti from the Jungle Book were to have a romantic getaway in Borneo, this is definitely where they would want to be! In nature’s sanctuary.

As they were enjoying their privacy together, Eric and Wilfred the guides from Taliwas were ever so ready for the morning jungle trekking activity. They were equipped with leach socks and parang (long knife) and minyak cap kapak (axe brand medicated oil). “The smell of minyak cap kapak helps keep the leeches away!” Wilfred told us smiling as he rubbed the oil on his legs. You could sense their level of enthusiasm to show Coco and Fazzy the charms of Taliwas and what lies in the heart of this jungle.

And so ready with 100 plus isotonic drink, some light snacks and burning motivation to discover the beauty of the Taliwas Waterfall and natural whirlpool, the couple started their adventure for the day. Eric led the way and Wilfred followed the couple from behind. The trail was impressively well maintained. The Taliwas team visits this location every other week to clean up the area to provide convenience to their visitors.

As they walked the trail of love Coco and Fazzy hoped to see orang utan. They were told that there are orang utan here. However, since the jungle is deep and vast, chances to encounter these mysterious creatures are rather slim as there is plenty of space for them to roam about.

As the couple ventured further into the Danum Valley jungle, the wet damped earth was home ground for the leeches. The couple battled to remove the leeches that crawled on their legs. There were times where we see the couple running hand in hand to escape these leeches. They crossed two small narrow streams that were filled with school of fishes. Fazzy asked if Wilfred have gone fishing here. Shaking his head, he told them that this is a protected area and fishing is definitely out of the question.

As they proceeded to climb some muddy trails, Eric’s hawk eyes spotted a gorgeous cobalt blue kingfisher hidden amongst the leaves. It was also along this coordinates that they noticed gigantic snail like elephant dung! “Could they be around now?” whispered Coco expecting Jumbo to make its’ appearance from behind the huge tree trunk. Eric laughed at Coco’s animated expression; gently he broke the news that this was not the season where the elephant makes its rounds. In addition to that, there was no distinct smell of the elephants to indicate their presence nearby………

After almost one hour of walking, the couple could hear splashing roars of the Taliwas Waterfall before they even see it. It was not that long till they stood in front of an enchanting escape in the middle of the Danum Valley jungle. There it was the emerald whirlpool! White water cascaded over the tiers of the falls and filled the natural Jacuzzi pool. Lush canopies of tree shaded the area making it the perfect place to swim after the trekking session. As it rained the night before the water was rather cold that morning. Coco was a natural water baby that dived in this rewarding pleasure. Fazzy who shivers as he stepped foot in the pool took his time and traded with the water for a while before submerging into the pool of paradise…..

What a perfect way to wrap up this romantic eco getaway……