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Lankayan island lies about 15 km off the coast of Sabah (Borneo), about one and a half hours by speed boat from Sandakan. It is a small island quite isolated, you can barely see the neighbor islands such as so called Turtle Island (Silingan). The resort houses about 40 to 50 guests, mostly divers. All dives are very easy, not much current, so they are ideal for beginners. Lankayan offers nice clean bungalows, a beautiful beach, spectacular sunsets and moon rises, friendly and competent staff, but the actual diving doesn't have much to offer. There are some nudibranchs, the occasional interesting shrimp and quite a lot of gobies in the sandy areas, but I wouldn't call it a macro paradise (as for example Mabul or Kapalai further down south).
We were there in April, hoping for whale sharks. We asked around and they had only sighted a whale shark a week before, not while diving, but from the speed boat coming from Sandakan. Our joke ran, that we wouldn't see a whale shark while diving, because you couldn't even see your fellow diver since of the poor visibility! Though in the guest book from the year before (2003) 3 encounters with whale sharks, two in April and one in May, were mentioned. We were there for 10 days in so called whale shark season and nobody reported a sighting during that time.
There is a turtle hatchery on the island and one evening we could watch a turtle lying eggs on the beach. They also release small turtles into the water every day (hawksbill and green turtles). Snorkeling is o.k. there are even some small baby black tip reef sharks to be seen, because they are regularly fed by the staff from the resort. This is a practice I personally don't find a good idea, wild animals shouldn't be fed, they should learn to fend for themselves and not become dependent from humans - and - who wants to travel thousand of miles to observe abnormal behavior in animals, because they were fed? I find this not consistent with the ecological approach writes about in its brochures.
The island is heavily wooded, in the middle are some really large nice trees growing and during the night there is always a concert from the insects. Lankayan is also a large military post, there were military boats around and night patrols on the beach. When we were there there had been a border incident and when we left military boats accompanied us on our way back to Sandakan.
Lankayan island offers over 30 dive sites, they are all very similar, usually small patch reefs between 23 and 35m deep and with tops of 12 to 15m. The small reefs are covered with hard corals, very little soft corals or anemones burt there are also some damaged areas, where there is only coral rubble. Buoys are attached at most dive sites. Visibility is not very good, we often had 3 to 5 meter visibility, at the reef top it was better from 15 to 20m at the most. There are some large rivers are the near by coast (see map below) that bring a lot of sediment to the sea. Lankayan lies on the shallow continental shelf (30 to 35m deep) and the reefs are sometimes covered with a soup of fine snowy particles. Little current most of the time, sometimes waves. During our time there, jellyfish were quiet a nuisance. I dived with a hood and was spared some of the stinging, but in the resort you could actually tell a recently arrived diver from us veterans by the absence of jellyfish-burns on face and neck!
Jetty: We did a dive there on beautiful white sand. There is always a school of snappers, small mackerels and Monos under the jetty. You follow the rope extending from the sun deck and reach two small wrecks that lie at about 15m. Not much grows on them yet but you can swim through them - a nice easy dive. We found some flatworms, a beautiful Chromodoris coi nudibranch and observed some interesting gobies. The dive guide told us, there are also sometimes ghostpipefishes and flamboyant cuttlefish to be found here. The visibility around the Jetty was always a bit better than elsewhere.
Twin City (No. 8): are two small reefs close together with a sandy area between. There are some quite nice gorgonians and black coral bushes with many small transparent shrimps living in them. If you are lucky you can find a bamboo shark or a cat shark under some of the hard corals. There are some very nice coral blocks covered with clouds of glasfishes and the occasional lionfish among them. On the top of the reef were some large schools of blue fusiliers and rabbit fishes and we were lucky and also met a group of small barracudas. We had a lot of very small jellyfish in the surface area - watch out for stings - and long salp strings and the fish were having a day eating them.
Lankayan wreck (No. 15): About 4 minutes by boat from the jetty are two wrecks, lying in 24m, connected by several ropes. Although not very much covered, they are nice and seem to attract a lot of fish in schools. Go to the front of the first wreck and look out for some really large groupers, that assemble there. When disturbed they disappear inside the wreck and look out through the bull eyes! In one of the few soft corals of the wreck our guide even found a ghostpipefish. Around the second wreck which is smaller there was a large group of mackerels, but the time on the wreck is only about 45 minutes because of the decompression limits.
Mel's rock (No. 29): lies in the south of Lankayan. It is a small patch reef covered with hard corals and surrounded by sand and some more small reefs (Ikoh's Rock, Twin Rock and Katcing Star). On the top of the reef at about 12m are several very large coral blocks. These are specially interesting, because there are soft corals, algeas and hydroids covering them. We went there several times and always found different types of nudibranchs on the rocks who were eating the hydroids and algeas. Also look at the large barrel sponges, there are some beautiful pink squat lobsters (Lauriea siagiani) living on them.
If visiting Lankayan, try to combine it with one or two nights at the Sepilok Nature Resort and visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and walk through parts of the Forest Reserve. Orangutans (Orang Utan means tree people in the Malaysian language) are often illegally caught and sold as pets and others are found after having lost their mothers and are brought to the center. Here they are given a health examination, quarantined and then are gradually taught the necessary skills to fend for themselves in the jungle. They have to learn to climb properly, build nests for sleeping and find food. Now they are released into the forest reserve but during some time they still get supplementary food (milk and fruits) twice a day from the rangers. Visitors to the Sepilok-Kabili Forest Reserve are invited to watch the feeding from some wooden platforms. Eventually, most animals achieve independence and integrate info Sepilok's wild orangutan population.
The park lies about 20 km outside of Sandakan and can be reached by bus. There are several walks through the jungle (Phenology trail, Mangrove forest walk, Sepilok water hole, Bird tower trail). For the longer trails you have to register at the park entrance.
We did a night walk through the jungle (there is a wooden path, so don't be afraid of poisonous snakes or insects) and found it very interesting. When you first enter the jungle your ears meet a canopy of sounds from insects, bats and birds. To see them, even with flashlights proved to be a bit more difficult. Our guide had very sharp eyes and actually found a shy civet cat (Viverra zibetha, family Viverridae - German Zibet-Katze), a small cat with dark spots and ringed tail and very small deer (perhaps the lesser mouse-deer) - I would never have seen them without help. You shine into the leaves and hope to see the reflecting eyes. Like this you actually find some bats and perhaps a sleepy Orang Utan. We mainly saw a lot of insects such as centipedes and millepedes, stick insects and even a sweet water crab (as a diver I spotted the crab right away!).
Green turtles and hawkbill turtles live, breed and lay eggs on several of the small islands just off the northeast coast of Sabah, Borneo. Turtle Islands National Park lies about 40 km north of Sandakan (see map above) and consists of several islands centered around Silingan (or Selingan) where there is a visitors center and a few bungalows. Several islands can be visited and if a turtle visits the shore to lay eggs, the visitors are informed and can watch it. There is a hatchery and young baby turtles are regularly released into the sea.
The Gomantong Caves lie about 32 km south of Sandakan, are a home to over one million Edible-nest swiftlets (also called sea swallows). These swiftlets' nests are the famous Chinese delicacy, the edible bird's nest, and are very expensive. Twice a year, February to April and July to September, the bird's nests are harvested by men scaling bamboo ladders. At Gomantong Caves, there are two swiftlet species the black-nest swiftlet and the more valuable white-nest swiftlet (3 species exist - Collocalia maxima, Collocalia fuciphaga and Collocalia germani). The first collection takes place early in the breeding season before the swiftlets lay their eggs. The birds then make another nest in which they finally lay their eggs. After the young have fledged, the second collection can be made. Breeding seasons are particular to the two different species.
The cave is also peopled by thousands of bats which produce an enormous pile of guano shit on which you walk into the cave. Cockroaches are everywhere! Gomantong Hill is the largest limestone outcrop in the Lower Kinabatangan area, and contains at least nine caves of which two caves - Simud Hitam (Black Cave) and Simud Putih (White Cave) - can be visited, Simud Hitam is more easily accessible. Drive all the way to the Information Centre and then walk to the caves.
The Sungai Kinabatangan is the longest river in Sabah, measuring 560 km. In the area close to the river live wild orang utans, macaques, red and silver leaf monkeys, elephants, bearded pigs and more than 200 species of birds (for example the oriental darter, kingfishers, crested serpent eagle and hornbills) as well as estuarine crocodiles, civet cats and otters. But the most famous creature of all is undoubtedly the bizarre Proboscis monkey which is only found in Borneo. The male monkey has an extraordinary large nose even larger than human (males), the nose of the female is more delicate. The proboscis monkeys are very easy to spot because they like to socialize on mangrove trees along the river. These monkeys are strong swimmers with webbed feet and they like to leap from branch to branch which is very impressive.
It is possible to take an afternoon tour by boat across Sandakan Bay, through the saltwater swamp forest at the mouth of the Kinabatangan River, and on up to the first settlement, Kampung Abai, returning to Sandakan at night. It is possible stay overnight in Sukau, just two hours by road from Sandakan, where accommodation is provided.
The proboscis monkeys can also be seen closer to Sandakan in the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary which lies about an hour by car in the west of Sandakan.
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