Ready to experience everything nature and wildlife Sabah has to offer? Consider visiting Tabin Wildlife Reserve and Resort!
Located about an hour and a half from Lahad Datu, Tabin Wildlife Reserve is relatively easy to reach. You can fly, bus or taxi into Lahad Datu and soon be on your way.
But once you are at this 1,120 square kilometre reserve, you’ll feel light years away. This Tabin Wildlife Reserve lodge is a great place to spot pygmy elephants and primates as well as orangutans. In fact, orangutans and sun bears from Sepilok are released here. There are many more animals and birds to keep a look out for as well.
Tabin Reserve is best known for its mud volcanoes where wildlife like to gather for their minerals. There are viewing platforms for guests where you can watch the animals at these volcanoes. It’s a more up-market experience than some others in Sabah and has great accommodation. I especially loved the personalised attention I received here.
If you are at all considering visiting Tabin Wildlife Reserve, keep reading! I’m going to share with you everything there is to know about visiting here from where it is, to how to book a tour package to exactly what the tour entails.
I also describe exactly what it is like when you visit this Tabin resort from the accommodation to the meals to the wildlife experiences.
This way, you can decide if visiting Tabin Wildlife Reserve is right for you.
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What Is Tabin Wildlife Resort And Reserve?
Tabin Wildlife Reserve Borneo is a nature reserve and wildlife sanctuary located in the eastern part of Sabah, Malaysia. The reserve is home to a variety of endangered and rare wildlife species.
The Tabin Wildlife Reserve was established in 1984 to protect the endangered Sumatran rhinoceros and other wildlife species such as the Borneo pygmy elephant, orangutan, clouded leopard and sun bear. The reserve is also known for its diverse bird species, including the endemic Bornean bristlehead. Unfortunately, the rhinoceros are no longer found here but you can still see the other animals and many others.
The Tabin Wildlife Resort is the only accommodation within the reserve and gives you an opportunity to experience the wildlife and natural beauty of the area. The resort provides comfortable lodgings, guided jungle trekking, bird watching and wildlife safaris to observe the various animal species in their natural habitat.
I did a few wildlife experience packages in Sabah like Turtle Island and Kinabatangan River. This is by far the most professional outfit for people serious about getting close to nature in a very special spot.
Where Is Tabin Wildlife Reserve?
Address: Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia
Tabin Wildlife Reserve is located about 45 kilometres northeast of Lahad Datu. There is a road into the resort although it is bumpy. You’ll really feel like you’ve headed into the jungle.
A Tabin Wildlife tour will pick you up at Lahad Datu, and this can be directly at the airport if you fly in, so you don’t need to worry about getting here.
There are direct flights to Lahad Datu from Kota Kinabalu or Sandakan and you can also get a bus or taxi to Lahad Datu. if you are coming from Sandakan, read our full guide to how to get from Sandakan to Lahad Datu here. If you are coming from Tawau, read this guide here.
How To Visit Tabin Wildlife Reserve Sabah
You can only visit this Tabin nature reserve on an organised tour package. This will include everything you need for your visit including transfers, accommodation, meals, guided walks and safari drives.
There are 1 – 3 night options including a wildlife option and specialised birding and frog options. Note that you can’t take a Tabin Wildlife Reserve day trip. You need to stay at least overnight.
Two night stays are the most common and the minimum of what I recommend. You get to experience a great variety of activities with a good chance of spotting wildlife. I describe this package below and then I walk through my experiences of everything on my Tabin Wildlife holiday.
With nature experiences such as this, you need to remember that there is a lot outside of anyone’s control. The weather can impact your experience and wildlife can’t be relied on to show up ☺ You do have a great chance of some great experiences here though, especially if you stay longer.
My experience was impacted by heavy rain and bulging rivers, and I wish I had booked a longer experience to be able to do more.
Tabin Wildlife Reserve Tours Package 3D2N
This is the basic itinerary for the standard Tabin Wildlife Reserve 3 day/2 night package. It’s correct at the time of publishing.
- 8am or 12pm pick up in Lahad Datu for the one and half hour transfer to the resort
- Check into your room
- If you arrive on the 8am transfer, visit the Trogon Hall gallery. Here, there is information about the conservation of Tabin as well as on the birds
- Trekking to the active Lipad mud volcano which is popular with wildlife. Watch from the elevated area and identify the animal footprints
- You can also try out the volcanic mud on your skin
- Attend a presentation on Tabin’s natural wonders
- Head out on a night safari to look for nocturnal wildlife and birds
- Go on an early morning bird walk
- Trek through the jungle and visit Lipad’s Waterfall. Take a dip or explore the surrounding vegetation
- Try the Tabin Rainforest Foot Soak which is made with a natural blend of herbs. It’s perfect for relaxing tired muscles
- At dusk, take a drive to look out for more nocturnal wildlife & birds that are looking for food
- Take a night walk along the trail near the resort looking out for sleeping birds, frog and nocturnal wildlife
- Optional dawn drive for an extra fee
- Morning at leisure until departure back to Lahad Datu
Everything above is included except where stated otherwise. You’ll have English speaking guides.
Tabin Wildlife Resort Review
Now that we’ve covered all the background information on the Tabin Wildlife Resort Borneo, let’s walk through what it’s actually like, what you’ll see, eat and how fabulous the Tabin Wildlife lodge is.
Everything below is based on my personal experience of visiting here.
Getting To Tabin Wildlife Resort Lahad Datu Sabah
There are two transfers a day to Tabin from Lahad Datu. I was aiming for the second one at 12pm. I was quite early at 10:30am, but it didn’t end up a long wait as we left early at 11:30am.
I was picked up from Lahad Datu Airport which is small! There is a small restaurant with drinks and toilets you can use while waiting as well as indoor and outdoor seating areas.
At my pick-up, there were two vehicles. I got to sit at the front of a smaller one which was great. We were soon on our way.
The first part of the journey is smooth out of Lahad Datu. But soon enough, we turned onto a side road that would take us to Tabin. It was quite rocky and slow going especially when it started pouring with rain.
When we finally hit Tabin Wildlife Reserve, we saw some wildlife as we drove to the resort. So cool!
You can clearly see on the drive in why this reserve is so important. Until we hit it, all we saw were palm plantations.
Check-in was disorganised even though there seemed to be plenty of workers. I wasn’t sure what to do then was seated and told I’d have to wait for other people to leave to get my table and be able to do anything, basically.
Then I was told to get lunch. The friendly waiter told me exactly what everything was and gave me the wifi password. I’m not sure why a password is required somewhere so remote though. Then someone got my delicious welcome drink.
My tour guide appeared and introduced himself and went through my itinerary for the rest of the day as well as general information about the resort. He gave me the key and I went to find my room. Lucky for me (especially as it was pouring with rain), it was the first river lodge by the main part of the resort.
Less lucky was that my suitcase wasn’t there. Thankfully, this was fixed quickly as they had sent it to the wrong room.
Tabin Wildlife Reserve Accommodation
There are just twenty, beautiful wooden bungalows at the Tabin Wildlife Resort Malaysia where you can stay. There are ten river lodges and ten hill lodges. All come with private balcony, air-conditioning, fan and hot water showers.
The river lodge is built along the Lipad river and offers views of this. The hill lodge is along the hill with more privacy and views over the jungle. There are also many more steps to get to the hill lodge bungalows so it’s not the best choice if you have problems with stairs.
All rooms can accommodate up to three people and have twin or double bed options. They are all connected by a timber boardwalk to the rest of the resort.
My River Lodge
I stayed in a river lodge room. As mentioned above, it was right by the main buildings which felt very lucky, especially as I was sometimes able to access the wifi in my room. Actually, I also had Digi cell coverage here which shocked me.
On entry to my room, I could see the great view out to the river and I was immediately at ease.
To the left was my modern bathroom with shower, basin and toilet. Unfortunately, the shower isn’t in a cubicle so it does get wet in here. There is hot water and a nice range of toiletries. I especially loved the oatmeal soap.
There was a drying rack to my right and then three steps down into the main part of my room.
Everything was wooden and beautiful. I had two twin beds, a big bench seat I could use for my suitcase, a hanging rack with a safe, a desk and chair (where I’m writing this description!), a tall mirror, two torches and two big glass bottles of water.
There was also a ceiling fan and air-conditioner.
It was all comfortable, and I loved it!
However, the best part was definitely the balcony overlooking the river. There was also a coffee table and two chairs here and wildlife spotting opportunities right in front of me. Bliss!
Note that there aren’t curtains to cover all of the windows and the ones that exist, aren’t easy to use. So expect to be up at dawn every day – which is when activities start anyway.
I was also able to check out a hill lodge room when I visited here. It was a queen bed one, but there are also twin and triple options. It was much the same, but I don’t think they are quite as good a choice.
The pro was no stairs in the room, but there can be a lot of stairs to get to your hill lodge depending which one you are allocated.
There are views down to the river still and surrounding jungle. Really, all the rooms are beautiful and you can’t go wrong, but I’d pick the river lodge for ease of access and the feeling of total privacy as you face the river.
Meals take place at the resort’s restaurant, Sunbird Cafe. It is open from 7am to 10pm and serves both local and western cuisine. Main meals are included in your package, and there are snacks here throughout the day. You can also purchase alcoholic and soft drinks.
I arrived in time for lunch on my first day which had two vegetable options, a chicken option, a fish option, rice and soup as well as some fruit.
I chose to skip afternoon tea as I wasn’t hungry.
Dinners are similar to lunches with options, although there were more dessert options. On my first night when I got to dinner, I wandered around awhile and then found out I was the only one who didn’t have a table set for me.
This was fixed quickly and with big apologies, but it added to the disorganisation I felt during the first day of my stay.
For breakfast, there’s a light breakfast at 6am before you go out for dawn activities and then a bigger breakfast afterwards. The light breakfast was cereal and toast. The bigger breakfast was this plus juice and hot options like noodles, toasted sandwiches and omelettes.
My food was nothing special, but it was quite tasty.
Tea, coffee and water are available all day here.
There is a visitors’ centre at the entrance. I visited here with my guide who gave me far more information about the park. There’s also a special room about the last Bornean Rhinoceros.
There is a souvenir shop as well as souvenirs for sale in the visitor’s centre.
There are many activities to do here. I stuck with my itinerary, although it had to be edited thanks to weather issues. I get the impression that with advance notice, many things can be arranged so I’d reach out and talk to them before your stay if something in particular interests you.
I ended up not going to Lipad’s Waterfall. I could have, but you have to wade through a river to get there. Usually, this is small, but all the rain had led to it being huge and I’d have to wade through waist deep water. I have a bad ankle and am paranoid of leeches so I opted out of this experience and went for the drive detailed below instead.
I had the same guide for all my activities which was great. Not everyone has this, but I got the impression that for standard packages, you are allocated to someone who looks after you where possible.
My guide would make sure I knew what was going on, give me choices when the weather was bad and tell me what to wear, take etc. He was always easy to find and very approachable.
In fact, even when I was at the resort between activities, he pointed out a gibbon to me and a flying squirrel in the surrounding trees at different times. So cool!
The personalised attention at this resort is great. At least, once you have checked in.
Trekking And Visiting The Mud Volcano
The Lipad mud volcano is usually the highlight of visits to Tabin. It’s about two kilometres from the resort in a clearing surrounded by the jungle. The volcano spews out new mud every day keeping the ground grey and soft.
This was the first hike I did, and there were two choices – unless it’s rained a lot like when I visited.
You can take a 2.2 kilometre track to get to the mud volcano up and down hills or a drive and then a 700 metre track. Either way, you take the 700 metre track back.
If there’s been a lot of rain, the river you have to walk through on the longer track can be too strong and big to walk across so everyone needs to take the easier drive + 700 metre option.
There is a big viewing tower next to the mud volcano to help you see everything, take photos and you can even spend the night here.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t a good experience for me. It was pouring with rain so the walk was very muddy (so good they gave us rubber boots to wear), we only saw birds, we didn’t get to walk on the mud around the volcano, we didn’t talk about the footprints on it, and we didn’t get to try the mud on our skin.
It felt like a waste of time.
The car to drive us back was 30 minutes away when we finished as well so we started walking back in the mud. This was probably because we didn’t spend as long as normal at the site thanks to the very heavy rain.
It is a good illustration of why you should come here for a few days if you can so hopefully, you get a better experience than me.
Presentation And Night Safari
I should really call this night safari as the presentation listed in my program when I booked did not seem to happen.
Thankfully, the night safari was brilliant and helped make up for everything.
There were nine of on bench seats in the back of a truck with two guides with big lights that looked for wildlife as the driver slowly drove through part of the park.
They found quite a lot of wildlife from frogs to birds to civets, to mammals I hadn’t heard of before to the highlight, a leopard cat.
It was very cool and very well done. The guides were fantastic at spotting the wildlife and making sure everyone was happy before moving on.
I was surprised how cool it was on this trip. I had a long sleeve shirt and pants on, but I could have worn another layer.
This is meant to be an optional extra. I was quite keen after how much I enjoyed the night safari.
Alas, they didn’t have a spare vehicle to offer it. I recommend you book this before you get here to ensure you are not disappointed.
Instead, I went on an early walk at 6:30am with my guide. This ended up being just me and him so that was awesome.
We walked around the grounds near the hotel for an hour. It was a beautiful morning and we saw a few different animals and birds including a poor monitor lizard trying its best to swim upstream which was a little comical.
The best part was enjoying the jungle in a more relaxed atmosphere than the very wet slog to the mud volcano the day before.
Since I chose not to go walking through waist-deep water to the waterfall, I went on an orangutan spotting drive instead.
This went for about an hour.
Unfortunately, we were not successful, but I enjoyed the drive through more of the park.
Heading Back To Lahad Datu
The departure time for everyone was 1:30pm. Unfortunately, we left a little late and had a few stops along the way arriving back in Lahad Datu a half hour late. This affected my onward transport to my next destination so leave some leeway when making onward plans.
I was a little disappointed one of the stops was to let someone go shopping for beach toys! They could have at least asked if anyone minded or, ideally, just said no. On the upside, if you want to stop at shops on the way back, it seems like you can! ☺
I loved my experience here.
While I was disappointed by my experiences at the mud volcano, this couldn’t be helped. I loved everything else and how well the activities, tours and guides worked.
This place really is special and like no other I have stayed at. You’re surrounded by the jungle and it’s all just so beautiful and precious. It feels like you can’t go more than a few minutes without spotting something.
While some things were a bit disorganised, the things that mattered were great and I had a very enjoyable experience here. The personalised attention was great and I feel like this resort is very good value mainly because of that.
My only regret is not staying longer. Try to stay 2-3 nights! I look forward to coming back, this time with my family. There were a few families here when I was, so definitely consider bringing kids too.
Full Tabin Wildlife Reserve Video Walk-Through
The best way to understand and appreciate what you’ll get at Tabin Wildlife Reserve and Resort is to watch my full video walk-through below.
I show you everything on my 2 day-1 night Tabin experience from checking-in at Lahad Datu Airport to the journey to my accommodation, meals and activities.
When To Visit Tabin Wildlife Reserve
I talked to my guide about this. He was of the opinion that since wildlife spotting is random and can’t be controlled that any time of year is a good time to visit.
I was there in early April and, even though it was the dry season, this is a rainforest and the rain had an impact. My guide said wet and dry times vary every year and there’s no need to aim for that.
His favourite time is October to December when fewer tourists come. At this time, there are less groups staying here so you don’t have to worry about other people disturbing the wildlife which can make spotting animals easier.
Fruiting season, from May to September, is a great time to see orangutans. He talked about how (relatively) easy it is to see them then.
What To Take
It’s recommended you bring:
- Insect repellent
- Long sleeve shirts and long pants
- Light jacket/jumper
- Sun hat
- Swim wear,
- Comfortable trekking shoes
- Water bottle
Leech socks are also recommended and you can buy them at the resort’s shop which is what I did. There are a lot of those suckers around 🙂
There are gumboots/wellies/wellingtons (whatever you call big rubber boots in your part of the world) which you can borrow and will want to wear. If you are coming here with kids, it could be worth bringing your own for them so there is sure to be something that will fit.
I found things a little cooler here than other places I went in Sabah. I wore long sleeves and pants most of the time. However, it could feel very hot when the sun was out.
Booking Your Trip To Tabin Wildlife Resort
You need to book your trip to Tabin Wildlife Resort and Reserve in advance. You can book with them directly on their site.
You won’t want to miss a visit here!
Visiting Tabin Wildlife Reserve is truly amazing.
From my fabulous room to the fabulous wildlife seemingly everywhere to the personalised attention to just how easy it all is to stay here, I highly recommend fitting Tabin into your itinerary in Malaysia.
It’s a very special place and there are so few places like this in the world where you can see nature so close and in comfort with a team all set here to look after you for a great price.
While things did feel disorganised when I first arrived, this was well and truly made up for with the great activities and experience which were much better organised. I felt in great hands.
I’ll be coming back.
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