The Lost Valley of Imabak Canyon, Borneo

January 9, 2013

We conquered Imbak Canyon! With a total area of about 30,000 hectares, Imbak Canyon Conservation Area encompasses two ridge-top Virgin Jungle Reserves plus the Canyon itself and makes a significant contribution to the coverage of protected areas in the centre of Sabah. The lost valley of Imbak is an area of outstanding beauty and biodiversity.  

It is a promising day and chilly, as we set foot to the long lost Valley of Imbak Canyon, a 30,000 hectares Class 1 (protection) Forest Reserve, right at the heart of Sabah, Borneo Malaysia neighboring Tawai Forest Reserve, Danum Valley Conservation Area and Maliau Basin Conservation Area. Just the mentioned of the name frozen us and somehow place a question mark at the end of everything. Its gonna be like what we have seen on photographs and stories we heard from the prior expeditions? There’s just one way to find out, see for ourselves and get the feeling into our bones.

The group is composed of people with quite a different interest but has one definite goal,  Nature and Adventure, a packed up term that requires a deep sense of natural history and likewise a tight stomach for the adventure part. The participants are from Sabah Tourism Board, Sri Pelanconagan Sabah,  North Borneo Safari, individual photographers, naturalists, photo journalists, travel writers, 4W drivers, IT’s, and nature guides of course.  Well, let’s just say they are the adventurers and hope we can justify what it bears.

The journey starts from exploring Tawai Forest Reserve.  The plan of the day is towards Tawai River and the ‘microwave’, not far from the central town but not a tourist destination so we are not to expect loads of people. We drive deep into the forest and trek down the remaining 20 minutes to reach our destination, passing by colourful species of pitcher plants. 

Though the trekking is short, it is hot despite the fairly abundance trees around! And the sight of the crystal clear river speeds up our step, too desperate to cool down.  Few metres away sits a waterfall, a little treasure of Tawai.

Wanting more of fresh water, the group continues swimming on the wider part downstream. The complexity of its natural environment plus the challenge of surviving the high temperature must have been the reason why the place has been bragly chosen as the backdrop of the Eyeworks Norway filming “Girls in the Wild”.

As much as we like to spend another couple of hours cooling, acrobating and diving with the freshwater fish, we need to reach the 'microwave' uphill before sun set. Dragging our feet behind, we trek back and gear up until we reach the pick of Tongkungon Hill on the eastern portion of the Tawai Forest Reserve.

As the western horizon leaves the last shadow of its fiery orange, the east is firing some lightning, so we head back and settle for the night. The day was more than fulfilling and tomorrow will gonna need twice the energy 

Cold morning, early breakfast, and Imbak Canyon is calling! Pretty sure that all vehicles are in good condition for a long, unsealed and bumpy 3 hours drive (not certain as to the degree of its bumpiness beforehand so the hours might stretch). 

For better or for worst, we need 4WD that is specially designed for this adventure and just having its presence give some assurance of safetiness and a shiver at the same time.  It’s like, “Why these huge and powerful wheels?” There, the spirit of adventure boiling up! 

Rumor has it; the road is definitely not friendly as we are toast likes Bingo balls! We need to hold our breath and tighten our stomach, and good to know all our senses are widely awake until we reach the river crossing.The adventure drag on into the heart of the 30,000 hectares wilderness but we can only see few feet ahead. 

Finally, reaching Tampoi Camp, the temporary based camp and the only accommodation found at the canyon. From the camp, we can venture out on a series of trails into the rainforest with a guide and look out for birds and other wildlife.   

After the briefing and lunch, we directly proceed to the waterfall, about an hour rough drive from the camp.This time, the road is not getting any better and skilled drivers favor it especially the getting-stock-part on the muddy terrain. Here comes the rescue!

The roaring Imbak waterfalls can be heard meters away and the remote canyon comes to life.

The Kangkawat hanging leads to the Big Belian Camp and the 45 minutes jungle trail luring us into the deep jungle of Sabah.Equipped with jungle clothes and a bottle of drinking water, the group ventures to find out what this intact forest has installed. 

The moment we step into its heart, all was an enormous new world. Giant trees, large insects, huge termite's nest, overgrown leaves with its jumbo tiger leech.

Perhaps its most significant attribute is its richness in medical plants. With more than 69 species identified as valuable medical plants, it is well in its way to being dubbed a "living Pharmacy".

It’s a wonder that pristine forest such as Imbak Canyon still exist and it may well be that we can still see such big towering trees of different species in 100 years as most of its kind have globally demised and will continue to do so.  

It’s under the shady of these thousand years old trees we find weird and wonderful creatures.

New species have been discovered giving much credit to its range of flora and medical plants but researchers and scientists have barely scratch the surface. A greater part of Imbak is still untouched and it present great possibility of discovering thousand of new species. 

Next to this natural wonder is another awesome Belian tree standing unto 250 feet is just nearby and others like it must be somewhere around, waiting in silence for someone to appreciate and save it for the future.

It's getting dark and some head back to the camp while photography enthusiasts stay behind, camping for the night beside the falls.

Night drive to Tampoi was more challenging this time while the nocturnals around where singing, at least we were not alone and the forest would have been scary if it was a dead silence. Thanks to the Birds!

Trekking, driving, swimming, clicking, and sweating must have sounded so energy draining and muscle paining but all has been part of the memorable adventure and all is the greater and meaningful world of Imbak Canyon.  


For next excursion, please contact:

North Borneo Safari at


Locations visited

Sabah Borneo



Written by

North Borneo Safari

Make a Travel Enquiry

FREE e-Magazine

Help Us Avoid Spam. What is this? FISH or DOG?