Nearby the Kinabatangan area are the Gomantong Caves; one of the biggest cave systems in Sabah. The caves are part of the Gomantong Forest Reserve (3000ha). In this enormous cave you will find many millions of bats during the day and just as many swiftlets (family of the swallow) at night. In the evening you can witness the bats flying out and the swiftlets flying into the cave again (same goes for the mornings). The feces of both birds form a feeding ground (guano) for millions of dung beetles and cockroaches, which makes walking through the caves a less pleasant experience for many. Unsurprisingly, the cave smells heavily like ammonia. These caves also house snakes that feed themselves with the cockroaches. Gomantong actually consists of two caves, the black cave and the white cave. The black cave (90mtr) can easily be visited by tourists. The white cave is not easily accessible. A walk through the cave will not leave your shoes unaffected; although there is a boardwalk to walk on. We had to throw away our shoes after a visit to Gomantong, so we would recommend putting plastic bags over your shoes (or by some throw-away shoes just for the cave visit).
"At dawn and dusk millions of mostly wrinkle-lipped bats and swiftlets swirl around the caverns. The combined noise is deafening high-pitched drone that sounds like a crowd of mice watching a game of football. Without light they use echolocation to zoom around the caverns without ever colliding or hitting the walls, then they fly into the surrounding forest en masse to wage war on the local insect population."
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Valuable edible swiftlet nests
The Gomantong Caves have been renowned for the swiftlet population and their valuable nests. These nests are harvested for bird's nest soup and can sell for very high prices. This especially goes for the special 'white' nests that sell for well over $1000 per kilo. Twice a year (between February and April & July and September) licensed locals climb to the roof of the caves and collect the nests only by using rattan ladders, ropes and bamboo poles. Swiftlet nests are protected under the Birds' Nest Ordinance and the Forest Enactment of 1968; the Wildlife Department regulates the harvests. Heavy fines and penalties are imposed on unlicensed collectors. Birds' nest collection is an ancient tradition. WWF dubbed Gomantong Caves 'best managed edible birds' nest caves in the world.
Below you can see the location of the Gomantong Caves on the map.
How to get to Gomantong Caves
To get to the Gomantong Caves you need to travel to the city of Sandakan in eastern Sabah. From here it is a 1,5 hour drive to the caves. There is also a public bus that departs from Sandakan bus station (RM17) though this bus doesn't stop directly in front of the main entrance. There are numerous daily flights to Sandakan. From the airport you can arrange a tour package at one of the small tour offices. Gomantong is usually visited on the way to the Kinabatangan River (nearby Bilit on the way to Sukau) as part of a standard package tour. There is (almost) no point in visiting the caves for the caves only, unless you are really into spelunking. Entrance fee is RM30 per person, with an additional camera fee of RM10 per camera (make sure you bring a tripod for in-cave photography). Opening hours of the Somantong Caves are daily between 8m and 6pm.