Gomantong Caves

Situated on the north east of Sabah Malaysia Borneo, the Gomantong Caves are world famous for its incredibly valuable bird nests. These are the nests of thousands of cave swiftlets that live in this limestone cave system. This edible bird nest, crafted by the birds from their saliva, are the most expensive animal products consumed by humans. It has been used in Chinese cooking for centuries, most commonly as Bird’s Nest Soup.

For the protection of the caves as much as for the native people who have traditionally harvested these nests, the 9 caves of Gomantong fall within a forest reserve. Many other endangered species, including Orangutan and Proboscis Monkeys, also enjoy the protection, which the reserve affords them. Many exotic birds, like the Asian Paradise Flycatcher, can be spotted on the walk to the Gomantong Caves.

Gomantong Caves Sandakan
Gomantong Caves Sandakan
Gomantong Caves Sandakan
Gomantong Caves Sandakan

Sustainable Farming of Cave Swiflets’ Nests

For the natives the most interesting bird of all is the cave swiftlet that lives here by the thousands and builds primarily 2 types of nests, commonly referred to as white nests and black nests. Both types are edible and are used in the traditional Chinese Bird’s Nest Soup. White nests are less labour intensive to prepare for use as they consist of almost entirely just bird saliva. The black nests on the other hand, have feathers, twigs and dirt attached to it, so it requires a little more processing before it’s ready for human consumption.

It is said that Bird’s Nest Soup has been on the Chinese menu for some 400 years. In fact, some evidence suggests that it dates back as much as 1,000 years. Needless to say, the tradition of nest collecting is an ancient one, passed down from generation to generation of fearless, daring and acrobatic bird nest collectors. So why are the bird nests so popular? The spit of the swiftlets are said to have remarkable, neigh, mystical nutritional properties. However, chemical analysis of the bird nests indicate unremarkable nutritional compounds. Nutritional fact or legend aside, gram for gram the bird nests are still one of the most expensive food items in the world and it should then come as little surprise that only one cave, Simud Hitam, is open to the public.

To Harvest & Protect

During harvest time, men risk their lives and limbs climbing precarious ladders fashioned from rattan and bamboo. The ladders seemingly defy the laws of physics tower over the cave floor as high as 90m and reaching up all the way to the cave’s roof from where the nests are collected. It is said that that the harvesting process is strictly controlled by the Wildlife Department to ensure the sustainability of this lucrative activity. Harvesting takes place twice per year. During these periods workers live in the wooden huts close to and inside the cave itself. Outside of harvesting season groups of men that rotate every 10 days, stay near the cave. In so doing they are able to guard the caves and its precious resource.

We have many different programs incorporating a trip to the caves along with Kinabatangan River. Please peruse our Wildlife Adventure Programs section for more information.

What to Expect at the Gomantong Caves

Entering the cave is not for the squeamish or feint hearted as inside the cave the floor is covered with bat guano (and it will smell as such)! The cave floor is alive as beetles, cockroaches, centipedes and scorpions feed on dead swiftlets that fall from the nests above – some may say it is interesting, awful yet unique but definitely an unforgettable experience! Fortunately, a wooden walkway runs along the sides of the cave to keep visitors safely above the estimated 10 feet of guano deposited by millions of bats and resident little critters, and the tourists who come to admire them in their home, are kept safe and apart.

Preparation is Key

Wear closed shoes with a good grip rather than basic sandals. The walkways become slippery with guano. Please also do wear a hat as millions of resident bats that live on the ceiling of the cave deposit guano everyday on the floor whist you are a traversing beneath!

Our Programs at Kinabatangan, Sabah Borneo

Proboscis Monkey Fireflies Tour

3D2N Kinabatangan River Expedition Lodge

Spot wildlife in Kinabatangan River and experience staying at an Expedition Lodge.

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Pygmy Elephant on Kinabatangan River

3D2N Kinabatangan River Safari

Look for interesting Borneo wildlife and soak in the surrounding nature at Kinabatangan River.

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Turtle Sabah

4D3N Turtle Island & Kinabatangan River

Combine your wildlife adventure at Kinabatangan River by learning about conservation at Turtle Island Park.

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Our Commitment to Conservation!

Dive Sites & Scuba Diving in TARP
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During the past 15 years the company has established itself as a leading conservation and education provider locally and on the international platform. At Downbelow we are committed to responsible tourism. We design experiences and provide courses that foster appreciation, awareness and conservation of our environment and development of local people. In the course of this labour of love, our effort has been acknowledged by various publications and awards. To date, Ghost Net Removals, Underwater and Beach Clean Ups, Coral for Life, Tree for Life & Project Aware remain a large focus of our day to day life Downbelow!

What Makes Downbelow Different ?

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