Into the Woods at Darulaman Sanctuary, Langkawi
Into the Woods at Darulaman Sanctuary, Langkawi
WRITER: Natalie Joy Lee PHOTOS BY: Ryan Loh
Into the Woods at Darulaman Sanctuary, Langkawi 30. July 2020, by Natalie Joy Lee, Photos by Ryan Loh
We simply can’t label Langkawi as just another forested haven—not when it is home to the Flying Five (a parallel to Africa’s Big Five, yes!) and of course, her UNESCO Global Geopark status.

Apart from her UNESCO Global Geopark, here’s another face of Langkawi that’s steeped in millions of years of history: the forests. Into the woods has never been this fun.

“Quick! Look right here before he flies away. Now tell me, do you see that flash of orange?” Fendi urges our little group along. I peer down into his spotting scope, and there we have it: a pair of hill mynas, their moving bright beaks probably signalling they’re in the middle of breakfast.

We are scheduled for the Jungle Walk this early morning at Darulaman Sanctuary, 226 acres of rainforest perfect for trekking and birdwatching. Not just well endowed with archaeological treasures, Langkawi also teems with wildlife and is home to over 200 bird species, of which Darulaman has already spotted 78 since opening in May 2018.

“Africa has the Big Five right? Langkawi has the Flying Five: the flying lemur, flying squirrel, flying lizard, flying fox, and flying snake—don’t worry if you get bitten, it’ll just be a fever for a few days,” Fendi chuckles at our stunned expressions, sailing ahead with the clunky scope on his shoulder.

The 29-year-old lead guide got us all hyped up each time his ears perked up to a rustle up in the trees. The next thing we knew? Everyone clamouring to stand right where he’d been, angling our borrowed binoculars for a better view.

And right now standing outside the briefing room, having not even started on the trek proper, we’ve already spotted our first bird. Not up above our heads, oh no. The mynas were a good two football fields away, tucked into a sea of green, perched on a single branch. This was just the beginning.

Mohd Ros Effendi, or better known as Fendi, is Darulaman Sanctuary’s lead guide, with a special love for birds and spiders.

A lone dusky leaf monkey peers curiously while perched high in the trees. This species is known for their distinct white rings around their eyes.

A dark posy makes a dainty landing, just one of the over 500 specifies of butterflies that call Langkawi home.

Dead cicadas Fendi had picked fresh from the soil. Their cousin—crickets—rub their front wings to produce sound, but only male cicadas are capable of sound; the result of their abdomen’s drum-like plates.

A black giant squirrel, one of the largest in the world and capable of growing over one metre long!

Towards the end of the trail is a waterfall area, perfect for a quick freshening up, some snacks and a quiet spot to continue birdwatching.

Like a man on a mission, Fendi explains how we are starting at the foot of Langkawi’s highest point (Gunung Raya), the 200 acres forest reserve in recent times closing off to vehicles after families on picnics not only caused pollution but chased away wildlife too. Today, the hilly area is thriving once more, with Darulaman offering 10 treks catering to all levels of interest, hiking capabilities, and even team building packages.

After just 10-minutes, our ears were already sensitive to every rustle and flutter, adjusted to the jungle’s hollowed silence. The first pair of wings swooshes past, and I squeal “butterfly!” to which Fendi gently corrects that the beautiful Zigzag flat we see is a skipper, closely related to butterflies and moths.

We stop at a group of dusky leaf monkeys chattering above. We learn how its babies are orange not just for parents’ quick identification, but also to fool predators into thinking they’re looking at a bright fruit or flower. Engrossed at the white rings around the adorable primates’ eyes, suddenly, the sound of a wreathed hornbill’s wings flaps mightily above our heads, its white-tipped tail disappearing quickly into the trees.

Thereafter, it was a full-on visual funfair: banded marquis and dark posies fluttering busily, the Asian fairy-bluebird, flying lizard, black giant squirrel, greater racket-tailed drongo also making appearances as we trailed behind Fendi’s swift footsteps during such sightings. Happily, our visit in March marked prime season to catch migratory birds flocking over by the hundreds, spanning November to April. Still, Fendi assures us that wildlife thrives in abundance in this millions-year-old forest, which just means no one hike is ever the same.

We reach the waterfalls to break for sandwiches and drinks, butterflies dancing every which way we look. Fendi enthralls us with the ‘sexy son hypothesis’—how in birds’ evolution, females pick ‘sexy’ partners with good genes so she not only increases her chance for male offspring but for her child to inherit his dad’s attractiveness too. Because like how she picked her mate, a plain looking kid will have trouble mating in future. “It sounds sexist, but it’s crucial for survival,” Fendi explains.

A male wreathed hornbill, distinguished by the inflatable pouch at its throat. Also, look at its tail—a long stretch of white, as compared to the great hornbill’s, which has a streak of black in its white-tipped feathers. ©BDB Leisure Sdn Bhd


The trail is also home to over 100 medicinal plants, such as the Akar Mempelas. Flip to its underside, and you’d be surprised at its rough texture that’s similar to sandpaper!

The common parasol dragonfly, an often seen sight at Darulaman Sanctuary.

A male great hornbill, easily identified by its bright yellow and black casque on top of its massive beak. ©BDB Leisure Sdn Bhd

A dollarbird, its unusual name derived from the prominent pale blue coin-shaped spot found on each wing, seen most clearly when the bird is in flight. ©BDB Leisure Sdn Bhd

An orange albatross butterfly. Be sure to ask your guide to point out the skippers and moths; closely related to and often mistaken as butterflies. ©BDB Leisure Sdn Bhd

Fendi carefully retrieved a feather hidden in his phone cover, and we stared at the plain quill, unable to comprehend. He then brought it into a shadowy area, exposing the feather’s vivid greens.

The same feather thrusted into sunlight. Fendi explained how a bird’s colours in fact reveal its diet; the same bird in captivity could look completely different in the wild.

A new way of looking at a forested zone.

Just as we’re completing the 2km trail, an oriental pied hornbill flies teasingly above us, Fendi swiftly grabbing our photographer’s lens in hopes for a good photo. “I hope more people will look at Langkawi’s other face,” our soft-spoken guide suddenly shares. “Most tourists head to the mangroves, why not here at this ecosystem we don’t fully understand yet? How does it sustain our lives? Which herbs help mankind? We even have a night walk to seek out the nocturnal animals. There’s a long path to sharing on nature, and I’m not looking back.”

Darulaman Sanctuary
Lubuk Semilang, 07000 Langkawi, Kedah Darul Aman
Tel +604 9558 080