The Gomantong Caves, the largest cave system in Sabah, are about 110 km by road south of Sandakan, and are home to over one million swiftlets. The swiftlets’ nest are collected for the famous Chinese Delicacy, bird’s nest soup, and fetch a good price locally and abroad. Twice a year, in the caves men can be seen scaling bamboo ladders to heights of about 90m to collect this delicacy off the cave walls. The swiftlets’ neighbours are bats, more than a million of them, living above an enormous guano pile. The sighting of bats, swiftlets, birds and butterflies is virtually guaranteed, with the occasional bonus of small mammals, including orang utan. Harvesting of the nests is a spectacular and dangerous operations which is only carried out twice per year, usually around March to April and August to September.
Two varieties of swiftlets make edible birth nests. Good quality birds nests can fetch more than US$ 400 per kilo! Although the visit is more spectacular during nest collection seasons, the lime stone cave is most impressive all year round with sightings of animals and insects.
The area can only be accessed by land. In Sandakan you can hire or rent a car. It is a good idea to visit the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre and the Crocodile Farm in the morning (Sepilok: 10 am is feeding time of the orang utan), and visit the Gomantong Caves on your way to Sukau, where you can stay overnight. Local tour operators offer regular packages including Sepilok, Gomantong and overnight in Sukau; it is best to take the 7 am flight from KK (MH2042), which arrives in Sandakan at 7.40 am. Tour operators pick you up from the airport.