This 560-kilometer-long river is part of the Sukai-Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary and runs through Sabah state in Malaysian Borneo. It is a simply stunning area to visit and encounter a wide variety of wildlife. The Kinabatangan River has the highest concentration of wildlife in Borneo. While most of the travel and wildlife spotting is from the river, most people stay in riverside lodges and spend several days here. It’s possible also to take wildlife hikes and the wide variety of habitats provides for diverse wildlife spotting. Taking a Kinabatangan River cruise and tour provides fabulous opportunities to see truly wild animals in their native environment.
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Why You Should Visit the Kinabatangan River
This is the area of Borneo that has the largest concentration of wildlife on Borneo. It means that this is your best chance of seeing some of Malaysia’s animals in the wild. It is also possible (and we did) to see some of Malaysia’s rarest animals. In the Kinabatangan River area, you can spot
- Proboscis monkeys
- Pygmy elephants
- A whole variety of birdlife including the hornbill, kingfisher, and the endangered Storm Stork
Best Tours of the Kinabatangan River
There are a variety of ways to see this area and the wildlife in it. If you only have a half-day or one day, then your best options are to focus on the wildlife rehabilitation centers. They are amazing. and you’ll get to see these stunning creatures in a natural habitat. You won’t, however, get to travel on the Kinabatangan River. You’ll need to stay around for at least 2 days to do that. The best options for visiting are:
Best Half-Day and One-Day Trips of the Kinabatangan Area
- Half-day visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehab Centre
- Half-day visit to Sepilok Orangutan Rehab Center + the Sun Bear Conservation Center
- Day Trip from Sandakan to see Orangutan and Probiscis Monkeys
- Full-Day Trip to see Orangutan, Probiscis Monkey & Sun bears from Sandakan
Multi-Day Trips to the Kinabatangan River
If you truly want to see the natural aspects of the Kinabatangan River, then you need to come and stay overnight. In the jungle. But that doesn’t mean that you have to rough it. Far from it. And what you pay here goes a long long way. Many of the accommodation options you can book (see later in this article) are ALL-INCLUSIVE – which means that you get all your food, water and river cruises, night walks and forest trail walks included. It doesn’t include beer, which you’ll have to pay for in cash. You may, when booking accommodation-focused trips have to pay for a transfer from Sandakan. Here are the best trips you can book that are all-inclusive, and include transport.
Best 2 Day One Night visit to the Kinabatangan River Area
This one night, 2 day visit to the Kinabatangan area includes one night’s accommodation at the Sepilok Jungle Resort, located in the rainforest. You’ll get to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and the Sun Bear Conservation Center. It includes your lunch and breakfast and transfers to and from Sandakan hotels or the Sandakan airport. You can reserve this here. Note that this does not have a Kinabatangan River Cruise included.
Best 3 Day 2 Night Kinabatangan River Cruises included
This 2 night, 3 day Kinabatangan River stay includes 2 nights at the Bilit Adventure Lodge, surrounded by the rainforest. You’ll get to cruise on the river, and see the wildlife in its natural habitat – there are elephants, orangutan, maroon langur (endemic to Borneo), and Bornean gibbon (endemic to Borneo), snakes, crocodiles, civet cats, monitor lizards, macaques, and otters. If you want to stay in the rainforest and cruise on the Kinabatangan river this is a superb option. Reserve your place here.
Do everything on this 4 day, 3-night visit to the Kinabatangan River
If you really want to experience everything that the Kinabatangan River has to offer, then this is the trip for you. You’ll stay for one night at the Sepilok Jungle Resort and visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehab center, then see the sun bears at the Sun Bear Conservation Center, there’s also a visit to the Rainforest Discovery Center to see red giant flying squirrels and birds. Then you’ll move to the Bilit Adventure Lodge and stay there for two nights. Your visit will include river cruises, night walks, and forest trail walks. It doesn’t get better than this! See availability for this Kinabatangan River trip here!.
When to Visit the Kinabatangan River
One of the beauties of the Kinabatangan River is that you can visit it all year round, almost regardless of the weather. November to March is the rainy season in Borneo and while this means that you’ll be able to go further into the offshoot channels of the river, it also means that at the peak (December to January), it might be pretty tough to get there.
If you’re looking to visit the Kinabatangan River to view birdlife, then taking your trip between April and October will give you the best chance of spotting avian life.
Where is the Kinabatangan River?
The Kinabatangan River is located on the island of Borneo, in the Malaysian state of Sabah. It runs from the Crocker range of mountains in the southeast of the state to the Sulu Sea to the southeast of the city of Sandakan.
What to expect on a Kinabatangan River Cruise
Depending on how long you spend in the Kinabatangan River area you can expect to see a wide variety of wildlife here. Many of the species that you’ll see here you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the world. The banks of the Kinabatangan River are home monitor lizards, macaques, the Proboscis monkey, orangutans, and crocodiles. You’ll also find herds of the Borneo pygmy elephants. These are the smallest elephants in Asia.
How long should you spend on the Kinabatangan River?
As your trip to the Kinabatangan area takes around 3 hours to get from Sandakan, you’re going to spend half a day getting there. We recommend you spend at LEAST 2 nights in the Kinabatangan area. You’ll often find that adding an extra night doesn’t add a huge cost to your trip.
There is no National Park fee to pay, and depending on the lodge that you select, you may also be able to spot wildlife directly from your lodge, as we did. However, you’re going to want to take regular trips out onto the river. Our schedule, which is reviewed at the bottom of this article had us taking 2 river trips a day (morning and early evening), mid-afternoon walks, and evening walks as well. Unless you have a specific wildlife interest in the area you are unlikely to return to this area, so we recommend that you make the most of it!
There’s a lot that you can see here, depending on how much time you have.
If you like National Parks, then also head to Bako National Park, near Kuching also on Malaysian Borneo, our guide to Bako National Park is here.
Half-Day Trips to the Kinabatangan River Area
Here are the half-day short trips to the Kinabatangan River.
Half-Day Visit to the Kinabatangan River Area to see Orangutan & Sun Bears
This half-day Kinabatangan area trip picks you up either from Sandakan airport or your hotel and takes you to the world’s largest and oldest Oran Utan Rehabilitation Centre. You’ll also get to see the first Sun Bear Conservation Centre in the world. (I wrote about Sun Bears here) At the end of your visit, your English-speaking driver will return you to either your hotel or the airport. If you only have a very short time here this is a great option to explore this part of the world and see the animals that make it so special. You can book online for immediate confirmation here.
Half-Day Trip to the Sepilok Orangutan Centre
This is a truly magical place to visit. And this half-day trip to Sepilok makes it super easy to get here and back to your hotel. You’ll be collected from your accommodation and taken to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehab center. This is one of the top things to do in Sabah and you’ll get to see how baby orangutans are nurtured back to health, and see how they place, you can even participate in feeding time. Get immediate confirmation of your place, and free cancellation too.
One Day Trips to the Kinabatangan River Area
If all the time you have is one day, then here are two options for a day trip to the Kinabatangan River. Note that these day trips take place from Sandakan. You can be picked up from the airport in Sandakan or your accommodation.
See Orangutans & Proboscis Monkeys in a One day Kinabatangan Trip
This 10-hour day trip to see Orangutans & Proboscis Monkeys picks you up from either your hotel or Sandakan airport and then transports you, with an English-speaking guide to the oldest and the biggest Orang Utan Rehabilitation in the World. You’ll get to see the work done here and get up close with Orangutans, there’s even the chance to get involved at feeding time. See how baby orangutans are rehabilitated and how they play. Then you’ll visit the Rainforest Discovery Centre where you can experience its amazing ecology and biodiversity. Your final stop on this day trip in the Kinabatangan River area is the Labuk Bay Proboscis Sanctuary, situated at the center of the mangrove forest, close to the sea shore. This is the only place to watch the Proboscis Monkey at close range in Borneo. Reserve your place to see Orangutan and Proboscis monkeys here.
See Orangutans, Proboscis Monkeys & Sun Bears in a One day Kinabatangan River Area Trip
In this 9-hour day trip, you’ll get a little less time in each location, but you’ll get to visit the oldest and biggest Orangutan Rehabilitation in The World. During the visit, which happens at feeding time, you’ll see where orphaned baby Orangutans get nursed back to health, and how they learn by playing. Then you’ll go to the Labuk Bay Proboscis Sanctuary, the only place in Borneo where you can view this monkey at close range. Finally, you’ll get to visit the Sun Bear Conservation Centre. Your trip will wrap up with a forest walk through the rainforest before you’ll be transported back to your hotel or the airport. This day trip really packs it in, and if a day is all you have it’s great value for money to see the wildlife of the Kinabatangan River area. Book your place now, this trip is super popular.
Multi-Day Trips to the Kinabatangan River
Now, this is where it gets interesting. And this is what I recommend. What you’re seeing on the one-day or less tours of the Kinabatangan area are the wildlife rehab centers for sun bears, orangutans, and proboscis monkeys. They are all amazing centers and do fantastic work. But if you want to see the wildlife along the river, wake at dawn and see the rainforest waking up, or take a night hike along forest trails, then you’ll need to stay at least one night. You’re better off staying 2 or 3 nights, as animals don’t perform here. this is the Jungle. And it’s a long way to come.
How to Get to the Kinabatangan River
Virtually all tours and cruises of the Kinabatangan River start from the closest main town, Sandakan, which you’ll find in the eastern part of the state of Sabah on Malaysian Borneo. Sandakan is around a four-hour drive to the Kinabatangan River area. This timeframe is, however, rainy season dependent.
If you are traveling from other parts of Malaysia to visit the Kinabatangan River, it’s advisable to spend the night before your trip in the town of Sandakan. Check accommodation options in Sandakan now
How to Get to the Kinabatangan River from Kuala Lumpur
You’ll be able to easily take a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Sandakan Airport, which is located VERY close to the town of Sandakan. While it is possible to take an early morning flight to Sandakan from KL, we recommend spending the night before your Kinabatangan River cruise in Sandakan to ensure you have time to make the trip to the river. – Check Kuala Lumpur to Sandakan flight options now
The alternative cheaper route from Kuala Lumpur to Sandakan is to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu and then take a bus from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan. The bus takes around 6 hours from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan. The combination of flight and bus is usually cheaper than flying directly to Sandakan, but you’ll spend an entire day getting here. Check your options here, but we recommend flying directly to Sandakan.
If you’re coming over from Kuala Lumpur, then our guide to Malaysia’s capital city is here.
How to get to the Kinabatangan River from Sandakan
This is the easy bit. For you, at least. It takes a minimum of four hours to travel from Sandakan to the Kinabatangan River area. In the wet season, this can take a lot longer. Much of the route is not paved and becomes heavy, clogging mud very quickly, so you’ll want to ensure that your transport has a great 4WD option and high clearance! 99% of all trips to the Kinabatangan River include transport from your hotel or hostel in Sandakan.
Check these options for Kinabatangan Tours from Sandakan now!
How to Get to the Kinabatangan River from Kota Kinabalu
The cheapest way to go from Kota Kinabalu to the Kinabatangan River is by bus to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu. The bus journey is easy, but long – about 6 hours. You’ll get to travel past the entrance to Mount Kinabalu and see the palm oil plantations that are taking over the landscape of Malaysia.
It’s not possible to book the bus ticket to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu online at this time. You’ll need to either book with your hostel or hotel, or go to the bus station in Kota Kinabalu and buy the ticket. Two bus companies run this trip, and so long as you get there about 90 minutes before the bus leaves you should be able to book a ticket. If you want to book online for your trip to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu, then we recommend a flight.
You can also fly from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan – flights are relatively cheap (not as cheap as the bus though) and the flight takes an hour – check the options for flights to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu here.
If you are traveling to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu to start a Kinabatangan River tour then you’ll need to stay overnight in Sandakan one night > best options here
While you’re in Sandakan, be sure to check out some of the best things to do there, our guide is here.
Where to stay on the Kinabatangan River
For visiting the Kinabatangan River area and seeing wildlife, you have a choice of staying in a lodge on the river – and our two recommendations are below – or you can stay in a homestay in the village of Sukau Bilit. Note that any transfers for these stays will be an additional cost and you will need to negotiate with your host any river cruises that you wish to take.
For a full Kinabatangan River experience, we recommend staying in a lodge on the river. And it doesn’t have to completely blow the budget.
The Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort with Private Cottages or Dorms
This place is amazing, it was our luxury stay for 2 nights. It’s located directly on the banks of the Kinabatangan River. All the buildings are on wooden stilts above the forest floor and are connected by a series of boardwalks. All the rooms and the main lodge are constructed of local Borneo Iron Wood, native to Borneo. All the rooms have balconies, air conditioning, a ceiling fan, and mosquito nets. Ensuite bathrooms have hot and cold showers. You can spot wildlife from the resort itself. Reserve a room now! The rates are all-inclusive, which means all your river cruises and food are included.
It is quite simply glorious. Their packages include transport to and from Sandakan, as well as river cruises and night walks. This is amazing value for a stunning location. Take the longer package for the best option of seeing more wildlife. Check availability and book now.
The Gorgeous Borneo Nature Lodge
All packages include transfers to and from Sandakan town or airport (transfers take 2-2.5 hours each way). Each of the lovely wooden chalet-style rooms, located on stilts above the forest floor has mosquito nets, air conditioning, and en suite bathrooms. All packages also include river cruises and forest walks. Meals are taken in the common area restaurant and lounge. There’s also a satellite TV here and you can also fish from the resort. Check availability and book now.
The Last Frontier Boutique Resort
While the Last Frontier Boutique Resort isn’t set on the Kinabatangan River, it is in quite a stunning location – on the top of a 350-foot high hill overlooking the Kinabatangan Forest Reserve. The only way to access this resort is by way of 600 steps. Up. You will be staying in the middle of the jungle, and this location is stunning. We didn’t stay here as they didn’t have availability when we visited, but we did take a hike here to see the views and the location. Some rooms have an en suite, and boat cruises and jungle-trekking activities are included in every stay. Meals are included and there is an on-site bar (beer and wine) for extra costs. Transfers from Sandakan can be arranged at an extra cost, ask when or before you book.
Wildlife Spotting on the Kinabatangan River
This is a unique place to spot wildlife. The Kinabatangan Reserve is home to a huge variety of birds, crocodiles, proboscis monkeys, orangutans, and Asia’s smallest elephants to name but a few species that you can expect to find here.
What wildlife can you expect to see on the Kinabatangan River
The wildlife that you see will depend on the trips that you take – and all of the places to stay that we recommend have included river cruises and jungle walks (day and night). You are most likely to spot the wildlife in the early morning or later afternoon.
Pygmy Elephants on the Kinabatangan River
The pygmy elephants of Borneo are baby-faced with oversized ears, plump bellies, and tails so long they sometimes drag on the ground as they walk. They’re genetically different from other Asian elephants and were isolated more than 300,000 years ago from their cousins on mainland Asia and the island of Sumatra. They’re the smallest elephants in Asia. Even when they’re fully grown they look like babies.
There are only around 1,500 of these left in the world.
Orangutans on the Kinabatangan River
The Bornean Orangutan is native to Borneo. They are an endangered species and seeing them in the wild (as well as at the rescue centers in Sepilok, one of the best things to do in Sandakan and Semenggoh, one of the best things to do near Kuching) is a stunning experience. You will most likely see them on a river cruise.
Orangutans are becoming increasingly endangered, as their habitat continues to decrease. If you take the bus from Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu you’ll see the increasing number of palm oil plantations responsible for this.
Proboscis monkeys on the Kinabatangan River
They’re reddish-brown, and this monkey is endemic to Borneo, where they exist alongside the Bornean Orangutan. They’re the largest monkey species native to Asia – males are generally 66 – 76cm tall, and weigh in at up to 22 kilos. The males have a large nose (or Probiscus) – which can be more than 10cm long and both males and females have bulging stomachs – like a potbelly. They’re also called, a “Dutch” monkey, as the Bornean often thought that they looked like their colonizers, with large noses and bellies.
Crocodiles on the Kinabatangan River
Crocodiles are territorial, so it’s relatively easy for your guide to find crocodiles for you to photograph along the banks of the Kinabatangan River. The river is home to the most deadly of crocodiles, the saltwater crocodile and you are bound to see at least a few of them.
Snakes on the Kinabatangan River
There are around 160 different types of snakes on Borneo. Most of the everyday ones are harmless, and most of the time you won’t even see them unless your guide points them out.
Birdlife on the Kinabatangan River
This area is a birders paradise – this is the home of some of Borneo’s most glorious birds, which include the smallest raptor in the world, the White-Fronted Falconet, and the endangered Storm’s Stork as well as Dwarf Kingfishers, Wallace’s Hawk-eagle, the Malaysian Flycatcher, Oriental Darter, the Rhinoceros Hornbill, the Asian Black Hornbill, and the Oriental Pied Hornbill.
The Storm Stork
The Storm Stork is a 90cm long stork with black and white plumage, a red bill, and red legs, it has a world population of fewer than 500 individuals and is officially endangered.
The best time of day to spot wildlife on the Kinabatangan River
You’ll want to ensure that whatever tour you select, it includes trips on the river and hikes at the time of day when it’s best to spot the wildlife that you want to. The best times to spot wildlife are
0530-0730: Best time for spotting birds and orangutans
1600-1730: Best time for spotting proboscis monkeys
1900 + Best time for crocodiles and nocturnal birds
Kinabatangan River Tour Tips
- Take a head torch/headlamp with both white and red lights – your accommodation may be located away from the central lodge. Red lights are best for nighttime viewing, you won’t scare away the animals or blind them. A head strap means you’ll keep both hands free.
- We know that it’s exciting seeing wildlife, but be sure to keep quiet. Exclaiming wow loudly or shrieking will only frighten animals away. Keep your mouth shut and whisper!
- Make a note of the species that you see, when you see them. It’s tough to remember what’s what when you return home with hundreds of photos.
- Don’t get too close. Stay away from animals. Do NOT feed them. Getting too close to animals and feeding them endangers them and their future survival.
Our Review of our visit to the Kinabatangan River
We left our hotel in Sandakan at 12:30 promptly. Our Kinabatangan River tour was two nights on the Kinabatangan River along with transfers, four river cruises, two-night walks, and a hike to Oxbow Lake.
You can book a similar trip ahead of time – and get a GREAT price for a Kinabatangan River Adventure
Next up was the Borneo Nature Sukai Bulit Resort. It’s just new promised our host in Sandakan. The photos looked like it was new, and so did the pics posted on Facebook in May of that year. Two and a half hours and 6 other folks (four Germans and two Aussies) later, we’d arrived. It looks exactly like it did on the internet. To say we were all stunned was an understatement.
It is lovely
The lodge itself is located RIGHT on the river, the accommodation is set a little further back.
We have a “private cottage” – which is basically a detached wooden chalet on stilts with a rainfall (hot water) shower, two large twin beds, individual mosquito nets, a fan, and air conditioning. There are even multiple electricity sockets. I think I’m in heaven.
There is crisp white bed linen, warm duvets (which kind of concerns me, it is currently around 30 degrees outside), a very comfortable mattress, a really decent pillow and we have face cloths (!!!) and fluffy white towels. And there’s a reading light too. I bet the Aussies who only booked for one night are frantically trying to rearrange their plans!
Our trip from Sandakan took 2.5 hours and we were welcomed with an icy flannel and drinks (tea, coffee, and water are available for free the whole time we’re here), and then shown to our rooms. The two German guys are in a dorm, which they say is nice. It’s just the two of them at the moment, so they have their choice of all six toilets in there!
High tea of fried bananas, coffee, and tea was at 3:30 pm and we met Aloy our guide. We were joined by 6 others who arrived yesterday for our first river cruise.
The dining room where we’ll take our meals sits right on the edge of the property, right on the river banks, so we can watch the world float by. We can actually see the Asian pygmy elephants from the restaurant. Without binoculars, although they certainly help.
Just after 1600, we took to the boat. Arthur, our tour guide (up until now) and driver, is our host and Roy is our driver for the next two hours, although we don’t have to go far for our first stop.
There are 14 of us in our boat and we join nine other boats hovering, 50 meters from the elephants and watching them feed.
Later, the elephants are literally 200 meters from our lodge. Our night walk is subsequently canceled, we can’t go on the trail when there are elephants there, but at the moment that’s of no consequence, because we’re here watching them eat, mate, swim, and generally be elephants in the wild. Now that is more than a little bit cool.
There’s a group of folks who have been at a resort across the river from us for 7 days and today is the first day that they’ve seen elephants, a boat alongside has come from 20 kilometers upriver to see the elephants, so we feel incredibly lucky.
It is a further few minutes before we’ve found a group of Proboscis monkeys.
It’s hard to spot them as the sun is starting to go down behind the trees that they’re in, but we manage a few shots.
Our final sighting is of a bird that’s endangered in Malaysia, the Storm Stork. We can’t really see anything more than the silhouette against the setting sun, so we head back and at 6:15 pm we’re back at the boat jetty.
“Dinner at 7”, says Joe as we all troop off back to our rooms. There’s no night walk tonight, as the elephants are too close, so there will be “alternative” entertainment after dinner.
Dinner is buffet style – rice, a chicken dish, plus bitter gourd (which is REALLY bitter), cucumber salad, oysters fried up in oyster sauce with vegetables, long beans, and some form of meat. It is SO good to have dishes that don’t taste as though they’ve been fried to within an inch of their life. And plain white rice. It’s good food.
After dinner, Joe introduces us to the team – drivers, boat drivers, chef, and the kitchen staff. He explains that Malaysia is made up of 42 different peoples and tribes and explains where the team is from. There will be a short cultural show, he explains, some music and dancing and if we play an instrument we can join in, but we can all join in the dancing.
And we do. There are several traditional Malay dances, which few of us seem able to master, (this is like your worst Dad’s dance at an 80’s disco nightmare EVER) but which aren’t too dissimilar to a barn dance or a line dance and just as we’re all starting to get rather warm, we wrap up with La Bamba and Aloy on guitar with a final traditional Malay song.
We might not have got our night jungle walk, but it’s been a really pleasant evening that we wrap up with a Tiger sighting. This one costs 10 RM for a 330 ml can and is wonderfully, bitterly cold. Then after THE best shower in 15 months on the road (you have to visit this place for the shower alone, actually scratch that, I might not have left by then, I have another 65 days or so left on my visa..and it is going to be hard to leave this bathroom and bedroom) we turned in.
The alarm is set for 05:15, coffee will be ready at 05:30 and we’re going crocodile hunting at 6.
Getting up the next morning, it turns out that the noises we heard in the night were elephants, closer than we’d thought, but not close enough to disturb us in our little cocoon of luxury. ( I doubt anything would have moved me from it).
Two cups of coffee later, we’re all in the boat heading on the hunt for crocodiles as the mist covers part of the river, the boat is mostly silent.
Well the people in the boat are, the engines whine as we head upriver.
Two hours later and we’ve spotted several crocodiles, who must snooze in the same spot each morning based on Aloy’s unerring ability to motor along at high speed and drift to a halt before he seemingly finds them, and we’re back for breakfast.
There’s time for a quick shower and we’re off on a walk. We can’t head into the Jungle area, because although the elephants have swum across the river, they could also swim back, so we’re going up “Dutch Hill” with Aloy.
We walk through the village and find ourselves at the bottom of a set of rickety wooden steps. These are the steps to the “Last Frontier” (book your place now, this place goes QUICK!) It turns out that this is Aloy’s Dad’s land and it’s leased to the Last Frontier folks. It gets rave reviews, but there are a huge number of steps here. And no other way in.
The view from the top is so – so, but I can’t deny it’s gloriously isolated and it must be wonderful to see the stars and listen to the wildlife here at night.
But we’re staying on the river, and so we headed back, we’d spent a couple of hours just wandering, the only wildlife being the yellow-banded tree snake that we saw just on leaving the property. Curled up sleeping in a tree above our heads. (shudder).
After lunch, we head out on another walk into the village – just a few minutes away.
We make it as far as a homestay. Where we’re sat on the porch to eat Hari Raya delicacies while Aloy chatters away with his mates. And then it’s more time on the river.
It might sound like this was a non-stop trip, but it definitely was laid back and slow – the lack of Jungle Walks was a little disappointing, but there’s no doubting that the Kinabatangan river is beautiful. It was busier though on this second day, with more boats, but also more wildlife that we started to get better at spotting.
Another herd of elephants – this time we found them downriver and sat, engine idling for perhaps an hour just watching them feed, drink and bathe.
The only low point of the trip was a boat from the Sukai Greenview Resort (the only folks to reply to us on email) which pulled up to the river bank and sat there, less than 5 meters from the elephants, who were clearly disturbed by the intrusion for the entire time we were watching, while those inside the boat took selfies after selfie and laughed and shrieked at their good fortune.
It’s such a huge privilege to be here and to see these animals in their habitat, but each time we see them and each time we see something like this happen, I can’t help but wonder on the damage that we’re doing to them. Is it better to stay away? How do we police better management? And it just makes me feel so very sad.
Elephants seen, we headed downriver, one boat idled near the bank on the other side, then pulled off as we pulled up. We sat in silence, apart from the clicking of cameras (seriously, they’re all digital, doesn’t anyone know where the sound off button is?), and watched.
This was our old man of the forest in the wild. The Bornean Orangutan.
We only had a few minutes of his time, but it was absolutely magical.
Returning to the lodge and another canceled Jungle Night Walk (it’s those elephants again) it was an early night for all because we were up again at 0515 for our last trip on the river.
More crocodiles, and birds this time.
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Final Words on Visiting the Kinabatangan River
The final word as we left the Kinabatangan and headed back to Sandakan goes to the elephants. We’re leaving our wonderful rainfall shower, crisp white linen, and heading back to a hostel, but it truly has been an honor to spend time in this glorious location, I hope it, and the animal habitat doesn’t get overcome with selfie stick waving hordes.
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