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The Perfect Wildlife Adventure At Kinabatangan River Cruise In Sukau, Sabah

When I was in high school, I remember Kinabatangan River as the second longest river in Malaysia from geography classes. But when I was living in Sabah, I’ve heard Kinabatangan River are crawled with crocodiles! That is not entirely true as we did not even spot any during our Kinabatangan River Cruise. As a consolation, we were overwhelmed by the sight of monkeys. Various species of them too.

Kinabatangan River Cruise in Sukau offers an amazing wildlife experience like no other. I can still remember the peace and tranquility of sitting in a boat cruising down the river while surrounded by lush greenery and soaking up the beauty of the tropics. Spotting wildlife in their natural habitat from the river banks was probably the closest I can get to see them. It’s a totally different experience from watching wildlife behind the cage in the zoo.


How to Get to Kinabatangan River?

Kinabatangan River is located in the Sandakan Division of Northeastern Sabah. We took a flight from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan with AirAsia.

Kinabatangan River highlighted in red

From Sandakan, we rented a car and travelled to Sukau, a village in the Kinabatangan district. After 2.5 hours of bumpy car ride due to terrible and poorly maintained road conditions in rural Sabah, we finally reached our resort- Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort.

bumpy rides anyone?

Where to Stay at Kinabatangan?

You may want to get the best of your wildlife experience by spending overnight at the river banks of Kinabatangan. Basically, the more nights you spent, the higher number of river cruises you’ll get to do, ultimately the better chances you’ll have of spotting the rarest Borneo wildlife. However, if you do not wish to stay overnight but still want to get the river cruise experience, day trips are also available.


There are many lodges and B&Bs found along the banks of the Kinabatangan River. There are a few notable resort names that popped out during my research. If you’re looking for a basic and budget-friendly stay, you may try Sukau RB LodgeSukauRainforest Lodge, Sukau Greenview, Bilit Rainforest Lodge, and Myne Resort are among the popular ones with good reviews.

We stayed in the Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort and we totally love it! It was totally way above my expectations. The room was so rustic and cozy with its wooden architecture giving a zen and close-to-nature vibe, immediately taking all my work stress away.

Address: Kampung Bilit, Lot 1., Kota Kinabatangan, 90200 Sandakan, Sabah



How to Book Kinabatangan River Cruise?

Usually, all resorts and homestays offer packages which include food, accommodation, river cruise and jungle trekking. It is an all-inclusive package which has either 3D2N/2D1N options for you to choose.

You can book through travel agents like Amazing Borneo or Simply Borneo through sabahtravel.com. Personally, it is more convenient and fuss-free to book tour packages through tour agency especially when I am going somewhere rural and has limited accessibility. You can find many tours offering Kinabatangan River Cruise on sabahtravel.com, with trips to Gomantong caves, Selingan Turtle Island, and also Sandakan city.

We got a pretty good deal for the 2D1N package for the Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort on sabahtravel with guided jungle walk and kinabatangan river cruise. 


Our package does not include land/airport transfer, which is why it’s cheaper. We could not find other 2D1N packages which offers transportation to Sukau. Perhaps it’s not available atm due to the decline in tourists amid pandemic season. We did not intend to take the 3D2N package because we just wanted to dip our toes in this river cruise experience.

Bookings are done via the website. However, there is a minimum requirement of 4 pax in a group in order to proceed with the booking. You may call them up to negotiate too if you have a big group.


Our Experience at the Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Lodge

We had a lovely time during out stay at the Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Lodge. The hospitality was great and the food was tasty and well-balanced, which is rare because most resorts I had been to, never seem to add much veggies to the menu.


For 2D1N itinerary, there were 2 sessions of river cruise- 6pm and 6am the next morning.

It was raining most of the time when we were there, as it was a monsoon period. The best time to visit Kinabatangan is from April to September, as they are known as the driest months. However, it’s hard to predict the climate of the tropical rainforest.

We were blessed because the rain stopped at the right time, right before we began our river cruise! However, we did miss on the night walk because it was raining again after dinner.


Wildlife Spotting Experience at Kinabatangan


The cruise ride is definitely the only thing I looked forward to the most.

Kinabatangan River Cruise is a popular eco-tourism site to spot wildlife endemic to Borneo. Many tourists come to see the ‘Borneo Big Five’ which are Borneo orangutan, pygmy elephants, rhinoceros hornbill, proboscis monkeys, and estuarine crocodiles.

There are other species you may be able to spot such as long-tailed and short-tailed macaques, leaf monkeys, hornbills, eagles, kingfisher.

Wildlife spotting is like finding Waldo in ‘Where’s Waldo?’. Our amazing local tour guide can spot a small kingfisher flying midair from far while navigating the boat. Meanwhile, I was having trouble finding the red leaf monkey in the trees even though everyone was trying their best to point out its location.


We had too many sightings of monkeys. We checked almost all the list of monkey species if I’m not wrong. Proboscis monkeys are an endangered species but it’s commonly spotted here. They are easily distinguished with their long-nosed and round belly. Looks like a disgruntled middle-aged man with round belly.



We spotted hornbills too! We also spotted other bird species but it was too small to capture on my phone camera.


Unfortunately for us, we had no luck of in the sighting of pygmy elephants and orangutans. Not even the crocodiles although it’s a common sight in Kinabatangan River.


There’s always no guarantee in wildlife sighting because they are wild animals who roam freely in their own natural habitat.

What to Bring for a Kinabatangan River Cruise?

  • Light raincoat- alternatively you can buy from the resort for RM5
  • Insect repellent- this is a must!
  • Sun protection (Sunblock/cap)
  • Binoculars -for a better wildlife sighting
  • Torchlight -for night walk
  • Camera -to capture your sightings
  •  Leech socks- for jungle walk
  • Snacks
  • Cash- because most local resorts/homestays accept cash and the nearest ATM is in Kinabatangan Town (~one hour away).


Boots for rent are available for jungle walk too!

It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience for me because this trip had been very enlightening and also, because I’m not a jungle person. I would totally recommend this to anyone who wants the complete Borneo experience. If you had been on the Kinabatangan River cruise, let me know your stories in the comment section below!



Till next post,
Eunice

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