Wildlife spotting on the Kinabatangan River, Borneo


One of the reasons why people come to Borneo, is to spot wildlife in their natural habitats.

After visiting the Orang-utans at Sepilok, I decided to go in search of some more wildlife, by doing a river cruise on the Kinabatangan River.

I met an American traveller on the bus to Sepilok, and so we decided to sign up together, as it would be much cheaper (you often get a single person’s surcharge if going alone).
A river cruise on the Kinabatangan River

The best place to access this river is by staying in the town of Sandakan, which is about a 3 hour bus ride to the river. There are options to stay close by beforehand also, but many start from Sandakan, and get dropped back there, or elsewhere if going to Sipidan Islands to dive.

The River

The Kinabatangan River is the second longest in Malaysia, stretching 560km. Its light chocolately brown colour is inviting, with various trees and shrubbery, housing wild birds, the Proboscis monkey, and the smallest elephants – pygmy elephants. It is a great day out for your camera.

This varies. I did a 2 day 1 night cruise, which cost 303RM (US$94 or £56), and included return transfer from our hostel, a room in a very basic cabin (which smelt very musty and had a questionably clean bathroom) by the river, drinks and snacks on arrival, dinner and breakfast, and two river cruises . There is an option to pay more for a night jungle trek too. You can also stay for 2 nights and three days. Various companies in town will offer you tours, and they range from 300 to 900 RM (US$280 or £166).


Can you do this independently?
Yes, it is possible to get chartered transport and stay in one of the lodges or homestays. We met a girl who was staying at a homestay and hadu a whole boat to herself, but I’m unsure how to go about this.

My experience
We were collected about 11am, and driven there in a nicely air conditioned bus to the Kinabatangan River. It was then that I got quite excited. I wanted to do an ‘Augustus Gloop’ and dive straight in. My camera was itching to be brought out its case.

We crossed the river to our accommodation – The Kinabatangan Nature Lodge, where we were given a welcome drink and a run down of what was happening, and when.

After some snacks, we headed out on our first boat trip, for an hour an a half. We spotted so much wildlife – the hornbill bird, a kingfisher, a snake, proboscis monkeys, regular monkeys and storks, but no Pygmy Elephants.



We later returned for a dinner, which was incredibly varied and quite Westernised, which made a change.

Everyone else went out for the night jungle walk, but I had no long pants, or head torch, so ended up staying in with my American traveller friend playing cards. No WiFi here, so it made a nice change not to see everyone constantly staring at a phone/laptop.

We retired to bed early as our wakeup call was due to be at 5.45am, and what a wakeup call it was. A member of the staff at the lodge rang the gong for about 10 minutes, so a quick wash, and change of clothes and we were off again.


On day 2 we didn’t see anything remotely different to the evening cruise the night before, apart from a massive crocodile under the tree.



Again. No Pygmy elephant.

After breakfast which again was very Westernised, we were transported back to Sandakan. You could also have the option to be dropped off elsewhere, depending on where your next Port of call was.

Overall, I enjoyed the trip. Despite it being very organised and touristy. Its worth it to see wildlife in their natural habitat. You may be lucky though and spot the elephants!


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