The Kinabatangan River is a picture-perfect river outlined by luscious jungle, palm trees and outstanding wildlife situated in Sabah, Borneo. Due to the palm oil industry being so prominent around the river, the palm plantations force wildlife further inland towards the river meaning sightings of wildlife are very common.
However, the ever-increasing number of plantations is also a very sad concept for the abundance of animals losing their homes in the forest due to this industry (don’t use palm oil people)!
There are many different ways to explore the river and all it has to offer. I opted to book onto a 3 day/2 night trip via Sandakan Backpackers Hostel, which included two nights stay at Sukau River Homestay (formerly Bangkatan Homestay) with a local family camping in their front garden, three meals a day, six river cruises, a jungle trek, a very knowledgeable guide and all the water, tea and coffee you could drink (RM255, approx £50).
When we first arrived we were introduced to Maria, the lovely lady who was hosting us, as well as her husband Omie, brother Moose (our guide), his wife, adorable baby and their kittens.
After we’d had a scrummy lunch and a cuppa, we hopped on the boat for our first river cruise. The boat was small and there were only six of us, which was great. Straight away Moose explained to us that the pygmy elephants were ‘in the area’ searching for food close to the riverbank meaning, we had a good chance of spotting them.
And just like clockwork, a few minutes later Moose turned off the boat’s engine and we could hear the toot of the elephants amongst the bushes. We sat patiently listening to the herd of elephants having a chat across the river until one – the ‘food finder’ – emerged in perfect view of our boat…
What a blessing.
We sat there for a good half an hour watching as the food finder tugged at the vibrant grass and the rest of the herd gathered behind him to see what goodies he’d found.
Once they’d retreated back into the trees, we glided down one of the tranquil waterways of the river in search of Borneo’s iconic proboscis monkeys or ‘big nose’ as we came to call them. As you could probably guess, proboscis monkeys (especially the males) flaunt a rather large nose and a big round pot belly.
Within ten minutes of dragging ourselves away from the elephants we were watching a family of ‘big noses’ leaping from one tree to another, fighting, playing and looking at us curiously.
We were then lucky enough to witness one of the most mesmerising sunsets I’ve ever seen…
After a hearty dinner it was time for our first night cruise.
Jumping in the boat with our head torches at the ready, we were excited to see what the river had to offer in the inky darkness of night-time. As we glided across the water, the main thing, which was apparent was the tranquillity of the river.
There was nothing disturbing its peacefulness other than the splatter of our boat along the water, the chirping and cooing of birds, the beaming moonlight and stars that were half guiding our way and our exclamations of ‘wowww’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘magical’ as we experienced a whole other side to the river.
We came across vibrant coloured kingfishers hiding in bushes, a variety of unique hornbills, owls staring at us inquisitively, a baby crocodile perched tactfully on the riverbank and reflections of the trees in the water, which were truly captivating.
That night I curled up in my tent chuffed with what a memorable day I’d had.
The next morning we awoke at 5.30am.
As the mist lifted from the river and the beaming sun began to poke its head over the forest we jumped in the boat for our morning cruise.
Once again, the river was as tranquil as ever. We cruised our way down the backwaters in search of movement in the foliage. And before we knew it, we were gazing at a male orangutan draped in the trees munching on his breakfast.
To be able to see this fella in the wild was so so special. We admired him as he ate and relaxed before swinging off deeper into the jungle in search of more grub.
And as Mr Orangutan went off in search of more brekkie, we settled down for ours. We parked in a blanket of lily pads and delved into Maria’s delicious homemade bean curd pancakes, eggs and coffee.
We paused eating here and there to try to spot animals rustling in the trees…
And were even joined by this guy who seemed to want a taste of the pancakes… or us…
I had the most incredible time on the Kinabatangan River – the scenery, the wildlife, Maria’s hospitality and the pure serenity are things, which I will remember for years to come. If you go to Sabah, DO NOT miss this incredible experience.
Thank you for a wonderful stay Maria!