Malaysian Borneo – River Safari on the Kinabatangan River

Kinabatangan River

The Kinabatangan River is located in the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo. More precisely, it is the largest river in the Malaysian state of Sabah with a length of 560 km. It rises in the interior of Sabah and flows into the Sulu Sea. The riverbanks of the Kinabatangan are an exciting venue for all wildlife enthusiasts. As beautiful as this place is, the surrounding area is shocking: we drove from Semporna to the Kinabatangan River and almost the entire 200 km stretch is nothing but palm oil plantations. Even around the river, one has the feeling in some places that only the first rows of trees have been left, more or less as a backdrop to clear everything behind them for palm oil plantations.

Sonnenuntergang am Kinabatangan River

Animals at the Kinabatangan River

Despite the dramatic logging, the Kinabatangan River has some species richness to offer. Proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaques, hornbills, kingfishers, herons and crocodiles are among the very common animals you are likely to see. But: Unfortunately, there is never a guarantee when it comes to wildlife. If you are lucky, you may also see orangutans, pigmy elephants, silver crested langurs, bear macaques and gibbons. We were lucky and saw everything except Pigmy Elephants and Gibbons. Our minimum goal was to sight “proboscis monkeys”. Unfortunately, at that time the zoom of our cameras was not yet sufficient to take great pictures.

Nasenaffe im Baum
Proboscis Monkey
Rhinozerosvogel am Kinabatangan River
Waran bei der Flussüberquerung
Krokodil
Crocodile
Ein schlafendes Paar Vögel

River Safaris on the Kinabatangan River

The river safaris take place with motor boats. There is room for about 10 people on a boat and you go up and down the river. The safaris take place early in the morning after sunrise or shortly before sunset. The individual boat safaris last 1-1.5 hours. It should be said that these were a bit boring for us after a while, although we always saw something. We were constantly going up and down the river and sat in the boats all the time.

Accommodation at the Kinabatangan River

Along the Kinabatangan River there are many different types of accommodation in all price categories. The good thing is that there are no “hotel landscapes” here, but the accommodations are located in different places on the shore (at least that’s what we saw). The accommodations usually offer full board, as it is difficult to provide for oneself otherwise.

Sukau Menanggul Homestay

If we were to go to the Kinabatangan River again, we would probably choose the Sukau Menanggul Homestay, as it simply seems more familiar. Here you book the safaris individually as you wish and it just seems like a nice little family business. The accommodation seems more spartan, but you can put together your own programme. An overnight stay costs 100 MYR (~ $ 20) including 3 meals. For each boat safari you pay another 50 MYR (~ $ 10). On their Facebook page, I constantly see them showing videos with Pigmy elephants. If you want to contact the owner directly, you can do so via Whatsapp +60 148503728.

Natural Sukau Bilit Resort

We chose the Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort because it seemed very good value for money. For a package for 3 days and 2 nights we paid MYR 371 (just under 80 €) per person. Included are a total of 4 boat safaris (2x in the morning and 2x in the evening), full board, 2 night walks, pick-up/drop-off in Sandakan/Sepilok and tea in the afternoon. Overall, I would say that the whole programme gives you what you can expect for your money. The rooms are great with A/C and virtually no mosquitoes, the boat safaris are great but sometimes a bit tedious, as you are quite passive yourself and travel the same routes, the night hike is so … well (you basically trudge for 3/4 of an hour through the grounds of the lodge with a torch and rubber boots, but that doesn’t mean you don’t see anything exciting). But in the end we reached what we wanted to see and the guide is very competent. There is also relatively little to do between meals. For bookings and info you can contact the owner on tel +60 179729128.
Conclusion: The lodge is great, the food is okay, the safaris serve their purpose and you can forget about the night hike. All in all, it’s more like mass processing, but very cheap.
Catering: Here there was a buffet in each case:
Breakfast: Toast, butter, jam, hard-boiled eggs, baked beans, sausages and fruit.
Lunch: Fried chicken, rice, vegetables, soup (very watery), beef or fish.
Dinner: similar to lunch.



Getting to Kinabatangan River

Getting there is relatively simple. Sandakan/Sepilok are both places from which the lodges usually pick you up free of charge. If you are in other places, such as Kota Kinabalu or Semporna, you can take the bus to Medan Slera, where the lodges will pick you up. Medan Slera is on the main road in Sabah. However, pick-up should be arranged with the lodges in advance.

Tips for Kinabatangan River

  • Be sure to pack mosquito spray and sunscreen.
  • If available, have a telephoto lens or binoculars with you, the animals are relatively far away.
  • Bring long-sleeved clothes to protect yourself from mosquitoes.
  • Take snacks with you, there is a longer break between lunch and dinner
    • Have a headlamp with you for a night hike
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