We were looking forward to our Wildlife expedition on the Kinabatangan River. Flying in from Kota Kinabalu it was a quick turn around on arrival at Sandakan Airport.

Met by our guide we were ushered into the bus taking us to the reknowned Sepilok Orangutan Wildlife Sanctuary



Later, at lunch in a Chinese restaurant overlooking the harbour we introduced ourselves to the rest of the group we were to share the next three days with, exploring the river and Sukau in search of wild animals and birds in their natural habitat.

We had all booked with the award winning Sukau Rainforest Lodge...and Borneo Eco Tours.

Once we and our gear were loaded onto the small open sided motorboat, we settled in for the 2 ½ hour trip across the Sandakan harbour and down the Kinabatangan River to the lodge.

Afternoon tea was waiting – hot banana fritters and coffee or tea. The welcome talk gave us an outline of what our programme would be for the next few days, and a little history and background about the lodge.

Kinabatangan River - Sukau Rainforest Lodge

Renovations were in progress at Sukau Rainforest Lodge, but we were to enjoy the rooms already finished.

They were very comfortable with a tropical flavour and the floor to ceiling glass wall in the bathroom gave not only light, but the feeling of being in the rainforest. An eco lodge... there are fans…no airconditioning.


Each evening we enjoyed the delicious buffet dinners on the deck overlooking the river.

With flares lighting the way to the open air was a great spot to catch up with other guests who had been out on different boats.

Half an hour after arriving we were once again huddled in boats on the Kinabatangan river....this time small tin boats with plank seats and a motor.

We were to spend many hours in these over the next few days. Our guides were locals who seemed blessed with exceptional vision!

They could spot animals lurking in the undergrowth, small camouflaged critters resting on trees and the many animals we would encounter. There is no guarantee of what animals you will see. Each day brings a different experience.

These animals are truly in the wild, living as they would foraging for food, climbing, swinging, playing……and we were privileged to see them.

Proboscis Monkeys, Pygmy Elephants - all kinds of Wildlife!


We took side waterways off the main Kinabatangan River where it was narrower and the trees overhung the water. All kinds of monkeys swung through the branches, groomed their babies and ran across a wire stretching across the river.

With ten different breeds of primate in the area… this is one of the main areas for seeing the strange proboscis monkey…..easily recognized by their large protruding bulbous nose. In profile they make a strange site.


There were large numbers of macaque monkeys which the guides considered vermin and were reluctant to stop for. We of course, were fascinated seeing them with their babies at such close quarters.

Over the next few days we spent every minute we could out on the water.

We were thrilled to see a herd of around 22 pygmy elephants right on the edge of the river. Just 2 metres from our boat these wild elephants ripped the tall grasses and munched their way through large quantities…..barely pausing to give us a glance.

alt. Pygmy-Elephant-Kinagatangan-River-Sabah.jpg

Our guide decided to have a look down a Kinabatangan River tributary and there we came across two young elephants having a play fight in the water, before climbing up the bank and disappearing into the grass which was as tall as them.

Apparently this was a rare experience.

Another lucky viewing was the old male orangutan stripping berries from a tree.

I never realized otters lived in Borneo. We saw only one as it scuttled around the dam it had probably built….but another group were thrilled to see about a dozen going about their daily lives.

A rhinoceros hornbill....Borneo’s national emblem perched on the top of a solitary pole, a crocodile slid under the water just his eyes showing.

Snakes curled around branches and a monitor stretched along a branch...hard to see he blended in so well.



Night Tour on Kinabatangan River

In the evenings you have the option to do a night boat trip. There is an extra charge but it is well worth going at least once.

I was amazed to find that birds go to sleep clinging to a branch…with their eyes open...looking just like stuffed birds. We got right up close to beautiful colourful kingfishers, and used spotlights to look for snakes, crocodiles, and more birds.

We left early for a morning jungle walk with our guide. The boat trip was lovely in the eerie morning mist. White herons reflected in the water as they perched on the edge of the river.


We had all come prepared for the leeches we had heard we could expect.

There is a whole industry around these nasty blood sucking creatures you can have clinging to your skin if you are not prepared.

Fortunately we only saw two! Our guide pointed out various plants and elephant droppings but it was otherwise relatively uneventful.

Gomantang Caves

We had booked to go to Gomantang Cave which is an optional extra. This cave is known as the main caves where the best quality nests for birds nest soup come from.


The trip took around an hour as we zoomed down the river and then drove 27 kilometres with Fernando.

The cave opening is set back from the small village where the workers live. The narrow ladders strung to the ceiling were not in use as it is seasonalthe birds migrate out of season.

If you are going to Mulu Caves I would not recommend this cave as I found it disappointing after the beautiful Mulu Caves. The walkways was slippery with bat and bird poo and it was truly smelly!We had been warned.

You need old shoes and it is a good idea to wear a plastic throwaway rain poncho. Centipedes, cockroaches and other small insects nested in the walls of the cave and the light rays were pretty shining through the openings in the cave roof.

But unless you can see the villagers getting the nests… it may not be worth the cost.

Borneo Ecotours- - Sukau Rainforest Lodge

All too soon we were on the return trip back to Sandakan.

This 3 night/4 day mini tour was a highlight of our Borneo trip. I would certainly recommend you try and fit in time on the Kinabatangan river.

It is a rare opportunity to experience the wildlife at close quarters in their own environment.Sandakan was interesting though the less significant part of the tour, while a visit to Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary is on almost everyone's list when they visit Borneo.



Malaysian Borneo

Around Kuching

Mulu National Park

Mulu Caves

Mulu Canopy Walk

Kinabalu National Park

Kota Kinabalu


Orangutans in Borneo

Borneo Hotels


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