The banks along Borneo’s Kinabatangan River teem with wildlife. Orangutans climb the tree tops near the water, elephants roam the edge of the jungle along the riverside, and colorful birds fish the chocolate brown water.
A trip to Kinabatangan is a trip far away from the comfort of the modern world. Here, life is lived on nature’s terms. Because of that the area hosts the largest concentration of wild animals in South East Asia.
There’s no guarantee that you’ll see all the species, but if you come prepared and spend enough time on the river your chances go up.
Here’s Hobo Planet’s ‘What, when, where and how’ to the Kinabatangan River.
Also, you might be interested in reading about 10 amazing wild animals to see along the river banks.
What to bring
You don’t need a lot of special gear to go to the Kinabatangan River, but these few selected pieces of equipment can make your trip much easier:
- Bring a good pair of hiking boots/shoes and expect them to get a bit muddy.
- Bring a hat – the sun can get be pretty fierce and there’s no shade on the river.
- Bring a long sleeve shirt or even better a thin windproof jacket. The animals are most active at dawn and at dusk, but it can get a bit chilly when sailing on the river at these times of the day.
- Bring your camera and remember a good zoom – you’ll need it to get good, close-up pictures of the animals. Maybe there’s a zoom function build into your camera or maybe you need an extra lens for your DSLR. We were very happy with our 300mm lens.
When to go
The river can be visited at all times of the year. December and January are the wettest part of the year, where some parts of the area can be flooded.
April to October is normally the driest months.
We visited in March with no problems.
How to get there
The lodges in the area arrange transportation with pickup in Sandakan or the near by town of Sepilok.
You can also arrive independently by taking the bus between Sandakan and Lahad Datu – or the other way around.
Tell the driver that you are going to Kinabatangan River, and you’ll be dropped off in a junction known as the ‘Meeting Point’ from where you can take a smaller bus to the small villages of Bilit or Sukau. From the villages a small boat will take you and your luggage to your lodging.
You can get to Sandakan by plane from Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, or you can take the bus from Kota Kinabalu.
We chose to fly from Kota Kinabalu as plane tickets are not much more expensive than bus tickets.
Where to stay
There’s a lot of lodges in the area. Some are:
In our experience most people stay for three days/two nights. We did, and it was great to have time for plenty of trips up and down the river. The more time you have, the greater the chance that you’ll se orangutans, elephants and so on.
For most lodges the program are as follows:
Day 1: arrival and sunset cruise
Day 2: sunrise and sunset cruise. Between the cruises it’s normally possible to do a hike – or just relax in a hammock
Day 3: sunrise cruise and departure
We booked in advance. Everybody we met did the same.
It’s also possible to book a homestay and stay with the very friendly locals living close to the river.
Here’s some links to get your started:
Going to the Kinabatangan River? Here’s 10 amazing wild animals to see along the river banks.