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Kinabatangan River Night Cruise Sabah

Night Cruise Kinabatangan River
The Kinabatangan River Night Cruise in Sabah is one of the most exciting and adventurous trips you will take while staying at the Lower Kinabatangan River Lodges.

This unique night cruise is an optional package at each of the lodges. Hence, you need to book with your lodge or tour guide to experience this cruise along the Kinabatangan River in Sandakan to see the nocturnal wildlife here.

Kinabatangan River Night Cruise 

As I was staying at the Proboscis Lodge Bukit Melapi for my Sandakan Eco-Tourism visit organized by Sabah Tourism, I was informed by my nature guide - Ben, then there were optional night cruises available, and I had to book from the lodge.

So without fail, my booking was completed, and it was a very memorable experience, with a lot of new encounters with the nocturnal wildlife here.

Birds were seen at the Kinabatangan night river cruise.

After experiencing the late afternoon cruise seeing the various wildlife, we headed back to our lodge and freshened up for a sumptuous local dinner there.

Questions of all kinds were thrown to Ben about what we would expect during our night cruise, and Ben calmly told me, 'not to worry, you will have a chance to see things you never saw in your life', and that kept me extra curious until we started our journey.

The boatman had arrived at the lodge jetty right on schedule, and we made off into the dark Kinabatangan River armed with my DSLR camera and a couple of high powered torch lights, not forgetting our safety life vests which are mandatory.

Bird at the night river cruise

In just three minutes of the ride, we had already spotted a bird on one of the leaves along the side of the river. Unafraid of the light and boat, we moved in closer, and I started with my pictures.

Being the first time there, I was afraid that using the flash would scare the bird and tried to click without shaking my Nikon D60 with an 18-105mm lens.

The result? A total failure! Ben noticed and told me to go ahead and use my flash as the birds will not fly away. So from the pictures here, you will see that I literally flashed every bird I came across.

Kingfisher bird at the night river cruise

Birds at Kinabatangan River

You should know about the Kinabatangan Night Cruise because the boat travels in pitch darkness except for the spotlight, which the boatman handles to spot birds and reptiles.

Ben had another high powered flashlight, so there were only two sources of light. Once a bird or reptile is spotted, the boatman quickly heads in the direction and keeps the light on the animal.

Another Kingfisher bird was seen at the night cruise.

At many points during the night cruise, I would say that I was about three to four feet from the birds perched on the branches.

They looked like they were asleep when we got close. So for Birders or Bird Watchers, this is one of the very rare moments you can get extremely close to the Borneo birds. An absolutely fantastic experience if you ask me.

A Pied Hornbill was seen on one of the trees.

Among the birds that were seen by us were Hornbills, Kingfishers and other named Borneon birds, which call this river home.

They literally sit comfortably on the branches as we spot them in this two hour night cruise. Apart from looking out for birds, we also saw fireflies as they dimly lit up parts of the trees.

Once again, I would like to mention that if you are a bird lover, this is the place to further explore your hobby as it is incredible to see the birds in their natural habitat from such a close distance.

Among the birds that you will be able to spot here are;

  • Oriental Darter
  • Egrets
  • Herons
  • Storm's Stork
  • Hawks
  • Osprey
  • Pheasants
  • Owls
  • Hornbills
  • Trogon
  • Nightjar
  • Bee Eater
  • Woodpeckers
  • Drongo
  • Pittas
  • Broadbills
  • Babbler
  • Forktail
  • Warbler
  • Spiderhunter

Pacific Swallow Kinabatangan RiverA Pacific swallow rests on one of the branches.

The boatman brought us right in the middle of the Sandakan River to experience total silence while gazing at the stars at one point of the night river cruise.

The boat engine was turned off while we casually drifted along the river in total darkness while looking at the stars.

Crocodile Kinabatangan RiverBaby crocodile at the Kinabatangan night river cruise

Crocodiles at Kinabatangan River

The highlight of the Kinabatangan river night cruise was the crocodiles. We must have come across at least five of them, ranging from babies to juvenile crocodiles.

Most of the baby crocodiles are sighted by the sides of the rivers as the mother is nearby but hardly spotted as they are, in fact, quite shy.

Crocodile KinabatanganBaby crocodile at the Kinabatangan night River Cruise

Honestly, I was a little scared at first when encountering these reptiles, but reassurances from Ben and even the boatman calmed us down.

The crocodiles spotted along the Kinabatangan are known to be shy, and when boats arrive, they would just go under the water. But the baby ones would remain on the surface.

An 8" baby crocodile looks at us.

Our boat got so close to one of the baby crocodiles, which measured about eight inches, it looked like we could just pick it up from the water, but we did not.

Apparently, these little ones would grow to a whopping length of 10 to 15 feet in size once fully matured. I for sure would not want to be face to face with one of the fully-grown crocodiles.

Yellow Ringneck Snake seen on the branches

Wildlife Seen At Kinabatangan River

Also sighted along the Kinabatangan Night Cruise was a Yellow Ringneck Snake, which was fast asleep on one of the branches of the trees.

This was a whopper in size as the width of the snake was estimated to be around three inches in diameter.

We also saw a Brown Civet Cat (Musang) high up on the trees feasting on some local fruits. If you are lucky during this river safari, you would have a chance to see other nocturnal creatures like the Borneo Wild Cat, Owls, Wildboar, Deer, Frogs, Insects, Otters, and many others.

Without my guide Ben, I would not have known any of the names of the birds and reptiles that I saw during my Kinabatangan Night Cruise or Night River Safari.

You must have a guide with you throughout your Kinabatangan stay as required by each lodge operator.

Best times to visit Kinabatangan River:
  • The Kinabatangan-Sukau region can be visited all year round, though it is often flooded during December and January's wettest part of the year.
  • From April to October, the main flowering and fruiting seasons are generally relatively dry and a good time to spot many birds and animals.
  • Best time to see Pygmy Elephants are around June.
Getting to Kinabatangan River:
  • AirAsia or Malaysia Airlines flies to Sandakan from Kuala Lumpur, and from there, engage a tour company for your river safari.
  • A car, bus or taxi is available from all towns in Sabah, and prices vary according to distances.
  • Various tour operators around Sabah offer full board packages to Kinabatangan.
General Tips for Kinabatangan River:
  • Bring a poncho as the boats are non covered if it rains.
  • Bring water and snacks as cruises can last 2-3 hours.
  • Torch lights are a must to see the animals and birds at a distance.
  • For those with DSLR Cameras, an 18-200mm lens is minimal. Your standard lens will not satisfy you.
  • For those with compact digital cameras, a 10x to 20x zoom is needed with an anti-shake function.
  • Always stay in the boat and do not try silly heroic things as you would not want to fall in the waters.
Information of Kinabatangan River on Wikipedia

And always remember to practice Responsible Tourism wherever you are.

My Conclusion to the Kinabatangan Night Cruise

You should take this trip if you visit the Kinabatangan Sukau Eco-System. It is unique and very educational, and you get a chance to see the Borneon Birds up close and personal.

And bring a good camera that has some night mode, with a good lens. For smartphones, get one of those new models which are excellent for night photography.

Post a Comment


Carmen said…
very nice picture..

the colour is very sharp..

do you do any editing?
You have really brilliant job, I really love them. I have been there lot of time, but this post really touch to my heart and I will come soon...

Best Regards,
gbeejipp said…
wow. very nicely shot pics. They can easily make good pics for postcards. Thanks for sharing.
Borneo Falcon said…
Wonder how big is the mother crocodile.
Malaysia Asia said…
Carmen, thank you. I use minimal editing on my pics. Mostly sharpening them.

Virginia, thank you. I hope you go again as it is really beautiful.

JIPP, thank you so much for your kind words.

Borneo Falcon, You know, when I saw the baby, I too wondered how big the mom would be.... so I asked my guide Ben and he casually told me about 12 feet minimum....

MsXeRoZ Nicole said…
For the first half of the photos i was so excited, then when i saw snakes and crocodiles... less elated coz i'm afraid of reptiles....AHAHAH..
superwilson said…
Great pictures man! The bird is like waiting for u!
shloke said…
WOW! What an AWESOME night trip! Honestly, this is my first time seeing birds 'captured' at night. I always wonder...Where will the birds go by nighttime.

David, do you know the rate (price) for this night cruise?

asia cruise said…
I have discovered your website by accident and I think it´s wonderful! Very practical and filled with useful information! Lovely pictures.
Malaysia Asia said…
Nicole - Now you know why the bird pictures came out first? :) Anyway, not to worry, they don't bite.

Wilson, Thanks. They look amazing at night and photographing them is one of the highlights of this night cruise.

Mylo, Now you know that the birds sleep by the rivers at night. Rates vary from lodge to lodge and usually about RM40-60 per person. But best to check with the lodge operator when you arrive there.

Asia Cruise - Thank you for your visit and kind words.

Anonymous said…
wow..so many amazing creatures to see at night and that baby croc!

I missed seeing crocs when I visited Kinabatangan last year. They just wouldn't appear.
jocelyncoco said…
the birds really cute and their neon colours so bright and nice!!! and the baby croc and snake..u zoom in one hor..>< if not vry scary nehx XD~*
Malaysia Asia said…
Mei, Sorry to hear you didn't get a chance to see the crocodiles. Anyway, they looked really cute and maybe next time you visit, they would pop up?

Coco - Yeah, the colours of the birds were stunning! Actually, I didn't really zoom in much. The crocodile was about 5 feet from my boat and the snake, about 8 feet away from the boat. A great experience too.

MsXeRoZ Nicole said…
Hahas..good psychological tactic u have ya David~! The birds are so cute. It's really different here because the most common bird i've seen in KL is crows who scavenges on dead mice by the roadside.

It's good to have u bringing up the beautiful nature that Malaysia has =)
Malaysia Asia said…
Haha Nicole, the way you mention birds in KL seems like the place is a wasteland. Anyway, if you do love nature, the best way is to get out of KL.

Thank you for the kind words and I hope to bring more interesting articles for everyone to know what we have around Malaysia.

travelerfolio said…
hello David!

This post really attracts me as I was also on a similar cruise recently in NT. But it was a day cruise. I was using 200mm zoom to picture the birds n crocs too. It's must be quite a challenge to shoot at the wildlife at night! But luckily they didn't say anything when you used flash. :P Beautiful photos. :)
Malaysia Asia said…
Thanks Eunice. Where is NT? Anyway, night shooting can be fun but just don't drop into the river :) Well, from what I was told, flashing the birds was ok as they were mostly asleep.

Natalie said…
Beautiful pictures. I love birds and think that a lot of people misunderstand them
Malaysia Asia said…
Thank you Natalie, I hope more travelers and locals would appreciate nature in their own surroundings. I will keep trying to educate and promote it to my best.

Anonymous said…
Wow...Ur pics are great...I can't wait for my visit to the Kinabatangan River....Tq 4 the boost...:)hehe