Kinabatangan River Safari Cruise

River Cruise Kinabatangan
The unique Kinabatangan river safari cruises are the main highlights when you stay at the Sukau-Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary here in Sabah, Borneo.

It is at these river cruises where bird watchers and nature lovers will experience seeing the rare Bornean birds and unique wildlife available in this region.

If you have been following my other Kinabatangan articles, this was my most exciting trip on a river cruise while exploring Sabah Borneo.

Kinabatangan River in the morningKinabatangan River in the morning

Kinabatangan River Cruise

The Kinabatangan morning river cruise had us wake up extra early for breakfast and after that, we were all ready at the jetty at about 7.00 am with our guide, Ben.

Another couple had joined us with their nature guide and they were equally ecstatic about the morning river cruise as one of the highlights were seeing the Borneo Pygmy Elephants.

River Cruise at KinabatanganKinabatangan River Morning Safari Cruise

In no time, our trusted local boatman had arrived with his little 15 horse powered engine boat and everyone got on board checking our safety life vests and ponchos in case it did rain.

The tip here is to be careful when boarding the boats as it can get slippery at this time of the morning.

Video of the Kinabatangan River in the morning

Birds in the morning

With a slow start on our morning river cruise, the first things that we saw were the local Borneo birds. Many whom were stationed on top of trees along the river.

Our bird spotters also had a bird guide book with them and every bird we saw had a cleared picture in the book.

Photo of Kinabatangan River CruiseKinabatangan River Cruise

Cruising along the Kinabatangan at an early time also saw many other nature enthusiast and bird watchers heading out to various locations to spot the other types of birds.

I was also informed that the Sandakan area in Sabah is hosting the third Borneo Bird Fest around the Rainforest Discovery Center in Sepilok, Sandakan.

Hornbill in Kinabatangan River A Hornbill flies above our boat

Among the birds spotted during the safari were various Hornbills who were often seen flying around the river area, usually quite high up too.

We spotted three of the eight Hornbill species there during our morning river safari through the Kinabatangan river.

Egret at Kinabatangan RiverBirds are easily seen in the mornings here

Hornbills spotted on some trees

Raptor at Kinabatangan RiverA Hawk is seen from a distance

Kinabatangan River Birds

Video of Kinabatangan River Boat Ride

Cruise Kinabatangan A boat cruises along the river

As we cruised down the river, more boats were seen ferrying nature lovers armed with binoculars and cameras hoping to spot some interesting wildlife.

To my surprise, almost 98% of the guests were Caucasians and seeing Asians there was indeed a rare sight too.If you do see any, they are mostly Singaporean, Japanese, Korean or from China.

Video of our boat along the smaller Kinabatangan River

Wildlife at Kinabatangan RiverMonitor Lizard

One of the critters which I found quite impressive was the local Monitor Lizard (Biawak in Malay). This reptile is usually seen lazying on tree barks or shrubs looking asleep. Their sizes range anywhere from one meter (3 feet) till about 5 meters (15 feet).

Gibbons at Kinabatangan RiverGibbon at the Kinabatangan River

Arriving at one of the inner rivers here, we encountered a very rare glimpse of the Bornean Gibbon. According to my guide and the boatman, the last sighting was over six months back and this was indeed a rare chance to see them.

Video of one of the smaller rivers off the Kinabatangan

Proboscis Kinabatangan RiverProboscis monkeys high up on a tree

The usual Proboscis Monkeys were seen at various locations along the main Kinabatangan River and also the inner rivers. This is without fail the most common sightings while you do the river cruises here.

Proboscis monkeys along the river

The Proboscis Monkeys are commonly known to travel in groups ranging anywhere from five to 20 or even more. During that time, we must have seen at least six groups of the Proboscis Monkeys on that morning safari along the Kinabatangan River.

Orangutan photo Kinabatangan RiverOrangutan sighted!

And the highlight for me at this river safari was witnessing the Borneo Orangutan in the wild. We saw a total of two orangutans in this one river cruise.

The first sighting was in one of the inner rivers where we saw the Bornean Gibbon and the second which was the larger male orangutan on our way back to the Melapi Lodge.

Kinabatangan River Wild OrangutanMale Orangutan at the Kinabatangan River

Sadly, the first sighting did not stand out as the Orangutan was quite high up on one of the trees and the view was blocked by the leaves.

However the second sighting was absolutely amazing as it was just five minutes from the lodge where we were staying and much closer to the river and us.

Kinabatangan River Orang Utan PhotoOrangutan feasting on local figs

Orangutan Video at Kinabatangan River

The fairly large male orangutan was casually sitting on one of the local fig trees feasting away while our boat approached the river banks.

Looking non frightened, we were totally amazed on how the orangutan moved around picking the figs. I have personally seen many orangutans in my life but not in a natural condition like this.

Orangutan Photo KinabatanganOrangutan in the wild

A real wild Orangutan in the Kinabatangan was definitely something new to me. As I mentioned, I have seen orangutans in the zoos, at the Bukit Merah Orangutan Island and even at the Sepilok Orangutan Conservation Center but this has to be one was the best encounters in my life.

Kinabatangan River Orangutan SpottingOrangutan closeup

On many occasions, the male Orangutan moved around the tree with similar human like movements. From a distance, one would think that a human was up there. We must have spent a good 15 minutes here observing this before another boat joined us.

Kinabatangan River Proboscis LodgeMelapi Lodge along Kinabatangan River

After a much satisfied river cruise along the Kinabatangan River, seeing the various animals, reptiles and birds, we headed back to the Proboscis Lodge at Bukit Melapi.

Again I will say it - This was one of the most exciting nature trips I have taken in my life and I will do it again given the chance.

And I have to say a huge thank you to Uncle Ben, our excellent nature guide and also to Sabah Tourism for making this experience a memorable one even though we missed the Borneo Pygmy Elephants by a few kilometers.

My conclusion to the Kinabatangan Morning River Safari

When you arrive at the Kinabatangan and stay at any of the lodges, the river safaris will be included in your package. This does not include the night river cruises.

This place is an absolutely incredible experience if you love all things wildlife or birds. Highly educational if you have children and a trip you will always remember and relate to friends and family.

Kinabatangan River is also suitable for solo travelers, couples or even families with young kids. It is not disable friendly, but special arrangements can be arranged by certain operators.

Finally, to fully enjoy your experience here, I highly recommend spending a minimum of at least two nights in Kinabatangan.

Best times to visit Kinabatangan:
  • The Kinabatangan region can be visited all year round, though it is often flooded during the wettest part of the year in December and January.
  • The main flowering and fruiting season, from April to October is generally fairly dry and a good time to spot many birds and animals.
  • Best time to see Pygmy Elephants are around June, but check with the lodge or tour operator on this as it changes from time to time. 
Getting to Kinabatangan:
  • AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines flies to Sandakan from Kuala Lumpur and from there, engage a tour company for your river cruise safari.
  • Car, bus or taxi is available from all towns in Sabah and prices vary according to distances.
  • You can also rent a car and self drive to Kinabatangan.
  • Various tour operators around Sabah offer full board packages to Kinabatangan.
General Tips for Kinabatangan:
  • Bring a poncho as the boats are non covered if it rains.
  • Bring water and snacks as cruises can last 2-3 hours.
  • Binoculars are a must to see the animals and birds at a distance.
  • For those with DSLR cameras, an 200-500mm lens is minimal. Your standard lens will not satisfy you.
  • For those with compact digital cameras, a 10x to 20x zoom is needed with anti-shake function or go for a Nikon P900 Camera. 
  • Night cruises are optional and not included in packages so check with your guide.
  • Always stay in the boat and do not try silly heroic things as you would not want to fall in the waters.
  • And always remember to practice Responsible Tourism wherever you are.
Map to Kinabatangan River in Sukau

View Kinabatangan River Cruise in a larger map

For those seeking and adventure to remember, it is here in Sabah Borneo that you get the best out of nature. There are many places where you can experience wildlife and nature so it is best to go with a proper tour company.

Prices are not cheap but you get to see some of the most amazing things in the wild. One of the trips I personally recommend is the Kinabatangan River Safari Cruise.
Kinabatangan River Safari Cruise Kinabatangan River Safari Cruise Reviewed by David Jr on Thursday, January 28, 2010 Rating: 5


Cath J said...

I never been to Kinabatangan...Nice photos... greta infos..

Luray va accommodations said...

Nice trip!! We also had nice experience of seafront of Sandakan, Sabah cruise. We stayed in jungle bungalows with friends, and had morning river cruises, jungle trip, night trip during one week. We have observed many wildlife including scorpios, pygmys elephants, crocodiles, macaques, proboscus, orang utangs.

Best regards,

David Jr said...

Cath, Sandakan is a great place for the family so maybe your next trip, try some Eco-Adventures there.

Luray, wow, you've been to quite a lot of places around Sabah too. That's great!


wnittaya said...

very nice!!!

David Jr said...

Wnittaya, thank you. Hope you like this as I have more about Sandakan coming.


shloke said...

Definitely a must see and visit place for nature and bird lovers!


David Jr said...

Thanks Mylo, a must for Bird-Watchers and also, the 2nd Borneo Bird Fest will be on at the RDC Sepilok on Oct this year.


thomas said...

Nice photos and very detailed guide to the place,i wonder how many days will be needed for that cruise if from KL?

David Jr said...

Thomas, thank you. When you reach Sandakan, you would need about 3-4 nights there. The river cruise can be done in 1N/2D but to fully enjoy the experience, 2N/3D is just nice. The other places of interest can be done in half day.


anour said...

nice natural surrounding and late father would have loved this.

Mei Teng said...

I went for the evening (before dusk) cruise as well as an early morning one. I failed to see crocs during the cruises. I didn't stay on another day for the cruise to the Oxbow Lake. Wish I had.

David Jr said...

Anour, Kinabatangan is an absolutely lovely place to get away from it all. My first visit here opened up my eyes to nature.

Mei, sadly, when we went to Oxbow, a tree had fallen and blocked the river in so we missed it as well. But there is always next time :)


Lena said...

Wow, you really have a fantastic blog. Im gonna use your blog to go around Malaysia from now on -way more useful than Lonely Planet.

David Jr said...

Lena, thank you very much for your kind words. I will try to make it better from here.


Astha Mishra said...

Cool and beautiful place.

David Jr said...

Astha - Thanks for the visit and yes, it is a really beautiful place.


Michelle said...


David Jr said...

Hello Michelle, thank you for your feedback :) Much much more to come!


Stephanie5788 said...

Wow! Really like this article! And the Orang Utan looks amazing! So cool!! =D

Stephanie from KK ;-)

David Jr said...

Hello Stephanie, thanks so much! Glad you liked it and yes, the Orangutans are absolutely amazing here, naturally seen in their real environment.


Brenden said...

g'day everyone,just back from a magic week on the Kina River,saw the caves,went trekking(oh my calves!)and without a doubt,the most incredible untouched and amazing destination(better than Africa)that my wife and I have ever experienced!
just go
you'll love it

David Jr said...

Hi Brenden, Awesome! sounds like you guys had a fantastic time here with the wildlife! Glad you did and thanks for pointing it out.


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