One of the highlights of my visit to Sabah was the Kinabatangan River Cruise. I’d heard from other people in the hostel that it was an amazing experience so I booked a 3 day/2 night trip through the hostel I was staying at in Sandakan, Harbourside Backpackers. Other backpackers and TripAdvisor reviewers had said it was a brilliant place to spot wildlife, something I was very keen to do in Borneo.

Getting There

I was picked up from Harbourside at 11.30am and the van collected other guests from various other accommodation in Sandakan and Sepilok. The drive towards the Kinabatangan River is unremarkable – mostly it consists of palm oil plantations. We arrived at the resort, Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort, at 2pm. The staff gave us a welcome talk and checked everyone in, then at 3.30pm it was time for an afternoon snack.

Wildlife Spotting on The Kinabatangan River

4pm was the first of four river cruises planned for the next few days. We were told it would be at least two hours long. We were lucky enough to see an orangutan on the other side of the river before we even got on the boat! Once on the boat, we saw another orangutan, a crocodile, lots of macaques, proboscis monkeys and a python.

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Tourist boats on the Kinabatangan River

By the time we arrived back at the resort, it was almost 7pm so time for dinner. Dinner was served buffet style with fruit for dessert. Once dinner was over, we went on a night walk in the rainforest. I’d put on a raincoat because I didn’t want to get any bugs on my skin – fuelled in part by the number of cicadas around the accommodation –  but it was so humid in the rainforest. We saw frogs and sleeping kingfishers in the forest. I didn’t expect to see any larger animals simply because a group of people walking through the forest makes a lot of noise.

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Sunrise over the Kinabatangan River – worth a 5.30am start!

The next day I woke up at 5.15am for the morning cruise. I was fortunate enough to see the sunrise, which looked beautiful. The morning cruise departed at 6am. We saw plenty of birds and monkey plus a few crocodiles. We returned to the resort before 7.30am for breakfast which was an odd mix of egg, beans, and chicken nuggets. We had an hour of downtime before our trek to the oxbow lake at 9am.

Time for Trekking

For the trek to the oxbow lake, we had to get a boat across to the other side of the river. From there, we walked through the rainforest to the lake, our guide stopping us intermittently to point out different trees or insects. We saw stick insects, butterflies, and a pygmy squirrel. Once we were at the lake, our guide told us that we could put our feet in the lake and the fish would nibble at the skin on our feet, basically like one of those ‘fish pedicure’ spa treatments that used to be popular.

Once some of the group had had their feet nibbled, it was time to head back to the resort for lunch. At 2pm we went for a walk to the local village. Our guide told us some interesting facts about life in the village, including when elephants come by and take bananas from the trees. We headed back to the resort for afternoon snacks before getting back on the boat for the 4pm afternoon cruise. On this cruise, we saw plenty of monkeys again, as well as proboscis monkeys, crocodiles, and birds.

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Monkeying around


We returned for dinner before 7pm then got an early night in preparation for a 5.30pm start.

The next morning, we awoke to a misty river. This made the setting more sinister when we saw crocodiles on the morning cruise. Once the cruise was done, we had breakfast and packed our things before checking out at 8.30am. The driver was happy to drop us off anywhere between the Kinabatangan River and Sandakan.

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Misty morning at the Kinabatangan River

Final thoughts

I had a great time on all of the river cruises and it was fascinating to see all of these animals in their natural habitat. It’s s shame that there is so little rainforest left in this area due to the number of oil palm plantations. I would honestly recommend the Kinabatangan River to anyone planning to visit Sabah. I paid 350RM (roughly £65 depending on the exchange rate) which included all transfers, activities, accommodation, and food. I felt like this was a good price given how knowledgeable the guides were and the quality of the accommodation and food.

Edit: I actually loved this so much that I decided to go to Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, in search of orangutans and other wildlife!

Want to share your experience on the Kinabatangan River? Let me know in the comments below!