Kinabatangan River

Two nights on the Kinabatangan River was the highlight of my trip to Malaysia; I was lucky enough to see some magnificent wildlife in their natural habitats and I’ve been dying to share this post with you all!

The Kinabatangan River is the second longest river in Malaysia, with a length of 560 kilometres from its headwaters in the mountains of southwest Sabah, to its outlet at the Sulu Sea, east of Sandakan.

I hadn’t heard of the Kinabatangan River before I started researching on where to go in Malaysia; I stumbled across it whilst looking up Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and one thing lead to another when I found myself on River Junkie‘s website browsing their ‘Ultimate Adventure‘ tour. I immediately contacted River Junkie via email to see if they had availability for the dates we intended to be in Sabah. They were really quick to respond and very helpful!

I booked Lloyd and I onto the two night, three day trip and it cost us RM3188.06 (£606.37). This price included return transfers to/from Sandakan, accommodation in a deluxe AC chalet, 2 breakfast, 2 lunch and 2 dinner, Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre visit and entrance fee, Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre visit and entrance fee, Gomantong Cave visit and entrance fee, English speaking guide, 4 river cruises, and a guided night nature walk.

On 31st May 2017, Lloyd and I made our way to Malaysia Borneo. We were in Singapore previously, so we had to get a flight from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur and then another flight from Kuala Lumpur to Sandakan. We flew with AirAsia and the flight duration from KLIA2 was just under 3 hours – further than I thought! Our flight landed at 8:10pm, we jumped in a taxi and made our way to the hotel. We checked into Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan and it was brilliant service from the moment we arrived. The taxi from Sandakan Airport took about 25 minutes and cost us RM30.00, and the hotel cost £52 with breakfast. After a quick shower, it was straight to bed after a long day of travelling!

River Junkie had arranged to collect us from our hotel at 8:30am so we set our alarm for 6:30am and awoke to a lovely view over Sandakan harbour! The breakfast at Four Points by Sheraton was delicious; there was plenty to choose from including Asian food, cereals, fresh fruit, pastries, breads, eggs, the usual fry up stuff and pancakes!

Good morning Sandakan!

We checked out of the hotel, got picked up in a Nature Lodge Kinabatangan mini-van and made our way to the first stop; Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitaion Centre.

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilition Centre

Lloyd at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilition Centre

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre was founded in 1964 by an English woman called Barbara Harrison and was the first centre in the world to dedicate itself to the rehabilitation of orphaned organutans. The Centre cares for young orangutans orphaned as a result of illegal logging and deforestation and those who have been illegally caught and kept as pets. The Centre also cares for injured and displaced wild orangutans, as well as other wildlife including the endangered Bornean Pygmy elephant.

If you wish to visit Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilition Centre independently, the entrance fee is RM30.00 for foreign tourists and a camera fee of RM10.00 should you wish to take your camera to the feedings with you. The ticket allows you to attend both feedings (at 10am and 3pm) on that day.

When we arrived at the Centre, we visited the outdoor nursery to observe some of the young orangutans on their final stage of rehabilitation through protected specialist facilities.

Young orangutans at the outdoor nursery

We then made our way to the feeding platform for the 10am feed. It took a little while for any orangutans to appear but we were lucky enough to see two!

An orangutan coming down for some breakfast!

Obviously you are not guaranteed to see any orangutans due to them living wild in the reserve, and it’s actually a positive thing (not for tourists) if orangutans don’t come down to the feeding platform as it means they are not reliant upon the feeding and are living a free and natural existence in the reserve.

It was so fascinating to watch these spectacular animals and I feel so lucky to witness them in the wild!

Next up was Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, which is literally across the road from Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is the only sun bear conservation in the world! It was founded in 2008 with two aims; to provide care and rehabilitation to rescued sun bears and to increase awareness of sun bears internationally.

Admission is RM15.90 for foreign adults and free for under 12’s. There’s also a camera fee of RM1,000.00 for cameras with lenses 500mm and above.

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre currently has 43 rescued bears and we were lucky enough to see a couple roaming through the Centre!

Sun bear

Lloyd and I at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

After spending some time observing the sun bears, we had lunch at Mango Garden Restaurant which was included in the trip. Once we’d finished lunch, we proceeded with the 2 hour drive to Nature Lodge Kinabatangan, which also involved jumping in a boat to cross the Kinabatangan River!

When we arrived, we were greeted by smiles! A very lovely lady checked us in to chalet 12, a deluxe room with air conditioning and a fan.

We quickly freshened up before making our way to reception for a welcome drink and our first river cruise down the Kinabatangan River. The river cruise was 2 hours long and we got to see birds, monkeys and even a couple of Pygmy elephants!

After returning from the river cruise at 6pm, we met for dinner at 7pm which was buffet-style with plenty to choose from.

At 8:30pm we participated in a 45 minute jungle night walk. We were put in a group with two other people and the guide took us through the surrounding area to show us birds sleeping, spiders, frogs, scorpians and other creepy crawlies! I dressed from head-to-toe because I was scared I was going to re-appear covered in leeches that we’d been pre-warned about! We hired wellies from reception for a small fee as it was super muddy and we took our torches with us, but you can also hire these from reception too.

We were in bed shortly after ready for another early morning!

The first river cruise of the day begun at 6am and it lasted an hour! We saw some more monkeys and birds including an eagle!

Lloyd waiting on the jetty for the 6am river cruise

6am on the Kinabatangan River

The monkeys are really interesting to watch.

We had breakfast at 7:15am and chilled out in our chalet before meeting for a three hour jungle trek at 9am. The jungle trek was hard work as most of the time we were trekking through thick mud! I was thankful that we were shaded by trees during the walk as the sunshine and heat would’ve made it nearly impossible for me!

Jungle trek

Before making our way back to Nature Lodge Kinabatangan, we found a jetty with the most specatcular view of the river; it was so peaceful and lovely. It definitely made the walk worth it.

We had a shower, lunch and a nap. We met back up with the group for another river cruise at 4pm which lasted two hours. It started raining when we were on the boat but seeing a Pygmy elephant made it all worthwhile!

We were prepared for the rain with our rain macs!

Monkeys playing on the ropes that help them cross the river

Amazing view of a Pygmy elephant!

We made our way back to Nature Lodge Kinabatangan just after 6pm, had dinner at 7pm and was back in our room by 8pm to pack our suitcases.

On Saturday morning we met the group at 5:45am for the 6am 1 hour river cruise. We were lucky enough to see a crocodile swimming through the river as well as more birds and monkeys!

After our final river cruise, we had breakfast, checked out of Kinabatangan Nature Lodge and jumped in the mini van that was taking us back to Sandakan via Gomantong Caves.

Gomantong Caves is the largest cave in Sabah and is a limestone cave system consisting of 9 caves. The two largest caves are Simud Putih (White Cave) and Simud Hitam (Black Cave). The entrance fee was included in our tour but usually it would be RM30.00 for foreign visitors, there’s also a camera fee of RM30.00. We only visited Simud Hitam. You can explore Simud Putih cave, but you need to get a permit and climb 30 minutes of steep hill to reach these.

Simud Hitam – Black Cave

Our tour provided us with hard hats to protect us from bat poo, and anything else that could’ve potentially fallen on our heads! Be careful in the cave; the broadwalk is quite slippery and you wouldn’t want to grab the handrail because it was covered in bat poo and cockroaches!

Ready to enter Gomantong Caves!

The caves stunk and were also swarming with cockroaches, lizards, poisonous long legged centipedes and crabs!

Inside Simud Hitam

On the way back out of the caves, we saw moneys playing in the trees! Some people are lucky enough to spot orangutans here.

After two hours, we made it back to Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan. Again, we were greeted with exceptional service and even had our room upgraded to a seaview with a bath tub – just what I wanted after spending two nights sleeping with the wildlife!

We spent the afternoon chilling out around the hotel’s infinity pool – amazing!

Infinity pool overlooking Sandakan Harbour

We were going to grab dinner in a local restaurant, however a massive thunderstorm kept us inside our hotel for the evening! Therefore we ate dinner in The Eatery where I ate a local dish called Penang Char Kway Teow!

It was another early night before heading to Penang the following morning!

I’d just like to say a massive thank you to River Junkie for being so helpful and responsive when we we’re booking the tour with them, Nature Lodge Kinabatangan for an amazing stay and Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan for giving us exceptional service!