Before I left for the Kinabatangan River, I stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan hotel. It cost £52.00 per night, including an excellent breakfast. The room was very modern and clean, and we had a lovely view of Sandakan harbour. The hotel is located about a 25 minute drive from Sandakan airport, and it cost RM 30.00 for a taxi.
Once at the Kinabatangan River, I stayed at Nature Lodge Kinabatangan for two nights. The room was quite basic, but it was clean and comfortable.
I booked a 3 day/2 night ‘Ultimate Adventure’ tour through River Junkie for a cost of £300 each. This included return transfers to/from Sandakan, accommodation in a deluxe AC chalet, all meals, 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. The booking process was really easy, and the email communication from River Junkie was really good.
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 it was an amazing experience. The Kinabatangan River is the second longest river in Malaysia, with a length of 560km from it’s headwaters in the mountains of southwest Sabah, to it’s outlet at the Sulu Sea, east of Sandakan.
I got picked up from my hotel in Sandakan at 8:30am in a minibus and made my way to the first stop; Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre was founded in 1964 by a woman called Barbara Harrison and was the first centre in the world to dedicate itself to the rehabilitation of orphaned orangutans. 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.
The entrance free to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre was included as part of my tour, but if you wish to visit it independently, the cost is RM 30.00 each for foreign tourists plus a RM 10.00 fee for cameras. The ticket allows you to attend both feedings – 10am and 3pm – on the same day.
When we got to the Centre, we visited the outdoor nursery to see the young orangutans on their final stage of rehabilitation.
We then made our way to the feeding platform for the 10am feed. You’re 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 because it means they are not reliant on the feeding, and that they are living a free and natural life in the reserve. It took a little while for any orangutans to appear, but eventually we were lucky enough to see two.
It was so fascinating to watch these spectacular animals.
Next up was the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), which was just across the road from Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. BSBCC is the only sun bear conservation in the world. It was founded in 2008 with two aims; the provide care and rehabilitation to rescued sun bears, and to increase awareness of sun bears internationally.
Again, the entrance fee was included in my tour but if visiting independently, admission is RM 15.90 each for foreign adults and free for under 12’s. There’s also a camera fee of RM 1,000.00 for cameras with lenses about 500mm and above.
The BSBCC had 43 rescued bears when I visited, and I was lucky to see a couple of them roaming through the Centre.
We then headed for lunch at Mango Garden Restaurant which was also included in the tour. After lunch, we proceeded with the 2 hour drive to Nature Lodge Kinabatangan, which also involved jumping in a boat to cross the river.
When we arrived at Nature Lodge Kinabatangan, we were greeted with smiles and got checked-in to chalet 12; a deluxe room with air conditioning and a fan. Once we’d freshened up and had our welcome drink, we started our 2 hour river cruise where we saw birds, monkeys and even a couple of Pygmy elephants!
We returned back from the river cruise at 6pm, and met the rest of the group for dinner at 7pm. The breakfasts, lunches and dinners at Nature Lodge Kinabatangan were buffet-style with plenty of food to choose from.
At 8:30pm we joined in with the 45 minute night walk. We were put into a group with two other people and a guide took us through the surrounding area to show us birds sleeping, spiders, frogs, scorpions and other creepy crawlies! We’d hired wellington boots from the reception for a small fee because it was really muddy! I’d packed torches, but you can also hire these from reception too. We’d been pre-warned about leeches so I’d dressed from head-to-toe, covering my whole body to prevent them sticking to me!
The next day, the first river cruise begun at 6am, and lasted for an hour. We saw some more monkeys and birds, including an eagle. It was nice to watch the monkeys leaping from tree to tree, and playing with each other.
Breakfast was at 7:15am, and then we started a 3 hour jungle trek at 9am. The jungle trek was quite hard because we were trekking through thick mud. Luckily we were shaded from the sun because we were among tall trees. Before making our way back to Nature Lodge Kinabatangan, we found a jetty which had the most spectacular view of the river; it was so peaceful and pretty here. It definitely made the walk worth it.
It was back to the chalet for a much needed shower and nap before heading out on a 4pm river cruise. This river cruise lasted 2 hours and it rained, but we got to see Pygmy elephants again!
The evening was spent getting to know other guests also staying at Nature Lodge Kinabatangan.
In the morning, we met the group at 5:45am on the jetty for a 6am river cruise. We were so lucky to see a crocodile swimming through the river, as well as more monkeys and birds.
We then checked out of our chalet and made our way back to Sandakan via Gomantong Caves. Gomantong Caves are the largest caves in Sabah, consisting of 9 limestone caves. The two largest caves here are Simud Putih (White Cave) and Simud Hitam (Black Cave), but we only visited Simud Hitam cave. You need a permit to explore Simud Putih cave, and it’s about a 30 minute climb of steep hills to reach it.
If visiting Gomantong Caves independently, the entrance fee is RM 30.00 each for foreign visitors, plus a RM 30.00 camera fee.
River Junkie provided us with hard hats to protect us from bat poo and anything else that could’ve potentially fallen onto our heads! Once inside the cave, you need to be careful as the board walk was quite slippery, and you can’t hold onto the handrail because it’s covered in bat poo and cockroaches! The caves didn’t smell too pleasant, and they were swarming with cockroaches, lizards, poisonous long legged centipedes and crabs.
On the way out of the caves, we saw some monkeys playing in the trees. Orangutans can also be spotted here if you’re lucky enough.
After two hours, we made it back to Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan and received a free upgrade with a seaview room which also had a bathtub – just what I needed after spending two nights sleeping with the wildlife!
Next up: Penang