Kinabatangan River, Borneo: jungle trekking and wildlife cruise in Sukau, Malaysia

We spent four days in Sukau, Malaysia for a unique Borneo wildlife experience. Where else but Borneo can you find wild proboscis monkeys, orangutans, hornbills, crocodiles, Borneo elephants, and macaques all on the same river? The Kinabatangan river is famous for it, and if you're heading to Sabah, you've probably already heard of it. We visited the Kinabatangan river on a budget (four days all inclusive for two people for ~900myr, or US$216) and still had a remarkable time.

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In this post:

  1. Intro

  2. Review of Sukau Backpackers B&B

  3. Animals we saw with pictures and video


If you are planning to visit Borneo, then you certainly are going to spend some time trying to see the unique ecosystems, flora, and fauna. In Sabah, the Kinabatangan river has become a popular place to see animals in the wild. Very close to the river, deforestation for logging and palm oil plantations has devastated the natural habitats of many animals, which are now considered endangered or threatened, partly due to this loss of habitat. The consequence of this devastation is that many animals have been pushed to the protected areas of the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. Hence, you can see lots of animals in one place!

Lovely river sunset

Front of the boat views
 

Review of Sukau Backpackers B&B


We booked our trip with the Sukau Backpackers B&B at their office in Sandakan. Instead of booking a set itinerary which includes all meals, accommodation, and activities, we wanted to spend a bit more of a relaxed time and save some cash. At the time of writing, 1myr = US $0.24, so 4myr is about US $1.
 
Guest cabins

The good:

We did everything we wanted to do and kept it under 900myr total for three nights two people, or around US $216. We paid the B&B 800myr, and if it was all pieced out, we saved 25myr on the deal.

As of November 2017 these were the prices quoted to us:
  • Double room with enquire bathroom: 75myr per night, including hot water, ceiling fan, and small porch (a/c in the room was optional at 25myr extra, which we learned once we got there, and wasn't how it was presented). We stayed three nights.
 
The double room was half of a cabin 
 
  • Private car from Sandakan to Sukau and back to Sandakan: 100myr per person.
  • Jungle trekking for 1-2 hours: 30myr per person in the daytime and 50myr per person at night. We did one or each.
  • River cruises on the Kinabatangan River: 60myr per person. We did on in the morning and one in the afternoon/sunset.
  • Free breakfast, plus all-day coffee and Sabah tea and filtered water (refill that reusable bottle!)  
 
Lovely dining area where meals are served

 
We were unexpectedly the only people in the entire hostel for our first night and full day. It was awesome! Incredibly quiet and peaceful, plus we had a private afternoon cruise, a private morning jungle trek, and a private nighttime jungle trek. I think that with lots of people, we may not have seen as many animals in the jungle, because it was easy for the two of us and the guide be to quiet. 
 
Here we are with our guide and boat captain on a private afternoon cruise.
 
Sukau was also a nice town to walk around. If we had taken a regular packaged deal, it would have cost the same amount, and we would have done one more activity/one less day. We liked walking around and seeing flowers, butterflies, the local village, and eating at a local restaurant. Restaurant Simpang tiga was about a 45 minute walk, had good local food, and a great view of the river.
 

The river views from Restaurant Simpang tiga

View from the walk

Lovely raised homes right by the river

Everyone seemed to have beautiful gardens around their houses

The bad:

Really our only complaints are about the room, which to be fair, was incredibly cheap.
  • A/C was charged at an additional 25myr per night. We were led to believe (by reading their website) that our room had air conditioning... which it did, but were couldn't use it unless we paid. It wasn't too hot at night but this was important to us because we washed our filthy jungle clothes, and they never dried outside, and A/C is great for drying everything out! They should have at least told this to us before we paid for the room.
  • Our room did not have a mosquito net around the bed and these mozzies mean business. They will bite through blankets and clothes... and they did.
  • Our ceiling fan was bent out of shape so the air actually just seemed a bit bothered instead of moving in any particular direction. Again, not helpful with the mosquitos.
  • At times our guide seemed to be distracted. Overall he was good, but sometimes he was sort of rambling about nature and then would take a break to take some selfies.

Overall, we enjoyed our stay, but the rooms need attention.

Animals!


There are ten species of primates living near the Kinabatangan river, including the endemic Proboscis monkey, orangutans, and Bornean gibbon. You can see crocodiles and Bornean elephants and there are sun bears and slow loris and over 200 species of birds.  Learn more here!

If you're an amazing spotter and have lots of time, you might see all those things. Animals aren't out there to perform for you so be happy with what you are able to see!

During two jungle treks and two river cruises, we saw the following animals in the wild:


We saw almost everything we were hoping to see, and were very pleasantly surprised to see an orangutan and tarsier! Our guide told us he had never seen a tarsier in the forest we were in, because they are usually in lowland areas. Good for you, little tarsier!

On to the pictures!
Silly pig-tailed macaque
 
 
Oh no he sees us!
 
 
  
Family of pig-tailed macaques
 
 
Can you spot Mr. orangutan?
 
There he is!

Silly family of long-tailed macaques
 
Oh hai, Western tarsier!
 
It's a wild pig, I swear
 
I know it isn't an animal but this is called a "giant bean" and they ain't wrong

Tractor millipedes

Trust me, that's a crocodile

Not just fauna, but jungle flora, too! These were some weird fungus that I couldn't take a picture of because I got bitten by something when I tried.

Stunning flowers
 
Invasive water hyacinth are pretty but are also taking over lots of rivers and lakes
 I realized that lots of the animals look boring so I took some videos. Compiled below!
 
 
 
Have you been to the Kinabatangan River? What did you see?

If you're heading to Borneo and want to see amazing wildlife, intense jungle, and lovely views, take a trip to the Kinabatangan River. Orangutans and Proboscis monkeys are not easy to see in the world, and you have a good chance of seeing them here! Sukau Backpackers B&B is a good option but there are many other hostels and hotels as well. Check prices on Agoda.com and stop in at tourist centers in Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan -- they are happy to negotiate a deal. 


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