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You can’t come to Sabah and not see its wild side. Forget the glitzy Kota Kinabalu with its abundant shopping and nightlife, peel yourself away from the white sandy beaches of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park and other nearby resorts, say goodbye to the crystal clear waters teeming with marine life, and spend a few days immersing yourself in Borneo’s jungle. Trust us, you won’t regret it, after all, this is the heart and soul of Sabah!

Palm oil plantation en route to Kinabatangan. Sabah. Malaysian Borneo

Sabah jungle lines the side of the road to Sukau

A short flight from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan and another 2-hour drive inland later, we found ourselves in Kinabatangan, a district in the east of Sabah, renowned for its wet and humid climate, swampy lowlands of the Kinabatangan River, and an abundance of Borneo’s most rare and fascinating birds and mammals.

Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Kinabatangan River

It is here that we came face to face with the dozens of proboscis monkeys, long and short tail macaques, crocodiles, snakes, insects, and several different species of birds. And there is still so much we didn’t get a chance to see! Visitors have been known to spot orangutans, pygmy elephants, otters, flying squirrels, hawk eagles, owls, storks, falconets, Malayan civets and much more.

The lower basic of Kinabatangan River, the second longest river in Malaysia, is the largest forest covered floodplain in Malaysia and is an area with the largest concertation of wildlife not only in Sabah but in all of South East Asia. It’s a must-visit spot for any wildlife enthusiast!

Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Cruising the Kinabatangan River

Lots of small villages are dotted along the river, but Sukau is still by far the best option for finding accommodation options that offer river cruises, wildlife safaris, and jungle treks deep into the rainforest. Despite some rainy weather and dramatically reduced visibility during our stay at the Borneo Nature Lodge, our daytime and morning cruises offered plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife along the river.

Village on the banks of Kinabatangan River. Sabah. Malaysian Borneo

Village on the banks of Kinabatangan River

Borneo Nature Lodge, Kinabatangan River. Sabah. Malaysian Borneo

Borneo Nature Lodge

Borneo Nature Lodge, Kinabatangan River, Sabah. Malaysian Borneo

Borneo Nature Lodge

Foggy morning on Kinabatangan River. Sabah. Malaysian Borneo

Foggy day on Kinabatangan River

Spotted: a family of proboscis monkeys crossing the Kinabatangan River…what a sight!

Proboscis monkey crossing the Kinabatangan river in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

“I’m going to get you…”

Proboscis monkey crossing the Kinabatangan river in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Check out those moves!

Proboscis monkey crossing the Kinabatangan river in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Balancing act…

Proboscis monkey crossing the Kinabatangan river in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Mother and baby

Proboscis monkey crossing the Kinabatangan river in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

The big boss crosses last!

Proboscis monkey crossing the Kinabatangan river in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Kingfisher. Kinabatangan River. Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Kingfisher

Gold-ringed snake. Kinabatangan River. Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Gold-ringed snake

Pale Blue-flycatcher. Kinabatangan river in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Pale Blue-flycatcher

Proboscis monkey along the Kinabatangan river in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Like a boss!

Egret on the Kinabatangan River. Sabah. Malaysian Borneo

Egret on the Kinabatangan River

Short tailed macaque on Kinabatangan River. Sabah. Malaysian Borneo

Short-tailed macaque

Egret on the Kinabatangan River. Sabah. Malaysian Borneo

Stork-billed Kingfisher on Kinabatangan River. Sabah. Malaysian Borneo

Stork-billed Kingfisher on Kinabatangan River

Hornbills on Kinabatangan River. Sabah. Malaysian Borneo

Hornbills

Max & Oksana on Kinabatangan River. Sabah. Malaysian Borneo

Drinking tea on Kinabatangan River… as we do 🙂

We visited Kinabatangan River as guests of Sabah Tourism Board. Our transportation and accommodation were kindly provided courtesy of Borneo Trails and Borneo Nature Lodge. But, as always, any opinions expressed on this blog are always ours, no matter who is footing the bill. 

Have you ever visited another region in Asia that offers just as much wildlife diversity as Kinabatangan River region?

Essential Travel Info

When to go:

Kinabatangan River is often flooded during the rainy season in December and January, so it is best to avoid visiting this region during this time of the year. The main flowering and fruiting season is from April to October and is a good time to spot many birds and animals.

Getting there:

Flights to Sandakan, the gateway to Kinabatangan River region, depart daily from Kota Kinabalu with AirAsia.  From Sandakan Airport you can arrange transport to the Kinabatangan River. Expect the drive to take approximately four hours. We arrived in Sandakan in the evening and after spending the night at the Four Points Hotel in the city, we were well rested and ready to depart on our journey early the next morning.

Getting around:

It is best to arrange visits to Kinabatangan River as one 2N/3D or 1N/2D package with a company like Borneo Trails, as it is the most common and cost efficient way to see the region. The package will typically include accommodation at one of the lodges in Sukau or along the Kinabatangan River, 3-6 river cruises, and a visit to Sepilok. All transfers will be included in the package. 

Where to stay:

We stayed at the Borneo Nature Lodge in Kinabatangan, a beautiful lodge with fantastic staff, great food, and knowledgable guides. For a cheaper alternative, check out Sukau Greenview Bed and Breakfast or Kinabatangan Sunshine Lodge.

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In Search of Wildlife in Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo