Are you planning a trip to the rainforest in Borneo to see the amazing jungle wildlife? If you are hoping to do a jungle safari tour in Borneo, this guide to a 3-day river cruise on the River Kinabatangan will be perfect.
This 3D/2N itinerary for a River Kinabatangan tour will guide you through our wildlife adventure in Borneo. You will discover how to spend your time on a wildlife safari, what to wear, accommodation and of course, what animals you can hope to see.
Could there be anything more exciting for wildlife enthusiasts than a trip to the rainforest in Borneo? I don’t think so.
Borneo is the third largest island in the world and has a biodiverse ecosystem which makes it the habitat for animals that cannot be found anywhere else. A visit to the Borneo rainforest really is a once in a lifetime visit.
We were lucky enough to make a trip to the rainforest on our recent 12-day visit to Borneo.
Read this travel guide to find out how we enjoyed our Borneo river tour and the highlights of our 3- day jungle adventure on the River Kinabatangan:-
The River Kinabatangan
The River Kinabatangan is the 2nd longest river in Malaysia and can be found in the north eastern area of Sabah (Borneo). It is 350 miles long and winds through tropical, lowland rainforest to the Sulu Sea.
Its unique ecosystem makes it a fantastic place to see the spectacular wildlife of Borneo and a nature safari on the river is the perfect way to see the rainforest and animals in their natural habitat.
Our 3-day rainforest adventure in Borneo
Having read lots of reviews and done lots of research, we booked our 3 day/2 night jungle safari with Nasalis Larvatus Tours directly from the UK. We paid in advance and the tour included everything: transfers, food, accommodation, river cruises and jungle trips.
There are a number of alternative lodges and home stays near River Kinabatangan, offering different length stays and it should be possible to find something for most budgets.
How to get to the Kinabatangan River
The easiest way to get to the Kinabatangan River is from Sandakan and most rainforest tours will include transfers there from your accommodation.
If you are flying in from Bangkok or Kuala Lumpa, you will be able to get a direct flight to Sandakan. However, if you are coming from Singapore, as we did, you will need to change at Kota Kinabalu.
The easiest route from Kota Kinabalu is to fly directly to Sandakan airport with Malaysia Airlines. There are 7 direct flights a day, which take 40 minutes. Alternatively, a cheaper option is by road, which takes about 7 hours.
We were picked up from the Sepilok Forest Edge Resort at 11:00 and taken by coach to Nature River Lodge along the Kinabatangan River in the Sukau Bilit resort.
Stop for lunch
Within 15 minutes of our pick-up we stopped at the Mango Garden Restaurant for a buffet lunch. The tour company own this restaurant, which was actually quite an expensive and unappealing option.
Instead, we opted to eat at White House Bistro across the road. We were the only ones there, so the service was great. We enjoyed a very tasty meal at a much more affordable price.
Afterwards, we continued with our journey to the rainforest, which took about 2 hours in total. The roads were reasonable, but views from the window gave a depressing view of the extent of the local deforestation.
Deforestation has taken place on an industrial scale since the 1960s and has critically endangered its endemic animals, such as orangutans and proboscis monkeys.
Just before you cross the river, you will pass through the small village of Kampung Bilit. About 150-180 people live here, most of who are Orang Sungai (River people). The inhabitants of the village rely on fishing and crafts for their income.
The Nature Lodge, Kinabatangan
From Kampung Bilit we had to take a small boat to get across the River Kinabatangan to the Nature Lodge. The Lodge has been built in natural materials in the style of homes in Kampung Bilit village.
After a welcome drink went to check into our chalets. We had 2 adjacent private chalets in the Agamid wing of the resort, which were basic, but comfortable and practical. They had private bathrooms, air-conditioning, tea-making facilities and surprisingly few insects, (though we were sharing with a friendly gecko).
Other cheaper accommodation options include shared dormitories or camping.
Nature Lodge Resort is in lush, natural surroundings, with beautiful flora and fauna. Macaques do sometimes come on the rampage, but we didn’t spot any.
There were several communal areas. It had 2 dining rooms, where you had allocated seating and several lounge areas for playing cards or socialising. There was limited wi-fi in the evenings by the reception area.
The whole area is abundant with natural beauty. We just had to step out our door to admire the kaleidoscope of colours from rainforest flowers. Lots of rain and sunshine helps keep the local flora and fauna lush and vibrant. We did spot a monitor lizard wandering around and a gecko who joined us for dinner.
What to wear on the River Kinabatangan
For the river cruises, we wore shorts and tops (and a life jacket). There was a fairly cool breeze from the boat.
In the evenings, it is essential that you wear long trousers, long socks and a long sleeved tops. If you go on a jungle walk, you need to wear wellies, as it can get extremely muddy. We hired our wellies from the Nature Lodge. They have plenty to suit all feet sizes.
You also need to wear plenty of good quality insect repellent with at least 30% deet. I also sprayed our jungle clothes with anti-mosquito fabric spray before we left the UK.
A River Cruise on the River Kinabatangan
At 16:00 we went on the first of our 4 river safaris. Zooming along a crocodile-infested river in a speed boat is an experience which can never be replicated. You have to keep your eyes constantly peeled for one of the many wonderful animals that live on the banks.
Our guide, Mohamed, knew exactly where he needed to look. He would stop the boat so that we could get a close-up and take photos.
Mohamed took us down the narrow tributary to Oxbow Lake to see the natural wildlife there. Here we saw a Rhinoceros Hornbill. We were so lucky, as over the course of our rainforest visit we saw orangutans, macaques, proboscis monkeys, an elephant and some crocodiles, as well as lots of lovely rainforest birds.
The evening boat trip lasts about 2 hours and is a really exhilarating experience. Afterwards we went back for dinner which was served buffet-style in the dining room.
A walk on the dark side
After dinner we went for a guided jungle night walk with Mohamed. This started off on a boardwalk and then followed a circular walk around the nearby rainforest. It was very muddy and very dark.
This jungle night walk is not for everyone and our group numbers were noticeably down on the 2nd night. The Chimptrip boys loved it though and had a very good eye for spotting little jungle creatures. Our favourite spot was this exquisite kingfisher who was roosting overnight.
Top Tip: Don’t forget to take your torch and be careful where you tread!
Day 2 of our Jungle Safari
At 6:00 am we were back on the river looking for rainforest animals coming for their early visit to the river. It was another exhilarating trip giving us a great insight into the lives of the jungle animals in their natural habitat.
Take a walk on the wild side
After the river cruise we returned for breakfast, before getting ready for our guided day jungle walk. This followed a similar route as the evening before, but this time we were able to see!
You are unlikely to spot any big animals on the jungles walks. The walks are fairly close to the lodge and the animals can pick up the strong scent of insect repellent. However, you can look for lots of interesting bugs if that is your thing?
The boys spotted a millipede, a jungle frog and some elephant dung. We also got to probe Mohamed for knowledge and stories about growing up in the rainforest.
Chilling at the lodge
With early mornings and a fun-packed itinerary, it was all quite tiring, so the middle of the day was just for chilling. Our Borneo jungle safari tour included 4 river trips, 2 night walks and 1 day walk, so down time was much appreciated.
It’s hard work searching for jungle life. The boys took some time out in between trips to relax and reflect on their wonderful adventure in Borneo.
Day 3 of our jungle safari
On the last day of our rainforest visit we did our final river cruise, had breakfast and then were driven back to our next accommodation in Sandakan.
There is an optional visit to the Gomantong Caves to see the millions of Wrinkle Lipped Free-tailed bats on our return. However, there is also a large population of cockroaches who live in the guano deposits, so we chose not to.
Our whole trip to the rainforest in Borneo was an amazing experience. We had the opportunity of a lifetime to see wonderful animals in their natural environment. It is a memory we will always treasure.
PIN FOR LATER: A trip to the rainforest in Borneo