White water rafting on the River Kiulu

by Jan

Have you ever considered taking your kids white water rafting?  We thought it sounded a lot of fun so decided to go white water rafting on the River Kiulu in Borneo, during our recent family adventure in Sabah, Malaysia.

Read this blog to discover how we spent a day white water rafting on the River Kiulu, Sabah.  We’ll guide you on how to book, what to wear and what to expect during your excursion.

For the full programme of our visit to Borneo, read this post:-

12-day Borneo itinerary: the ultimate travel guide

Booking the white water rafting trip

I booked the white water rafting excursion with Riverbug, a specialist adventure company based in Borneo.  They are part of the Traverse Tours organisation.

We organised the trip from the UK and would highly recommend the company and experience.  Communication by email was clear and rapid and everything went according to plan.  The email contact for Riverbug is:  tours@riverbug.asia.

This was the first white water rafting experience for us as a family, so we were all very excited. 

However, on the morning of the trip, I was honestly hoping that it would be cancelled!  It was pouring with rain and the thought of spending the day white water rafting on the river did not appeal to me.

However, a quick text confirmed it was all still on, so off we went.

Riverbug rafting, River Kiulu, Borneo

The journey

Kiulu is a pretty, small town about 40km from Kota Kinabalu on the northwestern side of Sabah.  It is in the Tamparuli District and has a population of around 2000 people.

A driver picked us up in a 12-seater minibus at 8.30am from the reception of our accommodation, The Nexus Beach Resort (near Kota Kinabalu).  We were then driven for about an hour to the Traverse Adventure Centre, which borders the River Kiulu.

It was, of course, an uphill drive and the windy roads did not really agree with Jacob, who gets very travel sick.  However, the driver was lovely and was happy to stop for air.

What should you wear for white water rafting?

White water rafting Fun, River Kiulu, Borneo

We travelled in our swim gear, with old t-shirts on top.  We packed light and just took our dry bag with a change of clothes and our travel towels. However at the centre, they have good changing facilities if you prefer to change on arrival.

We left our dry bags with our driver who took them down to the final destination meeting point.

It is a good idea to wear water shoes for getting out of the raft and standing on the river bed.  You should expect anything you wear to get very, very wet.

Top tips:

  1. It is worth taking a “dry bag” to separate your wet possessions from the dry.
  2. We took a waterproof camera to get some good rafting action shots in the water.

Safety briefing

After checking in, we met our raft guide, who showed us to our boat and gave us our life jackets and helmets. 

He then gave a safety briefing session, which covered the different techniques for paddling and handling the raft whilst rafting.  Basically, there are three instructions to learn; forwards, backwards and stop.

After a quick practice on land, we were ready to hit the water!

White water rafting Fun, River Kiulu, Borneo

The white water rafting

This white water rafting experience is a stage 1-2, which means it is perfect for families with children or beginners.  It never gets too rough.  However, it is still a lot of fun. 

The route is is up to 15 kilometres in total, making it the longest white water rafting trip in Borneo.  Many sections are on flat water and are calm and relaxing.  However, there are a few zones, where it does get faster and your heart starts racing.

Additionally, there was a lot of racing against the other boats and plenty of friendly splashing.  The water in the River Kiulu is very clean and clear and we had stops en-route to get out for a swim.  We were reluctant at first, but the kids jumped straight in.  We soon followed and found it wasn’t too cold at all.

White water rafting on the River Kiulu, Borneo
White water rafting Fun, River Kiulu, Borneo

Nature and wildlife

As you’d expect in Sabah, we enjoyed beautiful scenery all the way.  We also had the chance to spot Borneo wildlife from the boat (like this macaque watching us from the river shore). 

Luckily, our raft guide lived locally and had good knowledge of the animals and birds and where to spot them.

For those without a waterproof camera, a professional photographer takes pictures half way down the river.  This is a good opportunity to get action photos as you traverse the rapids.  You can buy these pictures at the end of the trip.

More Monkeys, Kinabatangan River, Borneo


We spent about 1.5 hours on the boat.  When we got to the end our driver was waiting.  We collected our dry bags and used the showers and changing facilities before going for lunch.  This was a buffet style hot meal, with fruit for dessert.

Once we were ready we collected our certificates and took a look at some of the professional pictures.

Our driver was waiting for us and drove us back to our hotel at Nexus Beach Resort.  We arrived home about 2pm, so headed straight to the beach for more fun in the water.


White water rafting, River Kiulu, Borneo

White water rafting on the River Kiulu in Borneo is a really fun day out and we’d all love to do it again.   It’s a perfect introduction to rafting if you have kids.

It’s also an ideal activity for a rainy day in Sabah, as it doesn’t matter if you get wet.  We had a short burst of heavy rain near the end of the trip, but it wasn’t cold and we were very wet anyway. 

We are all keen to try the stage 3 white water rafting trip now!

Are you planning a trip to Sabah?  For more information on all the fun things to do in Borneo, read our

Borneo Travel Guides

Are you planning a white-water rafting trip in Borneo?   Or do you prefer to keep your feet on dry land on holiday?  We’d love to hear your comments below.

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