One of the reasons we included Borneo in our travels was to see its often endemic wildlife. After seeing orangutans and proboscis monkeys in their sanctuaries we were ready to spot them in the wilderness. You must be able to imagine how grateful we were when Nabistul from the hostel we worked at offered us the trip to Kinabatangan river as our reward. The hostel has a agreement with Greenview resort which on top of everything is one of the more fancier of midrange options we wouldn’t go for ourselves.
We were very familiar with the itineraries and schedules as part of our job was to update the hostel’s tour catalogue and it’s online communication. Excited about the upcoming adventure and equipped with recently bought leech socks we got picked up by the resort’s van. We would be experiencing 4 river cruises and 2 jungle walks.
Kinabatangan river area is known as one of a few Borneo’s preserved rainforests which orangutans, endemic pygmy elephants, proboscis and other monkeys, snakes and many bird species call their home. The rich wildlife can be best spotted from aboard a boat without interupting the animals’ daily routines. The river itself is meant to be infested with crocodiles.
There is one sad thing about it though and that seems to be a frequent story across Malaysian Borneo – palm oil plantations. Unfortunately before people started truly realising the importance of their rainforest, they allowed companies to chop down the trees – home for many species – and plant palm trees to produce palm oil. In some areas we were passing by bus for tens of kilometeres there was nothing alongside the road but ugly looking palms planted in straight lines. Kinabatangan river’s rich wildlife is partly a result of this too. Animals were pushed away to the riverside by the lumberjacks and plantation lords.
The Greenview resort is as many other resorts on the river located in Sukau township. It is 2.5 – 3 hrs away from Sandakan and visitors can apart from the river experience visit the Gomantong caves. The resort is simple but clean and cozy. The restaurant that serves buffet meals is located right on the river bank with a view of the sunrise and the challets with private rooms or dorms are inside a forest area. For those who are not super-prepared, the place lends out Wellies (rubber boots), leech socks as well as some raincoats.
As soon as we arrived we were greeted by Sugi, our guide and animal-spotter. We got a short briefing on some general stuff and half an hour later we were on board of a small 10-seater boat cruising through muddy waters of Kinabatangan. On the first trip we entered a smaller river shoulder. Compared to the ride on the wide river, this was more intimate and we were surrounded by the greenery and noises of the jungle. Now the task was to stare around and up and down until we see something.
A similar but far more challenging task was ahead of us on the following night cruise when it is only the moon and guide’s flashlight there to see. Unbelievably the guide is able to spot hardly visible tiny little creatures hiding inside the trees from a distance not less than 5 metres and move the boat upclose so we are able to see the details and take pictures. Amazing experience!
For the next cruise we woke up at 5:30am to catch the sunrise behind the tall trees and see the jungle wake up to a new sunny day. Thinking about it now this was probably our first sunrise on this trip, not counting sunrise above the mountains of Taroko in Taiwan (as that happens at about 9). Realising how lazy we are to get up in the morning, here is an addition to our bucket list: do this more often!
After breakfast there was a new type of adventure awaiting us – a walk through the dense rainforest. Wearing long trousers, long sleeves, our new leech socks and borrowed rubber boots we were dropped at a riverside and taken into the wilderness. The trail was pretty much non-existent. Sometimes we followed muddy track of wild bores and sometimes our guide’s intuition. The combination of watching where you step, moving away branches, avoiding leeches suck onto you or snakes fall on you and trying to see what the guide is pointing at was a challenge! It was exciting though, and we got to see a few interesting species of insects, some elephant poop and a rare orange woodpecker.
For the second day’s afternoon cruise we decided to pay a bit extra and extend our boat expedition to the village of Abai located 1.5 hrs away from Sukau. We wanted to find bornean pygmy elephants that were seen in the area 2 days ago. The village is further down the stream where the river gets really wide. We were not lucky with the elephants, but we managed to see wild orangutans which was a big thing too! We also spotted one more croc and a hundreds of monkeys. It was a long but enjoyable trip ending with the views of sunset on our way back.
The last great adventure was Mark’s since he as the only person of the group dared to go for a night jungle walk. Although accompanied with 2 guides, whatever was a challenge during the day became hundred times more challenging at night. Seeing only the small spot lit by the flashlight but hearing noises you can only imagine where or what they come from is an adrenaline filled adventure. The three of them were very lucky as they managed to spot a rare Malay civet and some other small rare animal as well :-).
We enjoyed the Kinabatangan river fully! Just cruising the river was very relaxing and seeing the wildlife was a wonderful extra. The selection of our pictures from this adventure is here and below you can see all the animals that we managed to see.