Kinabatangan Safari

The main port of call to visit before travelling up country to the Kinabatangan flood land is Sandakan, a charming town in the east coast of Sabah. Sandakan even acquires a nick name of “Little Hong Kong”, during its hare day, the timber boom era of the 1970s. A three hour journey by coach will transfer guests to the wild frontier of Kinabatangan. The two main areas where resorts, cabins and lodges are concentrated along the Kinabatagan river are in Sakau and Bilit. The majority of the accommodations is located at Sukau, while the newer resorts and lodges are situated at Bilit. Bilit is located on the upper region of Kinabatagan river, and from Bilik to Sukau is about an hour apart by river boats.

The main activity here is the Kinabatagan Safari or Kinabatagan River Cruise, where guests will travel up and down the river, in search of wildlife. Well trained guides and boatsmen will help guests to spot the many birds, animals, and reptiles that lurk along the river and river banks. The long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques and the proboscis monkeys are the easiest to find, they are almost everywhere. Orangutans are harder to spot, only by a stroke of good fortune, one gets to see these big ape men in the wild. Guests will have a better chance (almost guaranteed) of seeing orangutans at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Bird lovers will not want to miss this. The kinabatangan river area is home to eight species of Hornbills, and they are also reported to be sighted regularly. The best of this encounter is with the Bornean Pygmy Elephants, the smallest elephant in the world. One will normally see a herd of elephants in a family grouping. The young ones who tag along with their parents are specially interesting to observe. Playful, curious, and shy are the best descriptions for them.

The daily activities at most of these lodges, and resorts are scheduled mostly like this.

Time Activity Duration
6:00 am Kingbatangan River Cruise 2 hours
8:15am Breakfast
9:30am Oxbow Lake Trekking 3 hours
1:30 pm Lunch and Free Time
4:00 pm Kinabatagan River Cruise 2 hours
7:00 pm Dinner
8:30pm Night Safari 1 and 1/2 hours

Kinabatangan River Cruise
Hop on the river boat, have your binocalurs handy, and for the photographer make sure you zoom lens is mounted, as the next two hours, there’ll be plenty of wildlife to see and snap. Note: the river cruise has two sessions: morning and afternoon.  Wildlife like wild bearded boar and monitor lizard are regularly sighted along the river bank, while crocodiles are usually spotted right at the edge of the river. Monkeys are aplenty too, macaques and proboscis are the most common, while at times Bornean gibbon and maroon langur are also spotted. With some luck, one does get to see orangutans in the wild especially in the morning as they just wake up from their tree top nests. For the bird lovers, group of Hornbills, six or seven, are often seen gliding from tree tops to tree tops across the river bank. Different species of Hornbills can be recongnised through t the colours of their feathers, and the way they flap their wings. Morning is the best time to see them. Apart from Hornbills, other birds commonly seen here are egrets, kingfisher, pittas, storm’s stork, and oriental darter. Morning session can be cold at times so be prepared with some warm clothing.

Afternoon session is the best time to see the probrosic monkey. Most of them will be hanging out on the tree top canopy at the edge of the river. This condition gives them special advantage because if in danger or provoke by other animals they can jump right into the river and swim to safety. Proboscis monkey are very good swimmers, while orangutan can’t swim at all. Afternoon session is also where the main sighting for elephants takes place. Depending of where the herds are heading, experience guides and boatsmen will know where to look for them although sighting of the elephants is not always guranteed. Watching elephants in the wild is one of the best experience of the trip. Towards the end of the day check out the beautiful scenery of the river, forest and the evening sky. Sometime the boatman will take a detour through one of the many tributaries as a short cut before heading back to the resort or lodge.

Oxbow Lake
There are about two dozen plus oxbow lakes in Kinabatangan region. This three hour trek to and back from one of the oxbow lakes with an experience guide will take about 3 hours. The guide will explain many tips on some useful plants and trees found along the trail. When reaching the oxbow lake, beware that this water are not suitable for swimming, as crocodiles and snakes might be lurking underneath. One may or may not encounter wildlife on this trip, it is all depend on luck. If luck is on your side, orangutans and pygmy elephants can be sighted. Birds are often sighted at the oxbow lake. During the raining season these treks are muddy and water locked. Mr. Leech, the real blood sucker is a real menace, make sure you put on your leech proved stocking and rubber boot.

Night Safari
Night time activity when weather permit includes the exciting Night Safari. Trekking through the dark forest during the night can be intimidating for the city folks. There is no street light, make sure one brings his or her torch light for navigation. An experience guide will lead guests through an one to one and half hours trek. This is the time to see wild wildlife that are active at night. Do not wander away from the group, stick by the group at all time. Where luck permits trekkers may encounter wildlife like orangutan, elephant, wild cat, and even snake. Although it’ll be humid and hot, the best protection for one is to wear long sleeves shirt and long pants while trekking in the forest. Note: remember to put on your leech proved stocking, it is not fun to bring them home under your pants. These are the real blood suckers in this humid tropical forests.

After all these activities, a cold shower and a good night sleep are a much welcome remedies. And we shall be ready for the next day adventure.

How to get here? Sandakan is the main exit point to the Kinabatagan floodplain. Most of the coaches will leave Sandakan around 11am. If you come from Kota Kinabalu there are two options, one is to take the early flight from KK to Sandakan, people who take this option will normally visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitate Centre before board the coach at 12pm and on their way to Kinabatagan floodplain. The second option is to take the early morning coach at Terminal Inanam to Sandakan, but instead of going all the way to Sandakan, travellers will disembark at the Check Point. Here the coaches that leave from Sandakan earlier will stop here to pick you up at about 1pm. Most coaches will reach the Kinabatangan area of Sukau or Bilit at 3pm.

On the resosts and lodges in Kinabatagan area, we recommend:
Nature Lodge Kinatangan

Other nearby interesting destination:
Agnes Keith House
Gomantong Cave
Rainforest Discovery Centre
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
Turtle Island Park

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