Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Kota Kinabalu Overview

Kinabatangan River is one of the most prominent and accessible places in Asia to see a variety of flora and fauna. It is located in Sabah. The river is home to more than 200 bird species and more than 50 mammals along with ten primate species. The significant animals are the probosci's monkey and the Bornean gibbon.

The Kinabatangan River has a length of 560 km and is the second longest river in Malaysia. The name Kinabatangan is a reference to the early Chinese trades who settled around the river mouth of the river. The word Kina is a direct reference to the Dunsun tribe of the Chinese settlers. Chinese traders had settled in the river mouth of Kinabatangan since the 7th century and used trading as a means to live their livelihood.

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How to Reach Kinabatangan River

Visitors can fly to Kota Kinabalu and then take a bus to Sandakan. Visitors are advised to be prepared for a long bus ride (approximately 6 hours).

The other option visitors can opt for is by taking a direct flight to Sandakan via AirAsia or Malaysian Airlines. This option is slightly more expensive than the previous option and visitors are recommended to choose their mode of travel based on their budget.

Once visitors reach Sandakan, visitors can take a bus or a car ride to one of the nearby villages. The popular two villages which have a river cruise option are Bilit and Sukau, both of these villages offer good accommodation facilities to visitors. The accommodation costs range from lodges to guesthouses with the average cost being around RM 70 per night.

Visitors can also opt for a boat ride from Sandakan Yacht Club to Sukau Rainforest at 1:00 PM. The Sandakan Yacht Club is located 15 minutes from the Sandakan Airport. The boat ride to the lodge takes less than 3 hours and visitors can also get a glimpse into Borneo’s wildlife and natural beauty.

Things to do

The Kinabatangan River basin has five different habitats: waterlogged forest, saline swamps, dry forest, freshwater swamps, and limestone forests. The distinct habitats allow wildlife to thrive and are home to several hundred species.  The Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary was founded by the Sabah government in 2006 and safeguards 27,800 hectares of the area. The Kinabatangan River is a great place to watch wildlife and is one of the top destinations for the same in Southeast Asia.

River Cruise: The river cruise is one number one to do thing when you visit Kinabatangan River. There are several tour packages that have different cruises at different price ranges. It’s a magical experience and visitors will be left in awe when they see the sunrise in the river. There are 3 river cruises every day and visitors can choose their ride timing according to their convenience. Timings for the River Cruises are Morning- 6 AM, Evening – 4 PM and Night- between 7 PM and 9 PM. The morning hours are great for visitors who want to gaze at birds while evening time is great for visitors who want to watch monkeys and crocodiles. The nighttime River Cruise ride is great for visitors who want to experience the river at night while observing the nocturnal animals.

Jungle Trekking: This is an activity for adventure seekers only. Oxbow Lake is the prominent trekking site in this area and visitors are recommended to plan in advance while they plan the trip.

Gomantong Cave: The cave is a haven to the bats and the swiftlets in the jungle. The cave is an impressive wonder and is also a hotspot for several other animals, particularly orangutans. However, the cave is also full of cockroaches and feces which can be disgusting for visitors.

Wide life watching: The River is of the best spots to watch animals and birds thrive in their natural surroundings. The most prominent bird in this part is the Hornbill, which can be spotted easily. The Orangutans and wild monkeys are the more common animals found in this area.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Kinabatangan River would be March to September as this time period foresees the least rain which can allow visitors to enjoy their trip more. This is also the best time to spot Orangutans and other forms of wildlife. The dry climate of these months allows visitors to spot more wildlife and travel more comfortably.

Need to Know

  • Visitors are advised to be aware of leeches in the jungle. Long track pants would be ideal wear in the place.
  • It is highly recommended visitors choose their lodge or guides after a thorough check on their facilities. Cheap accommodations in Kinabatangan can result in savings but at the cost of unfit water to drink.
  • The lack of public transport in the area makes it quite difficult to travel, so choosing the tour package beforehand is a smart option as well.
  • Visitors are also recommended to take a River Package Tour instead of planning an independent trip as travelling in the place is a hassle.

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