Boat trip along the Kinabatangan River

The Kinabatangan River is the second longest river in Malaysia, winding its way through 560km of stunning scenery, spectacular limestone caves, placid oxbow lakes and mangrove swamps. The soothing rhythms of the water provide a timeless backdrop to a rich web of plant and animal life - it’s an intoxicating blend of peace and thriving life. You’ll glide through Kinabatangan’s backwaters to the sound of hooting gibbons and exotic birds, keeping a look-out for rare pygmy elephants on the tangled banks.

What to expect on a Kinabatangan River trip...

Base camp for your first day and night is near the village of Abai, home to the Orang Sungai, the indigenous tribe that lives alongside the river. The Orang Sungai live off the land on a simple diet of locally grown vegetables, collected rainwater and river fish, and we challenge you not to be inspired by their thoughtful way of life, connected so closely as they are to their surroundings. 

Having settled into your lodge, and maybe taken a stroll through Abai to meet the villagers, you’ll head to the water to discover some of the smaller tributaries and the creatures that call them home. The Kinabatangan river begins life in the mountains of southwest Sabah and on its journey to the Sulu Sea plays host to a multitude of rare plants, birds and animals. 

Look carefully and you may be treated to a view of the Sumatran rhino, Borneo river shark, orang-utan or pygmy elephant. Wild orang-utans have even been spotted close to the lodge, so keep your eyes peeled when you return home for the night. 

Watch one of the boat trips we took along the Kinabatangan River:

Don’t expect a lie-in on your second day of river adventures – instead you’ll be up early for a pre-breakfast boat trip to witness the forest coming to life. You’ll see and hear all manner of rare and colourful birds and animals waking up and making their way along the banks of the river in search of food, before making your own way back to the lodge for your own locally grown breakfast. The rest of the day is an absorbing mix of activities, including the chance to join the local tree-planting scheme.

After lunch, head upriver to the village of Sukau, looking out for the birdlife and primates that are usually out and about during the early afternoon. Spend the afternoon relaxing around lovely Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge, which is usually surrounded by local wildlife - the lodge’s sundeck is perfect for some chilled-out creature-spotting.

You'll head back out on the water with a specialist wildlife guide for one last time as the sun sets, before returning at dusk for a leisurely evening and a comfortable sleep at the lodge.

Location: Sabah, Borneo

Duration: 2 nights

Accommodation: comfortable riverside lodges ensure you’re at the heart of the forest action

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Our Borneo expert Simon says...

'Explore the forest at different times of the day to truly experience its diversity. For example, a night cruise can throw open a whole new side to the rainforest, especially when there is no moon at all. Pitch black, stifling hot and humid… one of the most surprising experiences is being able to almost get nose to nose with a roosting kingfisher on a branch. They do not flinch or move, even when only inches away.’

Important to note...

Rainforest wildlife is naturally (& understandably) cautious, and may not always be visible. Your guides are experts, though, and will be on hand to help you spot as many of the jungle’s exotic inhabitants as possible, as you cruise amongst the trees.

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