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Kinabatangan River Cruise - Everything You Need to Know

A complete guide on what to do and what to expect after the Kinabatangan River Cruise. This ultimate guide includes our tips and recommendations to make the most out of your visit to Sukau, Kinabatangan.

Kinabatangan River Cruise

Stretching a good 560 kilometres, the Kinabatangan River holds the distinction of being the second longest river in Malaysia. This river supports a diverse ecosystem, featuring five distinct habitats. Each of these habitats plays a role in fostering the highest concentrations of wildlife diversity in Borneo. The wildlife found along the Kinabatangan includes fascinating creatures such as orangutans, proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants, langurs, wild cats, crocodiles, various birds, and more! The optimal and most comfortable wildlife observation experience, is by taking a cruise along the Kinabatangan River.


How to get to Kinabatangan River

The primary starting point for river tours in Kinabatangan is Sukau village. The nearest airport to Sukau is situated in Sandakan, approximately 3 hours away from where the cruises depart. You can also access Sandakan by using a public bus from other airports in Northern Borneo, such as Kota Kinabalu or Tawau. Unfortunately, there is no public transportation available to take you directly to Sukau. However, your accommodation can help arrange a private driver (RM250) for you, as this is the sole option to reach Sukau from Sandakan or Sepilok.


Kinabatangan River Cruise

What to do in Suaku, Kinabatangan

The primary reason tourists visit Kinabatangan is to experience a river cruise in the hope of spotting the Borneo Big 5 in their natural habitat. Sukau is a quaint and small village, offering a pleasant environment for a leisurely walk, but it doesn't have much bustling activity. Opting for a stay in a river lodge allows you to fill your day with at least two daily cruises, leaving ample time for relaxation and enjoying the surrounding nature.


Kinabatangan River Cruise

For those interested in venturing into the unknown, consider a day trip to Gomantong Caves. You can arrange this excursion through your accommodation. Gomantong Caves are an intricate cave system situated within Gomantong Hill, the largest limestone outcrop in the Lower Kinabatangan area. The main cave is split into two parts: the more accessible Simud Hitam (Black Cave) and the larger Simud Putih (White Cave). While walking along the trail, stay attentive to the sights and sounds for passing wildlife. This protected Reserve is home to Red and Silver Leaf Monkeys, Orangutans, Macaques, and a variety of birds.


Kinabatangan River Cruise

Where to stay in Sukau, Kinabatangan for a river cruise

There are a few accommodation options in the Sukau area. You can discover budget-friendly choices as well as higher-end river lodges. Keep in mind that your accommodation will organize all your tours. According to my research, if you choose a more affordable lodge, the food and trips there tend to be more expensive. A helpful approach is to check the websites of the accommodations you've chosen and compare tour prices. We found good value at the Wildlife Lodge, where we spent one night. We joined tours at both sunrise and sunset, allowing us to witness the entire Borneo Big Five.


Kinabatangan River Cruise

How does a river cruise in Kinabatangan look like

The Kinabatangan River Cruise is organized by various River Lodges located in the Sukau area, offering four daily cruises, each lasting 2 hours. These cruises can be booked along with your accommodation. According to what we learned from our guides, it's not certain to see animals on every tour as they come and go. However, after studying their routines, the guides can find them at the riverbank whenever they appear. Some animals are more active in the morning, while others are active in the evening or at night. To maximize your chances of seeing the most during your visit, it's advised to take multiple tours.


Kinabatangan River Cruise

Depending on the boat, the tour can accommodate up to 12 passengers. Observations are done comfortably from the seats on the boat, eliminating the need to step onto the shore. The guides know places where there's the highest probability to see wild animals, and when spotting one, they will navigate the boat to arrive at a safe and close enough distance, allowing you to see them up very close.


How long to stay for the River Cruise in Sukau, Kinabatangan

Due to our busy schedule, we stayed for only one night, allowing us to take two tours. Conversations with other travelers revealed that most of them booked their stay for 3-4 nights, planning trips every day. We were lucky to see the full Borneo Big 5 during our two cruises, but that might not be the case every time. We'd recommend staying in Kinabatangan for a minimum of 1-2 nights to enjoy the nature, the vibe in the river lodge, and maximize your chances of seeing as many animals as possible.



Our Experience on a River Cruise in Kinabatangan

We arrived in Sukau just an hour before the evening cruise at 4 PM. After dropping our bags, we immediately boarded the boat, which was full with 10 other guests and our guide. As we navigated down the river, our excitement grew when passing boats signaled that the Pygmy Elephants were in their usual spot. Soon, we witnessed about 6 elephants eating and playing in the water—an incredible experience we hoped for during our visit to Kinabatangan. On that day, we also saw Proboscis Monkeys, many Macaques, and flying Hornbills.


The next morning, with the same group, we headed upstream to try our chances of seeing Orangutans in their nests. Although we saw them, they were hiding a bit in the bushes, so we didn't have a clear look at them. This cruise was less exciting than the one we had on the previous day as we saw very few animals. The only one left from the Borneo Big Five was the river crocodile. Our guide pointed out that it might be hard to find one today as it's high tide, and apparently, crocodiles aren't too active in such conditions. Still, we were able to spot two baby crocodiles, completing our search for the Borneo Big Five.


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