Following the Kinabatangan River and encountering the delightful proboscis and other monkeys
Today we travelled to Sandakan to catch a boat to the Kinabatangan river where we would be spending the next few days exploring the dense jungle that lines the river. We said goodbye to the Sepilok Nature Resort, but not before we found some more Arsenal fans for a group shot by the lodge.
Our base for the next couple of days was to be the Kinabatangan Wetlands Resort (KWR), a 2-hour boat ride from Sandakan. The first part of the journey took us our the estuary onto the open ocean. The boat had a fair lick of speed so the trip was somewhat bumpy as the water was choppy once we had cleared the protection of the river. After an hour or so we entered the Kinabatangan and the water was a lot calmer, and we soon got to see some wildlife, mainly in the form of birds, the most abundant being the white stork.
We reached the resort just as lunch was finishing up so we went straight to the lodge for a bite to eat whilst our room was being made ready. It was a buffet lunch and we were hungry so tucked in merrily. Things were taking a bit longer with our room as the previous occupants were taking their time moving out – so we hung around. This gave me a bit of time to look for some wildlife from the comfort of the KWR lodge, and all I had to do was look over the railings and there was a family of wild pigs happily wallowing in the mud below.
Eventually, our room was ready and we had just about enough time to drop our bags off and come back for a cup of tea and head out on an afternoon river trip. The KWR, as the name suggests is located in wetlands, so the whole resort is set on stilts and navigated by a series of boardwalks (which were to be my downfall – literally – but more on that another time. The resort has 10 private lodges and ours was the very last and was quite a distance from the heart of the resort. The room was huge, with a ginormous bed and a king-sized bathroom, complete with an outside shower. We were looking forward to spending a couple of nights here!
The plan for the late afternoon was to head out on a river cruise. This is the best time for seeing monkeys as they group in the trees down by the river banks to roost for the night. We joined our 6 fellow explorers and guides on a much smaller boat than we arrived in and followed the channel out onto the main river. The evening was rapidly closing in and it was not long before we saw our first troop of proboscis monkeys leaping athletically from tree limb to tree limb. A troop is led by a dominant male, which is identified by its larger nose, looking similar to Gonzo from the Muppets schnoz. Travelling further we came across more monkeys, not only proboscis but long and pig-tailed macaques and silver and red leaf (or maroon) langurs. It was fascinating to watch these troops of monkeys making ready for a night of hopefully peaceful rest in the trees by the river bank. Beyond monkeys, we saw many birds, more storks of course, but also brightly coloured kingfishers.
Just as we were about to return back to KWR we noticed several other boats with tourists moored up at the river banks. Anyone who has been out looking for wildlife knows that is always a good sign. So, over we went to find that there was a small herd of pygmy elephants travelling through the dense jungle. We almost peed our pants with excitement! The boat driver pulled the boat right up to the bank and we all scrambled forward to seeing these incredible animals. The forest was very thick but they were close and we were able to make them out as they passed by – amazing!
Now it really was time to head back to KWR as the evening was drawing in rapidly and we had travelled some distance down the river. Also, there was a powerful thunderstorm hovering in the distance, which concerned us but our guides nonchalantly said “no worries”, but that still did not completely assuage our fear. We did get to see an amazing sunset, but in the tropics, night falls quickly and soon it was pitch black. Out there in the jungle, there is no background luminance from a city to give some respite to our poor night vision. Things became more vexing when the boat driver could not get his lampworking. Instead, he had to borrow a little flashlight from one of the guides to light the way. The river is pretty wide by my fear was that there were plenty of thing floating in the river that could capsize our tiny vessel, and our driver didn’t seem to moderate his speed. Also, the inlet to KWR was tiny, about 20 feet across, in the midst of an incredibly dense forest. How on earth was the driver going to find it in the by now intense darkness? Anyway, he did and we were all relieved to arrive back at the resort.
In summary …
- We highly recommend taking a trip from Sandakan out to the Kinabatangan River and spending a few days exploring the river and the rainforest.
- The proboscis monkeys, orangutans and if you are lucky Bornean pygmy elephants are amazing.
- This is a remote location so there is no popping out to the shops, so you’ll be at your resort or on the river – unless you get to explore one of the villages.
Best time to visit Sandakan
March to early September are the driest months. This is a great time to see wildlife near the Kinabatangan river. From April to October is a good period for bird lovers as it is the flowering and birding season.
Where to stay?
1. KINABATANGAN WETLANDS RESORT
During our visit, we stayed at the Kinabatangan Wetlands Resort, which is probably the most exclusive resort in the area. It is a charming resort tucked in the wilderness of Lower Kinabatangan surrounding the pristine freshwater swamps and mangrove forest. The area is recognized internationally as an important wetland area and an attraction for people who find solace in the presence of the wilds and its stunning wildlife.
The resort boasts 4 twin share rooms at its’ Longhouse Cabin which caters for traveller’s on a budget and requiring basic facilities. In addition to this, KWR has 10 spaciously designed Deluxe chalets for guests wanting more privacy, exclusivity and more facilities.
2. NATURE LODGE KINABATANGAN
Nature Lodge Kinabatangan (NLK) is located within Kampung Bilit, a village along Kinabatangan river and takes its name from the white trunked-kabilit trees found in the nearby forest. We are easily accessible by car, and this village consists of only 150-180 people from about 30 households. These villagers are mainly Orang Sugei (literally means River People) who make the living from fishing and making crafts work such as fishnets and boats. They will later sell their crafts to the nearby villages.
3. SAKAU RAINFOREST LODGE
Sukau Rainforest Lodge offers the rare comfort and luxury in the midst of the Borneo Rainforest whilst retaining an Eco-Lodge ethos, the delicate balance of true sustainability.
The Lodge has 20 superior rooms and 20 villas.