When it comes to a Sukau Kinabatangan River Cruise, many backpackers and independent travelers are wondering if it’s possible to visit this incredible place without an expensive organized tour. This Kinabatangan River blog aims to help answer the common questions and guide you through what you need to know before heading to Sukau and down the Kinabatangan River.
How To Get to Kinabatangan River
First and foremost, how do I get to the Kinabatangan River? If you’re looking to spend a couple of days here, then the best place to stay is the small village of Sukau.
Sukau is located on the banks of the Kinabatangan River and smack-bang in the middle of the Kinabatangan Conservation Area. Since it’s on location so to speak, Sukau is a great place to book a day-to-day Sukau Kinabatangan River cruise for wildlife spotting.
There are a myriad of ways in which you can reach Sukau and the Kinabatangan River that doesn’t require an organized tour, though they aren’t that obvious without any research.
BUS: Buses running from Kota Kinabalu to Semporna pass by the Sukau Junction. You can get off here and hope for a van to take you down the long dirt road into Sukau. Alternatively, buses also run from Sandakan to Semporna and Lahad Datu, which you can jump on and get off at the same junction.
MR CHOY: The most direct and cheapest option is to get shared transport by a Sukau local man known as Mr Choy. Mr Choy does daily trips from Sandakan for 50 Ringgit and can also pick you up from Sepilok on the way. His Whatsapp number is: 019-536-1889.
GRAB CAR: Easily the most expensive option. Expect to pay around 300 from Sandakan. I’ve been told that drivers even ask for more since they’ll have to drive all the way back too.
For more information on how to get here, I’ve also written a Kinabatangan River blog post here.
Kinabatangan River Accommodation
Yes, it’s possible to stay on the Kinabatangan River, namely in Sukau. There are also options that cater to every budget.
BUDGET RAINFOREST LODGING: RB LODGE
The cheapest Kinabatangan River accommodation you’ll find in Sukau. This is where I stayed. The rooms are a bungalow style and located right on the edge of the river. Breakfast is included and a double room costs less than $14 USD per night.
BACKPACKER VIBE: SUKAU BACKPACKER’S B&B
Located a few hundred meters from the RB Lodge, this B&B costs a few extra dollars but has more comfortable and cleaner rooms. The breakfast is also a buffet style.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SUKAU RAINFOREST LODGE
The Sukau Rainforest Lodge has to be the coolest place to stay on the Kinabatangan River. The lodge is located on the banks of the river is the first ecotourism company in the area. The lodge owners are built on conservation and facilities include communal halls, lounge, restaurant, boardwalks, a pool, and a bar. They’ve also won several tourism and sustainability awards.
You can also compare all Sukau and Kinabatangan River accommodation options on Booking.com.
DON’T MISS THE SUKAU CAVE HIKE: READ THE GUIDE
What to do in Kinabatangan River
The best thing to do in the Kinabatangan River is to take a Sukau Kinabatangan River cruise. If you’re already in Sukau, these are relatively inexpensive and definitely a must-do activity. But hey, that’s why you’re reading this Kinabatangan River blog right?
Boats cruise down the river and deep into the Kinabatangan Conservation Area to get a rare glimpse at the unique Sabah Bornean wildlife.
River Cruise Cost: 50 Ringgit Per Person
Staying on the river means that you don’t need to buy a pre-booked package on check-in. All lodges and hotels in Sukau. At the RB lodge, where I stayed, the host offered open trips where we could choose to join in on morning, afternoon or night cruises.
Most Sukau Kinabatangan River cruises hire local fishermen to guide you down the river, which is great because you’re contributing directly to local communities.
Sukau Kinabatangan River Cruise Itinerary
Wondering about what to expect on the river? Here’s a quick itinerary of options you have to choose from and what kind of animals you might be lucky enough to spot.
Kinabatangan River Wildlife
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Kinabatangan River is one of the most biodiverse places that I’ve ever visited. Here’s a quick summary of some of the Kinabatangan River Wildlife you might see based on how rare they are.
I’m not a biologist by any means, but I’ve categorized these species as common based on what I was told by the guide and which species we spotted on every trip.
Common wildlife includes:
- Long-tailed Macaque Monkeys (there are thousands)
- Proboscis Monkeys (endangered)
- hawk eagles
- owls (night cruises)
Less common species are those that we were told are quite rare, but those you’ll have a decent chance of seeing if you take a few Sukau Kinabatangan River cruises.
- Leaf Monkeys (and different species variants)
- Bornean Gibbon
- Flying squirrels (night)
- Saltwater Crocodiles
- Black Leaf Monkey
- Wild Boar
- Wild Deer
- Irrawaddy dolphins
- Monitor Lizards
- Pygmy Elephant
- Tarsiers (night cruise)
- Slow loris
- Freshwater Sharks
- Sumatran rhino
- Sun bears
Of course, since this is just a Kinabatangan River blog post and not a wildlife encyclopedia, it doesn’t list every single animal you might encounter. For more information from actual wildlife professionals, you can check out this website.
The morning cruises are my favorite. Though you might not spot as many monkeys, the light seems to penetrate the trees on the river banks revealing loads of hidden reptiles and also bird species.
We were also told that it’s a higher chance to spot more birds, but I think we saw just as many in the afternoons.
A Sukau Kinabatangan River cruise for sunset usually starts around 4:30 PM and is similar to the morning cruise. However, you’ll have more chance of seeing different monkey species’ as they make their way to the river banks in the afternoon.
Keep in mind though that the chance for rain is higher during this time. Your guide will probably drop you back just after sunset.
The night cruises are the most unique trips. You’ll be armed with a torch to spot nocturnal species including tarsiers, possums, squirrels and of course, the glowing eyes of 4 meter plus crocodiles.
After three days on the river, we did 5 trips to maximize our chances of spotting the rarer animals like Orangutans, rhinos, and Pygmy Elephants. Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any of these. However, we saw more than our fair share of animals, many of which are incredibly rare.
Tips For the Kinabatangan River
Here are some quick tips that will serve you well on your trip to Sukau. If you have any more questions about independent Sukau Kinabatangan River cruises or anything else, you can throw down a comment below or email me. I’d be more than happy to help.
Bring Food and Snacks
The village is very remote and you won’t have access to general comfort foods or snacks. Most restaurants take advantage of the lack of services and charge a hefty premium.
There is one small restaurant located roughly 500 meters downstream from RB Lodge which serves relatively cheap local food. Here, you can avoid the hefty prices and still get a decent Nasi Goreng or Mie Goreng for 7 Ringgit.
Here’s where I messed up. Since Borneo had been a much more expensive destination than what I was used to, I simply didn’t realize that I hardly had any cash left on me when I arrive in Sukau. I quickly found out that there are no ATMs within an hour’s drive.
Luckily, Choy, our driver from Sepilok, was kind and trustworthy enough to take my debit card to the ATM on his next morning run to withdraw some cash for me. Seriously though, avoid the embarrassing situation and make sure you bring sufficient cash for your accommodation and Sukau river cruises.
Bring a Dry Bag
The Kinabatangan River is a seriously wet place. This is especially true in the wet season. I’d recommend bringing a dry bag to store your electronics in and to bring extra dry clothes since anything wet will likely remain that way.
You’ll thank me later.
Walk the Elephant Trail to Sukau Cave
In Sukau, there is one particular trail that I believe is a must. The trail winds through the thick rainforest into a huge cave system. This one isn’t on any travel guides or books and is a local gem.
Check Out the Kinabatangan River Fireflies
If you can brave the rampant mosquitos, you’ll be able to spot fireflies flying around almost everywhere in Sukau at night time. If this is something that you’ve always wanted to see, then just pop out at night and go for a look.
More Photos From Sukau and The Kinabatangan River
Hopefully, this Kinabatangan River blog will help you discover your inner Nat Geo photographer.
After some more wildlife inspo? Here are some more snaps from the Sukau river cruise and the Kinabatangan River.