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.

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.

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.

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.



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)
  • Hornbills
  • hawk eagles
  • owls (night cruises)
  • stalks
  • Kingfishers

Less Common

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
  • Turtles
  • Black Leaf Monkey
  • Pythons
  • Wild Boar
  • Wild Deer
  • Orangutans
  • Irrawaddy dolphins
  • Monitor Lizards

Super Lucky

  • Pygmy Elephant
  • Otters
  • 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.

Sunrise Cruise

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.

Sunset Cruise

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.

Night Cruise

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.

Budget Restaurant

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.

Bring Cash

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.

Mosquito Repellant

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.



Sukau Kinabatangan River Cruise - Independant Travel Guide

13 thoughts on “Sukau Kinabatangan River Cruise – Independent Travel Guide”

  1. He Olly?

    We are a Danish family, 2 adults and 2 children of 5 and 8 years. We are going to Borneo in connection with a tour as a backbacker in Southeast Asia for 5 months.

    We arrive at Kota Kinabalu on February 11 and have booked the hotel for the first 2 days. From this we have no plans. However, we think we will spend a maximum of 14 days on Borneo, then we plan to fly to Malaysia.

    We thought you had some interesting suggestions and would like some more help along the way

    Do you have a route around Borneo that makes sense to us, considering smaller children on the journey.

    We are traveling on budget, but of course we will have some standard anyway?

    What does Mr. Cost? Choop the taxi man from sandakan to Sukau?

    Who do you think we should book tours with at kintanbatanga riwer.

    Other great experiences on the island?

    Thanks in advance
    The Nielsen family?

  2. Hey guys!

    I’ve written an itinerary here which is 7 days, but you could certainly spend longer following this same route as I did.


    Also, if you stay at Sukau on the Kinabatangan River, you’ll certainly be able to book river cruises there. This is your best option if you plan on staying there (do it!) Mr Choy charges 50 Ringgit for the trip.

    The link I included earlier will have some information on the islands off Semporna, including Sipidan, Mabul and Bohey Dulang.

    Here are some more links to articles that I’ve written about the islands:


    You won’t have any trouble traveling with Children in Sabah Borneo, they’ll love it.

    Let me know if you have any more questions, or email me!

    Thanks again for reaching out.

  3. hello Olly,

    Thank you for your reply.

    Is the price with Mr.chop for 1 person or for us 4?

    which transport would you recommend from kinabalu park to Sepilok?

    Do you have any knowledge of Brunei?

    We fly to Malaysia after visiting Borneo. We have been to Kuala Lumpur and the island of Kapas and perhentians.

    We are considering a bit of going out on the island of Koh Lipe.

    Do you have any good suggestions for Malaysia and Thailand in relation to islands and beaches, after Borneo.

    thanks in advance

  4. hello Olly,

    Thank you for your reply.

    Is the price with Mr.chop for 1 person or for us 4?

    which transport would you recommend from kinabalu park to Sepilok?

    Do you have any knowledge of Brunei?

    We fly to Malaysia after visiting Borneo. We have been to Kuala Lumpur and the island of Kapas and perhentians.

    We are considering a bit of going out on the island of Koh Lipe.

    Do you have any good suggestions for Malaysia and Thailand in relation to islands and beaches, after Borneo.

    thanks in advance?

  5. HI Per,

    The price for Mr Choy is 50 Ringgit per person, sorry I should have made that clearer.

    As far as I know from Kinabalu Park there is no direct transport to Sepilok. You could always take a bus from the park back to KK (Inanam Bus Station) as detailed here: https://www.weseektravel.com/what-to-do-in-kinabalu-park/

    From here, you can take the bus to Sepilok. Just tell them you want to get out at Sepilok and they’ll drop you at the junction.
    You’ll find more information about the bus from KK (Inanam) to Sepilok on my itinerary post I linked above.

    Unfortunately, I’ve never made it to Brunei, so I can’t help you out much there.

    I haven’t spent that much time on Peninsula Malaysia, but I can certainly recommend Thai Islands like Koh Tao, Koh Lipe, Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi (beautiful but crowded with tourists now).

    I hope that helps.


  6. Hi Olly,
    Enjoyed your article on the Kinabatangan river and the elephant caves.
    However, I was wondering if the area is suitable for longer hike +5 hours, cause I can’t seem to see any trails on any online map or find any info about trails.
    Any info would be appreciated, thanks!

  7. Hi Dan!

    Nothing that I know of in terms of trails that long in the Kinabatangan. It’s fairly wild out there, with little opportunity for long hike, unfortunately.

    Either way, you’ll love it!

  8. Hi,

    Can I just arrive there and buy the tickets on the same day for a river cruise without staying the night there?


  9. Hi Sathiyaa,

    Yes, you can buy the tickets on the same day for a river cruise without actually staying in Sukau.
    However, it might be hard to get out since it’s quite remote. Most people tend to come in the morning and do a couple of cruises then leave the next day. If you have your own transport then you’ll be fine for a quick in and out for the day.

  10. Hello would you mind stating which blog platform you’re using?
    I’m looking to start my own blog soon but I’m having a
    tough time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something unique.

    P.S Sorry for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

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