Kinabatangan River, at a length of 560 km, is considered as one of the shorter river flowing across the Island of Borneo. (Note: The longest river on Borneo Island is the Kapuas River at 710 miles (1,143 km), follow by the Mahakam River at 610 miles (980 km) long and the Barito River at 550 mi (880 km) long. All these three rivers are located in the Indonesian area of Kalimantan.) The Kinabatangan River, however, is the longest river in Sabah with its source coming from the Crocker Range. It flows down from the mountainous area into the mangrove swamp estuary and finally emptying into the Sulu Sea on the East coast of Sabah. Along the way, it cuts through the thick tropical dipterocarp rainforest, limestone forest and swamps.
Although it is not the longest or biggest river in Borneo, Kinabatangan River has become one of the main destinations for tourists during their Sabah vacation as it has a rich flora and faunas that is easily accessible. It is also reputed to have the largest concentration of wildlife in the South East Asian region. This gives tourist the best chance to observe the wildlife at their natural environment as they gently cruise through the river on boat or during their jungle trekking. During the excursion, you can spot rare animals such as the orangutans, proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants, rhinoceros and a variety of bird species such the hornbill, kingfishers and many more.
The Kinabatangan river can be visited all year long but the best time is during the monsoon period (November to March) as during this time, the rising river level and river channel will enable you to venture deeper into the jungle for a better opportunities to spot the wildlife. However, do take note that during the raining season, flooding may occur and make the area inaccessible and dangerous.
For bird watcher, the best time to visit is during the fruiting season which is from the month of April to October. For the nature enthusiasts searching for wildlife to view, below are the few time in a day which is ideal for wildlife watching.
- Very early in the morning from the moment the sun rises. During this time the animals will be busy searching for food along the river. During the noon time animals are more likely to sleep and may be more difficult to spot.
- Late evening period before sunset that is between 4pm to 7pm. During this time, the animals will be active again before going to sleep.
- Night cruise to see nocturnal creatures wandering for food. Insects can also be found in abundance during the night time.
Aerial View of part of the Kinabatangan River
Getting There: The Kinabatangan River is located in the Sukau-Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. From Sandakan airport, you need to travel 135km by road to the town of Sukau which is the tourist center in the Kinabatangan area. This will take about 4 hours drive. Best way to explore this area during your Sabah vacation is to get a package deal which includes transport, accommodation, meals, guided tours on the river cruises and jungle trekking. For the more adventurers, there are homestay host available at the nearby villages.