Boat on Kinabatangan River

Kinabatangan River

Stay in an eco-lodge on the banks of Sabah’s longest river, where elephants, macaques and gibbons forage in the dense riverside foliage, and frogmouths, nightjars and hornbills wheel overhead.

The Kinabatangan is the longest river in Sabah State, snaking its coffee-brown way over 560 kilometres from the Crocker Mountains to its mangrove swamp estuary at the Sulu Sea. Along the way it passes through one of the most magnificently diverse corridors of rainforest on the planet, which just might be the best place in Borneo for wild-life spotting (and that’s saying something).

On a river safari here, we’ve seen baby-faced pygmy elephants with their tails dragging on the ground come down to the river to bathe. We’ve played monkey bingo with the probsoscis, macaques and gibbons that swing through the trees on the riverbanks. We’ve sat still as statues as six-foot crocs have cruised by and were once almost boarded by a giant python on a particularly low-hanging branch. It feels like everywhere you turn there’s something new to see – whether It's a mother orangutan teaching her baby to climb, or a tropical bird with a name like a Lewis Carroll creation (scarlet-rumped togon? rufous piculet? Those have got to be made up).

The reason for all this diversity is a bit of a sad one. Though the area immediately alongside the river is protected, much of the surrounding region is not – which means that high concentrations of wildlife have been pushed into this “corridor of life” to escape the encroachment of palm oil plantations. In an ideal world, habitat loss isn’t how we’d choose to get our wildlife kicks, but it certainly doesn’t diminish the wonder of the place.

There are two different sections of the Kinabatangan where you can stay at riverside ecolodges, sleeping in cabins right on the waterfront, surrounded by forest and connected by boardwalks. We like to cover all our bases and stay at both – linking them up with a two-hour cruise down the river.

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