Kota Kinabatangan - River Jungle

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August 4th 2010
Published: January 14th 2012
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Taxi to bus terminal – bus to Kota Kinabatangan – minibus to jungle – DONE! It was as easy as it sounds. At the guesthouse in Kota Kinabalu we booked and paid for two nights at the nature lodge where we would embark on a number of jungle/river tours and be fed. The only thing we had to organise was the bus to Kinabatangan and this was simple from the bus terminal. There were many to choose from and the costs vary depending on the comfort you desire. The drive was long but stunning. We passed through the Kruger mountain range and were treated to breathtaking views of the beast of Borneo – Mount Kinabalu.

Obviously, having already paid we were a little worried that we would arrive in Kota Kinabatangan and be left stranded after being deceived by Lucy the little witch!! However, we arrived on time and low and behold our minibus full of European’s was waiting for us. One thing we noticed was that we were the only ones who had packed smaller, 2 days packs and left our main bags in Kota Kinabalu. Looking back on this I really don’t know why we did this? Please don’t do this if you are planning on travelling across Malaysian Borneo – you can carry on forward after Kinabatangan. Somewhere along the line we got the impression that large bags were not accepted in the jungle?! Let’s not dwell on this stupid decision any further – we were punished by having to endure the 7 hour bus journey back in the wrong direction to where our bags/lives were located.

As soon as we arrived at the nature lodge, via a little boat ride across the vast Kinabatangan River, it was evident that we were on the outskirts of one of the best remaining jungles on our planet. The place was full of wildlife and the lodges discreetly sat in amongst it all. Our dorm room was basic but clean and the staff seemed very friendly. Upon arrival I was greeted by mosquitoes, large flying insects that seem unaware of how to maintain a straight line of flight and even the odd macaque.

This was the first time on my trip that i felt like part of a package tour. Ok sure, we did book this as a package, but that doesn’t mean that you will share the experience with a large number of European’s including many families (with children). We quickly got in the spirit of things and on our first group meeting (immediately after arrival) we got chatting to some other couples.

“Have you climbed Mount Kinabalu” I would always ask as we were still deciding on whether to part with the equivalent of a year’s wages for the honour.

“Oh – it was horrible. Clouds and rain at the summit and I was in pain for a week after.” One Italian couple explained.

“The view was bad at the top and it was freezing.” Another couple, from Brussels, explained.

This seemed to become a bit of a re-occurring conversation and I was beginning to wonder whether it was worth paying the extraordinarily inflated price for the privilege of acquiring jelly legs and a cold.

Back to the jungle – we were herded onto a jetty where a number of small 6 to 8 person boats were waiting to pick us up and take us on a tour down the Kinabatangan River and into the jungle. Most of the tours would be on the river because most of the wildlife frequented the banks. First thoughts were that this river was huge and quite daunting. Brown, wide and although no rapids were visible, you could tell how fast flowing and powerful the river was by the abundance of trees it was carrying downstream. These huge logs can be misleading:

“Crocodile!!” Someone shouts from our boat.

“Yes, yes, many crocodiles,” our guide explains whilst trying to follow the pointing finger of the girl.

“There, there – just by the bank, moving fast” the girl goes on.

“Ahhh no no, this is a log.” The guide ended all our excitement and ignites the embarrassment of the poor girl who cannot tell the different between wood and reptile.

On our first boat trip we saw – a young, wild, male orang-utan feasting high up in the trees close to the river bank, a vast number of macaques, many proboscis monkeys and a silver leaf monkey. The birds on offer were also very impressive – we saw many hornbills, egrets, lots of colourful smaller birds including kingfishers, and a bird of prey that we followed down the river for a while – cannot remember the name of it, which is deeply disappointing. I apologise. I was blown away by the amount we saw on this first day.

After a nice dinner and a little rest we got kitted up ready for our night trek. I was quite excited about this because the jungle here is inhabited by some of my favourite primates who just so happen to prefer the night time to the day time – just like myself!

“Hello, I will be your guide, we will look for Tarsiers, slow loris, gibbons and we might get the chance to see some small wild cats.” My excitement is justified....for a couple of seconds anyway....

“We will probably not see any of these though, just many sleeping birds and insects.”

After a bit of investigation, one of the guides who had been guiding here for a year had seen a Tarsier only twice and a Slow Loris once. I was disappointed as these nocturnal primates were still on my list to see. The trek was interesting enough but the wildlife was limited. We did see a couple of nice birds sleeping in the trees. I do not know how our guide spotted some of these....it made me wonder whether they were stuffed and placed in certain places – but one of them did wake up and fly off.

For the next two days our schedule was – wake up and get on the boat for 5:30am for a morning tour. Have breakfast and go on a trek to Oxbow lake. Have lunch and go on an afternoon boat tour. Have dinner and go on another night trek. The next day we would have a morning boat tour, breakfast and then depart back to Kota Kinabalu. Quite a tough looking schedule I know – and it was quite tiring but it was well organised and we were treated to some great wildlife.

On our second night trek I remained optimistic because it’s the only way to live! This was quashed when a Danish family decided to ignore the silence rule. They were shouting and would not listen to the constant calls of “sssshhhhhh.” We all stopped and admired a Malaysian Blue Flycatcher asleep on a branch very close to us. The Danish man and his son arrive:

“Vor?” The Father asks

“Dor” the son replies pointing at the bird sitting about a metre away from him.




“DOR!” The son shouts as the bird wakes up and flies off...

“Ohhh, Dor...”

Other highlights:

Spending half an hour with the biggest male orang-utan I have ever seen at Oxbow lake. He was high in the trees and seemingly unaware of our presence. Watching him fade into the trees as he casually moved out of site was a joy.

Seeing a crocodile in the morning of the second day.

Following a large short tailed python across the river as it swam to the bank and then watching it slither its way up the steep bank and into the undergrowth.

Watching an owl hunt on the banks of the river on the morning of the last day.

Sharing the toilet with a large spider after noticing it opposite me, mid – poo. Most anxious poo of my life...

I really enjoyed this trip – it was well worth the money. It wasn’t stupidly expensive but it does dent the budget a little. For the amount that I saw and experienced on this trip I would have paid more! You cannot come to Borneo and not experience the jungles here. I would have loved to go down to the Dalium valley or the Malieu Basin for some serious trekking but this is a good alternative as it is much easier to organise.

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