Exploring the Kinabatangan River in Borneo

After a few days roaming around Borneo’s cities, beaches and parks with Stray, it was time to go even further off the beaten track and explore the Borneo jungle. Our destination was the Kinabatangan River, the second largest river in Malaysia. With dense jungle either side, the Bornean wildlife thrives here, and that is just what we were hoping to see.

Entering the Kinabatangan River

Gliding on the murky surface of the Kinabatangan waters, it was like the pre-ride of a white water rafting expedition. The water was still and calm, the banks teeming with overgrown plants, trees and bushes. In the distance, an Oriental Darter bird swooped off before we got close. The backdrop of the Kinabatangan kept expanding, like a never-ending trail of the unknown, just waiting to be explored.

Jungle Camp

kinabatangan river

We disembarked onto a small wooden pier, before walking up the narrow stairs. The camp itself consisted of an open dining and lounge-like area, our cabins and restrooms. Apart from that, the jungle was as it is supposed to be – wild.

Hammocks hung beneath our cabins, gently rocking in the wind and providing a cool place to relax. Taking a shower meant a cold bucket of water over the head. At first, the idea wasn’t something I’d warmed to, but I soon discovered it was more addictive than I could imagine during the suppressing heat of the day.

With jungle trails behind us and the Oxbow Lake in front of us, the only time we had our phones out was for taking photos. Wifi wasn’t available or even necessary. Staying present in the moment, in many ways, we were totally free.

Wildlife, At Lunch!

kinabatangan river

It didn’t take long for us to encounter some of the famous wildlife that the Kinabatangan River is home to. Lunch was almost ready when we arrived, but that didn’t stop a curious Monitor Lizard from licking his lips below us, hoping to get a taste of the action. As we finished our locally prepared feast, one of our guides spotted an Estuarine Crocodile dragging its prey onto the riverbank down river. We all crowded round for peeks through his binoculars. By that point, I think we all then knew there so much more amazing wildlife to come.

Day River Cruises

Our hopes were fulfilled, as our entire day was filled with sightings of unique wildlife that we had never seen before. To see such wildlife, you’d normally have to hedge your bets in many different places or even visit a zoo. But in the Kinabatangan River, everything just came to life.

As we continued up and down river, I spotted a large figure floating half on the surface. It turned out to be another Estuarine Crocodile, the biggest one around! With something so dominating, it was a relief to be in the boat.

Short and Long Tail Macaques Monkeys pranced around through the trees on the riverbanks, whilst families of Proboscis Monkeys – renowned for their unusually large noses – casually sat on tree branches with their legs and tails dangling. The Red Leaf Langurs were my ultimate favourite, such a rich maroon colour, cute to look at but also very antsy in their approach. They were always on the move! Orangtuan nests where spotted from afar, high up into the roof of the trees. We also saw an array of bird species, from Oriental Pied Hornbills, Crested Serpent Eagles and Blue Eared Kingfishers.

Night River Cruises

Night cruises were distinctly different to our daytime excursions. Many inhabitants of the jungle went to sleep, so it was a much less noisy experience. In the distance we saw one or two peeking crocodile eyes, watching our movements from the riverbanks. There was a splash as we approached, as the crocodiles slithered under us into the watery abyss.

We approached the outreaching branches on each side of the riverbank to spot a variety of Kingfishers; almost like statues, not knowing we lurked behind them. Some were all alone, whilst others were huddled together in a row.

Once we had finished exploring for the evening, the engine was turned off as we planted ourselves in the middle of the river. This was a zen-like moment, to embrace the peaceful natural environment.

 Replanting The World 

In collaboration with the Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp, we all had the chance to plant our own trees, with our very own names planted beside. Borneo has been targeted for palm oil exploitation in recent years. Going by some of the sights we saw prior, it has become a massive problem. Planting trees and contributing to reforestation was a proud moment for all of us. In 25 years time, we’ll be able to see our very own trees standing tall. I’m sure I’ll be back before then!

Jungle Walk Into The Night

After a tiring day, we regathered our energy and ventured on foot into the jungle at night. With swarms of mosquitos and aggressive bugs all around us, I took the opportunity to cover up. Although I was sweating from the get-go, wearing pants, long sleeves and a hat protected me from the exotic bugs. We managed to spot a variety of sleeping birds such as the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher. For me, the real adventure was roaming through the raw jungle and seeking something new. To venture into the dark and unknown like that is so exhilarating. I felt a strong sense of connection with the jungle during this night walk. It was humbling to appreciate how connected nature is, and that every creature in the jungle is part of a delicate ecosystem that we must work hard to protect.

With our phones full of blurry images of incredible wildlife, and our minds full of the exhilaration of all we had seen and learned, it was time to leave the jungle. My trip to Borneo with Stray exceeded my expectations. The amount of wildlife we saw, the knowledge and care of the guides, and the stunning environment, all contributed to a highly memorable trip.


Want more? Read 6 reasons you must visit Borneo here.

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Emily is a native creative nerd. This creative crew member's favourite stop is Bay of Islands.

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