Malaysia Wildlife On Borneo's Kinabatangan River
As we approached Nature Lodge Kinabatangan we could see dark wood structures poking out of the lush greenery. Houses and huts hiding in the trees like shy jungle animals. All set in a garden that overlooks the muddy Kinabatangan River. It looked exactly like we were hoping. A tropical hideaway, a remote retreat, miles away from anywhere. Just us, the jungle and it’s Malaysia wildlife that we couldn’t wait to discover.
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Nature Lodge Kinabatangan is in Malaysian Borneo – not to be mistaken with Brunei Borneo or Indonesian Borneo. Located along the Kinabatangan River in what’s left of the rainforest in this area. Unfortunately, Malaysian Borneo has cut down much of its rainforests to make room for money making palm plantations. Palm oil is big business in this part of the world and it’s sad to see it first hand.
We were on the road for hours to get to the Kinabatangan River. Most of that journey’s roadside scenery consisted of mostly plantations. Not a pretty sight and not what we were expecting. Though thankfully the area surrounding the lodge has been left untouched so the Malaysia wildlife can hopefully survive here.
Arriving at Nature Lodge Kinabatangan
Our transfer pulled into Nature Lodge Kinabatangan where we were greeted by an over excited and friendly guide. He proudly gave us a tour of the small but perfectly formed jungle getaway. The lodge consists of two main houses. One with a large communal seating area used for all meal times and the other a reception and gift/snack shop. Neither had any walls so you’re always open to the elements and Malaysia wildlife. This added to the Kinabatangan River experience.
There are two types of accommodation. The cheapest being a few small two birth wooden huts named the Civet Wing. Then the more expensive, larger and deluxe wooden chalets named the Agamid Wing. We stayed in the Civet Wing where huts consisted of two single beds and a private shower/toilet. All accommodation had external verandas so you can sit out and listen to the Malaysia wildlife soundscape.
When we first arrived we were surprised by the quietness of the jungle. This was our first real jungle experience. So prior to arriving we imagined we’d hear constant bird calls, monkeys howling and other unfamiliar noises. However it was strangely quiet which made us slightly concerned about the amount of wildlife, or lack of it, we might see. We needn’t have worried.
The cost we paid for 3 days and 2 nights at Nature Lodge Kinabatangan included all meals during our stay, daytime treks, night walks and boat trips along the river. All the walks and boat trips offer the opportunity to spot Malaysia wildlife. We were extremely excited to head out into the jungle to see what we could spot!
Some Bad News
Not long after we arrived, our guide gave us the bad news that daytime jungle treks had been temporarily cancelled. This was due to only a few days before, a tourist was killed by an Elephant. The tourist strayed off the path they were walking to take a closer photo of the Elephant. The Elephant charged and trampled her to death. It’s a really terrible accident and the guides were obviously very concerned about taking guests back into the jungle while these dangerous giants were roaming so close to the lodge.
Everyone was visibly disappointed, including us. The daytime treks were what we were most looking forward to. Surely they would provide the best opportunity to get up close to the Malaysia wildlife. Our guide could see the disappointment so informed us that we would get more boat cruises along the Kinabatangan River to replace the cancelled walks.
It’s not guaranteed to see wildlife on these trips. These are wild animals in their natural habitat so they decide weather to make an appearance. Prior to arriving, we read plenty of reviews from frustrated travellers. Many complaints about not seeing enough Malaysia wildlife, so we were always prepared for this. However, we were extremely lucky over the whole of our three-day experience as you’ll read later in this post.
Our First Kinabatangan River Cruise
The first boat trip along the Kinabatangan River set off in the afternoon on our arrival day. All the guests split up into two boats due to a maximum capacity of 8 people each. These smaller boats are better suited for wildlife spotting on the Kinabatangan River. They’re not only less likely to frighten the animals but can also float into tighter canals and spaces so to get more intimate with the animals. Off we glided down the muddy river, eyes peeled for any moving shapes in the tall trees and long grass.
There were three animals that we were particularly keen to see. The Orangutan, which these days have unfortunately become critically endangered due to their rapidly decreasing population. As mentioned earlier, much of their natural habitat has been cut down to make way for palm plantations. This has made it increasingly difficult for Orangutans to survive here. We’d be very fortunate to see one!
The second was the recently discovered Bornean Pigmy Elephant. These Elephants are smaller than Elephants you’d see in Africa or India, hence the Pigmy description. Since it was one of these animals that recently killed a tourist, we were told there was a pretty good chance we’d spot them on the banks of the river.
The third animal we were keen to spot was the Crocodile. We failed to spot a single Crocodile in the Daintree Rainforest in Northern Australia, an area highly populated with Crocodiles. So we were hoping that wouldn’t be repeated here.
Our Guide Clearly Knew Where to Look for Malaysia Wildlife
He was spotting creatures that were impossible to see by our untrained eyes. He soon shut off the boat engine as we floated into some foliage on the banks of the Kinabatangan River. Above our heads, curled up and resting on a branch was an impressive sized bright green snake. A beautiful looking specimen with very distinctive stripes.
A little further downstream, again resting on a branch of a tree, was a huge Monitor Lizard. Bathing in the intense Bornean sun. The creature was really out in the open so was great to see all its grand size. Impressive stuff so far considering we had been on the water for only 30 minutes.
We gained some pace again by heading downstream. All kinds of bird life flying overhead from treetop to treetop. Huge beaked Toucans, rainbow coloured Parrots and lanky Cranes. All soaring in pairs. I’ve never been a keen bird watcher but you can’t help but be impressed with these beautiful birds in this unfamiliar landscape.
We eventually saw one of the Jungle’s most dangerous monsters; the Crocodile. It was a massive beast resting in the shallow waters near the bank. We stopped for a while to watch it, occasionally dipping under the water. Though we didn’t hang around for too long as did not want to overstay our welcome! We headed back to the lodge, feeling very satisfied to have already seen one of the big three on our first day. Plus a handful of other great Malaysia wildlife spots.
The sun was setting by the time we got back. It wasn’t long before the jungle came alive with the night sounds of croaking frogs and high pitched insects. A sound that we’ve always loved. For us, it’s the exciting sound of being in an exotic part of the world, far away from the normality of home.
After dinner, we had the opportunity to get up close to these creatures of the night. At the back of the lodge’s grounds, away from the accommodation and main houses, is a short nature trail. At night the trail has plenty of insects and small reptiles to spot by torch light.
In the 30 minutes we spent slowly walking in the pouring rain, we spotted large spiders, brightly coloured frogs, giant Millipedes and small snakes. It was thrilling to see all these jungle creepy crawlies in the darkness of night. An alternative side to Malaysia wildlife along the Kinabatangan River.
The Orangutan Encounter
The next day we were excited and happy to get up early for the next trip along the river. The Kinabatangan River was shrouded in damp morning mist which created a wonderful Jurassic Park atmosphere. The dense fog would make it harder to spot wildlife but we weren’t going to let that stop us.
Our guide was determined to find us an Orangutan. The Orangutan really is the star of the show here. There are Orangutan sanctuaries you can visit in Borneo but to see them in the wild, in their natural habitat, would be extra special.
As we cruised through the mistiness it wasn’t long before our guide spotted a large dark shadow on top of a tree in the distance. “Orangutan!” he shouted as he pointed ahead of the boat. All our heads quickly turned to the same direction like a pack of Meerkats. No way could he have spotted an Orangutan so quickly and so close to our lodge! As we approached the shadowy shape, the Orangutan’s features started to appear.
It was a huge hairy male, chomping on his breakfast of leaves. We were told that Orangutans live very solitary lives. This was definitely the case here as there were no other Orangutans in sight. Just us and him in the calm of the hazy morning jungle. We must have sat there looking at him for 30 minutes or so while he just stared back at us and not seeming to mind our company. A massive Malaysia wildlife tick!
With beaming smiles on all our faces, we raced back to the lodge for some much-needed lunch. On the way back, our guide dunked his arms into the middle of the river and pulled out a shrimp trap. Inside was several of the largest shrimps we had ever seen. It made us wonder what other giants were swimming below us in the murky waters!
After a few hours back at the lodge it was already time for yet another boat trip. After the success of the past two trips, we couldn’t wait to see what else this wildlife giving jungle had to offer.
This time we headed for one of the rivers’ narrow side canals. Slowly creeping down the canal we were suddenly greeted by a noisy and boisterous pack of Macaque Monkeys. In fact, we realised there was a turf war going on as could see and hear several of them from both sides of the canal. They were tensely staring at each other and shrieking a frightening noise. They hardly noticed we were there.
Today seemed to be the day for monkeys because a bit further downstream we came across some Proboscis Monkeys. I’d seen plenty of Macaques in countries like Thailand, Bali and India but I had never seen a wild Proboscis. With their Gonzo like noses, they have to be one of the funniest looking Monkeys on the planet. It was fantastic to see them for the first time.
We sadly realised we had just one more boat trip to take the following morning. Would we see those Bornean Pygmy Elephants to complete our big three!
The Bornean Pygmy Elephants
On our final morning of this unforgettable Malaysia wildlife experience, we headed in the opposite direction to where we had gone on previous boat trips. After about 10 minutes travelling downstream, our guide pointed to several Bornean Pygmy Elephants feasting on 6ft tall grass. They were right on the edge of the Kinabatangan River bank for us all to clearly see. There must have been about six of them. Our guide was able to slowly edge the boat closer and closer to the bank until we could almost touch them.
It was such a rare and exciting experience to be able to get that close to a creature as magnificent as the wild Elephant. I couldn’t think of a better way to finish such a memorable experience along the Kinabatangan River.
If you’re looking for alternative budget jungle accommodation along the Kinabatangan River you can also check out Uncle Tan’s Jungle Camp.