The River Cruise in Borneo Island | Wild Proboscis Monkey, Orangutan, and others

May 2019 (1MYR=27JPY=0.24USD):

This trip was during the Golden Week (long holidays in Japan) in 2019. We participated in the 3-day 2-night Kinabatangan River safari tour on Borneo Island in Malaysia. We had reserved a local tour company, River Junkie, online and paid by credit card. We bought a DTAC prepaid SIM for Asia online. Grab, not Uber, runs in Malaysia, so I installed it in advance. We can also pay in cash.

Proboscis Monkey

Pre-trip day: Stay at Kota Kinabalu
1st day: Kota Kinabalu Airport – Sandakan Airport – Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre – Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre – Kinabatangan
2nd day: Kinabatangan
3rd day: Kinabatangan – Gomantong Caves – Central Sandakan – Kota Kinabalu Airport


Pre-trip day: Tues, April 30
This day, we stayed at Le Méridien Kota Kinabalu hotel in the center of Kota Kinabalu after climbing Mt. Kinabalu.


1st day: Wed, May 1
We went from Kota Kinabalu Airport to Sandakan Airport and met a tour guide in the arrival area. We went ahead to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

Currently, trading, hunting or keeping orangutans is banned. This place rescues orangutans which have already been captured or lost their habitat because of logging sites and plantations, and then trains and releases them into the wild.

At first, we walked on the boardwalk and looked at the orangutans in a near-natural environment.

Orangutan from the boardwalk (the middle of the photo)

Next, we looked at the orangutans which were fed behind a show window.

They were playing happily
Orangutan with baby
A wild monkey which broke into the feeding

At last, we looked at the orangutans which were fed in the near-natural environment. Luckily, this day, an orangutan came close.

Next, we went to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. This place trains and releases captured Malayan sun bears as well as orangutans.

Malayan sun bear eating carrots
Malayan sun bear eating corn

After the viewing, we had lunch at a restaurant while waiting for the pickup bus. When we got on the big bus, which had many tour passengers, it took about 2 hours to get to the Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort. The path to the bungalows was a boardwalk, on which there were wild monkeys, but we tried not to look at them because it is dangerous to make eye contact with them.

Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort
Private Bangalow
Bed with mosquito net

As the start of the river cruise in the evening was just after check-in, we waited for it while having rice-like cakes and Borneo coffee, which were self-service at the restaurant.

Kinabatangan River

These are called “The Borneo Big 5”: orangutan, proboscis monkey, pygmy elephant, rhinoceros hornbill, and estuarine crocodile. We mainly looked for these for about an hour and a half. We were able to see proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaques, pig-tailed macaques and monitor lizard on the first cruise.

Proboscis Monkey
Proboscis Monkey
Long-tailed Macaques
Pig-tailed Macaques
Monitor Lizard
River Cruise

There was a buffet dinner and it tasted good. We were able to buy beers and drinks for an extra charge. After the meal, we rested on hammocks on the second floor of the restaurant.

Buffet Dinner

For the night trekking, we walked around in groups of about 10 with 2 guides. We were mainly able to see birds or insects, but if we were lucky, we could find small animals. Flashlights were essential.

Long-tailed Macaque near the resort
Sleeping Frog
Sleeping Pale Blue Flycatcher

07:05 Leave from Kota Kinabalu Airport
07:45 Arrive at Sandakan Airport
08:00 Meet with a tour guide
09:00 Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
10:30 Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre
15:15 Arrive at the Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort
16:00 River Cruise(The first time in the evening)
18:00 Dinner
20:00 Night Trekking


2nd day: Thurs, May 2nd
We woke up to the sounds of monkeys and birds. We waited for the early morning river cruise while having Borneo coffee at the restaurant.

Restaurant in the morning
Prevost squirrel near the resort

There was an estuarine crocodile on the morning cruise.

Estuarine Crocodile
Estuarine Crocodile
Rhinoceros Hornbill?
Oriental Darter

When we returned to the resort and had breakfast, we went out for a day trek.

Morning buffet
Day Trekking
Hypolimnas Bolina (male)

After the day trekking, those who participated in the afternoon optional tour went out by bus without having lunch. We had lunch at a restaurant and went to the nearby village to look for a souvenir shop. Unfortunately, the shop was closed but we enjoyed the local atmosphere.

The villager who was dropping mangoes
Jack Fruits

On the river cruise in the evening, we luckily found orangutans, but they were toward the top of a tree, so we weren’t able to see them well. We also found Rhinoceros Hornbills.

Rhinoceros Hornbill
Pig-tailed Macaques
Pig-tailed Young Macaques
Crab-eating Macaque
Estuarine Crocodile
River Cruise

After dinner, we went to night trekking. We heard the sound of low growling from a leopard on the way that night, so we walked the other way to be cautious.

06:00 River Cruise (First Time in the morning)
08:00 Breakfast
09:00 Day Trekking
12:00 Lunch
13:00 Stroll to the village
16:00 River Cruise (Second Time in the evening)
18:00 Dinner
20:00 Night Trekking

3rd Day: Fri, May 3
There was a beautiful morning glow. We had Borneo coffee and waited to start the river cruise.

Kinabatangan River in the morning glow
Monitor Lizard
Crab-eating Macaque
Striated Heron
Storm’s Stork

After breakfast and check out, we went to the Gomantong Caves optional tour. It was only us for the morning tour. Our guide said that there was a high probability of seeing wild orangutans around Gomantong Caves. The orangutans had not been seen on the previous day of the optional day tour. Actually, our guide found them at two points, so we got out of the car and were able to see them for a time.

When we arrived at the Gomantong caves and waited for the ticket shop to open, there were orangutans on the tree in front of us. They were quite low in the tree, so we were able to see them well.

Mother Orangutan
Young Orangutan

There was a boardwalk to the Gomantong caves, and there were monkeys in the woods on both sides. These caves are full of valuable edible swiftlet nests, so the entry is managed strictly. It is very dangerous to take the nests on the ceiling of the caves, which do not have steps. I heard that a person without a license tried to take some nests, and an accident occurred. We entered a cave with black nests. Apart from this, there is another cave with more valuable white nests.

Gomantong Cave Entrance
Swiftlet and Nest

When we left the cave, we heard the sound of rustling trees. We saw a wild orangutan again. They likely got active in the morning for mealtime.


We enjoyed watching wild orangutans for quite a while, and then went back. Our tour guide got off at a shopping center on the way because she started a holiday that evening. We had our driver let us off at Ocean King Seafood Steamboat Restaurant.

Lobster Sashimi
Borneo Sabah Vedge
Boiled Shellfish
Lobster Miso Soup

After the meal, we called a Grab and went to English Tea House and Restaurant. It was an ocean view hillside restaurant. We had fruits, cakes, and tea, and killed time till our flight’s departure.

06:00 River Cruise ( Second time in the morning)
08:00 Breakfast
09:00 Gomantong Caves
12:30 Lunch at Ocean King
15:30 Tea time at English Tea House and Restaurant
18:30 Leave from Sandakan Airport
19:30 Arrive at Kota Kinabalu Airport


The stay at the resort where we heard the sounds of birds and monkeys, and the river cruises, from which we were able to see the Bornean wildlife, were such valuable experiences. You are likely to see “The Borneo Big 5” if you stay for at least 3 days and 2 nights.
The raised floor accommodation was very clean and had a shower room. We were able to use a credit card at the restaurant. The staff was very cheerful and friendly.
We were able to see proboscis monkeys often, but they were at the top of the trees, so binoculars were essential. Taking their photos was difficult because they moved in branches and leaves. The pygmy elephants move to feed, and they were not in our cruise area at this time. The orangutans which live along Kinabatangan River hid in branches and leaves in the upper parts of trees, so we weren’t able to see them well. It may be better to visit the Gomantong Caves in the early morning.