Our Borneo Experience: Taking a Kinabatangan River Safari

Planning a Kinabatangan River cruise? Fresh off the plane from our own Borneo jungle excursion, we’ve got the lowdown on what to book, when to go, and what you can expect during your own tour.

A haven for wildlife lovers, it’s no wonder that tours through the Malaysian Bornean jungle are so highly sought after. In fact, this region around the Kinabatangan River has the largest concentration of wildlife in Borneo. Ranging from elephants and crocodiles to orangutans and monkeys.

And there’s no better way to get up close and personal with nature than by hiking through the lush jungle or sailing along the river on an adventure, right? We guarantee a Borneo tour will be one of the most eye-opening experiences you ever have.

Read on to discover our Borneo experience of River Junkie’s Kinabatangan River safari, plus some helpful tips and tricks to know before you go.

Kinabatangan River Safari in Borneo: What You Need to Know

What to Bring on a Borneo Jungle Tour

Aerial view of Kinabatangan River

Deet: Trust us on this one. Those bugs and mozzies will be all over you if you don’t make sure you’re covered in Deet spray. We reapplied liberally throughout the day and made it through relatively unscathed.

Torch: Luckily, our tour guide had a spare torch that we could borrow for the nighttime jungle trek. We recommend bringing your own, though.

A light raincoat: Downpours are common in the jungle (though we were extremely lucky with the weather). It also cools down in the evening, so having a jacket with you is ideal.

Sun hat and sunscreen: It gets ridiculously hot. Take as many sun-related precautions as you can. And remember to stay hydrated.

A camera (with good zoom) or binoculars: This is imperative for the boat rides, as often the guides will point wildlife out in the distance. Luckily, our camera had a decent zoom on it, but we resolved to bring binoculars next time.

Long sleeve tops and trousers: When entering into the jungle, it’s vital you wear long sleeves. Leech socks are also a great idea (or, at the very least, thick sports socks to tuck your trousers into). We also found it was chilly on the early morning boat tours, so wearing long sleeves was a good idea.

Local currency: Keep some loose change in case you need to rent boots, fancy an extra drink, for tips, and the private room tourism tax.

How Much Does a Kinabatangan River Safari Cost?

Borneo, Kinabatangan River Accomodation

Wondering how much a Borneo safari costs? Per person, the options for this particular River Junkie offering are:

2 day, 1 night tour: RM435 for a dorm or RM595 for an AC Chalet.

3 day, 2 night tour: RM495 for a dorm or RM760 for an AC Chalet

Alternatively, you can opt for a mega 3 days/two nights Kinabatangan River Safari, which includes all your activities in Sepilok too. This costs RM1075 for a dorm or RM1275 for an AC Chalet.

However, we have to say that we recommend doing the tour the way we did (especially if you’re on a budget) as it meant we had full control over our days in Sepilok. We opted for an AC Chalet and had zero complaints about it, but if you are on a very strict budget and don’t mind sharing rooms then go for the dorm.

Accommodation, transport, food and activities were all included and we paid a total of £273.11 (RM1450) for two people (we even opted for the bougier accommodation option). We booked the tour around two months before our trip and thought that it was excellent bang for our buck.

Note: there is a supplement of RM50 per person during the busy season from 1st July – 30th September every year.

Kinabatangan River Safari in Borneo: Our Experience

Borneo Lodge

There are so many different companies that offer Borneo tours, so narrowing down your favourites can be tricky. We spent a fair few hours comparing our options but, in the end, we opted to go with River Junkie’s 3 day, 2 night tour to Kinabatangan River.

Transport to the Kinabatangan River

We began our journey in Sepilok, where we had just spent a couple of days exploring the local sanctuaries. Chris and I had arranged a pick up with our tour company from our hotel and were transported to the lodge we were staying at along the Kinabatangan River (Sandakan Airport pickup is available, too).

We journeyed into the jungle by minivan; it took around two hours but the road was pretty flat – minus a few bumps along the way.

Once we arrived at the jungle accommodation excited and raring to get going. After settling into our room we met with our guide, Ryan, who would be looking after us for the next three days. We can’t say enough brilliant things about him.

However, one thing to mention is that you might actually be on a private tour. We were and didn’t really anticipate this as we wanted to make friends and have a little bit of a livelier time. While each group communed for meal times, we found it a little bit awkward as we hadn’t managed to gel with others.

That said, this is something that is totally out of your control. And it certainly didn’t ruin our experience.

Kinabatangan River Boat Trips

The boat trips along the Kinabatangan River were the highlight of the entire three days, to be honest. We had 4 day cruises and 1 night time river trip, and, although you might think you would get bored by the 3rd day jaunt down the river, no two journeys were the same.

The boat rides were spent learning about and observing the wildlife such as Hornbills and Proboscis Monkeys. Ryan was ridiculously knowledgeable about these creatures – he had an in-depth answer to every single question we threw his way.

What was the best part of this Borneo tour? The night boat ride was our favourite – we highly recommend this option as it gives you the chance to see different animals. We spotted plenty of baby crocodiles (look out for their shiny eyes) and even a Clouded Leopard behind the foliage.

Word of advice – while you can wear shorts and short sleeves during the boat rides, long sleeves, trousers, and leech socks are highly recommended for the treks (particularly if you’re going on an evening trek through the jungle).

Jungle Treks

Kinabatangan, Borneo

Our tour package allowed us two treks – one at night and one longer one during the day. We’ll be totally honest and admit that we were nervous AF about the night trek.

Ryan led us to a patch of jungle, where he proceeded to (quite literally) cut a hole in the trees and lead us inside. Though we spent around 45 minutes submerged in the leafy jungle, we didn’t see too much. Whether that was because we spent most of the time eagle-eyed trying to spot leeches or because we were unlucky, we’re not quite sure. 

We’ll be totally honest with you, we decided to skip the second trek. Ryan was lovely and didn’t push us to continue, which we were very thankful for.

We were exhausted and, to be quite honest, not in the mood for a sweaty two hour jaunt through the jungle. Afterwards, we spoke to plenty of people who had taken a jungle day trek and they absolutely loved it, though. Big regrets from us.

Borneo Safari Wildlife

Part of the draw of Borneo wildlife tours is, well, the wildlife. And, we will admit that we were quite lucky with what we saw during our trip.

Our first taste of this wildlife was the macaque monkey, which is like the equivalent of a Malaysian pigeon. Annoying, regarded as pests, and absolutely everywhere… But we couldn’t help but love their cheeky antics. 

Be warned: Don’t leave your belongings out or you’ll find that they steal things and then swiftly run away with their loot.

When we headed out on our (many) Kinabatangan river cruises, we got the chance to get up close and personal with plenty more creatures, too. From the ultra-cheeky Proboscis monkey, to teeny-tiny crocodile babies, and plenty of exotic birds, you’ll want to make sure your camera is completely charged and has enough space for the hundreds of photos you’ll inevitably take.

We were pretty lucky. About ten minutes into our first boat ride, Ryan pulled over to the side and pointed out orangutans. We were gobsmacked. We’d previously visited the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary as we knew that spotting them in the wild was incredibly rare. But to have them right there, in front of our eyes, was an unforgettable experience.

Likewise, on an evening tour, we managed to spot (albeit, very briefly), the shining eyes of a Clouded Leopard looking back at us through the vegetation.

While we didn’t get to spot pygmy elephants, this area of Borneo frequently sees them. And, should you book one of River Junkie’s Borneo tour packages, you might just be lucky enough, too.

What Was the Food Like?

Borneo River Tour, dining area

Food-wise, it was hard to complain when you consider the price of the tour. Sure, it was very simple – think basic breakfasts packed with eggs, meats and delicious fruit, while rice with a curry option was standard for lunch and dinner. But still, put enough food away and you’re ready for a Borneo safari adventure.

Tea, coffee and water are all available throughout the day, while you can also choose to purchase a fizzy drink or beer in the evening.

We didn’t think to pack any protein bars/snacks in our bags with us, which we totally would opt for if we did a tour like this again. We found that we got quite peckish at night, especially after the adrenaline-fueled evening jungle trek – a little bit of sugar was very much needed.

River Junkie’s Kinabatangan River Tour: Final Thoughts

Sunset Borneo

After spending three days and two nights in the jungle with no WIFI, we thought we would be so ready to leave. We weren’t. We had an incredible time – not to mention we got to see Orangutans in the wild. Honestly, we would’ve stayed another day or two if there was the option.

For anyone thinking about booking a River Junkie Borneo Jungle Tour – do it. From start to finish, the customer service was excellent, and we managed to make some incredible memories.

Practical Information for Your Kinabatangan River Tour

Tipping: When it comes to tipping, Malaysians don’t tend to be very pushy at all. In all honesty, we found that they’re quite shy when receiving tips.

That said, it is important to tip your tour guide – especially when they’re as lovely and friendly as Ryan was. Our general rule of thumb is to tip 10%. Though we added a little bit extra as we had a wonderful experience over the three days.

When to visit: We visited in October, and we loved it. Borneo is definitely a summer destination – the island is hot and dry, and showers are not too frequent.

Vaccinations: Before you go, make sure you’re up to date with all your regular vaccinations. We also had a Typhoid and Hepatitis A jab to be on the safe side.

Did you find this article interesting? If so, you might also like…