Kinabatangan River – Orangutans & Pygmy Elephants

The package tours offered by the luxury lodges along the Kinabatangan river are excellent. The lodges themselves are beautiful and the service and food is well worth the money. For a couple traveling and looking for some luxury, whilst also wanting a fantastic wildlife experience they are definitely recomended. As you may know from previous posts we stayed at Sukau Lodge and cannot fault it.

However, the only draw back is that being on a group tour you are very much on a set itinerary. We came to the river with the aim of seeing all the incredible wildlife that can be found here, but primarily wanting to see some Orang Utan and the elusive Pygmy elephant.

So, after a fantastic 3 days at the lodge and on the river we left feeling a little deflated having not seen the animals we were really hoping for.

Undeterred, once back in Sandakan we enlisted the help of a local guide, who, for a fraction of the cost of our lodge package, would take us back on the river for 2 days private touring. The sacrifice would be us staying in a basic guesthouse with basic meals. Well worth it we found.

We were picked up from our hotel in the morning and drove to our guest house a way up the river. Here we met our boat driver and we told him what we were looking for. Within 30 minutes we came upon a group of four Orang Utan in the trees at the side of the river. Given we were on a private tour we were able to spend over an hour watching these amazing animals with nobody else around.

Having left the Orang Utans we went in search of the elephants. We had done a lot of reading before we arrived and knew how few elephants are left in the wild here, so we weren’t holding our breath.

So when we found fresh elephant tracks at the side of the river, a couple of hours later, we tried not to get our hopes up too high. The elephants in this area actually swim, sometimes up to 200m at a time fully submerged except for the tip of their trunks, to cross back and forth over the river in search of food. Therefore fresh tracks by the river could mean they had just crossed.

After more than hour searching the tree line up and down the river bank we saw that first flash of grey. Soon one, then two, three and a fourth elephant emerged from the trees. It was such an amazing moment, especially considering how few of these animals remain in a rapidly decreasing habitat. We watched as they made their way through a forest clearing and as just like that they were away.

Another night safari, a beautiful home cooked dinner and a second day of river cruising topped it off.

Whilst there were definite advantages to the lodge packages, if you are in Borneo to see the wildlife and want to have control over what you try and find and how long you can spend enjoying those experiences, then I would definitely go with a private tour. You will save money too.

On the way back to Sandakan we visited the Gomantong caves. Read more about them in the link below and feel free to leave a comment.

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