How to Organise a Kinabatangan River Cruise on a Budget (DIY)
Getting to Sandakan
There are two ways to get to Sandakan :
- You can fly to Kota Kinabalu and take a bus from there to Sandakan. The bus route is quite long (at least 6 hours) and not so interesting (lots and lots of palm oil plantations). This is the cheap option.
- You can fly directly to Sandakan with AirAsia or Malaysia Airlines (although we had a terrible experience with Malaysia Airlines AWFUL customer service and don’t recommend them). This is easier and quicker, but more expensive. Even though we don’t usually recommend flying over taking a bus, as it is more harmful to the environment, we preferred flying this time.
From Sandakan to the Kinabatangan River
Unfortunately, there is no public transport to get you from Sandakan to one of the villages on the river. What everyone does and what we did was get in touch with Mr Choy, a local who does the route to Sandakan / Sepilok from Sukau and back every day. His phone number is all over the internet. One way trip (Sepilok to Sukau) cost us 50RM per person.
There is a bus doing the Lahut Datu to Sandakan route, and you can wave at it on the side of the road, it will stop for you. We missed it by 1 minute so we hitchhiked and found a car willing to drive us in less than 15 minutes. Don’t worry mom and dad, we didn’t get kidnapped ! The only issue was that our kind driver didn’t speak english so we couldn’t communicate a lot. That’s it !
River cruises on the Kinabatangan River
There are two villages you can stay in to do a river cruise : Bilit and Sukau. There are probably other villages, but those are the ones where you will find plenty of accommodation. We stayed in Sukau.
The village has a few guesthouses and lodges, depending on your budget. We stayed at RD Sukau Lodge, which might be the cheapest in the village. A cabin for 2 with fan (no aircon), breakfast included was 60RM/night.
But with that price, comes compromises ! The cabins are old and not well taken care of. And since it’s in nature, it’s inhabited by all sorts of insects. It wasn’t dirty but very rustic and not cosy. We didn’t care, we were happy to save a bit of money.
At RD Sukay Lodge, a river cruise is 50RM per person and meals are 15RM per person. Their 2D1N package is 180RM per person. They also have a 3D2N package at around 360RM (not so sure about that).
We did a mix of their 2D1N package as you can also just rent a room and choose your river cruises “à la carte”.
The good thing about staying at RD Sukau was that we were the only ones there. I think mainly because it is not advertised anywhere on the web and most people do an organised tour, they probably rarely have guests (hence why the cabins are old and dusty !).
Being the only ones there meant having their boat all to ourselves ! We had the boat with a guide and a boat man to ourselves, deciding when we wanted to stop and when we wanted to go. Priceless !
There are 3 river cruises every day, all lodges organise them and they all leave at the same time :
- Morning at 6am : good for spotting orangutans and birds.
- Evening at 4pm : good for spotting proboscis monkeys and sometimes crocodiles.
- Night between 7 and 9pm (whenever it’s dark!) : good for spotting crocodiles and nocturnal animals like owls.
I mention Bilit as I know, after some research, that Nature Lodge Kinabatangan is located there and organises tours. They offer a river cruise and accommodation package at an affordable rate. But again, you can go there and only rent a room and then choose your river cruises “à la carte”.
The best Kinabatangan river tour value for money
If you still want an affordable organised tour, I can tell you that after many research, the cheapest you will find in Sukau is Greenviews. Their accommodation seems a bit more comfortable than RD and their 3D2N package which includes a pick up in Sandakan / Sepilok, is only 499RM per person. But, more people with you on the river cruises. The package includes a few river cruises, guided walks, nights and meals.
What kind of animals can you see on the Kinabatangan River
Here are the animals we managed to spot while cruising on the Kinabatangan River. We all saw them around Sukau, apart from the elephants that were a few kilometers upstream and we had to change village and take a boat from there to spot them. Also, we didn’t spot any wild orangutans, but we only did one morning river cruise and that’s when they’re usually more active.
Getting to Sukau from Sandakan or Sepilok
Call Mr Choy : 019 536 1889
Sandakan / Sepilok to Sukau will cost you 50RM / person.
Where to stay in Sukau
RD Sukau : 50 RM / person.
All other lodges should do the same price.
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