The Kinabatangan and Lahad Datu

Learning to pronounce – . Kina-ba-tan-gan (all soft a’s). Slowly one learns. One of the major rivers in Borneo, flowing out of the mountains around Mt. Kinabalu. Heads to the east from Kinabalu and a major wildlife corridor.

Sunset on the Kinabatangan River.

There are lots of eco lodges along the river from top to bottom. Many are focused around Sukau. Sakau is surrounded by oil palm plantations – as far as the eye can see. I mentioned them in my last post, but today as we left the Kinabatangan we saw them in spades. There is a slice of natural rain forest on each side of the river (maybe 300 – 1000 yards wide) and beyond that oil palms. Extremely sad and there seems to be no way to stop it; the eco lodges just cannot provide sufficient jobs to counter the massive desire for palm oil.

From foreground the the distant hills, this is all oil palm. It is very sad to see the rain forest disappearing.

We chose to enter the Kinabatangan through the mouth of the river (as opposed to Sakau where we left the river) which is all mangrove wetlands. No oil palms, the only road being the river and only a few villages. It is protected and had not been (majorly) modified by man.

It is about a 2 hour boat ride from Sandakan, out the harbor, skirting the island around to the south until you reach the mouth. It is a big river, with strong flow, tidal in the mangroves and full of floating logs and such.

A fishing boat leaving the Sandakan harbor.

A part of downtown Sandakan. Note, the water looks the color one would expect.

Brown water. Due to runoff from the oil palm plantations. We are not yet in the river but the effects are immense. The small island in the distance… the Philippines.


The path through the mangroves to our lodge. This path also flows to the river and is tidal. One time we go to the boat, it is flowing one direction, the next, the other. Lots of mangrove debris floating through it.

The lodge was quite nice, 10 or 12 cabins along a raised boardwalk (remember we are in wetlands/mangroves). Huge rooms with big private windows to the rain forest, private balconies over the wetlands and inside and outside showers both. There was one other couple who came at the same time as us, so pretty quite. The focus is wildlife viewing, night walks, night boat rides, day boat rides, etc. So, a selection of nature for your viewing pleasure. A beautiful, peaceful spot.

Male Proboscis Monkey. Only the makes have the super long nose. Quite the white butt. Check out the strength in the thighs.

Female Proboscis Monkey with baby. These guys were pretty skittish and thus I feel lucky to have these shots.

Female Proboscis Monkey. The females are in troops with a single make.  Then there are groups of bachelors.

A pretty red dragonfly.

One more dragonfly or damselfly.

A well camouflaged moth.

Lots of dragon flies…. or is that a damselfly? Beautiful in any case.

Crested Serpent-Eagle. There are fish-eagles, sea-eagles, hawk eagles and eagles.

Black and Red Broadbill.  Pretty bird!

Buffy-fish Owl. We felt lucky to see him on our night cruise.

Stork-billed Kingfisher. Gorgeous bird! The largest Kingfisher. They tend to not sit still. This one was seen at night. Flashlight lit.

Oriential Pied-Hornbill. We’ve seen 6 or 7 species of hornbill now. They are amazing birds and quite large.

Green Imperial Pigeon. These buys are huge – about the size of a capon.

These are birds. Called Sunda Frogmouth. The one on the left is the male, the right is the female.

Gold-Ringed Cat Snake. Snake in the rain.  We saw two of these.  Apparently they can grow to 3 meters.  They are venomous, like a corral snake.

Bearded Bornean Pig.  Quite the beard these guys have.  I thought it was a feral pig but the beard gives it away, plus, this is Muslim country… feral pigs?

For the pl;ant lovers.  Carnivorous pitcher plants. I’ve seen them singly before but never in clumps. These ranged in size from thumb to hand size.

Wait! I almost forgot this spider. Skims in the water. Maybe 4 – 5 inches! Gorgeous!

They fed us constantly and each evening after dinner before our evening night wildlife viewing we were serenaded by some of the workers. Varying degrees of talent and a very eclectic mix of music, but it was quite lovely and very heart felt. Every afternoon when we are out viewing wildlife, they practice.

A rotating band depending who was working – although it is remote so if you are not working, you are likely not in the area. The drummer on the right seems to be the ringleader and is very consistent. Very mellow guy., The woman is still building her confidence. Sweet voice. The guy on the left had pretty good tunes and heart.

We did visit the closest village to us Abai. (20 minutes up river) Our boat driver lives there; he is quite a good driver and can navigate like a pro (which he is I guess!) Basic living, but the people seem very happy.

Simple living garden in the mangrove.

Simple river living. They have boat races every year and build some pretty fast, special boats steered by leaning. Not people without enjoyment.

3 nights in the Kinabatangan and we are not transitioning to our new rain forest adventure. Inland in the Danum Valley, pretty isolate once again. This is supposed to be a lovely spot, but we’ll find out tomorrow.

Tonight we are in Lahad Datu. A bit of a rough and ready town, on the coast, shipping of… you guessed it, palm oil, timber (from all the cutting to put in oil palms) and fishing. It is the stepping off point for visits to the Danum Valley and Tabin Reserve, but I think most folks show up and head on the same day. Not really much tourist infrastructure. We walked down to the central market. Not a gringo in sight and the fish sellers seemed to all wanted their pictures taken with us. Lots of stares, but folks were friendly.

Everyone wanted to be a part.

We have run into multiple folks who wanted selfies with the gringos.

I hate to say, some of the fish were those that we like to go snorkeling to see as they are so pretty.

Lots of guys doing stylish layouts of their fish.

The fish looked wonderful. Once I started taking pics (I used my phone as this was not a pull out the big camera place, all the buys wanted me to take their pics.