The Kinabatangan River meanders for 560 kilometres from its headwaters in the mountains of southwest Sabah, to its outlet at the Sulu Sea, east of Sandakan.Travelling down this river can be a series of adventure of course but the lower Kinabatangan, is an experience worth repeating for its tranquillity and serenity.
Tranquil as it may look, this river is home to crocodiles and its bank teems of proboscis monkies and Orang utans as well as their smaller and more limber cousins, the long tail macaque. Sometimes elephants march by trumpeting and stamping their feet.
The wildlife that used to thrive along the river has to contend with development though, as plantations have encroached on their habitats. The oil palm plantations can be seen from some part of the river but mangroves still abound.
Tourism is thriving in this area and concentrated on the lower part of the river near Sukau and Bilit area. Most are accessible by boats after road transportations reach the Jetty at Sukau.
There are many lodges along the river from that area, most of whom are promoting the river and wildlife around to their tourists.
One of the tour operators there is Uncle Tan’s Kinabatangan Wildlife tour and stay which offers basic facilities near the Lokan River, a tributary of the Kinabatangan.
Their location is quite remote and as such visitors to this area have better chances of seeing wildlife, such as lizards, tortoises and various types of insects and birds, as well as proboscis Monkeys downstream. If they are lucky they may even see a crocodile basking on the banks.
Guide Saidi Ibrahim says nine camps catering to 30 people at any one time are built in such a way that are simple but do not encroach in the environment. They are serviceable.
“Our guests wake up to bird calls and chatters of monkey, frogs and insects,” he says adding that their guests usually enjoy these as nature is always what they wanted in the wilderness.
The same can be said of Nature Lodge Kinabatangan. This cluster of 12 chalets and a dorm which can accommodate more than 70 people at any one time caters to nature tourists and visiting students. The accommodation are however more comfortable, with all the trimming of a hotel room, with air conditioning. The concept is to be in the wild, in comfort.
The Assistant Manager Diana John Matha says they have seen elephants parade pass in the past and at that time inflicting some damage to amenities.
“It was exciting in some ways as we saw them in close proximity, but also scary because they can cause a lot of damage if they wanted to.”
“Our offerings to tourists here are of course wildlife and nature as a whole. We bring our guests to look at the Prosboscis Monkey and Orang Utan, and they can also take the night trek, where they can see various types of nocturnal animals most of the time,” she shares.
The Borneo Nature Lodge just a few minutes away is simplicity at its best. Surrounded by the beautiful jungle, the 12 rooms there are a picture of tranquillity. It seems to huddle among the plants around it. Yet upon entering it is like an oasis from the humidity of the jungle.
Those who are tired from the day trek and sightseeing can relax and enjoy the cool in the restaurant there as it is fully air-conditioned.
Lodge Manager Cesar Escobido Jr says theirs is the only restaurant with such a facility. Of course guests have a choice of dining outside with nature’s breeze blowing through unless it’s raining.
It must be remembered that heavy rains do occur periodically in this area and this cause the river to swell rapidly. There are times when it overflows the banks, and render some areas inaccessible or difficult to go to.
Cesar says he wants to promote sustainable eco-tourism among youth and hopes to get young people to come and study eco-tourism management, not only in the fields but also as an establishment.
He believes that there are a lot of room for improvement in this area of expertise.
There are about 27 lodges operating within this lower side of Kinabatangan River and all of them are banking on nature and wildlife in that area; eco-tourism management and sustainable tourism development in that area is indeed essential.
This area may well be the best place to visit as it does not only show the beauty of nature at its best but it also shows the nature’s function to its inhabitants including humans- Sayangsabah.