Borneo’s lush rainforest is one of its main draws and we were eager to sample it after arriving in Sabah for our Easter break. During my last trip to Borneo in 2015, the Sarawak rainforest had played host to a quirky music festival. For this visit, the Sabah jungle had something much more natural planned. We booked to stay in a lodge along the Kinabatangan River, south-east of Kota Kinabalu (KK). Here we would be able to sample the best of Borneo’s natural wonders and boy, it did not disappoint.
To get there required a bus, van and boat journey of epic proportions. We left from KK’s inconveniently located Imanam bus terminal (though a taxi cost just 8 RM between four of us) and boarded a bus bound for Lahad Datu costing 45 RM. The buses leave at 7.30am, 8am and 9am. We got the 9am one but it was beset with problems, culminating in it breaking down for about 2 hours which wasn’t so fun especially in the baking heat.
Once we finally got moving, we jumped off at Sukau junction about 7 hours later where we were met by a disgruntled van driver who had been waiting for us for a very long time. He drove us to the rainforest from where we hopped on a boat to get to Osman’s place, our quaint home for the next 2 nights.
Osman was a great host and I’d absolutely recommend him for a Kinabantagan tour. He’s friendly, funny and knows his stuff (having toured David Attenborough around no less) and is much cheaper than the other tours in the area with bed and board costing 120 RM per night and each boat trip around 80 RM. Osman is an incredibly warm man with a big, booming laugh and a gazillion outlandish stories to tell. He speaks with such conviction when he tells them that it’s almost impossible to tell whether they’re fact or fiction. Certainly, be prepared to hear a lot about the sex habits of various jungle dwellers, himself included.
What sets Osman way above the others is his ability to find nature amongst the vast rainforest. From our boat, he was able to spot animals I never would have seen in a million years. On our first morning cruise alone, we spotted proboscis monkeys, macaques, rhinoceros hornbills, a snake (hovering precariously above the boat on a branch) and an insane number of elephants. Apparently the elephants don’t normally hang out so close to the water so early in the morning so we got really lucky. I was like an 8 year old when one of the elephants let out a distinctive hoot from its trunk. It was very, very exciting.
I’ve seen most of these animals before of course but never just chilling in the wild. It was a complete privilege to see them in their own territory where they are most comfortable. I’d seen more exotic wild animals than ever before in my life and I hadn’t even had breakfast yet. What a start to the day!
There was more to come though as that was just the first of three boat cruises we took over the course of that day. After chilling at Osman’s, we headed back out in the afternoon. This time there were loads of elephants eating by the river. I’ve never seen so many. These non-stop eating machines were pretty chilled with the half a dozen boats gawping at them whilst they grazed.
There was a more tragic undercurrent to this sighting though since Osman told us 10 years ago, you’d be lucky to see one elephant eating by the river. Deforestation and the construction of palm oil sites has shrunk the rainforest drastically and forced the elephants to the river. Borneo’s rainforest is one of the most incredible natural wonders in Asia and, through greed and power, humans are steadily destroying it. Hopefully there will be a U-turn soon. This jungle is too precious to waste.
To get in touch with Osman and arrange a few nights at his homestay, you can contact him or his wife Yanti on Whatsapp on +60 19-841 5259.
I think where a jungle safari is concerned, pictures say a lot more than words. Here’s just a handful from my experiences described above:
Look out for Part 2 where I’ll describe our orangutan encounter and the spine-tingling experience we got when we took the boat on a night safari…