Going to Sukau along the Kinabatangan River in the east coast of Sabah, North Borneo was one of my two main back-to-the-nature domestic trips since two years ago. I managed to made the trip to the first destination, Tabin Wildlife Nature Reserve in Lahad Datu in early May 2016 and it was an amazing trip to remember (you can read it at http://colourfulthreads.co/2016/05/15/into-the-wild/). However, the trip to Sukau that was initially planned for October the same year was not so smooth-sailing.

Due to the clash of dates with a supposed business trip overseas, my trip to meet with the renowned wildlife in Sukau had to be postponed not just once but twice, from October 2016 to February 2017 and later to June when I eventually got the chance to pack my bags and head for Sukau for the long-awaited 3 days/2 nights short trip.


I arrived a day early in Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu and was picked up early from the hotel the following day. The first stop was the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. We were disappointed that we did not get to see any orangutans at the feeding platform as it seemed that they were deterred from going there by the mischievous macaques who appeared early for the food!

Though we did not spot any orangutans (人猿/紅毛猩猩) at the feeding platform, we were very fortunate to have encountered this big guy instead at the sun bear observation boardwalk right next to the orangutan centre...

He moved very fast and jumped onto the roof of the building from the tree, and left very quickly without saying goodbye!

After a short introduction on the Bornean sun bear/honey bear (馬來熊), we walked along the boardwalk to the observation area and we spotted this cutie enjoying his lazy day among a few others that have been rescued and placed at the centre for rehabilitation.


the journey commenced...
We headed to the jetty in town after lunch for a 2.5 hours boat ride on a speed boat with covered top and open sides to the resort along the Kinabatangan River. Our group was comprised of a young Irish couple whom I got on very well with, a young Indian couple from Mumbai, a Swedish family of 3 and myself.

After just a short ride of about 20 minutes across the open sea, we reached the outlet of Kinabatangan River, the longest river in Sabah and the second in Malaysia, and started cruising upstream. The sight that first greeted us was the salty mangrove swamp that went for miles before the freshwater swamp forest took over as we travelled further. 

As we were speeding along and enjoying the cool breeze, the weather started to turn. The good thing was we were told in advance by our experienced nature guide Hamit to bring along our rain jackets as the rest of our luggage were travelling by land to the resort. It rained for the rest of the journey and when we eventually arrived at the resort, we wasted no time to get out of the boat and were hurried along by the welcoming party to a nice big wooden building, the Gomantong Hall for shelter.


wildlife expedition
After we checked in to our respective accommodation, freshened up and had simple afternoon tea at the Gecko Lounge, we were ready for our first late afternoon excursion. The rain had stopped by the time we got on the boat. The rain-washed air was fresh and the temperature had cooled down considerably after the downpour.

Bornean wildlife and birds, here we come!

Along the morning and afternoon river cruises, we spotted birds…

And also primate!

I almost screamed in sheer delights when we spotted the long-nosed and big-bellied proboscis monkeys (長鼻猴)! I had wanted to see them in their natural habitat for so long and it was a little hard to contain my excitement!

The proboscis monkeys are endemic to the island of Borneo and they are normally found in coastal areas and along the river banks. They are never far away from a river source and favour river and mangrove forests.  Hence, they are common in this area along the Kinabatangan River.

Can you see the pronounced nose and port belly?

Mum coaxing and teaching her offspring to climb further without holding on to her...

Spot the monkeys...

That was the whole harem --- there is always a big dominant male in the group with a few females and their offspring. How many did you see? (This was the time I really wished I had a more sophisticated camera with zoom lens...) 


dreams fulfilled!
Became I came for this trip, I had been longing to see two iconic and protected groups of animals in the area. I was hoping desperately that I had come at the right time and it was the right season to encounter them. After the sighting of the proboscis monkeys, I managed to tick one of the boxes. As for the second group of animals, I was hoping but not expecting to see them but my, I was wrong.  And this was one of the few occasions that I was happy to be proven wrong! When we were cruising further down the river bank, we spotted them - the Borneo pygmy elephants (婆羅州小矮象)!

The shy herbivorous Borneo pygmy elephants are mainly found here on the island of Borneo, in my home state of Sabah. They have big ears, long tail and a round face that give them their appealing baby face appearance. They are small in size and in fact, they are the smallest in Asia with the male elephants grow to a height of less than 2.5 meters/8 foot while other Asian elephants grow to 3 meters/about 10 foot. Hamit told us that they love to eat durian. Really, the thorny durian?

We stayed quietly on the boat and watched them for some time before we were willing to say goodbye as it was getting dark. We continued to cruise along the river and when we just went round a bend we came face to face with another group of elephants happily munching away by the river bank. 


Just one afternoon I had both of my long-standing dreams fulfilled ---
Proboscis monkeys, spotted!
Borneo pygmy elephants, spotted!


slower-paced activities
The second morning after our early morning cruise, Hamit took us on the boardwalk just behind the resort for a short tour. It was a comfortable stroll along the boardwalk in search of small animals, birds, insects and creepy crawlies.

Apart from spotting birds, millipedes, lizards, chameleons and pygmy squirrels etc during the walk, nature guide Hamit also gave us a lesson on vines and strangling fig.

As usual I was intrigued by the awesomeness of our tropical vegetation!


Sukau Rainforest Lodge
The resort I stayed with was the multiple award-winning Sukau Rainforest Lodge (http://www.sukau.com, http://www.borneoecotours.com). It was built on the river bank of the Kinabatangan River and is also one of National Geographic's Unique Lodges of the World.

"Sukau Rainforest Lodge has developed into an integral part of the Kinabatangan River community, promoting sustainability initiatives to preserve the forest and sustain its people" --- National Geographic

Exterior of the main building, Gecko Lounge

Just beyond the Gecko Lounge are two rows of lodges with a small garden nestled in between

Dusk at Sukau, looking out from the cafe by the bank of the Kinabatangan River


icing on the cake
It has been an incredible journey for me with the sighting of the wildlife but my experience of the whole trip was elevated when I had the privilege to have my room upgraded to the then newly launched villas of the resort.

Exterior of the villa I stayed in, one of the two adjoining villas

Interior of the villa - truly a delight to the senses with wooden furniture, play of natural light and aesthetic and topical design...

To me the room is spacious as with the various activities arranged for the guests, majority of them will spend most of their time outdoors!

Good size of a bathroom with solar-powered hot shower

Who would have thought that there is such luxury in the rainforest?


after bidding farewell...
On the return journey I decided to go by land, along with the luggage in the van instead of getting on the boat to Sandakan the same way we came. I wanted a change of scenery, I said. Though I knew it would just be miles and miles of oil palm plantations lining both sides of the road and I risked getting myself upset seeing how our beautiful nature has been destroyed and exploited for commercial gain, and the natural habitat of our precious wildlife being threatened and is gradually lost. My intention was purely to see how much the rural landscape of Sandakan has changed over the years but what I did not expect was my decision to change the itinerary turned out to be a blessing. Just a few minutes after we started the journey, the rain came pouring down!  How nice it was to be sitting comfortably in the van and staying dry!

The rain did come, and came bucketing down!


my thoughts...
When my trip was being postponed again and again, and with the trouble I had to go through to get my air tickets sorted (first with the airline help desk messing up one of the dates after my first two postponed trips and later the flight was "retimed" etc), I was doubtful if I should make the trip at all. Only later that I realised it was all blessings in disguise as with the change of dates, I was able to see the proboscis monkeys in large quantities and the pygmy elephants who usually migrate after a certain period of time, and also to enjoy the luxurious accommodation.  Truly a blessed trip and it will be one of my most treasured moments to behold.

(Read my original story with more pictures here: https://colourfulthreads.co/2017/06/12/wildest-dreams-fulfilled/ )

Published by Evon Foo