Kinabatangan River Safari – Crazy Times with Mr.Aji in Borneo.

Of all the crazy things we’ve done, drifting down the crocodile infested Kinabatangan River in Malaysian Borneo in a little boat in the pouring rain, watching an orangutan building his nest thirty metres up in a tree whilst hornbills circle above and daytime owls watch us knowingly has got to be in the top five.  If you are heading to Borneo, a Kinabatangan river safari with Mr. Aji Expeditions is a must.  

The Kinabatangan river meanders its way through the diverse habitats of the Kinabatangan wildlife sanctuary.  It’s an area of thick jungle known for it’s remarkable wildlife, including orangutan, proboscis monkeys, hornbills and pygmy elephants.  This is a delicate area, surrounded on all sides by palm oil plantations.

We were on a year long backpacking adventure with our two kids, aged 8 and 10.  We were here with our guide Mr Aji, a photographer and Kinabatangan wildlife expert, floating down the river in the pouring rain, mostly gobsmacked.  Mr Aji had been recommended to us by some other backpackers and we weren’t disappointed.  He is a man of few words who can spot orangutan from three miles away.  And he has a photograph of himself with the legendary Sir David Attenborough, a hero of mine since childhood, so I knew we’d made a good choice.  Check out Mr Aji Expeditions on Tripadvisor for more reviews.  If you’re not into expensive, luxury travel, we’d highly recommend him.

The wildlife spotting got off to a spectacular start today as we stumbled across almost the entire local population of over one hundred Indian and pygmy elephants (look them up on Wikipedia, they really do exist, honest) having lunch by a bend in the Kinabatangan river.  Our creature spotting scorecard has been pretty well filled up during our time in Malaysia.

Baby elephant plays but the river with its family, Kinabatangan river, Borneo, Malaysia

Incredible elephants! We counted over 70 on the river bank and could hear and see more behind the trees.

A young elephant swimming in the Kainabatangan River, Borneo

A baby elephant taking a dip in the river. His mother was not far away and watching us closely.

Kinabatangan proboscis monkeys, Borneo, Malaysia

Proboscis monkeys swinging around in the jungle trees, being noisy and awesome.

We are on a three day wildlife spotting expedition on the Kinabatangan river in Sabah, with two awesome chaps from the backpacker hostel, Alex and Michael, and Mr Aji, our guide .  We have trekked through jungle, both during the day and in the pitch black of night-time.   We have spent hours in a boat on the river, mostly in the rain, spotting proboscis monkeys, orangutan, kingfishers, owls, elephants, long-tailed macaques and hornbills.  We have been forced to sample Alex’s dodgy bottle of local liqueur, Arak Wangi.

Mr Aji on the Kinabatangan River safari

The amazing Mr. Aji and his massive knife, teaching the boys all about the magical healing properties of tree bark. Every day’s a school day.

But despite the Arak Wangi, I’m having just the best time. The rain is warm. Our boat is so far unscathed by crocodiles. Nine-year -old Evan is sitting at the back with Alex, confidently comparing travelling stories with a new couple who joined us today (backpacking for a year and older than us, which is a first). Sam, who is ten, is being taught how to tie knots by Michael. And my wife, Floss, is sat next to me, gently steaming as the rain subsides and we start drying off. With luck, in the next ten minutes her camera will have dried out enough for it to start working properly, if this damned orangutan ever graces us with a half decent photo opportunity.

Hornbills roosting, Kinabatangan, Malaysia, Borneo.

Hornbills roosting in the trees

Life really doesn’t get any better than this. Seeing and listening to the boys interact with people like this makes me so proud of them. They’ve gained so much confidence in the last eight adventure packed months that they’re almost unrecognisable from the children that we packed up with rucksacks and cuddly toys so long ago.

I must say that the heat and humidity of Malaysian Borneo are exhausting, but its jungle scenery and wildlife are by far the best that we’ve had the privilege of seeing. I find it astounding that somewhere like this exists, and it’s unbelievable that we have been able to come and experience it. The combination of the kids, the time, the space…. the place has been perfect.

Our Malaysian memories are going to be some of the best of the trip and our Kinabatangan River tour is one of the highlights.

Sam spots the proboscis monkeys in the trees

Monkey spotting monkey. Our kids were almost as good as Mr Aji at spotting the wildlife.

Kingfisher by the Kinabatangan River

A kingfisher by the river

Love travelling. Love Borneo. Really love air conditioning. Hate palm oil.  Hate it.

Kinabatangan river, Borneo, Malaysia

4 Comments on “Kinabatangan River Safari – Crazy Times with Mr.Aji in Borneo.

  1. This is an amazing blog! I’m looking at booking right now. Can I ask what time of year you did your tour? I’m looking for December and not sure if I should be worried about weather / animals hiding?

    • Hi Kate, We were there at the end of May, which is a pretty good time to visit Borneo. The weather in December might be a bit dodgy though, I’m afraid. Lots of rain might stop you doing the Kinabatangan tour, the river may well be swollen and the orangutans might be difficult to spot. Could you go another time? Good luck with your planning!! Floss

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