The one of the rare sight in Borneo is that of Pygmy Elephant, world's smallest elephant. The only place where your chances of seeing them more is on the Kinabatangan River. Opt for a stay at the lodge at Kinabatangan River and go on a river cruise ride in the morning and evening to increase your chances of spotting the Pygmy Elephant. There are so many options to stay and all of them provide luxury at best in a location which is not accessible easily. Kinabatangan River is one of the longest river in Sabah, East Malaysia and all cruises has various starting and end points.
All lodges on Kinabatangan river are around 1 hour away from the main Sandakan city via road journey. The tour operator, through which you will either book your cruise or stay, will take you till the shore of the river from which you will go in a boat to the respective lodges. Due to time constraint, I went with the only evening river cruise with lunch at Bilit Rainforest Lodge. The only thing which I regret now is not including stay in the lodge. Also, before my journey to Kinabatangan River start, we headed for a stopover at Gomantong Cave.
Honestly, if you have seen the caves in the other parts of the world or even in Mulu National Park, Sarawak, don't ever opt for Gomantong Cave. This cave unlike any other cave I visited in Mulu, was stinky and dirty. The cave is kept on auction where buyers bid for owning it for a particular duration. During their ownership, the buyer extensively deals in bat eggs. The cave is home to many bats and the bat egg is a product which is sold in the market at very high cost due to their rarity. Since many bat lives in the cave, it is also home to many cockroaches. The bat dropping is the preferred food of cockroach, hence, you will see lots and lots of them. Obviously, because of bats and cockroaches, Gomantong Cave is filled with the smell of methane. The cave is very small and due to smell and insects, I finished the tour within 15 minutes.
After the cave visit, we went straight to Bilit Rainforest Lodge. The lodge is nicely built with the front part of the lodge (which is facing the river) is dining and rooms are spread inside the forest. Our lunch was ready as soon as we reached and afternoon was kept for leisure to rest at room and if you have not booked a room then they have a nice sitting area to spend your afternoon taking in the view of the river with the forest and a book in your hand. There was free flow of tea and coffee to bring awakening in your free time.
As evening came closer, we started with our river cruise. Each cruise had around 6-8 person capacity with two more people (one was the spotter and the other was boat controller). Our boat headed straight into the river and we started squinting our eyes to spot all types of wildlife. Wildlife which we spotted first with was a crocodile. Yes, Kinabatangan River is home to crocodile and all guide give warning in advance to avoid putting our hand inside the water. Our sight of the crocodile was for hardly a second as this small one was outside the water and as soon as we saw him, he took a dip in the river and never came out! Moving ahead in our river cruise, we spotted bunch of Proboscis Monkey, Silver leaf monkey and also Long-tail monkey.
Our eyes were hungry for the sight of 3 of the rarest wildlife of Borneo, Pygmy Elephant, Orangutan and Hornbill Bird. The sight of these 3 is once in a lifetime chance and because of the less probability, you are advised to opt for 2-3 cruise minimum. Sadly, due to limited time, we only opted for one evening cruise. We spent more than 2 hours in our river cruise, but bad luck was not leaving our side. Our sight only caught the long-tail monkey and proboscis monkey. As we were heading to the end of our cruise time, our spotter stopped the boat and pointed towards the big crocodile resting on the shore. The crocodile was more than 5 feet long and as we went little nearer, he went inside the water. We kept our distance with him and after almost it was impossible to spot him in the water, we ended our river cruise on the shore of the Bilit Rainforest Lodge. Since we were not staying at the lodge, we were transported to our hotel in Sepilok.
The chances of spotting Pygmy Elephant and Hornbill are very limited and seeing them in one cruise happens only once in a blue moon. Hence, don't be too disappointed and just cherish the whole experience.
Our entire day at Kinabatangan River was relaxing yet anticipation kept us wide awake for an encounter with rarest species of the world. My only regret was not spending more time at the river and opting for stay at lodge which was luxury amidst forest.