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Kinabatangan River cruise on your own with Borneo Dream

Kinabatangan River Cruise on Your Own

As a visitor (or future visitor!) to Sabah, you’re probably keen to experience some of the wildlife that we’re so proud of here. You’re also probably fairly adventurous, and keen to try some active sightseeing! So, it’s no surprise that so many visitors gravitate towards the Kinabatangan River. This is the second-longest waterway in Malaysia. Along its course, there lie a multitude of habitats, including limestone caves, dryland forests, mangrove swamps and lakes. With so many opportunities for wildlife experiences, there is naturally a great range of tour options along and around the river.

But what if you want to explore the river on your own? How should you go about this? What are the benefits of solo exploration? And if you balance this with the benefits of organised tours, how can you decide what’s best for you?

Benefits of a solo trip | Kinabatangan River Cruise

Why should you consider a Kinabatangan river cruise on your own when there are so many organised tours available? One reason may be flexibility, another adventure. If you are the type of traveller who longs to go the extra mile in your exploration, you may find that a solo trip stops you from feeling limited. Or you may simply want the flexibility that comes with doing your own thing. From dates to timescales, a river cruise on your own is a sure-fire way to keep your own schedule.

How to go about it

If you decide that a river cruise on your own is the route you want to go, what next? There are two options open to you – book a private river cruise (as part of an organised tour), or independently make your own way down to a village along the River and arrange a river cruise with a villager. There are plenty of local guides able and willing to charter a boat, this is the way to go for those who don’t want to book a traditional tour.

Things to consider

When you organise a river cruise on your own, you need to plan every element of the trip yourself. So, don’t forget all those additions that are included in organised tours, such as entrance fees, accommodation, insurance, timekeeping, meals and licenses.Safety

Any journey that you arrange by boat should be subject to decent safety precautions. Of course, life jackets should be mandatory, and check that you know emergency procedures before you board a boat. Also, be aware that the Kinabatangan River is home to diverse wildlife, including saltwater crocodiles and pygmy elephants. So don’t swim in the river, and treat the jungle with respect.


With guesthouses available in villages on the Kinabatangan River, you can book your accommodation based on where you plan to be along the river. Bilit and Sukau are popular bases where there is plenty of accommodation. Book in advance as these villages can get busy.

Places to stop

If you plan a river cruise on your own, be specific about where you wish to visit. In tandem with a trip on the river to see the bankside and water-based wildlife, Sepilok is a popular destination.  The Orangutan Sanctuary and Gomantong Caves should not be missed. In addition, a forest trek or visit to the Danum Valley or Turtle Island will complete your visit to Borneo. It’s just a case of fitting it all in!

When to go

Borneo is a year-round destination. April to October is the dry season. Flowers and fruits are abundant and wildlife are very visible. The wet season of November to March will bring heavy showers, especially of an afternoon. However, the wettest months (December and January) mean that the Kinabatangan River runs higher, and oxbow lakes are accessible. This means that you can access more areas to spot wildlife. Don’t forget, too, that day and night offer different experiences. Night river cruises can be brimming with active wildlife so lookout for an opportunity to book one!

Benefits of organised tours

Of course, going it alone is not everyone’s cup of tea. Organised tours bring many benefits, including peace of mind and logistical planning. So, what advantages do organised tours bring over a river cruise on your own?

Best use of time

If you are short of time and have a number of sights you want to see, you can combine a river cruise with other destinations through a tour package. So perhaps you want to see the river and the Sepilok Nature Reserve. Or maybe Turtle Island or Gomantong caves take your fancy but you’re stretched for time. Organised tours are a great way to make sure you see everything on your list!

Peace of mind

An organised tour package will include all of the elements that you may not have initially considered. Things like opening times, entry fees, transfers and even meals and accommodation for longer trips.


There are elements that an organised tour may not include, but which you should be aware of. Some visitor sites charge additional photography fees or a tourism tax, for example. A tour operator will ensure that you are clued up about all of these things so that you are prepared. You will also benefit from the information that an experienced English speaking guide can impart when it comes to the area and its wildlife.

Best of Both

Is there a balance to be found between these two cruise options, then? What puts many people off larger commercial cruises are the number of participants. However many tours can offer a balance, with some quieter moments combined with larger group activities. You could choose to upgrade your trip to include a private river cruise along the Kinabatangan River. All while benefiting from the many other assurances that an organised tour offers.

What next?

So, which option is the most ideal for your visit to the Kinabatangan River? We hope this post has helped you to plan and work out your priorities. A good tour operator will offer adventure with the peace of mind that a structured tour brings. For a multitude of cruise and exploration options, along the Kinabatangan River, including private bookings, just get in touch with us at Borneo Dream.

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