Jun 3, 2021
Ride down the Kinabatangan River
Starting in the Imbak Canyon and running deep into the heart of Sabah, the 560-kilometer Kinabatangan River is the gateway to this region’s wilderness. Keep your binoculars handy and an eye out for the more than 325 bird species that call this area home. All eight species of hornbills, along with striking storm storks, large frogmouths, and even the rare Bornean bristlehead can be spotted along these banks.
Although you could certainly opt for an overnight trip, there’s so much to see here that you should allow a minimum of three days if at all possible. The more time you spend in the jungle, the better your chances of spying orangutans, proboscis monkeys, saltwater crocodiles and pygmy elephants in their native habitats. Most local tour companies in the Sukau, Bilit and Abai areas offer packages that include guided tours, transportation, meals, and accommodation ranging from rustic backpacker spots to luxe river lodges.
Go trekking in Danum Valley
Considered by naturalists to be one of the world’s most complex ecosystems, the Danum Valley Conservation Area is home to a staggering number of wildlife species, including the clouded leopard, orangutan, slow loris, proboscis monkey, banteng and the endangered pygmy elephant. Famous visitors including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge Prince William and his wife Catherine Middleton, Sir David Attenborough, Dame Judi Dench and Martha Stewart have all flocked here over the years. Visitors can embark on bucket-list-worthy nature treks and visit the ancient Kadazandusun burial site, which contains Belian coffins and ceramic spirit jars. Though the setting may be wild, the accommodations here are surprisingly plush. The Borneo Rainforest Lodge, which sits along the Danum River, is a stylish eco-lodge offering comfort and a stunning canopy walk 27 meters above the forest floor. Meanwhile, the Kawag Nature Lodge offers plenty of chances for jungle trekking, wildlife sightings, bird watching, river tubing, and more.
Learn how the locals live along the Kiulu and Kadamaian rivers
While the mighty Kiulu and Kadamaian rivers may be best-known for their Grade I and II white water rafting, there’s more to these waterways than just pulse-pounding action. A number of villages along the rivers have developed community programs for travelers. Immerse yourself in the local culture by joining villagers on a forest trek to forage for edible or medicinal plants or discover secret waterfalls. Younger visitors often appreciate the opportunity to engage with the local crafting culture by learning about traditional basket weaving or how to make distinctive bead handicrafts. Visitors here have the unique opportunity to deeply engage with locals, while at the same time providing socioeconomic growth for the communities.
Explore Kinabalu Park
Located 2.5 hours from Kota Kinabalu on the western coast of Sabah, this park is larger than Singapore and home to the majestic Mount Kinabalu, which looms over its surroundings at 4,095 meters high. Designated a protected park in 1964 and Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, Kinabalu Park is home to a staggering array of flora, including Nepenthes rajah, the world’s largest pitcher plant, and the enigmatic Paphiopedilum rothschildianum (Rothschild’s slipper orchid) one of the rarest orchids in the world.
While amateur botanists may be content to explore the stunning vegetation at ground level, experienced climbers often venture here to scale one of the highest peaks between the Himalayas and New Guinea. Both the Ranau Trail and Kota Belud Trail lead to the summit of Mount Kinabalu, affording heart-stopping views along the way. Other adrenaline-junkies may wish to try their hand at alpine rock climbing. Adventurous climbers can also experience Asia’s first Via Ferrata, or “iron road,” here at 3,200 meters to 3,800 meters above sea level.