Gomantong Caves And Boat Cruises On The Kinabatangan River, Borneo

The east coast of Borneo, Sabah, is known for its orangutans, wildlife and marine life. In fact, it has some of the richest wildlife of Souteast Asia. We started our journey in Sandakan where we spent one night. The next morning we were picked up from our hotel by our lovely tour guide Rey from Sandakan Wildlife Adventure Tours.

© Nussbaumer Photography Kinabatangan River www.nussbaumerphotography.com
© Nussbaumer Photography

Gomantong caves

Our first stop was at the Gomantong caves.  A short boardwalk through the jungle allows you to spot the Red Leaf Monkeys, if you're lucky. Take your time to take a picture because it's the only place in Borneo where this species still lives.

© Nussbaumer Photography - Red Leaf Monkey, Gomantong caves www.nussbaumerphotography.com
© Nussbaumer Photography

The cave is quite interesting as we just arrived in time to watch the workers harvest bird nests. The nests are made of dried saliva mixed with feathers and dirt. The Chinese believe it has some medical effect and it is a delicacy I wasn't aware existed. The nests are collected, cleaned and are then sold. Back in the day, the Chinese emperor used to eat birdnest soup and it was a sign of being wealthy and it was considered a status symbol. The stigma still holds today. 

© Nussbaumer Photography - Gomantong cave  www.nussbaumerphotography.com
© Nussbaumer Photography
© Nussbaumer Photography - Gomantong Caves, Borneo www.nussbaumerphotography.com
© Nussbaumer Photography

Would I go again?

Yes. It's interesting to see how the workers collect the nests and to learn about this tradition. Also, the cave itself has great formations and is very high. It's more impressive than the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur.

What to wear

At the entrance it smells pretty bad so I put some mosquito spray under my nose to mask the smell, a cap on my head to avoid the unlucky case that bird poo could fall on my head (didn't happen!) and a flashlight to see what was around me. I hate spiders, so I wanted to make sure that I spot them early enough. Don't lean too close anywhere because there are tons of insects like cockroaches.

Entrance fees

Internationals: RM 30 + camera fees RM 30 (total $9.29) *exchange rate: 11/09/15

Cell phone use is for free.

Kinabatangan river cruises

After Gomantong caves, it took us another 15 minutes to arrive at the jetty from where we drove by boat to the Bilit Adventure Lodge

©Nussbaumer Photography - Bilit Adventure Lodge, Kinabatangan River www.nussbaumerphotography.com
© Nussbaumer Photography
© Nussbaumer Photography - Bilit Adventure Lodge www.nussbaumerphotography.com
© Nussbaumer Photography

From there we had a wonderful afternoon cruise along the Kinabatangan river, which literally translated means Chinese man at the river. The name comes from the old times when a Chinese tribe settled there. The boat ride takes around 1.5 hours and we were able to see some species of Borneo's hornbill, eagles, wild proboscis monkeys and a crocodile. The most impressive was a big group of male proboscis monkeys, playing and hanging around in the trees.

© Nussbaumer Photography - Proboscis monkeys, Kinabatangan www.nussbaumerphotography.com
© Nussbaumer Photography

The best was to just sit in the boat, relax and enjoy the view. You're floating through the broad river and every time the boat turns it seems like you get a new view. By the time we slowly made our way back, the sun was almost set and we were able to take some really great pictures.

Night walking tour 

For an extra fee you can book a night tour with a local guide for RM 10 and another RM 5 for leech socks and boots.

What you should bring

Flashlight and your camera. Avoid a red coloured shirt (it will attract mosquitos).


All extra costs like drinks which you can buy at the lodge or night tours is the income of the locals who work there. So any tip you give them will stay in the community. I love such concepts!

River cruise 2

© Nussbaumer Photography Kinabatangan River www.nussbaumerphotography.com
© Nussbaumer Photography

The next morning, we started early at 6 AM for our second cruise. The view from our hotel was stunning. The whole river was covered in morning light and it was still a bit foggy on top of the water. This time, our guide took us the other direction of the river. The sun rose behind us and put the most beautiful light on the river. During the cruise, we were able to spot the biggest kingfisher and the smallest kingfisher, and some different kinds of hornbills and other kinds of birds.

© Nussbaumer Photography - Bilit Adventure Lodge, Kinabatangan River www.nussbaumerphotography.com
© Nussbaumer Photography
© Nussbaumer Photography - oriental pied hornbill, Kinabatangan www.nussbaumerphotography.com
Oriental pied hornbill © Nussbaumer Photography

 A river cruise is a wonderful opportunity to start a new day. It was a new experience for me to watch so many birds in the morning on the river. Back at the hotel, we had a great breakfast and waved goodbye as our boat brought us back on land.


Is a river cruise in Borneo something you're considering? Any special thing you would like to know? Please leave a comment.