This article will be slightly in an emotional spirit. We knew that there is a problem in Borneo with the cultivation of the oil palm and the devastation of rainforest and biodiversity in general. But seeing the destruction and endless plantations with your own eyes is something completely different. After that we really realized how big and serious is this problem which does not stop, but on the contrary is constantly expanding.
It has been perhaps 4 years since the world was seriously solving the problem with palm oil, killing orangutans and other animals. People posted on social media that they are buying products without a palm oil, making research among labels, etc. But classically, it all fell silent without changing anything … And what did the local people tell us? They doesn’t see any problem in that. After all, palm oil gives people jobs (and it is true!). In their opinion, this is also good for tourism, because the animals are driven to the river (the only place where is no plantation yet) and so visitors have a better chance to see the animals. The fact is that most of the animals were killed. Unfortunately they do not realite that where it was previously possible to see elephants, orangutans and other animals, one can see only macaques and a few birds For us, a boat ride and watching animals from river was a wonderful experience, but we wouldn’t go back there just because of that palm oil plantations.
Trip to the Kinabatangan river and Sukau village
1. How to travel from Kota Kinabalu to Sukau village by bus
We decided to take a tour to the Kinabatangan river from Sukau village, as it was the cheapest option. On the other hand, it was also the most difficult option because there are no direct buses going to Sukau village.
First we had to buy tickets in the direction of Tawau at the Inanam Bus station Terminal (Bas Bandaraya Utara). Just say that you want to get to Sukau and get off at a crossroads and they will know. Anyway, this bus station was terrible. As soon as we got there, they started chasing us into different bus companies, in front of one of them sat an adult hairy man with baby’s dummy in his mouth and half of people looked weird. We chose Sabariah express for our trip, as it was one of the cheaper ones and their buses were in good condition.
They really dropped us off at the crossroad. People wrote on the Internet that there should wait some vans to take us to Sukau, but nobody was there! We don’t know if it was a mistake or if they just stopped to do this service during corona time (covid-19). We were only tourists coming this day so maybe they didn’t have enough customers. Anyway, we were standing there and thinking about what to do next. The only possible solution was hitchhiking, so we stayed in the Sukau direction and hoped. Fortunately, it was relatively easy and an elderly couple took us to our accommodation in the back of their truck 🙂
2. The best accommodation in Sukau
We searched for accommodation through booking.com and chose mainly according to price and reviews. We stayed in Sukau RB lodge. It was the cheapest accommodation and the cottages looked like that too. But the owners were very nice and the cost of trips was affordable.
A) Sukau RB lodge
One of the cheapest accommodations with the cheapest trips. The cottages are very simple and deserve renovation, so do not expect any luxury. There is also no wifi! But the owners were very kind and tried to find as many animals as possible during the trips. And that was important, because we came for the experience and we could survive those few nights in cottage 🙂
B) Sukau Greenview Bed & Breakfast
The accommodation offers a wide range of trips – from boat trips to treks in the forest. It has good ratings, wifi and from the outside it looked nice. Quite a lot of people were accommodated there, so we conclude that it will not be a bad choice to stay there.
3. Kinabatangan River cruise
We bought a boat trip directly to our accommodation, because it was the cheapest plus they offered a discounted package with dinner and we really like promotions with food 😀 We bought a morning, afternoon and evening ride, so we can evaluate all types.
Morning river cruise
The start was at 6 in the morning, so we still managed to catch the sunrise over the river, which was amazing. Unfortunately, we didn’t see much during the cruise. We met macaques because they are just everywhere, Proboscis monkeys (a monkey with a giant nose) and a few birds. But we don’t want to discourage anyone, maybe we just had bad lucky …
Afternoon river cruise
We liked the afternoon boat ride the most. We saw several species of animals, the animals were active and clearly visible. We met a crocodile, a snake, macaques, proboscis monkeys, birds and on the way back we saw a beautiful sunset.
Night river cruise
The night excursion is set in complete darkness and the only light was from the flashlights of our guides. It was a little scary, especially when a 3-meter crocodile jumped into the water right next to our boat, but on the other hand it was unforgettable experience. In the evening, birds and reptiles are mainly visible, otherwise the rest of the animals are already sleeping somewhere in the forest.
4. Walking and trails around Sukau village
Some tours also offer forest trek with the chance to see mostly insects and birds. We didn’t want to pay for it, so we went to the forest on our own. Well we cannot say to the forest rather to the palm oil plantation because when ou walk few metres from the river, there is no rainforest anymore. We walked about 4 km and came to the entrance of some company with palm oil plantation. But Anet began to imagine being shot by local workers for unauthorized entry or meeting a dangerous wild animal in the woods (watching them from the boat was different from walking around) and decided to persuade Tom to return to Sukau. In the end, she succeeded and we returner during the crazy heat weather. This place was really causing Anet’s goosebumps. I just don’t know what the workers would do if they find two white people with a camera walking on a plantation.
5. Best place to eat/restaurants in Sukau
Sukau is a really small village with a few “restaurants” and a one shop. We recommend you book accommodation only with breakfast, because it is very difficult to find here store with food and you would kill a lot of time unnecessarily. The restaurants where we enjoyed the most include:
A) Warung Anak Kampung
Very nice environment right next to the river, the owner is friendly and hardworking, mie goreng (fried noodles) and Teh tarik (traditional milk tea) are excellent here. Prices are also very good there. We’ve been there twice and we would come back for sure!
B) Leverty Restoran
Reviews and photos on Google scared us a little, but completely unnecessarily. It is a cozy and cheap family restaurant right next to the river. We tried Mie Goreng (fried noodles) and nasi goreng (fried rice) and both were very tasty!
C) Restaurant Simpang Tiga
One of the better restaurants in Sukau. Very nice environment and delicious food. Fried noodles and rice will not disappoint again. Don’t forget to order Teh tarik!
6. How to get from Sukau to Sandakan
We needed to get to Sandakan after three days in Sukau. Exist two options: you can either arrange transport with your accommodation and they contact guy who has a van and provide morning rides for tourists, or you will try to hitchhike just like us. We walked about 4 km in the direction of the crossroads (where the bus had previously dropped us off) and it took about an hour for someone to stop us! In the end, however, we were very lucky because we stopped a family that went all the way to Sandakan. They were very nice and we could discuss with them the issue of palm oil plantation, corona virus or local salaries, which were really low.