Adventure on the Menanggul River

Sabah, Malaysia

Some adventures seem surreal — especially adventures like this one, floating down the Menanggul River to Pitas Lake, before the sun burned through the humid morning mist. A small tributary of the Kinabatangan, the Menanggul is renowned for its wildlife populations of proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaques and wild orang-utans.

And I was out watching the wildlife.

Floating Down the Menanggul

Visitors coming onto the Menanggul River

Mist shrouded the jungle, amplifying the sounds like concert speakers.  It was easy to miss the stealthy crocodile gliding soundlessly under the water…only bubbles alongside the canoe give him away.

Eric, our guide, appeared unconcerned when I pointed them out, but he was familiar with this area–Abai Jungle Resort on the Kinabatangan River, some 47 km from the river’s mouth. This morning, we’d floated down one of its tributaries, the Menanggul River, to Pitas Lake.

Taking a second glance at the bubbles, Eric gestured to Kerry, who drove our boat, that we should move a few yards downstream.

At dusk, the evening before, I’d seen these creatures on the shore, little changed by 65 million years of evolution. They seemed more deadly to me than the alligators I’d become used to in the southern states. So, when Eric pointed to the trees and whispered, “A long-tail macaque,” I shifted my focus, but still kept one eye out for signs of more crocodile air bubbles.

Our canoe, after all, was a rather flimsy boat and it would have been easy for a five or six meter (15-19 foot) long Estuarine crocodile to flip all of us “tasty morsels” into the water for his breakfast.

About Crocodiles

Crocodile FAQ:

  • Crocodiles and alligators are the only creatures still found today from the Archosauria reptile group that included dinosaurs and the flying pterosaurs. See this image college from About.com – http://dinosaurs.about.com/od/dinosaurpictures/ig/Crocodile-Pictures/
  • The crocodiles I saw in Malaysia were Estuarine crocodiles–which can reach lengths of nearly 20 feet long and weigh a 1000 pounds. These salt water crocodiles are the largest on earth.
  • Crocodiles are at the top of the food chain in the rainforest in Borneo.
  • Crocodiles have excellent hearing and eyesight, plus can sense vibrations in the water when they’re fully immersed, waiting for prey.
  • Crocodiles produce “tears” in their eyes to lubricate them when they’re out of water for a long period of time–thus the term crocodile tears, which aren’t from crying at all.
  • For more information about Estuarine crocodiles see: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/saltwater-crocodile/

Abai Jungle Resort

Arriving by Sandakan Jetty at Abai Jungle Lodge.

Arriving by Sandakan Jetty at Abai Jungle Lodge.


I’d been in Malaysia for over two weeks at this point, starting with a tour of Kuala Lumpur then on to the Rainforest Music Festival. This was one of the parts I’d been waiting for, a trip into the rainforest to an area totally cut off from telephones and roads and Internet and modernization.

There’s only one way into Abai Jungle Resort and that’s over the water. I’d come from Sandakan Jetty over an inlet of the Sulu Sea, then 47 km into the jungle from the mouth of the Kinabatangan River.

Abai was one of the newest resorts. It had, of course, no electricity from outside, but had its own generators for the convenience of visitors.

Abai Jungle resort walkway and buildings.

Abai Jungle resort walkway and buildings.

Resort workers were men from the nearby village of Abai. They were all local members of the Orang Sungai people, who took great pride in making sure our stay was comfortable and exciting. When there wasn’t any work to be done, many sat in the large recreation area playing instruments and singing, making the lodge feel like a home away from home.

The jungles of Borneo, I discovered, were explored from boats on the river, rather than hot, sweaty walks under the canopy of the rainforest, hacking away at the plants and trees like they do on t.v. Ecotourism, I found, certainly made for easier work! The only visitors allowed into the area come with guides, who must be trained and have a license. There are no casual visitors–we’d been stopped and checked at the mouth of the Kinabatangan River for permits, all of which our guide, Eric, handled.

Eric had many responsibilities–he’d given us lessons in how to tie our sarongs the previous night at dinner (I kept shorts on under mine, just in case!), and he’d given the 6 a.m. wake-up call for the morning’s river cruise, knocking on everyone’s doors.

Exploring the Jungle by Boat

Watching the shore from the river.

Watching the shore from the river.

A mysterious place at any time, the jungle was particularly intriguing at sunrise when a mist so thick you could hardly see the boat rose off the water. It wouldn’t take long, Eric assured us, for the hot sun to burn it off, but in the meantime we were guaranteed an amazing experience of rainforest sounds and creatures.

None of us spoke as the boat left the dock–perhaps we were still half asleep–or maybe intimidated by the mist. The putt-putt of the boat echoed around us, bouncing from side to side as we slid in and out of coves, and up and down the river.

Eric kept watch through the binoculars for wildlife to point out–plus, he was a master at animal sounds and bird calls, telling us what type of creature was hiding at the top of some tree or nattering at its mate on the jungle floor.

Shortly after those crocodile bubbles–luckily I didn’t see any more–I watched a group of monkeys on the river bank, walking along, a dozen or more little creatures all no more than a foot or so high, one after another like they’d just stepped out of a picture book. Before we made it back to Abai, we also saw: Proboscis monkeys, silver leaf monkeys, purple heron, Chinese egret, stork bill kingfisher, bhramingk kite, white collard kingfisher and oriental pied hornbill.

Video of a Cruise Down the Kinabatangan River

Take a cruise down the Kinabatangan River with this YouTube video:

 

Adventures in the Jungle

Monkey in the jungle near the river.

Monkey in the jungle near the river.

Many of my most unique traveling adventures have been in Malaysia. I loved the rainforest–its sounds, its creatures, its people. It’s hard to imagine that once-upon-a-time, around 40 to 50 million years ago, where I live now in Saskatchewan, was this type of environment. Then, prehistoric creatures occupied it instead of monkeys, which we know of course because of the rich oil deposits.

I wonder though, what will be here in another 50 million years?

Plan Your Own Adventure to Abai Jungle Lodge

Abai Jungle Lodge: http://sitoursborneo.com/web/mysia03/

Acknowledgements

I was a guest of Tourism Malaysia when I had this adventure.

This article was last updated July 7, 2018.

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