Sandakan: Kinabatangan River

Do you remember the Night Safari we enjoyed through Sepilok Jungle Resort? We enjoyed it so much, we signed up for another at Bilit Adventure Lodge.


Photo by Team Cahill

This is the thing I really loved about Bilit Adventure Lodge (let’s call them BAL). Although the administration is managed through a company in downtown Sandakan, BAL itself is managed by locals. Purely by locals. And while some of the locals work FOR the company, they also run their own activities around the area – including night tours, tree planting, hikes around the rivers, etc. Each activity has a small cost that goes straight into the pocket of the locals and not the big tour company. The company will give them free marketing within the Lodge (because it boosts interest in their stay), but it is really all for the locals who take that extra initiative. This is responsible travel. And I love it!

When I booked the accommodation, it included any river safari offered during our stay – the additional extras I asked for were the night safari, Ox-Bow Lake tour, and tree planting. I think they have more on offer now – definitely worth checking out.

Here’s a review of the ones we did:

Night Tour

This tour took us slightly outside the boundary of BAL but not enough for us to ever feel completely lost. Gumboots are provided on a “first in, first served” basis, and you will WANT them! The ground is muddy, even without a large amount of rain. My boots were stuck a few times and I did NOT like the idea of stepping on any creepy crawlies in the middle of the night.


The walk itself is very enjoyable, and mostly interested in birds and insects. This time around, we saw such vivid bright colours on many different kingfishers (like the one pictured above). Plenty of frogs about, mostly chasing the many insects spotted as well.

Definitely worth signing up for, however be aware that it can be a very long day and the night tour could be just enough to push a small child over the emotional edge. N fell asleep half way through, and while S enjoyed it immensely, he only just made it back to his bed afterwards. Didn’t have the heart to tell him about the pre-breakfast river tour in the morning…

Morning River Tour

This one is an early cruise – I think it was about 6am for the start. But if you want to see the amazing birds in the area, this is the one you do. I was especially excited about spotting a horn-bill. I had read so much about them in the holiday preparation, I had put them on my List of things to spot. B hadn’t even realised how excited I was about this until I started bouncing up and down in the boat. DSC_1828

There are still a few monkeys around in the morning, but nothing like the saturation you see in the afternoon. We even spotted a crocodile at the edge of the water – and being good little Australians with North Queensland experience, we kept all body parts IN the boat.

B is so awesome – he even captured this gorgeous photo of a horn-bill just for me. And I didn’t even realise until after we had returned to our cabin.

Ox-Bow Lake Tour

DSC_1898This is one of the land-based tours you can do with your guide and an extra local guide. I can’t remember if B had the extra guide or not. Loi, himself, was fantastic and very honest about the tours. He had advised that this tour would be too difficult for the kids, and considering N was still struggling with the heat/humidity, I opted to stay back at BAL with the boys while B explored the great unknown (to us).


While we had been chilling out in the a/c and watching monkeys play near our cabin, B had trekked through hot sticky mud in the jungle to see the beautiful Ox-Bow Lake. B spent a little time talking with some local kids who were out fishing on the lake and enjoyed watching their relaxed nature in the environment. It’s the personal moments like this which deepen the whole experience of the holidays.



It may seem like only a small thing, but the task itself was important to show the kids. As part of our stay, we purchased and planted a tree outside our cabin. S chose the tree and the location, while one of the locals helped him plant the tree. Hopefully, one day we will return to BAL and find our tree tall and strong, just like the memories of our holiday.


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