Photo: The fireflies are a highlight.

River cruise

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Daytrippers (or rather, night-trippers) can partake in river cruises in several wetland areas around Sabah to see proboscis monkeys and fireflies in the wild.

Photo of River cruise

While you’re less likely to see many monkeys, the Nanamun River near Kota Belud puts on the best display of twinkling fireflies.

Tours usually start late afternoon with a trip along the Tempasuk or Kawa Kawa rivers, and then a drive to the Nanamun River, after a buffet dinner to view the natural light show. Our tour began with a photo opportunity where guests could sit on a horse dressed in traditional Bajau costume (the horse unsurprisingly didn’t look very happy about this) followed by an afternoon tea of delicious local cakes.

The first river offered the chance to spot the big-nosed guys, but we found this disappointing compared to both the Garama River south of Kota Kinabalu, and the wetlands near Semporna. We did briefly see a couple of troupes of proboscis monkeys, along with some macaques, water buffalos and a flock of egrets, however the sheer number of boats, lack of any information from the “guides” and noisy tourists led to frustration, rather than the relaxing nature spotting trip it should have been. After a quick stop where the river meets the sea to watch the sunset, we returned for a buffet meal then onto the Nanamun River.

Our hopes were not high, however fireflies, it seems, are not as popular as monkeys, and this was a much quieter and much more pleasant experience. As darkness descends the insects illuminate and begin to flicker among the mangroves. The whole riverbank radiates in unison with Christmas-tree magic; this phenomenon is known scientifically as phase synchronisation. Our guide started to flash a torch on and off, and to male fireflies this is apparently very attractive (I’m sexy and I glow it), and they began to slowly float towards our boat, like a glorious display of slow moving fireworks. It was truly the highlight (literally) of the trip.

Even though the area is closer to Kota Belud, most tours include transfers from Kota Kinabalu. It is feasible to arrange a tour through one of the companies based in Kota Kinabalu and take private transport from Kota Belud to their jetty at the wetlands. If you visit Mantanani Islands, and haven’t opted for the all-inclusive return trip to Kota Kinabalu, the river cruise is an ideal add on, and the timing is right if you prearrange a taxi to pick you up from the port after your island trip and take you directly to the river.

We did the trip with Borneo Bayau arranged through Mountain View Guesthouse in Kota Belud (80 ringgit + 30 ringgit for transfers). We had had a previous good experience with Only In Borneo Tours in Kota Kinabalu (170 ringgit for adults, 140 ringgit for children, ex Kota Kinabalu).


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