Photo: A good way to see some of Semporna's jungle life.

Semporna proboscis monkey river cruise

Take the opportunity to explore a little of Sabah's rich mangrove ecosystems with a late afternoon river cruise to see some of the beautiful wildlife, including proboscis monkeys.

Tours begin at a point along Sungai Tohok (dry river) that's a 45-minute drive through colourful villages. During our visit, we were surprised to be met by a Malaysian army patrol, complete with soldiers carrying heavy artillery and flak jackets; they told us they were there to protect us from “monkeys and crocodiles”. The river is not far from the open sea, and due to possible terrorist risks in the area, security is strong.

Plenty of these cheeky creatures.

Plenty of these cheeky creatures. Photo: Sally Arnold

The late afternoon timing is ideal for seeing the wildlife, but you’ll still have to be lucky to glimpse the big-nosed proboscis monkeys. More easily seen along the banks are longtail and pig-tail macaques, hornbills, giant fruit bats and monitor lizards.

Only one company operates this tour in Semporna, and unlike similar tours in other parts of Sabah, numbers are limited to a manageable three boats, with a maximum of 10 people on each. As we cruised the narrow river, our excellent informative guide told us about mangrove ecosystems and its inhabitants. She also reminded tourists (in several languages) to be quiet in oder to see the wildlife. We were lucky to sight a few of the elusive big-noses, but only briefly.

Security was... tight.

Security was... tight. Photo: Sally Arnold

Continuing into Sungai Buaya (Crocodile River), some show-stealing brahminy kites began dive-bombing into the water for food, although we later learnt that these raptors weren’t fishing— and the boatmen had thrown in chicken skin. As twilight descended, or boat moved into a small oxbow lake off Sungai Pegagau with trees brimming with white egrets; it was quite a spectacle as they fled in flight at the sound of the boats.

We returned to the jetty for a buffet barbecue, and to be entertained by Bajau dancers and musicians. Later we were escorted along wooden boardwalks to see a small number of fireflies gathering in the nearby mangroves—we were told we couldn’t do this by boat due to risk of “crocodiles”.

Our guide hard at work.

Our guide hard at work. Photo: Sally Arnold

The cruise is a well timed activity to do before starting a snorkelling or diving trip, or to fill in time post diving, waiting the required 24 hours before flying. If you’re really keen on seeing proboscis monkeys, however, we’d suggest a multi-day trip on the Kinabatangan River near Sandakan. The cruise can be booked from Borneo Global Backpackers in Sipadan. Bring mozzie repellent.

Borneo Global Backpackers: Bangunan Seafest, Jalan Causeway, Semporna; T: (089) 785 088;;

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