Surviving Sabah: White Water Rafting in Sabah, Malaysia

C’mon, Paddle hard, Paddle, Paddle!!! Countless times I heard our gap-toothed guide shouted this at the top of his lungs—only to have our raft hit the mighty merciless rock…that’s white water rafting for you. Representing When In Manila, I woke up with much adrenaline flowing through my veins and headed to Sabah, Malaysia (the former North Borneo)’s infamous Kiulu River. Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah, one of the divisions of the island of Borneo (the others are another Malaysian state, Sarawak; Brunei; and Kalimantan, or Indonesian Borneo, in the south). Sabah boasts of a multiple number of beautiful rivers in which each of them run along valleys, abundantly rich with vegetation atypical of Sabah. Their rivers arguably make Sabah one of the best white water rafting destinations.


sabah malaysia borneo kota kinabalu white water rafting when in manila


As I’ve seen all those white water rafting shows on cable TV since I was young, I told myself, ‘One fine day, I will be able to do that’… There it was – a dream no more. Let’s just say, white water rafting is a must do sport; else it won’t be labelled as a fear-factor sport for no reason at all. Next thing I knew, I got into an inflatable raft and let the white water river take charge of my life, hah!  There I was, about to launch in to the merciless river of sheer pain.

 sabah malaysia borneo kota kinabalu white water rafting when in manila 005


Kiulu River White Water Rafting is located at Kampung Pukak Kiulu in the Tamparuli district and is about one and a half hour drive from Kota Kinabalu in Sabah or old Borneo. I’ve always considered water as the most boring of all liquids. Nowhere near as fun as it’s near neighbour lava. But experiencing the thrilling side of H2O with this white water rafting, it certainly isn’t on my list now. Seeing the river at that, it really doesn’t seem that dangerous. But c’mon boy, the water is just pure nasty.

 sabah malaysia borneo kota kinabalu white water rafting when in manila1


sabah malaysia borneo kota kinabalu white water rafting when in manila 003


Now my ultimate mission was: How to tame this bad boy then? Fact is, I am not the only one who needs to, there were at least 6 heads to confuse the raft some more. On our white water rafting experience, we were kitted out in a wetsuit, buoyancy aid and safety helmet, ready to fight and conquer the river-shaped watery beast. We went through the basic manoeuvres on dry land first, along with the antics of the guides conducting it. These guides definitely know the river inside out. The Kiulu river offers thrill seekers a class 1 to class 2 (grade 1 to grade 2) water rapids. The Kiulu River is actually the longest water rafting river in Borneo with a total length of over 15 km. As much as I wanted to capture every bit of our adventure, we were strictly told to leave our cameras behind.


 sabah malaysia borneo kota kinabalu white water rafting when in manila 006


Then under expert guidance, we were taken to the water, holding our oars like a gladiatorial tool. Only a meter away, we met the first anticipating rapid awaiting to swallow our raft with pure pleasure. My knuckles went literally white as I was bounced, scrambled and muffled by the cardinal power of a surging liquid torrent. We were braving the river for almost 2 hours, next thing I knew it seems that I am inside a cocktail shaker, vigorously shaken and stirred. The only difference is that,  am far from an enticing cocktail drink after being jostled here and there, moreso, our raft capsized twice! Thanks to the so-called “rafting baptism rites” these guides were after for. Seems like our butt-bruised and aching arms were their typical brunch treats. So much for my A for effort paddling techniques as the other tourists were stirring the water like a cup of coffee ! Not fair eh? ha-ha!

 sabah malaysia borneo kota kinabalu white water rafting when in manila 0041


Towards the end of the journey, we also did body rafting. Water was rather swift that entire morning, the body rafting made me realize how I truly enjoyed this!  I was even literally under the raft for almost a minute or so.. made me realized that it wasn’t the way I imagined myself dying. I  kept my composure still and did not even feel panicky at all. The merciless river swayed me, then suddenly i heard a loud BANG! Merely thought our raft has gone wild, but only realized that it was my frikkin’ head that hit a solid rock! I was thankful for another life, fortunate that I was donning that helmet.   I was all wet, all puffed out, but extremely ecstatic. Indeed it was a ride I’d never forget because it’s not everyday I get to experience this When In Manila. With the heart-pumping thrill ride of white water rafting and half of the river inside my lungs, who else can? 🙂


 sabah malaysia borneo kota kinabalu white water rafting when in manila 001

I have more  SABAH, Malaysia Adventures posts coming up, stay put guys!:)