White Water Rafting in Borneo 

(Malaysia's Sabah)


Magic Carpet Journals joins Maxine on an adventure into the heart of the former North Borneo, Malaysia's Sabah, to go white water rafting!

Sabah's Mt. Kinabalu peeks through the cloudsMy itinerary said white water rafting would be part of our agenda for our second day in Sabah, the former North Borneo. "That's what they think," I say to myself. "I might just use that time to get caught up on the jet lag I am sure to be feeling by then!" Before we conclude our first day of sightseeing, our guide, Arthur Augustine, carefully explains what will be happening the next day. I tell him that I do not think white water rafting is exactly right for me, so I will opt out. "I think you will regret that decision," he responds, "I really think you should go." Time for me to fess up. "But I really cannot swim very well," I confide, "Who would pull me out if I fell in?" Looking straight into my eyes, he quietly states, "I will!" There is no doubting the sincerity in his deep brown eyes. From that moment on I put my trust in Arthur Augustine, a young man, who is a descendant of Borneo's most famous head hunter, Monosopiad. Although dreading the prospect I make the decision to throw caution to the winds and go for it!

By the next day, three of our party of seven chose to opt out, using the time for taking pictures or other options. The remainder of us , board the bus in Kota Kinabulu and begin our journey into the heart of North Borneo. We pass into the hilly countryside, and on past the cloud-covered Mount Kinabulu, the only mountain in the state of Sabah. For two hours we continue to drive further into Borneo. Trepidation mounts as our long drive takes us nearer to our destination. Going up around a hill, we switch back onto a steep road which leads us down to the banks of the Kiulu River. Waiting for us beside a beached rubber raft, we find the crew, Clay Vincent and Cyril Motijoejon. Clay is the leader of our expedition. Introductions over, we are told that we will all have to sign a waiver absolving the company of any responsibility in case of an accident. I was already having second thoughts about my decision to join this adventure, and this does nothing to reassure me. However my mind is made up. Right up until the last minute I have been feeling a measure of guilt about my decision. I promised my little granddaughter that I would return home safely from this trip and here I am taking this foolhardy adventure!

Getting ready to white water rafting in Sabah, the former North BorneoLeaving our outer clothes on the bus, we put our life jackets on over our bathing suits and don helmets onto our heads. Clay, our leader teaches us how to put the safety gear on correctly, then checks to make sure it is properly adjusted and secure. He begins by giving us a quick course in crewing a raft and raft safety. My first surprise is to learn that we will not be snuggled down in the bottom of the raft, in fact we will be sitting on the inflated rubber ring, around the outside of the raft, paddling! We are instructed how to secure our feet under the inflated bracing or flotation, which crosses the raft. I have on a pair of foam sandals that I borrowed from the hotel. I did not want to get any of my shoes wet.

Rafting in Borneo or SabahClay gives each of us an oar and tells us to hang onto it no matter what happens. We learn that there are holes in the bottom of the raft to let water out that might come in over the sides. We also learn what to do if the raft flips upside down, then, last but not least, what to do if the raft flips and we come up under it. Clay tells us that the rope that runs inside the inflated sides of the raft is secure, so we can use it to climb back into the raft if necessary. We are also taught how to "body raft." - in other words float down the river alone, with the buoyancy of our life jackets keeping us afloat. He describes the journey and its hazards, letting us know what to expect. With our new knowledge and our gear adjusted, we are ready for the adventure.

White water rafting behind themThe raft is pushed into the water. We all clamber aboard and get into our positions, with oars in hand. The crew, Clay and Cyril sit at the back.. Arthur and Sham at the front, Lenora and myself behind them, then Monica and her crutches behind us. Monica broke her ankle several months ago and had to have surgery to repair it. She is approximately two weeks from being able to walk with it again, so is here with us using crutches to walk. She is a plucky gal.

A couple of strokes with our paddles and we are out into the fast flowing water. As the strong current catches the raft, it turns abruptly. At the same time water comes in the holes at the bottom of the boat. As my sandals become wet, they become slippery and my feet slip out of them. With the momentum of the turn, and unsecured feet, I suddenly feel myself going airborne. I remember being told about the rope. As I begin to fly out over the side of the raft, I reach down and make a desperate grab for the rope with my left hand. It stops my exodus long enough that I am able to twist around and get my right hand onto the rope too. With the help of that rope I am able to get back into position on the side of the raft. This time, I secure my bare feet under the braces.  Clay ascertains that I am okay, then ties the slippery sandals to the back of the raft. All is well as our adventure proceeds nonstop.

Sabah or North Borneo rafters say "Body Rafting anyone?"We are soon approaching our first rapids. We hear Clay and Cyril shout, "Paddle hard!" and we all dig into the water with our paddles, stroking hard to keep from hitting the rocks. For a few exciting moments the raft is buffeted by the churning, white water.  Fortunately my previous boating experience stands me in good stead - although it was gained many years ago. I remember how to paddle and how your paddling affects the position of the boat. 

After we pass through the rapids we again have a chance to observe the scenery. Thick green vegetation lines the shores: rubber trees; palm trees with clusters of yellow cocoanuts nestled high under the fronds that fan out from the top; banana trees loaded with green bananas; and everywhere vines growing up and over everything.

 Soon the fast moving current will again turn into white water with deep dips and rises, like a giant roller coaster, throwing the raft up and down, as we all frantically paddle to avoid the sharp rocks.  Each of the rapids is named and we are told that two are the most dangerous - where the craft can tip. One, called "Hit the Wall," may cause the raft to flip. As we approach those rapids, I can see it was aptly named. Directly in front of us, a huge, sheer, rock face borders the narrow, white water channel. As the force of the current pushes the raft closer to the menacing rock wall, we all paddle frantically. I know I must paddle very hard to help veer the raft from its collision course. The imposing, rock wall comes closer and closer. The raft begins to turn - but too late. Suddenly the threatening, black wall is just inches from my face! I do not scream, but my heart is in my mouth, as with a thud, the side of the raft, next to me, bounces off that solid, immoveable obstacle. For a few anxious moments I wonder if the raft will overturn, then I breath a sigh of relief as it continues upright, choosing a course between an assortment of jagged rocks and the trashing white water. Once through 'the big one' I know I met the test.

Our driver, Lenora, Cyril and Clay enjoy lunch after white water rafting in Malaysia's SabahI keep wishing my tall strapping grandson, Danny was here with me. I tell the crew about the 6'3" grandson, who loves to white water raft, back home in British Columbia. They were amazed by his height, as many of the men here are between 5' 5" and 5' 9", but these young men here also appear muscular and in very good physical condition.

After a while the river widens and we come to a bend. Our crew brings the raft into shore along the inner curve at a quiet place in the river. We are able to jump out and take advantage of the shallow quiet water for a short swim before continuing on our adventure.

Maxine George proudly displays her certificate after white water rafting in Malaysia's SabahIn all there are nine rapids that we go through that day. Occasionally rope bridges cross above us, over the river. We understand that a settlement will be found on the other side of the river there. All too soon we can see a small cluster of buildings up ahead. We are nearing the end of our journey. Again the river widens out and flows gently. Here, we are told we can "body raft" to the end. I do not avail my self of that option. The raft pulls up on shore near the buildings. As we climb up to the river bank, we find that James Tongging and his staff have a nice buffet lunch set up for us, on tables under the trees, near the beach. I take pictures of the next group passing on down the river, because we have not been able to take pictures during our adventure, we have been too busy. After lunch the crew present us with certificates attesting to the fact that we participated in this adventure. I have a T-shirt which says "Paddle or Die - Survivor," which I proudly wear to show that I actually went White Water Rafting in Borneo.

Lunch after rafting in Malaysia's SabahAs Arthur said, I would have regretted missing out on this exciting adventure. It just goes to prove that even great-grandmothers can go white water rafting.  I am glad I did it!

Article and pictures by: M. Maxine George






For further information about White Water Rafting in Sabah contact:

Tourism Malaysia (Canada)                                                                                                             Malaysia Airlines

830 Burrard St., Vancouver, B.C. V6Z 2K4                                                                                        Reservations: 1-800-552-9264

Tel: 1-888-689-6872        Fax: 011-603-746-5637

For further information about white water rafting in Sabah  ask about  Wildlife Expeditions  @ Tourism Malaysia

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Last Updated on January 21, 2005 by M. Maxine George editor.
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