Sukau, Malaysia: Where’s Osman?

Osman's Homestay Sukau Borneo Malaysia
Watching the river flow by at Osman’s Homestay.
We got up early for the 7:30AM bus from Semporna to Sukau (RM40/$13). We had booked a night with Osman’s Homestay (RM50/$16.20 per person per night inc. 3 meals) and arranged for them to pick us up at the junction, paying RM20/$6.50 for the privilege. We were dropped off at a boat dock and took the boat across the river to the homestay where Osman’s wife and children greeted us warmly. We settled into our very basic fan room – the best one in the house (including the family’s quarters). The lodgings weren’t stylish, but we were here for Osman. We had read online that Osman is the fixer for the BBC’s nature documentary crews when they are in town filming the local wildlife. He is supposedly a mine of information about the wildlife in the area, and the best around for spotting the animals.

We decided to do an afternoon cruise at 3pm and an evening cruise at 8pm. The cruises were RM50/$16.20 per person per tour. Osman’s wife assured us that we would see more animals in the afternoon than the morning. In the meantime, we sat on the deck and soaked up the serenity of the Kinabatangan River; enjoyed a simple lunch of egg, eggplant, and rice; and played cards with the children.

We climbed into the boat, ready for our tour. There was us, another couple, and the boat driver who spoke very little English. Where was this Osman we had heard so much about? The tour began and we were taken to a python’s “nest” where we saw a large sleeping python. The boat driver then pointed down a small offshoot of the main river and said, “We see monkeys.” Up ahead were five or six other boats doing exactly the same thing. Our driver followed along, stopping when one of the other boats spotted an animal. It was okay, and all you can ask for really, but in my head I was thinking, “Where’s Osman?”

Although the animals were fantastic, I expected there to be a guide on board to help point out the wildlife and explain a little something about what we were seeing. We headed back for dinner, which was a home cooked meal of chicken, rice, and bok choy. After dinner, Osman came home all jungled-up, carrying a boat motor on his shoulders. We started to get excited. We would at least have Osman to take us on the night tour and hopefully catch a glimpse of a crocodile!

At 8:30pm, we left for the night tour with Osman’s son and father-in-law. Where’s Osman? Immediately, we saw an owl in the tree next to the dock. A good sign of things to come, we thought. A little further on, there was a kingfisher asleep in a tree. Then… nothing for a solid 40 minutes. I know you can’t predict or plan wildlife, but Osman’s son was making a lot of loud yawning sounds, his flashlight was dying, and his grandfather had to keep encouraging him to look for animals. All we wanted was to see a crocodile! Before we knew it, with no word of warning or farewell, we were offloaded back on the dock we had come from and went to bed slightly disappointed.

Night cruise sukau borneo malaysia
This is about all we saw on our night cruise.
That night the rain was torrential and I had a nightmare that the riverbanks burst and we all got washed away in a horrific flood; and the next morning, while making my graceful exit to the boat, I slipped on my ass in the wet mud. Good times.

Maybe we’ll have better luck in Sandakan.