Kuching Tourism Attraction – Irrawaddy Dolphin & Mangrove Swamp Cruise

damai beach sarawak
Breathtaking Damai beach in Sarawak

Do you happen to be traveling to Sarawak and looking for the best Kuching tourism attraction in this pretty cat city, without going too far from the city center? Well then, you must try the amazing Irrawaddy dolphin and mangrove wildlife cruise at stunning Damai beach. This tour takes place thidaily and is organized by the Permai Rainforest resort.

damai beach sarawak

Breathtaking Damai beach in Sarawak

As a guest of Sarawak tourism board, I had an opportunity to enjoy the flora and fauna around Damai beach in my favorite Malaysian city – Kuching! Obviously I jumped at this chance to re-visit the lovely island of Borneo, which is the largest in Asia and 3rd largest in the world. Covered with over 60% forests, this is surely one of my favorite destinations in the world.

There is so much wildlife in Permai forest and Santubong river as well as abundance of sea life and bird life. This is still a very much off beat locale for wildlife lovers and there are not many experienced guides and naturalists in the area. However, our cruise guide was extremely knowledgeable and after showing us a venomous green pit viper in Permai resort grounds, we proceed for the 3 hour long tour.

What is the best Kuching Tourism Attraction and why?

Kuching as a city, as a lot to offer to a discerning traveler. However, being a nature lover, from my point of view, I would give full marks to the Irrawaddy dolphin cruise due to its close proximity to city center as well as availability of flora and fauna.

If, however, a cruise is not your cup of tea and you are willing to travel to the outskirts of town, then I would say another great Kuching tourism attraction is surely the Bako National Park.

bako national park trail

Bako national park trail

There are several other things to do in and around Kuching so don’t take my word for it but try the various flavors of the city yourself before zeroing in on your favorite attraction.

What to Expect on the Irrawaddy Dolphin Cruise

Starting point of the mangrove river cruise

Starting point of the mangrove river cruise

A 3 hour long cruise with an experienced guide takes you on the Santubong & Salak rivers in search of Irrawaddy dolphins which are endemic to those waters. This tour further continues to a local fishing village as well as a exotic mangrove tour.

I haven’t had much luck with sealife in the past, with zero sightings during my whale watching trip in Sri Lanka and a not so great diving experience in Gili Trawangan.

However, I pushed those thoughts aside as I focused on searching for these elusive dolphins. The sea was calm and the skies were dark, both good signs as it wasn’t too hot and sighting chances were optimal.

30 mins into our tour, we saw some fishermen pulling out their nets. Here, fishermen and dolphins beautifully co-exist. The fishermen often throw out fish they don’t need back into the sea and the dolphins are quick to get them. So they usually surround fishermen boats and are hence easy to spot.

irrawaddy dolphin

Our very first sighting of the Irrawaddy dolphin

We spotted maybe 5-6 different dolphins in various parts and thoroughly enjoyed trying to capture a lone fin on film. We also learnt that the way to distinguish Irrawaddy dolphin females from males is that females have a “love bite” on their second fin during mating season. This was purely our guide’s observation during a decade of taking tours in the region so in all honestly, there is no scientific research to back this up but it was an interesting Irrawaddy dolphin fact.

Irrawaddy dolphin watching cruise

More sightings of the Irrawaddy dolphin from our boat

Wildlife Opportunities on the Santubong Mangrove Swamp River Cruise

Mangrove swamp river cruise

Mangrove swamp river cruise

Santubong thrives with wild and bird life. We were lucky enough to spot a crocodile in the swamp and whilst looking for more crocs, lo behold, we saw the extremely rare – proboscis monkey. We weren’t expecting to spot them at all. Surely, they are residents of the mangroves but are seldom spotted and never so during the day (mostly in the evenings).

swamp crocodile sarawak

A lone swamp crocodile

This wasn’t my first sighting of the elusive proboscis monkeys but definitely quite interesting. The first time I spotted them was in Bako national park but that has the largest population of these monkeys in Borneo. Who would’ve thought I would be lucky enough to see them in the mangrove swamps?

proboscis monkey in the mangroves

Proboscis Monkey in the Mangroves

Kingfishers also throng the area but we saw very little bird life due to the humid weather that day.

Mangroves of Sarawak

Mangroves of Sarawak

Santubong fishing village

This river cruise tour stops for 30 mins at the beautiful Santubong fishing village. You will be greeted by colorful houses, beautiful cats, neon blue crabs and smiling children – Now that’s what I call an interesting welcome, isn’t it?

cats in kuching

A lovely feline welcoming us to the fishing village

A walk around this lovely small village shows us the simple life of these fishermen, their humble houses, welcoming smiles and colorful boats – Which are their only modes on transport to/from the mainland. The Sarawak government provides ample support to these fishermen and the boats are purchased at subsidized rates.

fishermen houses in village

Colorful houses of the fishermen in the village

This Muslim village has a cute little mosque and several small stores to buy knick knacks. A huge swampland thriving with all sorts of crabs is the playground of children from the village.

The swampland in this village is as big as a soccer field and also offered my very first sighting of the tiny neon blue crabs. At first, I had to rub my eyes and zoom in through my camera lens to be sure of what I was seeing. Yes! Indeed these were pretty blue crabs scurrying all around.

Little blue crabs in the swamps

Little blue crabs in the swamps

I was so mesmerized that I was glued to that area for over 15 mins taking macro shots of these exotic creatures. Later on, we spotted them again in the mangroves like blue dots all along the muddy tree roots. They are simply incredible!

blue crabs

Aren’t they adorable?

The village kids love playing soccer in these mud & crab-filled fields, come rain or storm and often go back home, all muddy and yet grinning from ear to ear.

One thing about Sarawakians is they are very friendly people and take everything in their stride. They love the fact that they are living in the “rain” forests and welcome all challenges thrown my mother nature.

Tips for the Kuching Mangrove Tour

damai mangrove tour

The lovely Damai resort where you can book this tour

A few quick pointers if you are planning to do this tour – 

  1. Be Prepared – You can witness heavy downpour or scorching sun, either ways weather in the rainforests is quite unpredictable so be prepared for all eventualities. Carry a cap and sunblock for sunny skies and rainjacket, waterproof bag if the sky turns grey on you.
  2. Dress for the beach – Wear shorts and flip flops. You may have to go waist deep in water if your boat cannot dock due to low tide, so wear beach friendly clothes to avoid drenching your khakis or boots.

Tour Cost and Info

This 3 in 1 Mangrove forest, island and dolphin watching tour is priced at RM 250 and can be booked upon your arrival at Permai resort or 1 day prior, considering weather conditions are favorable.

Where to Stay in Kuching, Sarawak?

Kuching has all sorts of accommodation from private room rentals for long term or short stay options for tourists (which we will cover here).

Budget stays and Hostels in Kuching

Sunset homestay – Highly rated accommodation offering mixed dorms for travelers.

QuiikCat – Private rooms close to the waterfront, without breaking the bank.

Hero hostel – One of the best rated centrally located hostels in Kuching.

Hornbill’s Nest Kuching – At 5 bucks a night, dorms here are cozy clean and comfortable.

Mid-Range Hotels in Kuching

The Lime tree hotel – One of the top-rated properties in Kuching, with a rooftop lounge and a short walk from the waterfront.

Dorset Boutique hotel – Cozy rooms in the heart of Kuching city.

Luxury accommodation in Kuching

Hilton Kuching – Located in the bustling Kuching waterfront, Hilton is a class apart with its stunning pool and 6 in-house dining options.

Citadines Uplands Kuching – This was my choice of stay in Kuching so I can highly recommend these fully serviced apartments. Read my full review here.

Imperial suites Kuching – Fully serviced cozy apartment hotel in Kuching.

Disclaimer – I was a guest of Sarawak & Malaysian Tourism boards as well as Malindo Air for this amazing trip to Kuching. However, as always, my opinions are my own and I only blog about experiences I genuinely enjoy!


  1. I love the wildlife on this tour. What a wonderful adventure. I have never heard about a blue crab. Thanks for sharing. It was a pleasure reading about these creatures.

    • As a wildlife enthusiast, I jump at the chance of sighting any fauna during my travels so I absolutely loved this!

  2. Hi Jo,
    Nice write up and such nice close ups of the blue crabs. i envy your shot of the proboscis monkey.

  3. Hi Jo,
    Nice write up and such nice close ups of the blue crabs. i envy your shot of the proboscis monkey. cool shot indeed.

  4. HI Jo..thanks for the info. However, I would like to know if the mangrove tour has any age restrictions as I will be travelling with my parents above 70 and young kids (7- 10 yrs old). DO u think they will enjoy it? Where can I book this tour from? Any specific agent you would recommend?

    • Hi Priya, I usually do mangrove tours with my parents (They are 60-65) but for this one the only slight issue I forsee is getting into and out of the speed boat. If they can do that (its not too tough and the tour guide was there to assist), then its all easy there on! Regarding if they will enjoy it, I can’t say as it would depend on their interests 🙂
      You can book it directly from the Damai beach resort as they organize all on their private beach, I dont think other operators/agents are allowed.

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