Bako National Park - wildlife at it's very best

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April 6th 2013
Published: April 10th 2013
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When planning our time in Borneo, one of the places we said we must visit was Bako National Park, as we had heard the wildlife there was sublime, not to mention the various jungle-like trails throughout the park, and we were looking forward to a bit of an adventure again. Once we had booked our accomodation for the park in Kuching at the National Park and Wildlife office (you have to do this before you go if you want to stay there the night), we bought some snacks and got our stuff together in preparation for an early start the next day. Bako is Sarawak's oldest and premier national park, and contains a wide range of vegetation, almost every type found in Borneo.

The bus ride from Kuching was easy and by 9am we were at the Bako NP front desk, where we showed our proof of accomodation, bought our permits for the park (20rm each) and arranged a speed boat for the remainder of the journey to get to the actual entrance to the park a further 20 minutes away, which can only be reached by boat. We shared the boat with another couple who were waiting, therefore splitting the cost, and the ride itself was very scenic, passing by small river villages and settlements, and when we soon pulled up to a stretch of sand with a sign announcing 'Welcome to Bako National Park', we felt excited. Once we had registered at reception, we stored our small bags as our room wasn't ready yet, and worked out which trail to take first - might as well start now! As we headed outside we met the resident bearded pigs roaming around in the sun.

We chose to start with an 'easy' walk to Paku beach, a 2km trail which we were told would give us a high chance of spotting Proboscis monkeys, but before we even got to this trail we caught a glimpse of these elusive creatures jumping around in some tall trees - we couldn't believe it, we had only been in Bako 10 minutes and had already seen one of the rarest species of monkey in the world. We could just about spot their big noses and long tails from the ground and could only hope we would see more during our time here. We started the Paku trail and it immediately became apparent how hot it was here - not just hot, but boiling actually - the humidity must have been 90% or higher, and within minutes we were both drenched with sweat as we clambered over tree roots and rocks, stopping now and again to just listen to the jungle orchesture surrounding us providing the only sounds, aside from our breathing and the occasional twig snapping as we walked. I missed my step at one point on a sandy rock and slipped, landing on my elbows which hurt a bit but I was brave and powered on. After about 30 minutes we were reaching the end of the trail when we heard a big rustling and what sounded like a pig grunting. We had heard that wild pigs can be found on the trails and we stopped dead in our tracks, expecting something to come running out at us from the jungle, but then we looked up and were astounded to see a family of at least 6 Proboscis monkey's leaping between the trees in the forest canopy. Just amazing, as so many people have come here and not even seen one, and within our first hour in the park we have been lucky enough to see almost a dozen. After just staring and quietly looking at them for a good while we continued and spotted a lizard eating a huge centipeed, then the trail opended up to a beautiful little beach, surrounded by dense green jungle on one side and the blue ocean on the other. It was very secluded and no one else was around which made it feel like we had stumbled on our own private paradise. Too bad we didn't have our swimwear with us, but we took some pictures and enjoyed the view before heading back on the trail into the jungle.

When we got back to reception we were told we could check into our room now, so got our bags and apprehensively walked towards our allocated chalet. I say apprehensively because as most people know, I am somewhat scared of bugs and crawly creatures, and whilst I knew we would more than likely see these in the jungle, I was dreading them being in the room. I needn't have worried, as we had been given a brand new room which was clean, sealed and bug free, with four single beds which we would be sharing along with a German couple. Happy about the sleeping arrangements we had a bite to eat in the canteen and set off on our second hike of the day, the Lintang trail.

This loop trail would be harder than the first one as it was not only much longer at almost 6km, but also went over much tougher terrain with little shade from the searing sun. It was also uphill for the first 1km, we were again sweating loads within minutes, and we didn't have that much water with us, but we persevered until we came to a flat part where we could rest. This is where the landscape changed dramatically, from lush rainforest, muddy ground and tall trees, to a vast open space on a dry, potholed surface which was akin to a moon crater, with no trees for protection from the sun and more remniscent of a desert than the jungle. It was surreal, yet picturesque in its own way. We had a sugar fix from some sweets we had with us and powered on until the land closed up a bit and presented another trail. We hiked through sandy paths and climbed over boulders and rocks, up and then down, for at least 3km, getting hotter and hotter. We think perhaps lava created some of the holes in the ground here a long time ago, and they were filled with a bright yellow water of some kind now - we even came across a lady bathing in one of the pools, but aside from her we didn't see anyone else the rest of the hike. The landscape changed back to thick jungle for the last 2km, we had a quick diversion to see some breathtaking views from a viewpoint high above the water, and then we faced a long haul down which took a while as we had to watch each step so as not to trip and fall. When we thought we were close to the end of the trail, we were met with what seemed like endless steps up - why do they do this! We climbed up and up and then of course had to climb down again a bit more before finally coming out at the end of the trail on the wooden walkway that leads back to the park HQ. Even though it was really difficult and harder than we imagined, this trek was very fulfilling and the landscape and scenery spectacular - we were looking forward to more walking the next day and were really glad we had arranged to stay over in the park as one day here wouldn't have been enough for us. Also, we noted how well this park is maintained, the good standard of accomodation and how professional the whole set up is - very impressive.

Just before we reached our chalet, we saw a ranger looking up at the trees. When we asked what he was looking for, he replied a flying lemur - a very rare monkey which glides between trees with bat-like wings. After a few minutes of looking he spotted one and pointed it out to us - we would never have noticed it as it was camouflaged into the bark of the tree high above - and said it would be still until it got dark then it would move. Scott then asked, much to my horror, if the ranger knew where any pit viper's were as he really wanted to see one, and the ranger replied yes he did. These snakes are so poisonous that if you got bitten by one and didn't get the anti-venom within 2 hours you would die - and Scott wanated to see one of these bad boys! We followed the ranger for a couple of minutes until he pointed one out to us, just resting on a leaf in the trees not far from reception - we wouldn't have seen it if he hadn't showed it to us as it was nearly the same colour as the green leaves and not as big as I thought, but Scott was happy to have seen one as (luckily) they are very rare.

We had a little rest, then watched the sunset from the sand in front of our room, keeping an eye out for the naughty macaque monkey's who were running around nearby. A few minutes before we left the room we heard some squealing outside and looked out of the window to see about eight of them rummaging through a dustbin which contained some empty crisp and chocolate packets - we had heard that if you leave anything outside your room they will grab it, but going through a bin with a lid on it was a bit much! After some food from the canteen, which was actually ok despite what we heard, one of the ranger's was leading a night walk (10rm pp) which Scott and a few others went on in hope of seeing some nocturnal animals. They walked in the pitch black with just a couple of torches for over an hour but only managed to spot some fungus, a frog, a few birds, a hermit crab, some big spiders and a group of fireflies in the bushes, so he was pleased we had already seen the snake and the lemur as these can usually only be spotted on the night walks. After all the walking and the intense heat we were shattered and after cold showers we slept very well that night in our fan cooled room!

In the morning we checked out of the room, had some breakfast and decided to do one more walk before we left in the afternoon. We had asked if we could stay one more night as we just loved the feeling of being so close to nature, but as it was a Saturday they were sadly full. We tackled the Pandan Kecil trail, which would be over 5km of mostly jungle terrain, taking us up steep paths before descending back down loads of wooden steps to a small beach. Like the day before, it was very pretty, with a few more people on it but still quiet, and Scott bought his swimming shorts with him this time so had a dip to cool off while I just went in up to my knees. Of course as we had come down so far we faced a difficult trek uphill to get back and the heat did not let up, but we got back to park HQ in good time after another rewarding hike. This was not before spotting some cool silver leaf monkey's frolicking around near the mangroves. Even though the monkey's were silver one of them had a tiny baby which was bright orange! It's so amazing to see animals in the wild like this and we have been really lucky on our visit here to see so much. We had arranged for our boat back to collect us at 1.30pm, so we could get the bus back to Kuching at 2pm, and as we got back to town the heavens opened and we had a wet walk back to our guesthouse- we were just glad it didn't rain whilst we were in the park.

Bako was a fantastic experience and we saw more wildlife than we ever imagined, in a really natural environment. It was all very unspoilt and even though reception and the canteen areas seemed busy at times, we hardly saw anyone else on the trails so it really felt like we were loose in the jungle on our own. We loved our time there and wished we could have stayed longer - it definately gave us an insight into the real Borneo and has been another big highlight for us, not just in Malaysia but on our whole trip.

S&V's Travel Info & Tips:

General Info: Approx 4.6 rm to £1. Malaysia is 8 hrs ahead of UK.

Transportation: To get to Bako NP from Kuching, take the number 1 red bus from the street next to the bus station in town. It leaves every hour from 7am-3pm, takes 1 hour and costs 3.50rm per person each way. When you get off the bus you have to take a boat to the entrance of the park. The boat costs 47rm each way, and you can split the cost of the journey if there are other people waiting, but you have to buy the return boat journey there and then which you can't split, unless you come back with the same people you go there with. The last boat from the park is at 3pm, and the last bus back to Kuching leaves at 4pm.

Food: There is a canteen in the park which serves buffet/tray style curry, rice, noodles, chips, vegetables etc for lunch and dinner. Prices are per plate and range from 3rm-5rm. Bring some snacks with you for the trails and in case you get hungry once the canteen closes! Water can be bought in the park at the canteen, along with fruit and other snacks.

Accomodation: We were very surprised by how nice the accomodation in the park was, but we were in a new room so not sure if the older rooms are this good. Based on 4 people sharing a room, a bed cost 15rm each which we thought was very cheap. There was a bathroom inside the room with cold shower and western toilet. You must pre-book and pay for accomodation at the National Park & Wildlife booking office in Kuching before you go - do this a day or two in advance to secure a bed.

Other observations:

x) Trails cannot be done in flip flops as we saw some people attempting! Take good walking shoes with you.

xx) You don't need a guide for the trails as they are well marked and clear, although they were difficult so it helps if you are reasonably fit - have water with you at all times as it gets very hot.

Additional photos below
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11th April 2013

What an unbelievable part of your trip. I can only imagine what it must have been like. You will have some hell of a story to tell your kids........... Still missing you loads. Stay safe and see you soon. A A xxx

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