Bako National Park was on the agenda today and what an amazing day. It is a 27 square kilometre peninsula full of dense (and ridiculous hot/humid) jungle, hiking trails and almost a guaranteed wildlife spotting experience.
First, can we all give a round of applause because I didn’t get lost once during this journey?
So, from the the downtown area, you can catch the number 1 bus (it’s red – the buses are colour-coded!) to Bako from the riverfront area, directly across the street from the Riverside Majestic Hotel. I say directly across the street because this seems to be the only bus stop that doesn’t look like a bus stop. It is a random bench and plastic chair underneath a giant McDonald’s advertisement. So, easy to walk right by (which I didn’t do) and not know what it is.
The bus takes you right to the boat terminal for the national park. It takes about 40 minutes to get there and costs 3.50 MYR (a smidgen more than $1 CDN). Easy peasy.
At the boat terminal, you purchase your entry ticket to the national park (20 MYR, about $5.50 CDN) and at the next counter, your boat transfer (40 MYR return ticket, about $11 CDN). The boat leaves whenever there is enough people – seems that five is the minimum but they might still make you wait around as they hope to get 8-10 people). Be patient. Also? the boat ride is about 30 minutes and be prepared to take off your shoes and roll up your pants as high tide is still present in the morning and you’ll have to hop out of the boat and wade your way onto the beach to get to the park. The nice thing is that there are taps of water to wash the sand off your feet before you slip your footwear back on.
Be prepared to spend most of the on at the park as during low tide it is pretty much impossible for the transfer boats to bring you back to the terminal. The tide starts coming back in around 3:00 p.m. and even then, it’s quite low and the journey back to the terminal is much slower as the boat driver navigates random sand shoals that weren’t there on your way in. You’ll also see boats marooned on the sand shoals and people walking on them with sticks as they try to get crabs and other seafood during low tide. From a distance it looks like people are walking on water.
I hired a licensed guide at the boat terminal (100 MYR for the day….about $33 CDN). This is the last point at which you can hire a guide – there are none in the national park for hire. You don’t necessarily need a guide – the trails are very well marked and it is easy to navigate. I opted for a guide because I wanted to have information about the wildlife, the trees, flowers, etc. The guide also knew the best spots to find wildlife and he will take you off the standard trail to check out other areas where you might see some interesting wildlife. I had a great experience (licensed guides actually undergo training to learn info on the area and also receive training in first aid given the number of poisonous things that can kill you in the park) with my guide and highly recommend hiring one. Your hotel can also help you arrange for a guide, if you’d rather not wait until the terminal to hire someone.
Early in the morning, my guide and I did a short 2 km trek around the base of the park (Telok Paku Trail). The first part is along a wooden boardwalk (be careful – many loose boards and lots of termite activity have weakened the boardwalk. The park is presently building a concrete walkway to fix this issue).
Within the first five minutes of our walk, we had already spotted bearded pigs and wild boars! They were digging in the sand for tree roots. We also came across several more while walking along the boardwalk and the beach.
Shortly after spotting the bearded pigs, we came across a tree that had about 30 silver leaf monkeys chomping down on leaves. The guide told me that all the local guides call these monkeys “David Beckham” because of the monkeys’ hairstyle. It was incredible to see them flinging themselves from branch to branch and snacking on leaves.
The park is incredibly well preserved and the wildlife generally has no interest in visitors. If you are silent, they may glance at you occasionally while having their snacks, but if there’s too much noise, they tend to climb further up into the trees to hide. So, it’s best to whisper or be silent if you want to enjoy them.
We also saw hundreds of crabs, blue crabs, hermit crabs, lizards, mudskippers, stingless bees (and their nest), a poisonous viper snake just chilling out on a branch (also a good reason to have a guide – he looks for these things as you’re crawling and scrambling over rocks and tree roots and will stop you from walking right into a branch with a deadly snake on it. This is worth all of my $33 any day of the week).
Later down the trail, we saw proboscis monkeys and long-tailed macaques. At the end of one trail, we ended at the beach for a lovely break (and sweet, sweet breezes) and were lucky enough to seek some macaques trot by on their way to more eating. (TIP: When you pop out on the beach at the end of the trail, walk towards the giant stone façade that’s less than 50 meters away. You will be rewarded with freezing cold water around the rocks and splashing from up above. It feels like a small miracle when you’ve been sweating in the humid jungle for the last few hours).
At the end of the day (after hoofing it through mangroves), we saw several more proboscis monkeys snacking on tree leaves.
It was incredible to see wildlife doing their wildlife thing and this park is not to be missed. It’s hot, humid, sunburn-y (doesn’t matter how many times you reapply – it is so humid in there that your skin just won’t absorb the sunscreen. And if it does? It lasts about 10 minutes before you start seeing it pop back up on your skin and start to separate), and you are drenched in sweat but it is well worth it for all the amazing wildlife you will see.
There are a number of trails that range in length and duration available. Some are 3-4 km while others are 8 km. Some take 1.5-3 hours while others take 6 hours. When arriving at the park, you really just need to ask yourself why you are there. If it’s to see the wildlife, do the short trails. The higher up you go, there are absolutely no animals as it is too sunny and too exposed. If you’re at the park to enjoy the hiking trails, then by all means climb up my friends.
The trail where you will find the most wildlife is short and isn’t particularly difficult to do. There are definitely some dicey moments where you seriously wish you had a tree root available and moments where you will practice parcour talents that you didn’t know you had, but for avid hikers the trail isn’t any level of great difficulty. (Enjoyable, but not challenging).
If you’re at the park to do both, consider checking out the animals on the easy trail in the morning (before they all go to snooze in the afternoon) and do the more challenging treks (like the waterfall that is just sheer, steep rock scrambling and tree root stepping) in the afternoon.
You can also stay overnight in hostel-esque accommodations in the national park if you choose….but the park is also an incredibly easy day trip from Kuching.
- Get a guide – for $33 it is worth it for the wealth of information and animal spotting expertise. Remember, there are absolutely no guides for hire once you reach Bako. You absolutely must book a guide before you leave the jetty terminal.
- The trails are slippery, so wear good shoes.
- Bring far more water than you think you need – you will need it.
- Bring a towel to dry your feet after sloshing through the water to get to the beach. (Because after you rinse off your feet, you have no choice but to put your dry socks on your wet feet into your hiking boots and spend basically the rest of the day that way)
- Bring snacks. There is a cafeteria to get food and drinks, but it could be several hours before you get back to the beginning of the trail to buy them. You will have worked up a serious hunger well before then.
- Bring toilet paper. None is provided in the public bathrooms and none is available for purchase.
- Bring a rain cover for your backpack. It is known to randomly rain and you don’t want your gear to get wet. It never rains for long, but it is always long enough for your stuff to get soaked, including that camera you’ve been toting around.
- Don’t worry about everything you’ve heard about leeches. I didn’t see any and my guide chuckled when I asked about them. Feel free to wear shorts and t-shirts. No need to suffer in pants and long sleeves (as I did) to avoid non-existent leeches.