Exploring the wilds of Borneo: Bako National Park
YOU don’t have to go far in Sarawak to find the jungle. In fact you see it from the plane as you descend into the capital Kuching – a tangled green mass stretches out below you, actually covering three quarters of the state in Malaysian Borneo or 8.7 million hectares. Even if you’re not too sure of your maths, rest assured that’s a lot of jungle.
One of the best places to get a taste of this immense jungle and its inhabitants is in the state’s oldest national park, Bako, just a short bus and boat ride from the capital. In fact, there are few places in the world you can be in such a bustling city and within an hour in such intense forest.
Bako has 2727 hectares of pristine forests, beaches, mangroves, rocks and waterfalls, and an array of hiking paths linking these. They are well laid out on a map you are given on arrival, and very well marked so there’s no chance of getting lost, but you can hire a guide if you wish.
Bako National Park contains much of Borneo’s rare and unusual flora and fauna, including the Probiscus monkey with its distinctive upturned nose, found only here in Borneo. You will also find the cheeky macaque monkey, the cute silver leaf monkey, various pigs, vipers, pythons and even flying lemurs. While you’ll easily see the monkeys and pigs during the day, and probably not far from the park office, you’ll need to join the guided night walks from the park office to spot the nocturnal animals and things that slither and hide away.
These tours leave every night on dark and with the aid of a torch and much know how, the guide takes you along paths near the overnight bush cabins. Undertake a night walk and you just might be surprised by how much wildlife there is among the jungle.
There are seven ecosystems in Bako National Park and you won’t need much help investigating these, but to do so you will need to cover some distance. Bako is really all about its walking tracks that traverse the thick jungle and those that come here also come prepared to walk.
There are actually 30km of walks and none are particularly difficult. There are also plenty of places to sit and enjoy the ocean views and unspoiled jungle along the way, but given the high humidity in the park you’re best to undertake a walk that enables you to swim either at a waterfall like the Tajor trek (2 hours) or one of the beautiful and remote beaches like Cove Beach (take the Telok Paku or Telok Pandan Kecil trail) so you can cool off before you begin the trek back. Water is truly your friend in this part of the world, so make sure you are always well hydrated. There are some stretches on the tracks that provide no shade so a hat is also advisable.
A really great walk to explore the various vegetation of the park is Jalan Lintang, where you’ll also fine an incredible number, size and variety of the carnivorous pitcher plants. After rain these fill with water and are fantastic to photograph. They look exactly as the name suggests – small, medium and large sized pitchers. The other carnivorous plant to look out for at Bako is the bladderwort.
Many people visit Bako on a day trip or even overnight, but really neither is an adequate time to really explore and if you can leave at least two nights in your itinerary you’ll be glad of the additional time for exploration.
To make a booking to stay overnight in the park go to the Visitor Information Centre and National Park Booking Office in Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg, tel: +60 82 410944
Transport to Bako
At this author’s time of travel you had to get a bus (RM 2, 1 hour) from Kuching and then a boat from the park terminal (RM 47 for 5 people). These prices might have changed slightly. In any case it was best to start early if you had to make the last bus back (5pm). For more ease of access you can book a day trip through or arrange a taxi (RM 40, 40 mins). It’s also possible to stay overnight in basic bush cabins which means you don’t have to rush back and can undertake the night walks.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to find out more about travelling to Malaysia, please visit the Tourism Malaysia website
About the author…
Joanne Lane (Australia)
Joanne Lane is an Australian freelance photojournalist based in Brisbane. A love of writing from an early age led her to complete a university journalism degree in 1996 with the idea of pursuing sports journalism, but she soon found the constraints of the newsroom too much. The travel bug soon hit and Jo has now travelled to some 40 countries or more and lived in a few as well, writing and documenting her experiences for newspapers, magazines and online sources around the world. For more details, see www.visitedplanet.com.