Written by: Jaii Fredregill
Destination: Bako National Park, Sarawak, Malaysia
Visited: May 2016
Bako National Park is located on the island of Borneo in eastern Malaysia. A remote and protected National Park, it serves as a safe haven for the many creatures who call it home. There are no roads, so most travel here by boat from Bako terminal. From Kuching, you will need to take a cab, van or bus to the terminal. I have included more on getting there at the end of this post.
If you are only spending the day, getting an early start to make the most of the daylight hours is a good idea. The last boats off the island depart at 3:00 pm. With special arrangements and additional cost, a boat can take you back as late as 5:00 pm. For those of you who only get up early to go to work, I promise you that getting up to see endangered proboscis monkeys is far more rewarding than getting up to see your boss’s face.
We unintentionally chose a particularly rainy day to visit. In fact, at times the downpours fell like walls of water, and I would be lying if I told you that this didn’t start to dampen my spirits. Luckily, my husband is reasonably optimistic, often marching to the beat of his own happy drum, and posing questions like, “but what if this is the only chance you ever get to hike through a jungle in a rainstorm?” I appreciate his perspective even if I question his sanity.
Crocodile warnings posted in both Bahasa Melayu and English are very real.
Upon arriving at the terminal, we took shelter with the rest of the visitors until the boat captains felt the rain had eased up enough to board passengers. Killing time here is not exciting, but it is at least comfortable. There are bathrooms and a restaurant, and you can pick up one of those plastic bags shaped like a rain poncho for just 5RM. That’s only about a buck and quarter USD, and worth so much more when you really need a garbage bag poncho.
Crews ready boats during a break in the rain at Bako Terminal.
We packed a PB&J lunch, but the restaurant serves hot food and coffee for those who might show up hungry. There is also a restaurant in Bako they call “The Canteen.” This is an important landmark to be aware of even if you do not need to eat because the boats back to Bako terminal often pick passengers up on the beach in front of the canteen when it’s low-tide.
A friendly boat Captain unfazed by familiar tropical rains.
Once you get to the park sign in at HQ, so the rangers know you’re there, and can look for you if you never sign out. They also have maps, bathrooms, and vast knowledge to share about the trails. Some paths were closed for maintenance during our visit, but we were still able to find our way through the jungle to a beach and a waterfall.
When you are facing the island with your back to the sea, take the trail to the right of the boat dock to find HQ. Or just follow the monkeys riding the pigs.
Borneo bearded pig hanging around HQ.
Telok Limau is the longest trail at a little over 10km/6.2 miles roundtrip. There are plenty of shorter trails, so the distance you hike in a day is up to you. The terrain of your chosen path should be taken into consideration when you plan your trek. Vines cover the rainforest floor in twisted, gnarled patterns along steep trails that can be challenging to maneuver. Though only 10 km, we were told that Telok Limau is estimated to take up to 7-hours.
A side-by-side of the red trail heading up and then down.
It is also wise to pay attention to where you place your hands and feet as you make your way through this jungle. It appears that the park is in the process of replacing old, worn structures with new.
Thorny Hill Sago plants found throughout Borneo jungles. Photo by Bernard Dupont.
However, currently the handrails and spacing of some of the boards on wooden walkways and bridges can be a little tricky, and some are missing altogether. Additionally, carnivorous plants and Hill Sago are part of the wilderness here, and you do not want to slip and faceplant into either.
The bridge to the jungle.
Borneo bearded pigs, silvery lutungs, long-tailed macaques, water monitors, plantain squirrels, otters and of course, Proboscis monkeys are just some of the wildlife that calls Bako’s lush 27.27 sq km home. The park is also a refuge for several species of birds, reptiles, and nocturnal creatures. We encountered quite a bit of life even in the rain. We began to speculate on what it must be like there at night and agreed that we would like to return to camp in the park once the rest of the trails re-open.
Long-tailed macaques are frequently encountered around Bako.
The day passed quickly. Before we knew it, we were hustling back to sign out with HQ and catch our boat. On board, everyone sat quietly in our soggy clothes as the boat bounced along on the waves. High reaching mounds of earth and wind-sculpted islands breached the water on either side of us.
Jungle flora popped brightly against the dark rock, coercing what little blue there was in the sky to come forward with unthreatening white clouds. I was sad to go and sorry to have wasted even a second of my time here on unhappiness over something as trivial as a downpour.
Here’s more information on getting to, hanging out in, and sleeping over at Bako.
A slightly blurry snapshot of Bako Terminal at Bako Market.
Getting to Bako National Park from Kuching
To get to Bako National Park, you must take a boat from the Bako market. The cost is currently 20RM for non-Malaysians and 15RM for locals. You can make all arrangements at Bako terminal, which you will find at the market. The entrance fee to enter the park is 20RM for non-Malaysians and 10RM for locals.
Bus – The most affordable transportation to Bako market is Bus #1 from Kuching. It runs once per hour from 7 am – 5 pm. It is always wise to check with the driver, to make sure you’re back in time to catch the last bus, so don’t be shy. It’s about 50 minutes each direction and costs 3.50 RM. You can get a bus near the Electra building at the wet market. There are a few more stops in Kuching, so ask around or check with your hotel.
Van – There are communal minivans from this same wet market. They cost 30 RM each way and hold around seven passengers. This option gets you to Bako market faster. However, they do not leave until all seats are full. You can barter with the driver for any additional amount you’re willing to pay to if you don’t want to wait for more passengers to fill the seats.
Taxi – If you are willing to pay more for a private van, you also have the option to take a taxi directly from your hotel for around the same cost. If you are staying outside of Kuching, a taxi may be the best option. Our hotel was charging 120RM for a taxi to Bako market, which was almost double the cost of what a 45-minute taxi ride costs in this part of the world. Someday, when we meet for a drink, I will tell you exactly what I think of hotels making a profit on calling a taxi for a guest. For now, the bright side of this situation.
You can find more information on Bako trails, plants, and wildlife here
Camping & Lodging