First thing I need to tell you is that I am scared of crocodiles and of wildlife in general. Second, only a few days earlier I had hiked in Kundasang and participated in a 5-kilometers marathon in Kuching organized by my ministry. Third, Asian people like to have fair skin and usually refuse to get a tan. So what a ridiculous and crazy idea it was to go on a jungle trekking at Bako National Park in Kuching, in the Malaysian Borneo. Yet, I did it. It all happened because of a Japanese old friend of mine who recently reappeared after an insanely long three-years silence on his side. We had not spent much time together for some time, and this is when the idea to hike in Bako popped up.
It was raining heavily on the morning I drove to pick up Takeshi from his hotel, and I had really thought of cancelling our plan as it was going to be a terrible day in Bako. Borneo has a typical rainforest climate, and the area would be swampy and wet. But Takeshi was confident that the rain would soon stop and the afternoon would turn sunny, so after a breakfast of traditional Laksa Sarawak soup, we headed to our destination.
The journey to Bako took 45 minutes by car. We registered at the reception and paid the entrance fee (RM 40 for foreigners and RM 35 for locals) which includes the boat journey. We boarded the boat and enjoyed the trip so much. Takeshi had been right: the rain did stop and the weather was perfect for a hike, not hot nor cold. The journey offered us spectacular views of Mount Santubong, the wetlands, the fisherman village and the the rocky shoreline.
Once we reached Bako National Park jetty, we had to register again at the counter, which is a measure taken to ensure all hikers exit the park before closure time. In case of an emergency, the park would know you are still inside and arrange for a search. The friendly lady at the counter informed us the last boat out of Bako would be at 4pm. She then suggested we join Elliot, a young man from USA, to a trip to Tajor, one of Bako trekking routes, which involves an extra boat trip. The boat to Tajor can carry up to 8 people, and as we were only 3 of us, we had to pay the RM 105 for the whole boat.
The water was receding fast and the boat driver urged us to get moving. As we boarded the boat, I looked out and realised how beautiful and unique Bako National Park is. The clouds were still towering in the sky. Soon we passed Teluk Assam and one of the most amazing sight I have ever seen: Bako sea stack. Created during a volcanic eruption hundreds of years ago, Bako sea stack has been declared one of the top 10 most amazing sea stacks in the world, behind Australia’s Twelve Apostles, Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay and Faroe Islands.
Tajor was indeed a very pleasant area. I was quite shocked to find myself in a very clean and lush area of deep jungle with little human disturbance. The nearby river’s waters were a mixture of red and brown, perhaps due to the earth brought by waterfalls and to the sea water mixing with freshwater. The area is so huge we were a bit worried we would miss the trek starting point, but eventually we noticed the wooden steps at the corner of the beach, partly concealed between miraculously green trees.
The trek was a bit rough at first, with wild and sharp branches obstructing the way; there were also lots of swampy areas due to the recent rains, as well as a lot of climbing to do. The sounds of the jungle engulfed the atmosphere: water flowing from the waterfall, birds chirping, leaves dropping and the guts of wind. Perhaps we had chosen the wrong track, or maybe it was the right one and the trail was simply hard.
It was only after a further 30 minutes that we reached Tajor Waterfall, beautifully surrounded by deep jungle. We were pressed for time to catch the last afternoon boat and as a consequence did not enjoy fully our bath in the natural pool, but we took great pictures that would serve as a memory of the journey. Tajor area is quite worth a visit for its pretty jungle settings. I would advise visitors to come early and to bring swimming costume and a towel.
We were ready for the hike back; we followed the trekking signs and walked past some spectacular mushrooms and wild plants, the best of all being the Pitcher Plant, known as Periuk Kera in Malay language. Some of the trees along the track had signs with their name and information. The trail changed its condition from wet jungle to dry jungle, and a wooden platform facilitated the way. The white soil was now covered in stones and in a number of leafless trees. This is due to the fact that the area is inhabited by proboscis monkeys – Monyet Belanda – who feed on leaves and roots, yet we had no luck and did not see any during our hike.
The whole trek lasted 3 hours and overall it was a great trek; we treated ourselves to a picnic in the jungle, met other trekkers and had good conversations that added to the whole experience. Bako National Park, with its wide range of vegetation, its rich variety of wildlife and its coastline covered with small bays, coves and beaches is like a short introduction to Borneo; I have been there, will you go too?
Bako National Park is not only about proboscis monkeys: there are a number of interesting species like lizards, snakes, flying lemurs, pangolins, bats, fireflies, mouse deers, pigs, bears and monkeys, plus a seaside area that includes lots of prawns, crabs and even starfish. You can also spot crocodiles, if you are lucky!
According to Sarawak Forestry Department, Bako National Park was gazetted in 1957, which makes it the oldest national park in the country, covering an area of 2,727 hectares of land in the Muara Tebas Peninsula. This park is the smallest in Sarawak, yet it is the most interesting one, probably thanks to the fact that almost every type of vegetation found in Borneo can be seen here.
Bako National Park is not about the rainforest alone: it occupies the beautiful South China sea and can achieve great panoramas from its beaches. It is inhabited by an amazing variety of flora and fauna, jungle streams, rocky shorelines 16 hiking trails, including Tanjung Sapi, Telok Paku and Telok Pandan Kecil. Bako is notable for its incredible biodiversity, encompassing from wild orchids to proboscis monkeys.
Accommodation is available in the form of chalets, lodges, hostels and a camping ground.
Bako is like a short introduction to Borneo and it is located 37 km away from Kuching, the capital of Sarawak. Bako National Park is accessible by bus, mini van and taxi; it is a 45 minutes drive from Kuching.
If you plan to go trekking, remember to bring with you a first-aid travel kit, a camera, mosquito repellent, sun screen lotion, walking or hiking shoes, a rain coat or an umbrella, spare dry clothes, a towel, some food and drink.
READ BAKO FACTSHEET AT http://asianitinerary.com/bako-national-park-factsheet/
READ ASIAN ITINERARY TOUR TO BAKO AT http://asianitinerary.com/bako-national-park/