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Bako National Park, the oldest national park in Sarawak, was established shortly before Malaysia achieved full independence in 1954, and is today an ideal day trip for nature lovers and eco-minded adventurers. We headed there expecting to discover its extraordinary variety of natural scenery, habitats, plant life, and of course for its wildlife and especially for catching a sight of the bizarre, obscene-nosed Proboscis Monkey.
The minivan drive from Kuching Town to Kampung Bako (Bako Village) lasted about 30 minutes. At the park visitors center we registered while the guide arranged our boat ride. At the jetty we got acquainted with the main danger of this amazing environment: the saltwater crocodiles that may be found near river mouths and in mangrove swamps. I got a spooky feeling as I read the warning signs and looked at the murky waters infested with crocs, and I thought about the often-told story of the 14years old local boy who went fishing for crabs and turned into breakfast for one of the giant lizards.
Opposite the jetty, on the other side of the river, a picturesque fishermen village showed off colourful shacks on stilts where a Muslim community of fishermen lives, and nearby pontoons where fishing boats were moored. We learned that the local Government plans to add this river mouth area and its mangroves as part of Bako National Park for an easier environmental control.
The old boatman, dark-skinned, wide-eared and a sporting a huge smile, maneuvered the engine and pushed the small canvas-roofed wooden boat away from the shore for the 20-minute ride to Bako National Park headquarters situated on a peninsula. The boat ride was exhilarating in itself, and it is indeed part of Bako experience as you pass through stunning scenery. We splashed away towards the South China Sea along a coastline flanked by fully grown mangroves, no bridges crossing the river, and we passed by long poles sticking out of the sea in ordered groups. These are Nibong Palm trunks, a multi-thorn, multipurpose plant used in flooring and wall coverings, and here by fishermen to attach fishing nets that catch anchovies and shrimps when the tides grow or recede.
As we approached the river mouth, to our left Mount Santubong peaked majestically, its natural reserve where the Rainforest World Music Festival was held a few days before as a backdrop. Constant erosion over millions of years turned Bako into a picturesque coastline of steep cliffs, sea stacks, rocky headlands, and many stretches of sandy bays. To our right, jungle-covered hills towering over unique geological features like multilayer granitic rocks with iron patterns, iron skin formations, iron ridges, all so spectacular and artistic and shared by a flock of seagulls that circled above us.
The boat finally reached the small jetty on the northern end of Bako headquarter’s beach. We walked the boardwalks on stilts to reach the Bako National Park HQ where the registration center and the canteen are based. The interior of the park can only be traversed on foot, and there is a board listing and mapping 16 color-coded jungle trails. At the HQ, we were immediately eyed by a group of naughty macaque monkeys who scatter rubbish and disturb visitors. We also sighted a huge bearded wild boar peacefully sunbathing on the lawn and another roaming freely, eating grass and rolling over stinky mud to repel insects and control body temperature; when the guide reassured us these mammals indigenous to Borneo are not dangerous to humans, we replied that being Italians, ‘Tagliatelle with wild boar sauce’ immediately came to our mind; after all, we may be the dangerous species for them and not the other way around…
Registration and formalities took 5 minutes and are to ensure visitors do not get lost in the park and be unaccounted for. Nearby is the lodging area where covered sheds and lodging are built, as well as the camping ground.
THE PROBOSCIS MONKEYS
Bako National Park’s dense rainforests are home to a wide range of animals, birds and plant life, including Bako’s most famous residents, the bizarre Proboscis Monkeys. About 150 of this highly endangered species live around the small park, and catching a sight of them is guaranteed as they are often close enough to the HQ area, foraging in the exposed Mangrove tree swamps or jumping from tree-top to tree-top. We started walking behind our guide Wayne and in less than a minute we heard noises from above: a group of Proboscis Monkeys were jumping around, their funny-looking nose pounding up and down, and we got an immediate chance to look at them really close up. It was a good start.
Tourists of all nationalities come to see the Proboscis Monkeys, with Bako National Park’s number of visitors peaking in recent years. Wayne told us some of the Proboscis Monkeys’ characteristics: they are endemic in the Bako area and are divided into two groups, the young bachelors and the dominant male. Young bachelors and females weight up to 25kg, dominant males up to 50kg; they feed on mangrove leaves and fruits and veggies, have two separate stomachs and sugar consumption provokes their death. The dominant male’s nose is bigger and darker, and his group comprises a male and 9 to 25 females with him that he uses to breed siblings. The groups of bachelors are composed of mainly males; they play most of the time, and at times one detaches to fight a dominant male and get control of his group, consequently taking over all females of that group, killing all the existing babies and starting a dynasty of his own.
He needs of course to abandon the bachelors group and from that moment has to defend the harem from his ex-friends. Becoming a dominant male can have its advantages, but eventually takes its toll on the male that now has to defend the harem, copulate often and bear with a huge amount of stress (perhaps the reason why his nose turns darker). Proboscis Monkeys can live 15-20 years on wet land.
We continued our walk under the canopy of trees accompanied by a distinctive stench: Proboscis Monkeys’ urine. Bako National Park is also home to various types of animals that are commonly spotted, like silvered langurs, flying squirrels, flying lizards and monitor lizards as well as hundreds of different bird species, but we had no much luck apart from seeing a fleeting squirrel, and a big green pit viper hanging motionless on a branch and, by the look of its belly, digesting lunch.
Green pit viper tend to eat and then stay motionless in the same place for over two days to digest the prey, and this allowed us for great close up pictures. Wildlife is most active just before dusk, which means those staying in Bako National Park overnight have better chances to see more of it.
Bako National Park is one of the best places in Sarawak to see wildlife in a natural setting, as it contains almost every type of vegetation to be found in Sarawak, including highly distinctive carnivorous plants, or pitcher plants.
There are 7 distinct types of ecosystem in Sarawak, with 7 types of different vegetation – beach vegetation, cliff vegetation, heath forest, mangrove forest, mixed dipterocarp forest, grasslands vegetation and peat swamp forest – giving the region a remarkable diversity of animal and plant life. There are lots of easy walks on duckboards, and I was thrilled at the fascinating wide range of vegetation I saw close up, including lots of wild orchids.
Wayne is a local mix-breed between a Chinese and a tribal family. Tattoed with local motives and possessing a great wealth of information on the Bako National Park and its nature, and everything else really. Most of the info in this article was supplied by him during conversations! He explained that would-be guides need to spend a month in each National Park they intend to take visitors to, in order to learn notions and get their license. Guide licenses are renewable yearly and carry compulsory day refreshment courses every 3 months on each national park. ABC course is also compulsory to become a guide.
Wayne works with CPH Travel, the company that supplied all our tours, and we would not hesitate to recommend them for your needs when in Sarawak. All guides are nice and professional and speak languages, the company has won several government quality and green awards, their programs are comprehensive and flexible and their minivans and buses are new and comfortable. Their main office is in Kuching Town, on the ground floor at n.70 of Padungan Road, not far from Kuching’s cat statue, and they have a branch in Damai at the Damai Puri Resort. Contact them on +6 082414921 or via http://www.cphtravel.com.my/
We returned in the mid-afternoon to our hotel with plenty of tales and a huge amount of pictures, our expectations fully fulfilled. Visit Bako National Park if you are in the area, you will not be disappointed.
READ ASIAN ITINERARY JUNGLE TREKKING TO BAKO AT https://asianitinerary.com/jungle-trekking-at-bako-national-park/
READ BAKO FACTSHEET AT https://asianitinerary.com/bako-national-park-factsheet/