Bako National Park ~ Sarawak, Borneo


It's been a while since the last visit and butterflies were beginning to flutter in my tummy. 7 years can be a long time in the tropics. Life cycles seem to be shorter and longer at the same time.


It was a 5.30 morning call, we had to get to Bako village for an early check in at the park. Having arrived in Kuching the day before, we had not been able to get to the Visitor's Information Centre in time to make bookings for a place to stay at the park. Had our quick toast, jam and coffee at Singgahsana Lodge (breakfast included) where we stayed the night before and carrying with us only our overnighters, rushed off to catch the 7.00am bus. As Bako becomes a more and more popular destination , it is better to book your stay way in advance at Sarawak Forestry

Travelling to Bako

There are a number of ways of getting to Bako. One is to take a tour Or by taxi (RM47 per way) or by mini van. We decided on the bus. This public bus, now called Rapid Kuching (Red bus) leaves from Bus Stop no. 1 at Jln Market (open air market), opposite Elektra House for Bako Village (Kampung Bako) every hour from 7am till 6pm and costs a nominal fee of only RM3.50. Be prepared to wait though. It's not always on time.

The white mini vans take travellers into the outskirts of Kuching, charge at least double the price of public buses and waits to be filled before leaving. If need be, you can also catch one of these at the car park area opposite Electra House.

About 45 minutes later, we arrived at the bus stop at Kampung Bako. The Bako National Park office (more like a booth really) is by the jetty and manned by very helpful officers. Before entering the park, all visitors are to acquire permits which means just filling up a form and submitting to the officer there and a park fee of RM10 per person to be paid. Upon finding out that we hadn't booked a room at the park he promptly called the park to enquire on availability. The park is now a must see for anyone visiting Kuching and surroundings. Looking at the visitor chart, numbers have certainly jumped from several thousand in the early 90's to about several 10s of thousands in 2000s. Busy periods are especially on weekends. But on taking a closer look at the visitor chart, the peak seems to coincide with summer and winter holidays in Europe. However, the dormitories are difficult to book some days as tour agents bring in large tour groups. Unfortunate for us, we happened to visit on one of these booked out days.

Rooms at the Park

The officer at the jetty finally got a reply from the park and. there were no dorm bed left but there was a room available for RM105 per room per night. Ouch!

Okay, not to scare anyone away from staying overnight. Bako National Park has so much to offer nature wise. The only grouse we had was the housing condition. We had no choice but to stay at a RM105 per night room, with shared bathroom facilities but we had expected a little more of the cleanliness and upkeep of the place ...

Boat ride to Bako

Having been to Bako 3 times in my life, one of the highlights is the boat ride. The first two trips, we were totally drenched. The winds were strong, the rain was pelting on us and there was absolutely no cover from the direct bombardment; the boats were open-tops. Lesson no 1. make sure you bring along waterproof luggage. The recent trip in September was of fine weather, the water was still, the winds down and no rain. I'm not sure if the weather has anything to do with boat schedules but when the tide is low, boats have some difficulty getting to the jetty at the park and visitors may have to wade out to sea to the moored boat or enter and leave the park at tide related times ie earlier than expected sometimes.

The officer stationed at the Kampung Bako jetty usually arranges the boats for visitors. The local boatmen are licensed with the park and standard rate is RM40 per person per way and these boats can seat 4 - 6 persons comfortably. The ride takes some 45min, hugging the coastline, passing kelongs and fishermen out on their sampans pulling in their nets left out the night before. Finally, we arrived at the Bako National Park jetty.

precious mangrove forests are depleting as fishing farms and resorts are fast claiming coastlines

Let the boatman know when to expect you for your return trip and don't forget to ask for his name, just in case you have a change of plans and may need to get in touch with him. Normally, these boatmen will wait for visitors at the canteen so if you do have to change your plans, meet him there or pass on your message to the ranger or any of the other boatmen sitting around and they will be able to help you locate your boatman.

From the jetty, it's a bit of a walk to the ranger station. At the ranger station, visitors are required to pay RM10 for the entrance fee. For any room bookings, either pay there or present the voucher for the prepaid room. If you're early and roomkeeping has not completed their cleaning yet, then visitors can leave their baggage in the baggage room at the ranger station - hang around at the canteen or go on the treks.


In and around Bako ranger station

If you want to see lots of local fauna, this area is the best place to spot them. I guess we were the lucky ones. The residents around the centre are :

Bearded wild pig - a family of wild pigs are found rummaging for food around the canteen and chalets and sometimes along the beach. They are relatively harmless but keep your distance and try not to provoke them, taunt them etc.

Long Tailed Macaques - there are several troops patrolling the grounds. Although generally harmless, they can be a nuisance. These monkeys have a habit of thieving. Leave anything on the table and the next instance, a cadet has snitched it and run off up into the trees with your stuff. So don't leave anything unattended, don't leave the windows open when you leave the room and try not to feed them.

Silver Leaf Langurs or Silver Leaf Monkeys - visitors can often find a family swinging from tree to tree in the daytime. These shy monkeys keep very much to themselves and their only interest is to fill themselves with young shoots and leaves.

Wagler's Pit Viper - the last trip we were shown a tree in the rangers' quarters with at least 3 pit vipers lounging under its leafy shade. These snakes are venomous but just observe from a safe distance, as it is quite often poised in a tightened spring position and can uncoil pretty fast. This as a defence and also because it's vital diet of rats and birds has to invoke them to react fast or go hungry. Adults can grow to 90cm long and a litter up to 16 young are born. These snakes are born green with red and white spots along their backs, which later fade away.

Flying Lemur - to spot these creatures are difficult. They are nocturnal, arboreal and well camouflaged into the surroundings. But if you do get to see it especially in 'flight'. It's the most amazing sight and rare would you ever see one in the daytime. The best places to spot these animals are high up among the treetops, check along tree trunks. They adhere themselves to the vertical trunks comfortably and can remain motionless for hours. Best place? A cluster of jungle trees found in the open grounds between the chalets behind the rangers' station.

A little further on from the jetty, take the walkway to the mangrove swamp. This is where you may get to see the following:

Fiddler crabs - lots of these around, especially along the muddy banks

Mudskippers - like the crabs, can be found playing along the banks

Oriental Small-Clawed Otter and the Hairy-Nosed Otter - The oriental small-clawed otters are sometimes seen at Sungai Assam and the Hairy-nosed otter are sometimes seen early in the morning around the mangroves at Telok Assam. They spend most of their time in the water, feeding on fish, frogs and other small animals.

Proboscis Monkey - I think this highly endangered creature is the highlight for most visitors who come to Bako. Preferring young shoots of mangrove trees, these monkeys occasionally leave the safety of high treetops to forage at ground level along the muddy flats of the mangrove swamp. We had the privilege to witness such a rare sight on our last visit. The males came down to the flats whilst the young ones and the females remained in the forest cover. They spent a good hour on ground, moving from one stunted tree to the other. Being camera and people shy, they tried their best to keep out of view, hiding behind trunks and leafy cover. Best time to see them is early in the morning around daybreak and late evening before nightfall. There seems to be only one family around this area but according to the ranger, there are a few other families on the other set of mangrove swamp around the teluk assam area.

Water Monitor Lizard - can be found around the waterfront and sometimes under the jetty. Normally shy of people.

Boat prices to get around Bako National Park

For those not wanting to trek to the other pristine beaches found on the other side of the headland. Take a look at the rates ; then make arrangements with other visitors who has the similar intentions and split the cost.

Destinations

Capacity

Price per trip

Teluk Paku

1 - 5 persons

6 - 10 persons

RM18

RM5 per person

Teluk Pandan Kecil

1 - 5 persons

6 - 10 persons

RM37

RM8 per person

Tanjung Rhu

1 - 5 persons

6 - 10 persons

RM47

RM10 per person

Teluk Tanjur

1 - 5 persons

6 - 10 persons

RM115

RM18 per person

Pulau Lakei/Telok Limau

1 - 5 persons

6 - 10 persons

RM175

RM35 per person