Bako National Park – Borneo, Malaysia

Bako National Park is an incredible National Park in Sarawak, Borneo, which offers one of the widest ranges of the island’s plant and animal life in one concentrated area. Only a 45 mins bus ride, and a 30 mins boat ride from Kuching, it’s incredibly accessible. Taking the boat to get there, and having no roads connecting to the park actually added a sensation of true isolation.

WSE Travel - Bako National Park - Bako-Trails

Trails around Bako National Park (not to scale)

Accomodation

WSE Travel - Bako National Park - Bako-Cottages

Bako National Park Lodges

The park is well equipped with approximately 10 rentable lodges, dorm rooms & several campsite areas, some ‘fairly’ well marked trails (I -might- have gotten lost in the middle of the jungle), a main HQ with a shop, buffet and eating area, and a registry for guided night tours to see nocturnal animals. It’s not the type of ruggedness you might expect going into the Great Canadian Wilderness, with nothing but a compass and a map… but it’s still pretty damn cool!

Ecosystems

Pitcher Plant

While hiking on some of the trails, you walk through some pretty intense terrains. There’s everything from sea-side mangroves, to lush, musty jungle where every square inch has some form of life growing from it, to very dry, arid landscapes, with completely different plants, almost desert like in appearance. The change of scenery on the trail can happen as quickly as just stepping out of the jungle on to a rocky landscape, and then hopping back into the jungle 3 mins later. Of course, the jungle was a buzz with loud, ear piercing insects and birds. One type of cicada actually sounded like a car alarm going off. Being a bit of a tree-huggin nerd that I am, I was in my element. PLEASE NOTE: One thing to be aware of when entering these trails is that the maps provided are not to scale. A few of us tackled what was supposed to be a 3 hour hike. 5 hours later, and we had found ourselves on a pretty amazing beach… out of water, and scorched from the sun. We luckily saw a boat we could hire to drive us back to the base camp, as we hadn’t prepared ourselves to be gone that long. Lesson: Bring snacks, sun tan lotion, perhaps a loud whistle or noise maker, and water! Lots and lots of water! It gets hot and you sweat buckets in the jungle.

There are 7 complete ecosystems found in Bako National Park, including Beaches, Cliffs, Heath Forsests, Mangrove Forests, Mixed ‘Dipterocarp’ Forest, Grasslands and Peat Swamp Forests – each ecosystem has it’s own type of flora and fauna within.

WSE Travel - Bako National Park - Cliff overlooking Kecil Beach

Cliff overlooking Kecil Beach

Wildlife

But it’s not the veggies you’re really after, is it? Though quite fascinating to their own respect, most people want the meat! The unique encounters with the jungle based animals found within this park. There seems to be wildlife at every turn, if you keep your own noise down, and your eyes peeled – otherwise you risk scaring them away, or just missing them all together. During my 2 night stay in the park I managed to see countless wild Bornean bearded pigs (including heaps of little baby piglets), a few too many harassing long-tailed macaque, a large sun-bathing monitor lizard, a nocturnal flying lemur (totally awesome!), and about four different green asian pit-vipers (very deadly snakes – think “Kill Bill”‘s assassins)! The beaches are covered with hermit crabs, the sky filled with colourful birds by day, and insect-eating bats by night. Those are just what I managed to see… though the list is considerably longer of what’s possible there. Being wildlife, of course, nothing is ever guaranteed, but if you talk to the local guides, they may have the best insight as to where your chances are at their highest for seeing certain creatures.

WSE Travel - Bako National Park - Red Dragonfly

Red Dragonfly

WSE Travel - Bako National Park - Nocturnal Flying Lemur on the move

Nocturnal Flying Lemur on the move

WSE Travel - Bako National Park - Green Pit Viper

Green Pit Viper

The Main Event

One of the biggest highlights for me was the opportunity to see some of the endangered proboscis monkeys. In fact, Bako National Park is home to approximately 150 of the strange creatures. The reason I call them strange, is because they very well might be the most unfortunate looking primate I’ve ever seen. They are just a bit smaller than the average human. They’ve got beautifully coloured coats of a dark orange and dirty yellow bellies. They have  long agile arms, and strong hand-like feet, which come in handy when they’re leaping from tree to tree. The oddness comes with their large protruding bellies, brightly coloured genitalia, and their well endowed  noses. Yup. These fellas have penises on their faces. Of course, the female proboscis monkeys will tell you that size doesn’t matter, but the truth is.. the one’s with the bigger noses get their pick of the foxy-ladies. Typical. We coined their new scientific name the Monkious Promiscuous.

WSE Travel - Bako National Park - Proboscis Monkey

Proboscis Monkey

Pros

  • Wildlife: Of course, going into nature, the most obvious pros of being there are of course the flora and fauna (plants ‘n animals), in addition to the beautiful beaches and incredible cliffs.
  • Accommodation: Having decent sleeping facilities available is also a bonus. Being able to stay in the park, full of thieving monkeys, in a room with a lock on the door just enables you to stay and enjoy the nature for as long as your heart desires. With several different options, there’s something for just about everyone. Just don’t go expecting a 5 star resort. They are basic at best.
  • Staff: they were exceptionally nice. Many were villagers from nearby, who were passionate about the preservation of the land and animals… their home.
  • Remoteness. Although it’s not overly far from anything, it is still isolated, and you definitely get that sensation while visiting. There are plenty more parks in Borneo which are far less accessible, and far more remote, but this is a very comfortable medium for one to enjoy nature without having to be a graduated boy-scout
  • Offline: Yup.. this is a pro, even for a ‘digital nomad’ like myself. Sometimes it’s hard for us to cut ourselves off from this addictive online environment that we live in… but the feeling of disconnecting, if only for a day, to be able to reconnect with nature is not only healthy, I think it’s essential for humans. If you don’t think you’ll be able to be alone with your own thoughts for that long, bring a book or a journal, take a deep breath of fresh jungle air, and enjoy yourself.
WSE Travel - Bako National Park - Blue Pit Viper

Blue Pit Viper

Cons

  • Food: Barf. Though I’ve heard some say it was decent, especially since it fills the belly after a long day of hiking around in the sun, I found the food tables to be less than appetizing. It was a steam table buffet, which you pay for based on the quantity and types of food you select (though it’s quite hard to tell how much you’re going to have to pay with each meal.. they seem to make up the prices by eye-balling it). The food on the table just stays out all day until it’s empty, at which point they may or may not refill it. I lived mostly off rice and a couple veggie options, and hard boiled eggs, since they seemed to be the safest. Bring snacks from mainland.. just be careful about how you keep food in your rooms, as the wildlife will try to get at it.
  • Remoteness: though a plus on many levels, you are subject to their transportation guidelines. The boats that get to and from the park are paid for in full, even if the boats themselves aren’t full. In other words, the boat has a flat rate, and a max capacity of 5 people. If there’s only 1 person.. you still pay for the whole boat. It’s best to find some people at your hotel to go over with. In addition to this, if there was an accident -touch wood- it will take a while to co-ordinate boats to get there with medical assistance. Lesson here: Be safe, and follow the Park’s instructions.
  • Animals: This is not as much a ‘con’ as it is just a forewarning. Too many times I’ve heard people complaining about ‘not seeing the wildlife they were promised’. There is no promise or money-back guarantee to see wild life. It’s wild. These animals have a mind of their own, so it’s really a gamble. Just go with that in mind, that you may see nothing (which is HIGHLY unlikely), and then appreciate all the wild animals you actually are fortunate enough to see! I wish I had seen a leopard, but I think I’ll survive with all the other awesome animals I was able to see.
WSE Travel - Bako National Park - Macaque Mother with two babies

Macaque Mother with two babies

Reality Check

If you’re a nature lover, you’ll probably love Bako National Park. Though it’s not as “Off the beaten path” as we like, here at Where Sidewalks End, it’s still rugged and raw nature. I will never try to turn someone away from  experiencing the world’s beauty. It’s got some great amenities, doesn’t feel like a theme park, and even if the only animals you see are other naked apes taking pictures, you’ve still got some breathtaking scenery, in an area which is unplugged.

WSE Travel - Bako National Park - A family of Flying Lemurs

A family of Flying Lemurs

WSE Travel - Bako National Park, Borneo, Malaysia - Map

Bako National Park, Borneo, Malaysia – Map

What’s your favourite National Park to visit? Have you ever had any great wildlife experiences you’d like to share? How long have you survived being unplugged for in the past few years?

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WSE Travel -Proboscis Monkey

Proboscis Monkey