Conquering Fears For A Memorable Day Out In Nature At Bako National Park

Without knowing much about Kuching, we booked our flights to the Cat City because of an airfare promotion which we thought was too good to be missed. 😛 So while searching for things to do to fill up our 4D3N in the city, Bako National Park constantly came up as one of the top search results. Since we didn’t have the luxury of time to travel to the bigger national parks in Sarawak such as Gunung Mulu National Park, Bako National Park was an obvious choice to include in our itinerary.

Established in 1957, Bako National Park is the oldest national park in Sarawak. Despite its much smaller size at 27 square kilometres, which is nowhere comparable to big brothers like Gunung Mulu & Loagan Bunut National Park in Miri (northeastern Sarawak), Bako offers a superb introduction to the state’s vast wilderness. At least, it allows amateurs like me to immerse in Sarawak’s natural beauty & experience what it’s like to be in the land where adventure lives. 🙂 In the first of this 2-part series on Bako, I’ll focus on the amazing natural scenery we saw during the memorable day hike at the park.

To get to Bako National Park, the only mode of transport is by boat, as the park is an island by itself. From Kuching city centre, it takes about 45 min to get to Bako Ferry Terminal, about 40 km away on the road. We engaged the same agent that brought us to Bau & Sarawak Cultural Village the previous day for our Bako day trip, at a price of 250 MYR (~S$80.65) per pax. It was sunny that morning & the views from the small Malay fishing village’s terminal looked so beautiful & peaceful.

Looking at such fascinating scenery throughout the 20-min boat ride certainly helped to lift off all troubles!

After a quick toilet break + some photo taking, we set off on a private boat with our guide for the day – Bujang. Kent the driver didn’t join us to the park, I guess that’s not part of his job… Bujang is an elderly Malay living in Bako village, who used to work full-time in the park, but switched to be a freelance licenced guide in the last few years. He told us in the past, visitors had to take a long 3-hour boat ride to Bako National Park from Kuching. But thanks to land reclamation, we can now get there with a 45-min car + 20-min boat ride.

It was high tide when we took the boat to Bako that morning, so we disembarked at the jetty about 10 min walk away from the visitor centre. We arrived at a quarter after 9 & there were many visitors at the jetty. With such surreal views to welcome us, everyone, including us was excited about the adventure we were going to embark on.

Big trail map for easy reference in front of visitor centre

While Bujang went to the visitor centre to register for us, we hung around. As seen on the map above, there are a total of 16 colour-coded trails of varying lengths & difficulties in the park. Since we were only there for the day and not staying overnight, we chose the easier ones which would still allow us to check out the wide range of vegetation & wildlife there. Bujang mentioned that the Lintang loop track is very popular, as it passes through almost all the different types of vegetation that can be found in Bako. But he advised against us taking that trail as the hike would take 3 to 4 hours & some parts are very steep climbs in the forest. Since we expressed interest in spotting all the unique wildlife in the park, he said that it would be good enough to stick nearer to the area around HQ (Telok Assam) where wildlife could be easily seen instead of venturing too deep in the jungle.

Took a shortcut through the bushes & landed on this awesome beach 🙂

Perhaps Lady Luck was shining on us that morning, right after registering at the visitor centre, we already spotted some of the wildlife. Bujang also led us through the bushes, a shortcut to the pristine sandy beach just a short walk ahead, where we found many silvered-leaf monkeys on the tall trees. Not only were we excited by the surprise find, we were equally enthralled by the breathtaking scenery ahead of us too (photo above). The shining sandstone cliffs covered with lush green vegetation, coupled with a stunning backdrop of the white fluffy clouds & clear blue sky, looked exactly like a perfect landscape painting. I love the clear reflections of the horizon on the crystalline waters as well. 🙂

Thereafter, we walked back to the area behind the visitor centre, an easy boardwalk trail on flat terrain, where the park lodging could be found. In case you didn’t know, visitors can choose to stay overnight at Bako National Park so that you can hike on the longer & more challenging trails & not have to worry about catching the last boat back to mainland. I read about some of the night trails they offer, which seems very interesting too. It was true that the area around park HQ is filled with a diverse range of flora & fauna, thanks to the expert ears & eyes of Bujang. 🙂

Forgot the name of this plant, but the leaves looked interesting so we took a pic of it

The weather at Bako changed rapidly, from a bright & sunny start when we arrived around 9.15 am, to dark clouds that began forming slightly after an hour. The gloomy clouds looked set to inch towards the island, so Bujang suggested we take a boat ride to check out the famous Sea Stack Formation first before continuing to hike. Since he was the expert here, we obliged to his change in plan & returned to the jetty to make our way to the iconic Sea Stack in front of the Pandan Kecil beach up north.

Strangely, the water towards the north was more emerald green than blue like the beach around Telok Assam. Nonetheless, it was still a beautiful trip out at sea admiring the natural rock formations along the coastline enroute to Bako’s landmark. Regardless of the number of times I’ve witnessed beautiful works of Mother Nature, I remain intrigued by dramatic natural formations over millions of years, whenever I come up close with them. So likewise at Bako, I just couldn’t keep my eyes off the amazingly eroded rocks & sea cliffs. Of course, the highlight of the 10-min boat adventure to Pandan Kecil had to be the iconic Sea Stack Formation above. It is said to resemble a Cobra head, what do you think? 😉

Overcast sky in the background when we returned to the jetty

The ride back to the jetty near park HQ was getting rockier with strong sea breeze & more dark clouds approaching. At first Bujang asked if we wanna disembark in between at a small secluded beach at Telok Paku, then continue the journey back to HQ by hiking through cliff forest. But he cautioned some parts may be steep & tiring, so we decided not to do that & returned to the same point where we boarded the boat. We were kinda undecided which trail to take upon return, as he kept stressing that many trails require a lot of step climbing & could be too steep for my comfort, given I had told him of my aching limbs due to the cave adventure. So we started on the easy boardwalk again, in the opposite direction from the HQ, before he brought us to a more rustic trail that he was unsure if we would be game enough for.

As seen from collage above, the sandy forested path looks pretty manageable for my standard. Hence we agreed to continue on this trail, name unknown as we didn’t see any signage or markers. At least we wouldn’t leave Bako with a regret for not doing the more rustic trails just because of aching feet. But little did I know that the manageable sandy path become a challenge shortly after we got in.

If you recall from my post on Bau caves earlier on, I have a fear for steps, particularly steep & narrow ones. I am also not a professional hiker who is confident of walking on uncharted paths in muddy or sandy conditions, & there were lots of such situations throughout the hour-long hike! Thankfully, I brought along my hiking stick to Bako, although I was still very nervous when I had to scramble through those challenges. Because I had to concentrate & put most of my attention for safety, I didn’t take too many photos during the forest hike. Nonetheless, here are some photos for a glimpse of the challenge I had to go through… 😭

Parts of the trail that we had to hike through. I didn’t take pic of the long flight of stairs we had to climb up, only rem when we were walking down the short flights of widely spaced & bouncy wooden stairs

Some of the jungle vegetation seen, such as super long pandan leaves & gosh, how does the huge rock balance itself so well on the tip of a small rock? 😲 (centre pic)

The most challenging part of the hike was at the end where Bujang said we should take a shortcut down to the beach where the mangrove forest is, in order to save time as we could feel raindrops falling on our shoulders already. Basically to get down to the mangrove forest, we had to go through a hole in between some big rocks in order to be on flat land. See below to understand what I mean. 😉

We made it through that hole behind us! ✌

Our first reaction on seeing that challenge was “oh my gawd! how are we going to make it?” Bujang “demonstrated” to us how it could be done, followed by my friend. I had no choice, but to follow suit, to sit down on the rocky terrain then “slide” myself down with all my might, as I wasn’t tall enough for feet to touch the ground immediately on sitting down, hahaha. Looking back, it was a scary yet fun, & definitely memorable challenge! My friend even commented I should give myself a pat on the back as I was more composed despite the hike here being more arduous than the Fairy Cave adventure. Maybe that’s the difference between a newbie & an experienced hiker? 😅

Hiking through the mangrove forest

Like what Bujang said, hiking through this isolated part of the park was easy, as it was mainly flat land. We just had to clear the intertwining branches & leaves of trees & be careful of the softer muddy ground as we walked. It was also a quiet trail where we didn’t find anyone else except us & a bunch of macques. But to enjoy such peace, we had to pay a price for it (the challenge to get through the hole above). No wonder Bujang joked that the easiest trail is almost always the hardest as well. 😛

As we cleared the dense mangrove forest into the secluded beautiful beach, we saw this cluster of huge sandstone rocks (pictured above) where we had to squeeze through to get to the other side. There were 2 narrow passages we had to pass through, with the second one being narrower (top right photo), but fortunately, we ain’t that fat haha. Nonetheless, the gap here was definitely not as terrifying as the one above. 😛 Of course, I’m not talking about the gap pictured in the bottom of the collage! Btw, that’s Bujang our Bako guide in the bottom right photo where he posed for a pic at the first passage. 😉

Great times always fly by very quickly. It was almost 1 pm by then & Bujang suggested we return to ferry terminal on mainland for lunch (included in the tour). He claimed that the food at the park’s only canteen would be cold given the cooking was done in the morning so it was better to eat elsewhere. Since it was likely to rain in the afternoon = there might not be any ferry service if it was too dangerous to cruise, we heeded his advice. Instead of boarding the boat from the same jetty where we disembarked, we waited for the boatman at the beach (pictured above) because it was the pick-up point during low tide.

If only we had a full day of great weather to play with that day so that we could immerse ourselves longer in the awesome Bako National Park, as we had expected to leave the park later around 3 pm with some more hiking after lunch. But oh well… at least it was still a wonderful 4 hours soaking in the beauty of 1 of Borneo’s most interesting rainforests.

Stay tuned for my next post on the fascinating wildlife in Bako National Park!

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