You don’t come to Kubah National Park and not indulge in a spot of nocturnal frog bothering. They’re all over the place but the best place to find them is at the frog pond, 1.3kms from reception and just off the sealed road, so it’s a piece of piss to find. Frogs prefer being out in the dark, so that’s when we rocked up and crept around the boardwalk surrounding the pond, probably looking like we were out to mug someone for their wallet and a packet of fags. We switched off our torches and sat in silence, just listening.
In between the usual whistles, chirps and whoops of the jungle we picked out the distinctive croak of frogs. A metric shit tonne of them, all around us! If you shine your torch into the trees their eyes reflect back at you, and they stay pretty still if you go over to have a proper look at them, possibly because they’re scared shitless. Or because you’ve just blinded the poor little fucker with your light. I never knew I was this into frogs. Frogs are my new most favourite thing ever. We found so many different species, it was incredible, we didn’t even get bored looking at them. It was only because it was starting to get late, and grandma here does like her sleep, that we eventually tore ourselves away, shining lights into the trees and the pond to catch last glimpses of the bouncy little shits as we left.
There aren’t a huge amount of actual trails here so we thought we might as well have a bash at all of them, apart from the summit trail, largely because it’s a sealed road all the way. Also we’re both inherently lazy. We knew we were but it was highlighted when Nat and Laura were visiting and the second morning we were at Kinabalu National Park we took photos of the mountain from the car park then walked uphill up a sealed road to another view point and we were completely thrown. We were a bit like, oh, we’re actually going to walk up the big hill as opposed to just talking about doing it then changing our minds at the last minute and going for a beer instead? Well that’s novel! So we did talk about doing the summit trail at Kubah but somehow never, y’know, got around to it.
The Belian Trail though, we did that as a cheeky little post-breakfast jaunt because it didn’t look that epic but it’s sort of the trail that the park forgot about. It’s mostly downhill and it’s not very well maintained. You just have to hope that the steps at the beginning have “holding the considerable weight of tourists” on their to-do list, because they certainly don’t look like it, and there are so many roots, large stones, and holes that you’re not entirely sure if your ankles were going to get out of this ankle shaped. I mean, it’s not an unpleasant walk, it just requires a lot of concentration and thought about where your feet are going.
There aren’t that many information boards because they’re just kind of rotted, but we did learn that the trail is named after the belian tree found here. Belian apparently means diamond in Malay which could refer to either the price or the hardness of the timber, but it’s pretty fucking hard, hard enough to be referred to as the Ironwood of Borneo. The trail itself used to be a road which was constructed during the Japanese occupation in 1942. We made our way along the trail, stopping to squint at information boards that had seen much, much better days. Then it just… ends. You get to a tree that someone has sprayed “END” on in big, red letters. So you turn around and painstakingly make your way back up the hill you just painstakingly made your way down.
The Selang Trail was next, an almighty slog up an unforgiving hill as every last molecule of water in your body makes a break for it. I have never sweated so much in my life. We’d brought plenty of water with us, we’d taken to filling three two litre bottles with tap water and dropping water purification tablets into them before freezing two and keeping one in the fridge overnight. It makes your water taste like a fucking swimming pool and I’m sure there are many other ways of sterilising water but there’s something comforting knowing that nothing is going to live through a casual bit of chemical treatment. Mostly though, it saved on plastic. We were smashing through so much water, to buy it fresh every time would have created a small mountain of forever-waste. No, we weren’t 100% plastic free, but we were doing what we could to cut down on our single-use plastic consumption.
The point of the Selang trail is the viewpoint about halfway up, and yes, it’s very much worth the lung searing hike upwards. Once you’ve wiped the sweat out of your eyes you’re treated to a stunner of a view over unspoiled Borneo, not a palm oil plantation to be seen. We rested for a short while, dripping sweat all over the wooden tower we’d climbed up, before making our way along the rest of the trail and onto the Waterfall Trail. Obviously this leads to a waterfall. There’s not much of a plunge pool below the falls but you can sit on the rock and let it wash over you. It runs into a small pool a bit further down which you can have a little dip in. It’s gorgeous here, we chilled for a while, ate some food, just gave our poor legs a bit of a break, before we started the walk back to the hostel.
We’ve been in Borneo a few weeks now and we know that every afternoon, almost without fail, it will piss rain. It will be utterly torrential, you will not remain any manner of dry. At first we’d thrown on waterproofs and ended up miserable as the rain seeped into our jackets and trousers despite our best efforts to stay dry. Now we just carry small waterproof bags for our phones and cash, and Tarrant’s fancy camera, and when the rain comes in we just chuck everything that can’t get wet in the bags and we just let ourselves get soaked. It’s quite liberating. Whereas before we were sad because we wanted to stay dry and couldn’t, forcing us to dive for the nearest cover to wait it out, now we can just enjoy it. It’s almost warm rain, it’s not like back home where you can’t get wet because you’ll die of hypothermia. It’s just like having a refreshing shower.
We heard the rain coming a mile off in this case, a distant hiss as it belted down onto the canopy, getting louder and louder before it reached us and soaked us in seconds. The paths rapidly become small streams and you have to watch your step, but it’s fine, I think it’s still pretty safe, it’s only when the wind gets up and shit starts falling from the trees that you have to worry.
Of course we went frog bothering again that night after the rain had stopped. We still hadn’t seen the tiniest frog in the national park, and in fact the second tiniest in the world, the microhyla nepenthicola. We’d found a patch of the pitcher plants they lived amongst after directions from a Chinese trio also staying at the hostel. They’d been to Kubah a few times and knew what they were looking for so gave us a few pointers. We’d heard their croaking, we were sure of it, it was different to the other croaks. Like… I don’t know… crickets on crack. With sore throats. We did think they were crickets at first and it was only after chatting to the Chinese trio that we’d realised what we were listening to. So we decided to stay a third night, just so we could try again. Well, that and the fact we just really, really loved it at Kubah National Park.
During the daylight we found the pitcher plants again and peered inside. Pitcher plants are usually carnivorous but this particular species has adapted so it feeds off decomposing matter. The “jug” which is usually used to trap insects is, instead, used by the tadpoles of the frog to swim around in as they grow. You can clearly see the tiny tadpoles. We knew that the adult frogs had to be here at night, we just had to look harder, maybe shift a few leaves around, which is an utterly terrifying prospect in a country with many, many bitey things that can kill you.
We feasted on noodles as we waited for it to get dark before heading back to the plants. We eased into the bushes, listening, watching, then after carefully turning over bits of fallen foliage, there they were. No bloody wonder we missed the fuckers the first two times we tried, they really are very little! Maybe the size of the tip of my little finger, possibly not even that. We didn’t want to freak the little buggers out even more than we already were by trying to touch them. We harassed then a little longer before deeming our mission accomplished and heading back to the frog pond to upset more of the critters there.
Kubah National Park, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia
Stayed at: Hostel room at Kubah National Park
Useful shit to know…
- There are three different accommodation options at Kubah National Park, we stayed in a dorm bed for RM15 per person per night. The only way to book this is through this link.
- There isn’t anywhere to get food, there’s no canteen or nearby town, we brought all ours in and cooked in the well equipped kitchen in the hostel building. There’s a communal fridge and freezer too. You can buy bottled water from reception.
- The Belian trail took us 45 minutes to get there and 30 minutes to get back. It starts off with an epic downhill then it’s mostly sloping.
- It’s 40 minutes from HQ to the Selang Trail viewpoint, and 30 of that was a horrific steep bit at the start of the trail that my lungs now utterly hate me for.