Even More Massive Flowers

Gunung Gading is home to the rafflesia, the fuck off great big flower we’d seen in Poring but wanted to put in our eyeholes again, largely because we were on a Sarawak National Park mission. It’s pretty out of the way though and there’s not much point in going if it’s not blooming but they have a website and a Facebook page which tells you if there’s one blooming, how big it is, when it’ll peak etc. All the shit you need to know before you ride for nearly two hours on a scooter with a seat that your arse will not thank you for.

Gunung Gading National Park

We rocked up, parked the scooter and headed into reception to part with our entrance fee and were directed to the dorm rooms. There didn’t seem to be anyone else staying here, we had the dorm room to ourselves. We just left our shit and headed back to reception where they’ll assign you a human to show you the rafflesia, or pakma as the indiginous people know them, flowers. You’re not allowed to go it alone, a guided tour is compulsory, I can’t remember how much it cost but it wasn’t expensive. Our man was called Bihai, he spoke excellent english and he knew all manner of shit that we weren’t told about in Poring. We were already glad we took the time to come here.

Big flower with a couple of buds that may or may not become big flowers.

So it turns out there are eight species of rafflesia. Eight of the fuckers! Who knew? The one we’d be wrapping our eyeballs around today was the rafflesia tuan-mudae which, like most of the other species, is listed as vulnerable. Bihai led us into the jungle to show us not only the two flowers in full bloom, but he also pointed out the buds in their various stages of growth. We’d already seen the big alien eggs in Poring, but he showed us the tiny buds, maybe four or five centimetres across, attached to the host plant; a vine known as tetrastigma, which is apparently the only host a raffelsia can latch onto on account of it being the only, literally the only, plant that can tolerate the parasitic flower. It can’t photosynthsise, it gets everything it needs from the tetrastigma.

Big flower with a sweaty lesbian for scale.

They grow as buds for up to nine months and in that time so much shit can go wrong. They could be trampled by humans, or eaten by animals. They simply might not bloom at all because who knows why? And when they do finally bloom it’s only for a week before they die, and in that week they need flies to come and pollinate them so they give off a rotting meat smell to attract them. Thing is, there are male and female rafflesia and the same fly needs to visit both for pollination to work, but they’re so bloody rare that there might not be a male and a female blooming during exactly the same week within close proximity.

It turns out there’s also a fruit involved somewhere but we didn’t see any of that. After the flower dies and rots, the fruit forms and relies on shrews and squirrels and the like to disperse their seeds. But as the rafflesia has no roots or leaves or anything, it’s literally just a ball of organic matter, it needs to connect with this very specific vine or it’s game over. No one knows how it does eventually come into contact with the vine, but it does. Sometimes. So yeah, they’re kind of like the pandas of the plant world, in that humans have fucked up most of their habitat thus rendering them endangered, but they can’t seem to do much to help themselves reproduce.

Rafflesia Tuan-Mudae. I had no idea there were eight species of this flower and now I want to see them all.

Once Bihai had taken us off-road to show us the flowers we were back on the boardwalk that protects the flora on the ground from being trampled. You’re free to wander the boardwalk to your little heart’s content, looking at the trees, trying to spot wildlife. Occassionally I believe it’s possible to spot more rafflesia but you can’t get up close and personal to them without a guide. We strolled along, Tarrant was in front of me and as she turned around to say something I spotted it on the handrail; a fucking bright green snake. I reacted quite appropriately by taking the Lord’s name in vain in a manner that would make even the most hardned atheist blush, then took loads of photos of it whilst I tried to decide what to do.

I have no idea if this is venomous or what, but I had no interest in finding out the hard way. Photo credit: Tarrant.

Tarrant was already past it. I wasn’t. It was staying stock-still, staring straight ahead, not at either of us. Was it waiting to strike? Was it scared? Did it want to replace all of my blood with venom? I had no idea but I needed to get past the fucker so I took a deep breath and just went for it. Two strides and I was past it. And with that it turned away from us and slithered off down the handrail. Poor thing was just waiting for us to bugger off so it could get on with its day.

The boardwalk will lead you around some pretty epic rocks. It might be an easy walk but it’s by no means boring.

So at the bottom end of the main trail there’s a lovely, big natural pool. I say natural, it’s artifically dammed in but it’s fed by a little stream running down from the mountain. It’s gloriously refreshing after you’ve been sweating your way around a national park. We just hung out there until the weather started to turn. Storms and pissing rain are pretty much a part of everyday life at the moment, we can pretty much expect it to happen. Sometimes it’ll wait until you’re under shelter, clutching a brandy coffee, our current go-to evening beverage. Other times it’ll offload when you’re hiking and a good few kilometres from your destination. Whatever, we didn’t want to be anywhere near a pond when it happened so we headed back to the hostel to hang out on the decking and get slowly drained by mosquitoes.

A welcome refreshing dip after a sweaty jungle stroll.

We’d realised that we actually quite liked looking for shit in the dark when we were with Mr Aji at Kinabatangan River so after the rain stopped and the sunswent down we decided to take ourselves on a little night walk along the boardwalk, waving our head torches into the foliage to see what we could find. We found loads of cool stuff! Stick insects, frogs, snails, massive fuck off millipedes you could trip up over. We probably spent a good ninety minutes shuffling around, hoping that nothing was going to try and have a nibble on us. It’s very much worth taking yourself off into the jungle for a night walk. As long as, y’know, it’s well marked and probably paved or something.

So we’d been pointedly ignoring any manner of trail with the word “summit” in the title but we’d set aside a whole day to check out the main trail at Taman Negara Gunung Gading, marked by red and white stripes, therefore we thought it’d be appropriate to head all the way to Gunung Gading summit on account of us being in the national park it’s named after. It’s roughly three hours up through jungle and you will probably need to have your eyebrows replaced with guttering. It’s not unpleasant but it’s very much upwards and finally, when we got to the top, we were greeted with a clearing of tree and a signpost declaring this the summit aaaand not much else. I’m not sure what we were expecting. A view perhaps? Probably not worth the sweat but hey.

After shovelling a load of Cloud 9 chocolate bars into our chops, which were pretty much our staple diet at the moment, we headed back down, stopping at waterfall 7 along the way for a dip and a bit of non-chocolate related food. It’s a lovely place to just hang out for a little bit but frolicking in beautiful, clear water isn’t going to get us down a hill. We swung by one more waterfall but didn’t go for a swim on account of it looking like we’d come away with one or more water bourne diseases, before heading back to the hostel to apply brandy coffee and noodles to our faceholes.

Looks good for swimming.
Looks less good for swimming.

I’m not sure we needed to spend two nights here but I don’t regret that we did, it’s so bastard far from anywhere you sort of feel like you need to hang out for a couple of nights just to make the arse-numbing scooter ride worth it. Like everywhere else we’ve been in Borneo, it’s absolutely beautiful. We both enjoy hiking for hiking’s sake and it was lovely to have a nice, safe boardwalk to go on our own little night walk. And the flower, that was pretty cool, but now I know there are eight different varieties I want to see them all.

Bonus photo: Bihai, our guide. Top fella.

Kubah National Park, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia
Stayed at: Hostel room at Kubah National Park

Useful shit to know…

  • There are several accommodation options, we stayed in a dorm room for RM15 per person per night. You have full use of the kitchen which includes a fridge and freezer. You can book your room or bed via this website. Since 2020 they no longer provide kitchen utensils, only an electric kettle on request. You’ll probably have to go into Lundu to eat.
  • There’s no canteen or shop but it’s really close to Lundu town, we just nipped in on the scooter to pick up fresh supplies to cook.
  • Camping for RM5 per night is an option if you have your own camping gear. Really, really waterproof camping gear.
Trekking times at Gunung Gading National Park. There’s pretty much only one trail which leads everywhere.

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