Our final Sarawak national park was to be Bako which is probably the most popular of the lot despite it being an absolute ball ache to get to. You can’t just nip there, you can only get in and out by boat but despite this you’ll still need to think about booking your accommodation several weeks in advance if you want a shot at anything affordable.
But first, we took a different boat ride to check out the Wetlands National Park which you can only see from the rivers on account of it being, well, pretty fucking wet. If you’re lucky you can apparently see dolphins but we didn’t. We did see a lot of birds and several crocodiles which are really pretty around here, sort of a black and yellow. They’re bloody quick, mind. If they took a fancy to your limbs I don’t think you’d have much of a say in the matter. It ended up being a pleasant but not totally necessary jaunt around the mangroves whilst we glared at Mount Santubong a lot.
God I ached. Not a single muscle in my body wanted to be doing anything other than lying down and questioning my life choices right now. We hobbled off the boat and back to the scooter and headed for the Bako National Park visitor centre where you pay your RM20 each entrance fee and buy your boat tickets. They’re stars there, we were going to just leave the scooter in the car park but they got us to wheel it up the ramp, right up to the building where it’d be safer. This pleased me because I know what I’m like, I’d have been stressing the whole three nights we were there that we’d get back and it’d be in the river or something.
We hopped on the next boat and off we went. It wasn’t the worst crossing I’d ever experienced, it was a bit choppy but not so much as my stomach contents tried to make a break for it. Twenty minutes later we were deposited on the jetty, clutching the map we were given, and made our way to reception to check into our accommodation. There are bearded pigs everywhere. Literally everywhere. They’re not little beasts either but they seemed to have no interest in anything other than snuffling around the bushes. So staying for three nights was sort of a last minute decision made when we realised there wasn’t much but a massive hill in Santubong so our first night was going to be in a private room before we moved into a cheaper hostel the next day.
A good chunk of the national park trails were closed during our stay but I’m not going to lie, we weren’t sad about this on account of the fact our legs weren’t permitting much more than a pained hobble as opposed to an actual walk after we’d conquered Gunung Santubong. Actually I think the fucker conquered us. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I ached this much, this is what happens if you forego post-hike stretching in favour of drinking beer. Fortunately, Bako isn’t the kind of place where you need to walk miles of trails if you’ve any hope of catching a glimpse of something interesting, all the action is around the canteen. You can literally chill there, sipping cold beer, watching several different kinds of monkeys swing through trees whilst bearded pigs stare at tourists, willing them to hand over all their food. Admittedly it’s not a completely stress-free situation, with macaques dive bombing tables, trying to relieve you of your food and soft drinks.
We did attempt a couple of trails though because who doesn’t want to risk heat-stroke by strolling along exposed stretches of rock in the blistering Bornean sun as your entire lower body protests? We caught some lovely coastal views at the end of the Telak Pandan trails which were worth the struggle, and we checked out a lovely little beach before painstakingly making our way back, picking our way over rocks and tree roots. Some parts of the trails are nice and easy, some of the fuckers are right ankle breakers, parts of it you’re in shady woodlands but then the next minute you’re on a boardwalk as the sun helps itself to your top layer of skin. They really are lovely trails though.
As for wildlife, we didn’t see much whilst walking. We even sat and waited a few times, straining to hear the distinct call of the proboscis monkeys, or the telltale sound of long-tailed macaques on their way to nick your crisps. We literally saw the most on the way back to the canteen. There was a harem of proboscis monkeys just chilling low down in the trees lining the footpath between the trail heads and the canteen. They were so close! So close I very nearly got shat on, which is just my fucking luck. Proboscis monkeys seem to spend their time eating and scratching their arses which is apparently Insta-worthy when they do it, but when I do it I’m lazy and should get a job.
When we finally returned to the main building we noticed a bunch of people on the beach looking at something so we wandered over. Turns put there was a whole bunch of silver leaf monkeys sitting in a patch of vegetation, shovelling the leaves into their faceholes, utterly unperturbed by the hoards of humans gawping at them. Okay yeah, I get it now. I see why Sarawak’s oldest national park is the most popular despite the mission to get here. You’re pretty much guaranteed to see something and you don’t even need to go far. Even in the bushes surrounding the building, if you know where you look you can see bright green snakes which apparently just stay there, coiled around a branch, waiting for mice or frogs to stray that little bit closer before they strike. I think they’re vipers, you probably wouldn’t want to go poking at them.
The next day we decided to punish our legs just that little bit more and go in search of a waterfall. It was, of course, really fucking hot here. You could cook chicken by slipping it into the folds of my flab. It’s hotter than the devil’s arsehole. The floor is lava. The air is lava. Everything is fucking lava. The problem was we had all these beaches but we weren’t allowed to go swimming on account of the crocodiles. I mean, you probably could go swimming if you really wanted to disregard the advice because you’re an adult who does what you want, but you probably couldn’t guarantee you’d remain intact throughout. So. Waterfall it was. Except we never actually made it on account of coming to a stream that we couldn’t find a safe place to cross.
Bugger it then. We just hung out there for a while but didn’t actually swim on account of it not looking that inviting. Something we did see a lot of on this trail though was pitcher plants which I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of. There are a metric fuck tonne of them, all different kinds it seems. I think they’re absolutely lovely. I don’t think the flies slowly dissolving inside them would agree. We pretty much gave up on trails for the rest of the afternoon, choosing instead to apply Tiger beer to our faceholes and watch the bearded pigs, proboscis monkeys and macaques from the comfort of the canteen.
I did go on a guided night walk that night, Tarrant decided to just rest up. I saw some pretty cool stuff, the usual stick insects and spiders, a couple of vipers, and multi-legged things of nightmares. I also saw some nesting swallows to which was quite cool, I think they’re the kind whose nests get re-purposed as freakishly expensive soup for humans to enjoy. I’m not sure I’d enjoy that soup. I’d be happy with a nice bowl of laksa, thank you. The walk was cut short though on account of a storm that started up. we all got utterly soaked on the way back but that’s par for the course here, it was more the risk of shit falling on you as the winds whipped up the trees.
I think if you’re only going to visit one national park in Sarawak then it needs to be this one. If you’re going to visit two I’d say this one and Kubah. It’s been an absolutely amazing ten days, the national parks are so easy to travel around, especially if you choose to stay there overnight. The booking website is fantastic and you get text messages confirming your bookings, possibly only if you have a Malaysian number. If we’d have known how easy it was to camp here we’d have brought a proper tent but it never even occurred to us.
Borneo, though. We meant to stay for a month and seven weeks later we’re finally going to be waving goodbye and heading back to the UK. We’ve found the Bornean people to be some of the friendliest, most helpful people. The roads are a pleasure to manoeuvre a hairdryer on wheels around; there are actually road rules and people (mostly) obey them. Borneo isn’t just nature’s treasure trove, you don’t need to be mad into wildlife and hiking to enjoy it here. The old headhunter culture is also fascinating and worth checking out. I’d say I enjoyed the food too but all I’ve eaten is laksa. I can’t get enough of that shit. I pretty much only eat laksa now, it’s the only food group I need. Laksa for breakfast, laksa for lunch, laksa for dinner. Poor, long suffering Tarrant has had to trail me around food halls whilst I seek it out to get my fix before I start withdrawing.
This was the first big trip I’ve taken with Tarrant and yes, we’re still together. You never know how these things will pan out do you? Okay, so we get on just fine at home sat on the sofa binge watching Star Trek whilst shovelling Doritos into our chops, but would this translate well into living in each other’s pockets for weeks at a time in Tropical heat? You learn a lot about yourself and your limits when you travel, and we learned that we function well as a team. We also learned that there will literally be no mystery left in your relationship when you’ve spent the night in very close quarters whilst one or both of you projectile your stomach contents from one end or the other.
Bako National Park, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia
Stayed at: National Park accommodation
Useful shit to know…
- We paid RM50 for our private room on the first night, and RM15 each for the beds in the dorm room for the other two nights. You can only book through this website.
- There are no cooking facilities but there is a buffet style canteen where you pay per item. They also sell drinks including beer. Make sure you take enough cash for all your food and boozes for the duration of your stay though, there’s nowhere to withdraw extra money.
- Canteen food service hours are:
Breakfast 07.30 – 11.30
Lunch 11.30 – 16.00
Dinner 18.30 – 21.30
- We had no phone or internet signal anywhere apart from a faint signal on the beach, but there do have free Wi-Fi in reception which just about stretches as far as the canteen.