Travel Features > National Park & The Great Outdoors > Bako National Park
Introducing Bako National Park
By Wayne Tarman
What's your idea of the perfect eco-experience? How about a checklist including dense tropical rainforest, arid scrublands dotted with insect-eating plants, vast mangrove forests, a rugged coastline fringed with deserted white sand beaches, and some of the rarest and most unusual animals and plants on Earth.
At Bako, a unique set of geological and climatic conditions has led to the formation of seven distinct eco-systems compressed into an area of only 10.6 sq miles (27.4 sq km). And with so many different habitats to choose from, Bako National Park is home to an enormous variety of Borneo's flora and fauna.
These eco-systems are easily explored thanks to the park's well-maintained trail system, and having been totally protected since 1957, Bako's animal inhabitants have little fear of humans. What's more, Bako is only 23 miles (37 km) from downtown Kuching, making it an effortless, enjoyable and accessible Borneo adventure.
Before heading for the trails, it's a good idea to visit the park's information centre to learn about Bako's bio-diversity; the natural attractions that you are likely to see; the range of treks available and the time taken to complete the various treks. There are sixteen colour-coded walking trails and each one offers the visitor a different nature experience. Some trails offer excellent opportunities to view Bako's wildlife, some pass through areas with unique vegetation and others lead to secluded white-sand beaches.
With so many trails, it's perhaps best to opt for just a couple after deciding what interests you and what suits your level of fitness. For wildlife encounters, the Telok Assam area is unbeatable. The Lintang trail offers good trekking and a varied rainforest experience, whilst beach lovers should head to Telok Pandan Kecil, one of the secluded white-sand beaches mentioned above.
The best times for seeing wildlife are early morning and late afternoon. Troops of long-tailed macaque monkeys start to congregate at the Park HQ around 7 am and hang around for most of the day. Bako's macaque monkeys are so tame, they are constantly found patrolling the resthouses and canteen. When the tide is out they can also be found foraging for food on the mud flats in and around the mangroves near the boat jetty. Silver-leaf monkeys are also active in the mornings and large groups are usually seen in and around the accommodation area and amongst the beach vegetation at Telok Assam. Occasionally they are seen playing on the beach itself. Plantain squirrels are also commonly seen amongst the beach vegetation. Other animals found close to the HQ include bearded pigs, snakes, flying lemurs and a number of lizards. Water monitors, one of the largest lizards in Malaysia, are frequently spotted swimming in the stream near the jetty or wandering around the paths near the resthouses.
These mangroves, and indeed the whole of Telok Assam, are also excellent places for viewing Bako's bird life. Bird watchers have recorded over 150 species at Bako, including two types of Hornbill, the state bird of Sarawak. In addition to the residents of the region, Bako is also a good place for watching migrant birds. As with Bako's other attractions, you do not have to be an expert to enjoy them; Bako's birds, with names such as the velvet-fronted nuthatch, racket-tailed drongo or ruby-cheeked sunbird, are not exactly common or garden sparrows. From the names alone you know that the birds are going to be something special. You may not know their Latin names, but you'll certainly enjoy seeing these ornithological rarities.
The best time to go in search of the proboscis is either early morning or in the hours before dusk. The secret is to be patient and keep as quiet as possible; the smaller your group the better. Get settled and wait. Usually, you hear something before you see something; listen out for the crash of branches and weird noises. Some of these grunts and roars sound as if they should come from a bigger animal. If you are hoping to get some good photos of a proboscis, take a telephoto lens (300mm plus).
At the top you reach a plateau and the landscape suddenly changes from forest to dry shrub. It is hard to believe that you are actually in Borneo; the trail passes through an Australian-like, shrub-filled landscape which contrasts sharply with the image of green that is normally associated with this vast island. At the side of the sandy paths and plankwalks of the plateau section you are sure to see some of Bako's many species of carnivorous pitcher plants; some grow close to the ground and others hang from trees and branches.
After 30 minutes or so you leave the Lintang Trail and bear left onto a secondary trail which leads to a cliff-top overlooking Telok Pandan Kecil. The view from the top blows you away: looking down you have the beach, to the left the rainforest, behind you dry scrub-like vegetation, and in front a superb view of the coastline with a sea stack guarding the entrance to the bay. The view down to the secluded bay, and the thought of a swim in the cool waters, will undoubtedly have a magical effect on any aching muscles. The final stretch is a steep 15 minute descent through the trees and boulders that somehow cling to the sandstone cliff.