On my first few visits to Sarawak, I didn’t get the chance to explore beyond the cities of Kuching and Miri where an abundance of national parks are waiting to me to traverse. Kuching itself has about five national parks that host different ecosystems from the mountainous Gunung Gading National Park to the swamps of Kuching Wetlands National Park. For this recent trip, I penciled in the scenic Bako National Park as a nice half-day excursion away from the city. Situated northeast of Kuching, Bako National Park is only a 30 minute drive away to the sleepy village of Kampung Bako. You would need to register with the parks office at the jetty and hop on a boat for another 30 minute ride to the park headquarters.
The boat ride took us through a river flanked by mangrove forest, a habitat important to the livelihood of the locals, before emptying out into the sea. To avoid getting smashed by the tide (it was raining the morning we arrived), the boat sped along as close as it can to the coastline where our eyes feasted upon the mythical Mount Santubong across the bay, somewhat covered by the gloomy clouds, themselves waiting to be blown away to make way for the sun. We also chanced upon wooden sticks arranged in the fashion of mini arches along the way and found out that those were traps set to harvest shrimp to be either consumed or made into local produce.
When we arrived at the park headquarters, a family of bearded wild boars greeted us as they were out and about for breakfast. Another round of registration with the park officials is mandatory since they will be keeping tabs on the number of hikers in the park. Out of the 16 trails offered, we took the Telok Pandan Kecil trail, a 1.5 hour trek that ends at a cove overlooking the iconic sea stacks. Bako National Park is unique in the sense of having seven different ecosystems that harbor 25 different types of vegetation and this trail can attest to that. Our first task of scaling the hill was met with a wet jungle that was surprisingly covered with moss, which are normally found in the highlands.
After about 30 minutes making friends with ferns, we arrived at the “summit” of the hill and entered into a locale with a different kind of flora. The lush forest suddenly turns into a clearing of low-lying grassland shrubs where the dampness before made way to the harsh rays of the sun. Our hike was made easier since the flat hilltop allowed us to pass on a straight path and some sections were aided with wooden walkways. The second part ended at a fork where left will take us to our destination while right goes to Telok Pandan Besar, the sister bay with a nicer and quieter beach to laze on.
The final third of our journey is mainly a descent through the forest that eventually terminates on a cliff overlooking the bay with a gorgeous panorama of the South China Sea and the neighboring Mount Santubong. Climbing down to the beach was made easy with a set of stairs and from there on, it’s time to enjoy the sea and sand. It’s not as deserted as you would have imagine since it’s one of the most popular trails at the park but it’s still worth dipping your feet into the warm waters and soak in the view before waiting for a boat to take you for an up-close look at the sea stacks.
The sea stacks, a unique rock formation carved by the waves and wind, can be seen tucked away on the left side of the beach and we had to hop on a boat to get a closer look at this natural wonder. The seemingly random forces conspired to sculpt the sandstone deposits on the shoreline into what I saw to be the shape of a roaring tiger’s head. The band of lines found on the rocks are iron that have been deposited layer by layer for millions of years to show that these ancient monuments have stood the test of time way before we even stepped foot on this peninsula.
After two boat trips back to the park headquarters and fishing village respectively, our growling tummies acted as a food radar so we went straight away to Bako Seafood Restaurant for a full serving of chili red snapper, fried squid, bamboo clams, home-made tofu and midin. As far as the trip went, we missed the famous proboscis monkeys due to the rain but this national park is a truly fascinating place to visit as many locals do put this at the top of their recommendation list to travelers. The breathtaking scenery, diverse ecosystems and a bit of exclusive privacy makes Bako National Park an all-in-one hikers’ heaven.
- Visitors are required to pay an entrance fee of RM10 per person while the boat trip from Kampung Bako to the park headquarters will cost RM15 per person. Chartered boats can also be hired at the Kampung Bako jetty for private tours of the park.
- It is important to register the trail(s) that you intend to hike at the HQ since you will be entering remote parts of the park. Trails are clearly marked and color-coded while proper directions and wooden park maps are situated at every junction.
- The park headquarters has a cafe and grocery store if you want to get a grub or stock up on supplies. The park also provides accommodation for those planning to stay overnight. A complete guide on Bako National Park can be found here.
- The ride back from Telok Pandan Kecil to the park headquarters costs about RM10 per person. If you are charged more than that, you can negotiate with the boatman or wait for other visitors to fill up the boat to share the cost.