Bako, Kuching’s backyard beauty
By Patricia Hului
Established in 1957, even before Sarawak became part of the Malaysian Federation, Bako National Park ranks as the oldest national park in Sarawak.
The place is widely known for its shorelines of steep cliffs, stretches of white sandy beaches and rocky forelands.
Being so close to Kuching town— about a 45-minute drive and a 20-minute boat ride away – it is easy to take the place for granted and choose a more ‘exotic’ place as your next vacation destination.
As the common phrase goes, travel starts from your own backyard, so I went to Bako National Park for a short Chinese New Year getaway.
Because of its popularity among tourists, getting to the natural park was easy.
Locals can just drive their cars or have somebody drop them off at the Bako National Park office at Kampung Bako.
There, pay your entrance fee and right next to the park counter is the Bako Boat Guides Association counter.
Affordability comes in numbers; it is cheaper if you have five to six persons in a group for the boat ride (RM15 per trip per person) or you can charter the boat all for yourself (RM100 per trip).
For an overnight stay, visitors must contact the national parks for accommodation arrangements prior to their visit.
Trails of Bako
The monsoon rain, however, was not that forgiving during my three-day trip so I only managed to trek up two of its 16 trails.
My first trail was Telok Paku, an hour’s trekking to a secluded beach.
It took me past a cliff forest, an easy route even for a newbie in trekking.
The trail ended upon reaching a shelter on the beach.
I was grateful to have reached Telok Paku when the tide was low as it allowed me to explore the coastline.
It is a relatively smaller bay compared to bigger bays such as Teluk Pandan Besar but the rocky cliffs which enveloped the area are equally magnificent.
A day later, I took on the Teluk Pandan Kecil trail for my second trek as it is known as the most popular trail there.
The trail started with a hilly climb before I came on a sandy path lined with pitcher plants.
The highlight of the one and a half hour trail is reaching a cliff top overlooking the painstakingly beautiful view of the bay below.
There are other trails such as Lintang, a loop trail which passes through all types of forests in Bako and Tajor trail, a trek leading to the Tajor Waterfall.
The information is not updated on Sarawak Forestry’s website but the longer trails such as Bukit Gondol, Telok Limau, Telok Kruin have been closed for maintenance since 2014.
Animals and plants of Bako
If Bako is a ghetto, the Bornean bearded pigs are the hoodlums.
These mammals roamed around the park as if they owned it; scavenging through everything on sight.
When the tide was low, I saw them having a stroll at the shoreline making me wonder why nobody came up with a postcard of a pig on a beach yet.
I nicknamed the long-tailed macaques, the ‘problematic child’ of Bako’s primates.
The park is not short of warnings when it comes to them; watch out for your belongings, and keep your windows and doors locked.
The macaques are known for making full use of their opposable thumbs by stealing food or bags.
I let my guard down when I was having my lunch and a foreign tourist suddenly swung a chair right in front of me.
Before I could accuse the stranger of committing aggravated assault, he was quick to explain that the ‘problematic child’ almost reached out for my bag.
Bako is also home to the long-tailed macaque’s better behaved primates, the proboscis monkeys.
They can be easily seen at the mangroves of Teluk Assam near the park headquarters in the evening.
Endemic to Borneo, the proboscis monkeys are fascinating to watch. They jump almost gracefully from one branch to another.
Even when they feed, the monkeys were unfazed by their surroundings including my watchful eyes observing them.
I only identified three types of birds during my trip no thanks to my limited knowledge on them.
On my way to Bako, I jumped in excitement when a stork-billed kingfisher flew by the boat.
They are rare to see but at the same time hard to miss because of their green backs, blue wings and bright red bill and legs.
Egrets are no strangers to Sarawakians but watching them on a vast wetland instead of a traffic roundabout was a scene to remember.
Their white feathers made them stand out when they landed in the middle of the brownish wetland during low tide.
Apart from that, I saw an oriental magpie robin resting on a tree from the park headquarters.
I beat myself up for not bringing binoculars or at least a telephoto lens to capture these birds on camera.
The flora in Bako is a perfect package of Bornean vegetation since it contains almost all types of plant life on this island.
The forest ranges from heath forests to tropical swamp, cliff and beach vegetation.
Personally, I have a soft spot for mangroves hence being close to Avicennia and Rhizophora was definitely memorable for me.
Our Backyard’s Beauty
Browsing through travel guides and tips, most would advise not to visit Bako during the raining season (Dec to Mar).
Having that experience myself, I could almost agree because I personally did not get my clear blue sky or sun over the horizon views.
But in return I had fresh, earthy, after-rain smells, louder ambient sounds of waves hitting the beach and before the raindrops hit, the tropical shore colours had its own version of fifty shades of grey.
Well, just because the sky was painted in different colours does not mean it was less beautiful.
I missed the mainstream attraction of Bako, the sea stack, due to the stormy weather.
But no regrets there because I think Bako is calling me back when the weather is drier in a few months’ time.
It is about time for us Sarawakians (myself included) to appreciate our backyard’s beauty more.