A mother leads her family of four down to the waters edge, where gentle waves are lapping the sand. It’s golden hour, that magical period where everything takes on a mesmerising pastel hue before the bold pinks and oranges break through during a sunset.
Other than the family of five, the beach is almost deserted, the day trippers having all packed up and left long ago on the latest departing boats at 3pm. Located almost an hour from Kuching by bus and then a further 20 minute boat ride, Bako National Park feels like another the secluded end of the world.
My day had started in just that way, but Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo that was ruled by Rajahs until the 1940s, has clearly invested in its road system resulting in a smooth and uneventful trip. Following a crocodile sighting while travelling up to the mouth of the Bako river, low tide means wading from the boat to the shore to Park HQ.
Although the smallest in Sarawak, Bako is the oldest national park having been designated in 1957. There are 10+ trials radiating from HQ, ranging from 30 minutes to 7 hours one way (although be sure to check all are open at your time of visit). Over the course of the afternoon, we traverse down trail 3 to a stunning palm-framed golden beach. Instead of backtracking, we jump in a waiting boat to head back to our starting point, but via the famed Sea Stack (also known as the Serpent Stack due to its appearance). Circling around the limestone structure carved by the waves, the jungle backdrop rising and falling under the pristine blue sky, it’s hard not to smile and appreciate the beauty of Mother Nature.
While the Sea Stack is the landmark associated with Bako, most visitors come to catch a sight of the Proboscis Monkeys in the wild. While humans are crazy enough to venture out the in the heat of the day, the monkeys sensibly retreat into the shadows, and so it wasn’t until we returned from a hike up trail 4 to a lookout across to Mount Santubong that we caught out first sighting.
With their long noses and protruding bellies, they are known in Malay as Monyet Belanda. This translates to “Dutch Monkey”, a snide reference to the Dutch colonists. But watching them climb through the tree tops in front of Park HQ and then join in the sunset watching that magical evening, you realise we’re more closely related than looks suggest.
Bako has a range of accommodation options for those wanting to experience waking up in a jungle. The chalets are basic and rustic, but they have all you need and it only adds to the spirit of adventure. Weather permitting, guests can join a night walk through the jungle. We spot an array of bugs, scarily large pit spiders, glowing fungus, terrapins, palm civet cats, a resting pit viper, and finally two flying lemurs in the tree right beside my own hut.
Storms rolled through during the night but all had cleared come morning. Heading out on trail 7, the landscape changed dramatically once we reached the plateau of the hill. Dense jungle made way for hardy grasses and rocky outcrops. We spotted the carnivorous Pitcher Plants and centipedes the size of an adult finger, but thankfully none of the dangerous fauna we’d learnt about the previous night.
A dip at Tajor Waterfall was refreshing after hiking for one and a half hours, but a further 500m down the steep hillside revealed a deserted beach that took my breath away. With jungle sprouting up above the cliffs either side of the riverbank that leads to the ocean, I thought I’d stepped onto the set from Lost or Jurassic Park.
It was early afternoon by the time we made it back to Park HQ, enough time for lunch at the adjoining café before returning to the historical state capital of Kuching. As much as I couldn’t wait to scrub the layers of sweat, sunscreen and mosquito repellent off, I knew the image of the wild bearded pig family trudging down to the sea and the magic that is Bako National Park would stay with me for years to come.
Bako National Park is 37km north of Kuching and is open 7 days a week (including Public Holidays) from 8:00am to 5:00pm. Entrance RM20 per person.
If driving, head for “Bako National Park carpark and boat jetty” on Google Maps. Alternatively, the red public bus number 1, originating from Kuching wet market, about 45-60 minutes and costs RM5 one way.
Boat sharing from Kampong Bako costs RM40 for a return ticket with last boats returning at 3pm.
Park accommodation consists of 3-bedroom Chalets, 2-bedroom Lodges, 4-bedroom Hostels and a camping ground. The National Park Booking Office deals with all reservations.
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