(more pics at the bottom) Today I’d decided to visit the Bako National Park, the oldest in Borneo. It covers 27 square kilometres of mangrove swamp, rain forest and rocks with quite a few species of birds, lizards and monkeys. It’s pretty close to Kuching, being around a 50 minute bus journey from the town centre, plus 20 minutes by boat. The bus you need is the yellow number 6 – there are three bus companies in the city, all use a different coloured bus and all use a number 6 so make sure you get the right one! The fare’s a bargain RM2 (around 30p) and will take you to the park reception.
I caught the 9:20 bus, though there are earlier ones. Should you be staying overnight, aim for this time or later as often they’ll turn you away on the boats and make you wait for a later one if you’re staying on. The earliest boats are prioritised for day-only visitors. On the bus, I got talking to a schoolteacher who looked remarkably sane given that he was in charge of 18 late-teen girls. His job was to just make sure they didn’t die or anything. The trip had to be co-ordinated, budgetted and researched by the girls themselves. They’d worked their way down from the north east where they’d laid part of a wooden walkway for a village in the jungle (the wood ran out so they couldn’t finish).
Well done to him. Had I known I was being shepherded onto a bus going the wrong way (for instance), I’d find it hard to just go along with it – but those were his instructions.
The park fee is MR10 and has to be paid on the mainland. You’ll need some photo ID with you as well. You’re then given a form with your details (or those of your entire party if you’re in a group) with your passes stapled to it. The next step is to jump on a boat. This is where it’s handy if there are a few of you, or you’re good at asking people if you can jump in their’s.
Most boats are MR47 for the journey, split between however many get on. They usually carry 6 people, but I squeezed on as a 7th on the way out (and we were then charged MR9 each – more than splitting 47 in seven directions, but cheaper than splitting it 5 ways as well). The girls arrived a short while later, shoehorning ten onto each of two boats. More than half the people on my boat were staying overnight, so I declined the boat pilot’s offer to arrange a time for pickup as I wanted to be sure I’d not be on a boat by myself on the way back.
Across a wooden walkway is the cafÃ© and park office where you have to register upon arrival. The staff will give you a map and point out anything you need to know, as well as answer any questions or recommend things according to your preferences. I wasn’t too sure what I wanted, but though I’d just do a wander to one of the beaches and try to spot some animals. Before going on any of the trails, you must tell the wardens which one, and then check in again when you return.
A huge bearded pig snuffles his way around the offices all the time and seems happy to pose for photos. I was after the proboscic monkeys, though. Much harder to spot! They apparently feed at regular intervals by the mangrove swap where the boat drops you off so I walked over that way. It must have been the wrong time, so I kept walking out past the viewing platforms and to where the walking trails began.
It was a very hot day, and ridiculously humid so I was glad I’d packed 3l of water. I guzzled a lot of it as I took the Jalan Telok Paku, the shortest trail. The signs reckon this as being around 45 minutes despite it only being 0.8km in length. It reminded me of in Singapore, though with somewhat less artificial stepping. Partway along, I encountered a couple who were staring into a tree. Only it wasn’t the tree that had their attention, it was the proboscis monkey sat up it, examining the branches.
I managed to get three snaps of him before he bounded off into deeper foliage and was lost from site. Annoyingly, when I checked the photos on my laptop later, the camera had focused on the branches in front of him so they’ve not come out well. At least I saw one!
The rest of the walk to the small beach was uneventful but worthwhile. Only four other people were on the beach when I arrived and they were all being nice and quiet. It’s a lovely spot and I don’t think I’ve ever felt seawater so warm. I had a quick break, drank more water and returned back along the same path. I made it to the cafÃ© in even less time and I’d taken to get out there, though I was drenched by the time I sat down to lunch.
After my chicken curry and rice, I walked around the accommodation block and almost got bitten by a macaque. Evil little things if you get too close. There must have been 30 or 40 of them crawling along the fence by the camping area, clambering up trees and throwing fruit skins on to the ground (and me) below.
I spent far too long taking photos of them which didn’t leave me with enough time to walk another trail. Instead, I parked my bum in the cafÃ© again, and plotted out my next moves Borneo-wise. And watched someone’s lunch being stolen by a macaque.
A Dutch family behind me got up to leave and I managed to beg my way onto their boat, so my return fare was a nice small share. Just as we pulled up at the dock, the wind picked up and loud rolled in. Thunder broke and the heavens opened. I’m rather glad I headed back earlier than I had planned as the rain came down very quickly indeed.
I chatted to a local guy for half an hour as I waited for the bus, then snoozed on and off during the journey back. It was still raining in Kuching so I darted into the nearest foodhole… which happened to be a KFC. Just a coincidence, honest.
Still, I’d like to give this one special mention – with the exception of the manager, the rest of the staff are deaf. All of them. If you don’t “speak” sign language, you order by pointing at the menu charts. If I read correctly, a portion of the profits go to various schools in the area. Full marks to whoever owns this franchise. I’m not even sure it’d be legal in the UK if you decided to only hire people with a hearing disability. I’m sure someone would complain that it’s unfair against those with functioning lugholes.
And from there back to the hostel where I’m typing this up after chatting to two German girls who arrived after me last night. Fortunately they’re studying English and French at university so I can communicate with them. After all, my German’s almost non-existant, my French sounds like a primary school child and my English… well, the less said.
Oh, and those plans I was talking about for the next week or so? Well, they involve a couple of buses, some express boats, a bit of 4×4 travel, 2-3 days trecking in the rainforest and another country. I’ll get to the details as and when!