Bako National Park
Enough reminiscing about my childhood for now. I just came back from a fantastic trip to Bako National Park, Sarawak. It was unusually hectic days before the trip and I ended up packing just 4 hours before the 8am flight. This coming from me, is a big deal (I planned the trip in May!). It didn't help that I only had 1.5 hours of sleep! There were seven of us going (a family of four, my hubby, a gal pal (J) and me and the excitement set in once on board the Air Asia plane (before I dozed off).
We landed at the Kuching airport just after 10am and got two cabs to bring us to the ferry terminal. It cost us RM53 a cab, an alternative to taking a cab to Kuching city and then taking a Petra bus from there. Sure, it would have cost us less, but it would definitely have taken longer defeating the purpose of taking an early flight.
We had a silent cab driver, a contrast to our fellow members' cab driver which was quite a good thing since we were all pretty groggy. My hubby, as usual, worked through the night completing whatever work he could before the trip. He complains about losing work time during holidays but ends up enjoying himself mid-way. Sheesh.
We reached the terminal in 45 minutes, proceeded to check-in and book the boat to Bako National Park. Accommodation is relatively cheap (no amenities provided) at about RM150 for a 2-room chalet for 2 nights. Of course we weren't expecting anything luxurious. At least there was an attached bathroom!
We got a boat that fit the seven of us at RM7 per person. We gingerly got into the boat and set sail. For those not familiar with Sarawak, their rivers are known to have crocodiles. J was pretty keen on spotting one. The rest of us kept our mouths shut. We arrived at the Park HQ 30 mins later without incident. We had to jump off the boat into the sea water as there is no jetty there. Of course, hubby complained that I had to bring a bag with wheels fit for a five-day trip (who can blame me for being prepared?)
We were were greeted by a resident bearded pig (one of many!). My friends squealed more than it did, though! As we checked-in, we were informed by the staff there that there were 2 pit vipors behind the lobby house. Now, these are very venomous snakes that camouflage themselves among the leaves. Swallowing our fear, we walked to the back of the lobby and searched for them. It took 2 minutes before I could actually spot them in between the leaves of the shrub. The ranger explained that they can stay in one spot for weeks waiting for prey and they're constantly in an "s" shape, ready to strike unlike other snakes that coil up when relaxed. Okaaay..
The family of four got their room first so J, hubby and I happily walked on the boardwalk checking out the scenery before giving them a visit. Ah! But the bearded pig got there first strolling the grounds around their chalet and refused to get outta there for a good 5 minutes. As soon as it turned its back we quickly made our way up the chalet stairs. It's pretty harmless but a wild animal is still a wild animal and we didn't want to take any chances.
Each room had three simple beds with an attached bathroom accessible from the corridor. The chalet was comfortable enough with ceiling fans. The three of us left the family and headed to the cafeteria a stone's throw away from the lobby area. The food found there is essentially basic with a choice of white or fried rice, a red meat dish or fish, some sorry vege, fries and sausages. The menu pretty much remains the same through all the meals. They don't serve ala carte meals but when the food served runs out, they resort to frying RM6 omelettes (more like telur dadar) and egg or Tuna sandwiches (using 3 slices of white bread). Maggi mee can be ordered after 9pm fo those in need of supper. Also, the teh tarik is better at night than in the day due to different people brewing it. Bottled water is relatively cheap with a small bottle priced at RM1 and the bigger bottle priced at RM2. Canned drinks are RM2 each.
After our simple meal, we got our rooms. We met up with the family at the lobby at 3pm and decided to take the shortest trail as night falls earlier in East Malaysia compared to West Malaysia. Telok Paku has a 1.2 km trail from the HQ (about an hour's walk) and promised a short beach at the end so with gusto we made our way. We were lucky to spot a couple of proboscis monkeys on the way. It was one of the most difficult trails I've been on requiring many body twisting abilities! The family was surprisingly goat-like, making their way to the destination much faster than the three of us (they must have been training behind our backs! ; p )
We finally reached the beach dripping with sweat and despite it not being the typical East coast beach with white soft sand and blue waters, it was a pretty sight. It had interesting rocks with cavities created by the wind. These water-filled cavities are home for all kinds of tiny creatures. We managed to see minuscule shrimps and shellfish. We waded through knee high waters and caught sight of mud skippers that cleverly blended in with the brown sea floors. Schools of tiny fish were also seen manoeuvring their way between rocks. We stayed there a good 40 minutes before deciding to head back. The journey back is always easier so we seemed to travel faster. We were however stopped at a crossover bridge by a troop of macaques. We stepped back slowly but the biggest monkey kept approaching us followed by an assistant monkey. We were being ambushed! Thank goodness some fellow tourists came our way and we had strength in numbers to walk past them. Never have I seen such aggresive monkeys!
Dinner wasn't ready at 6pm so we rested at our chalets for awhile before going back to the cafetaria. There wasn't much left at 7pm so we pitily ordered an egg sandwich to supplement the remnants of food left. The night trekking took us with a big group of chalet guests through the nearby forests armed only with torch lights and an experienced guide. Well, actually only a handful of us had torchlights (the souvenir shop had torchlights for sale but no batteries) so kept close to those who did. Mind you the forest is pitch black at night with the trees canopying any sourse of sky light. We could hardly see the person in front of us.
The trail started off easy as there were wood boardwalks to step on. The only thing we had to watch out for were the steps. We managed to have glimpses of various types of frogs, a tarantula in a tree bark, glow in the dark fungus growing on the ground and branches which the guide amazingly could find in the dark. He could even find the exact spot where a Kacek Fatima plant(google it if you don't know what it is!) grew. Unfortunately, the easy walk became complicated when the boardwalk ended and we had to stumble through the tree roots. J was ill-prepared for these walks and only wore open sandals so she was the unfortunate victim of soldier ants on which she unwittingly stepped on in the dark. The night was immediately filled with her howls of pain and her toes swelled up almost instantly. She managed to walk to the end of the trail where a cave was without further incident only to get attacked again on the way back! This time she wasn't alone, the rest who were wearing open sandals were attacked too. J must have felt pleased to have company!
The guide next lead us to the beach where we were to look for crabs. We were captivated by the night sky lit up by the millions of stars. Never ever have I seen so many stars in my life! I just couldn't get my eyes off them! The guide pointed out different kinds of crabs busy scurrying around on the sand. He taught us a technique to manipulate a crab to expose itself from inside its shell. Just lightly blow the open end of the shell. Sure enough, the crab peeked out!
He then asked for torchlights to be switched off and to stomp our feet while walking. Our shoes seemed to have tiny stars on them! He walked too far away from us to hear what these glittering things were, unfortunately. We caught up with him a bit later and he showed us a tree stump where little crabs could be seen climbing. Monkey-eating crabs they're called, as monkeys love eating them. The guide then showed us fireflies hovering over a tree. Only male fireflies glow, he said. The night tour ended with us looking for monkeys and we saw some sleeping on trees. An owl was spotted the night before but we didn't have the luck to see one.
The next day, the family of four left for Kuching town leaving us to our own escapades. We decided to take the 2.5km Telok pandan Kecil trail to another beach by boat to save us 1.5 hours and trek back. We passed the famous Sea Stack, a stand-alone rock formation, another rock formation which seemed to look like a bird from the side and another rock foramtion which looked like a side profile of a man. The beach we arrived at was much better and very private. Only 2 tourists were there basking in the sun. We explored the area and turned back when we reached a swampy area. Crocs and snakes are common creatures found here and we didn't want to risk anything. The water around the rock formations were a rusty colour so we were convinced that the guide was telling the truth when he said that the water supplied to chalets is brown due to the Iron Oxide and not rusty pipes! We waded a little before giving in to the temptation of a nice swim under the afternoon sun.
Our quiet swim (not counting our endless laughter and nonsense talk) was shortly interrupted by the arrival of two boats carrying about 10 students. They came, took some group shots (while 2 boys showed off their agility of jumping from rock into the water), then took off. We continued swimming for awhile before drying ourselves and climbing the many, many wooden steps scaling the rocky cliff towards the trail back. The view from the top was simply breath-taking. The rock surface was again filled with cavities formed by the wind. We then trekked back following a muddy trail which after some time caused a bit of confusion as there were no wooden signs showing us how far we had walked. We remained calm and came to a crossroad with signs. However, the sign indicated one trail when in reality there were 2 trails to headback to the chalets. One option was to continue walking using the muddy trail and the 2nd was through some shrubs and trees. We decided on taking the muddy trail which made it seem like we were in a cowboy movie with mini canyons and blue, blue sky. We ended up joining the other trail a few metres away. Phew!
We were mercilessly bitten by mosquitoes on the way back but it was fairly easier than the trail yesterday. The scenery in the humid forest all the way was definitely well worth the anguish that we felt in certain areas. We could see moss covered rocks and pathways and luscious greenery. Something we hardly see living in the city.
Bako National Park is definitely a must-visit for those who love the outdoors and a bit of adventure. The park has 17 trails which has different things to offer. As we were there for only for two nights, we didn't get to trek to the enchanting waterfall and another beautiful beach on the other side of the forest. There's always a next time but next on my list of must-visit forest reserves is Mulu, Sarawak!
For more information on Bako National Park, please visit http://www.forestry.sarawak.gov.my/forweb/np/np/bako.htm