Exploring Bako National park in search of its amazing wildlife. Proboscis Monkeys, Silvered Langurs, Bearded Pigs and so much more.
Beautiful Borneo, an area we had hoped to squeeze onto the end of our 18 months of travels, if we had time and money left. Imbi had been a decade before with a little point and shoot camera and I had never managed to make it there. As luck (or just our thriftiness) would have it, we ended up with both the time and the money! So we planned a 12-day visit mid-March.
Flying from Penang in Peninsular Malaysia to Kuching, the capital of the Bornean state of Sarawak, was cheap and quick. After arriving in Kuching early morning, we took a ‘Grab’ (Asian Uber) to a supermarket to stock up on essentials (see tips) for our visit to Bako National Park. The supermarket was right by the Bako NP bus terminal and after an hour on the bus, we arrived at the Bako ferry terminal. After completing the relevant registration procedures, we were ushered onto a boat for the 15-minute cruise to the national park, which got us there by 12:30 pm.
The one and a half hour wait to check into our room flew by, as we were truly spoilt by an incredible amount of wildlife prowling around the HQ. All three of the parks monkey species were chilling in the trees nearby, whilst the Bornean Bearded Pigs foraged nearby. I was seriously like a kid in a candy store, running around like a headless chicken, camera in hand. By the time our room was ready, I was physically exhausted and dripping in sweat. Meanwhile, Imbi just sat back and watched it all unfold with a grin on her face.
Dragging ourselves away from the wildlife, we took our bags to our room. We had booked a private dorm room, and thankfully it wasn’t too far to walk, as we were weighed down with a huge amount of bottled water.
Over the course of the first afternoon and evening, we saw more of the above-mentioned animals. But the highlight was undoubtedly seeing the odd looking endemic and endangered Proboscis Monkeys, particularly the male, even though they were quite high up in the trees. However, seeing a couple Green Pit Vipers was also a very welcomed surprise.
After witnessing a beautiful sunset, we had what could only be described as an average dinner from the parks cafeteria, before catching an early night in preparation for the next day.
The following day, we saw lots more of the affable Silvered Leaf Monkeys, whose aliases include Silvery Lutung and Silvery Langur. These Old World Monkeys really were so photogenic. We were particularly happy when one troop came very close by and we saw there was a baby amongst them. The infant monkeys are a very different colour to the adults, starting life with yellow fur. The usually shy and well-guarded baby even ventured away from its mother’s chest for a few solo pics.
The Proboscis Monkeys were a little more elusive, tending to stay higher in the trees. But after plenty of searching around the paths and boardwalks around the park HQ and Telok Assam, we found a troop coming down from higher in the trees. The especially odd-looking male with his big nose and equally big pot belly made for a particularly interesting and unique subject for our photos.
And as for the Long-Tailed Macaques, we did everything we could to avoid them as they can be an absolute menace and quite aggressive. We witnessed them in and around the restaurant area sneaking up to and then helping themselves to unsuspecting guests food. We saw numerous snatch and grabs and shrieking day-trippers! In fairness to the one pictured below, he was filling his cheek pouches with his natural diet, rather than pilfered loot from the restaurant.
There were a number of trails around the park, all with different lengths and difficulties. But after being told the best chance of seeing wildlife was in and around the parks HQ itself, along with the boardwalks and short trails nearby (Telok Delima and Telok Paku) we spent most of our time prowling those areas. We did hike the quick Sapi trail up to the viewpoint for lovely views over Assam beach in the middle of the day. Although it was the hottest time of day, the hike was short and we were rewarded with beautiful views.
After our hike, we went back to check if either of the two Green Pit Vipers had moved position, so we could take even more photo’s! Unsurprising these nocturnal snakes had barely moved as they remain motionless for long periods of time during the day unless disturbed.
The golden hour evening light on the beach made it a great spot to come and watch the Bearded Pigs foraging in the sand, along with some Proboscis Monkeys feeding in the nearby trees.
After watching another beautiful sunset and consuming another average meal, we booked a private night walk to see some of the parks nocturnal species. Our guide Nelson was great and found all sorts of creatures for us including Brownback Tree Snakes, big Water Spiders, a Red Sticky Frog, Leaf Green Tree Frogs, the Brown Tree Frog. He even found a bizarre, slightly terrifying looking creepy-crawly called a Genus Bipalium. This predatory land flatworm is more commonly referred to as a Hammerhead Worm/Slug due to its distinctive broad hammer-shaped head.
But our undoubted high point was seeing a kite-shaped Sunda Colugo (commonly known as a Sunda Flying Lemur) glide through the night sky to a neighbouring tree. We actually saw three of these during the walk, but their constant movement and positions high in the trees, coupled with our basic night photography skills meant getting a good photo of them was a frustrating task. But don’t be fooled by its misleading common name, it’s certainly not related to the Lemurs we met in Madagascar, nor can it fly, but rather glides from tree to tree.
We were so glad we paid the relatively small amount extra to do a private night walk, as seeing the large numbers on the nightly group walk reminded us of the frustrations we had doing the same in Kirindy, Madagascar.
We had planned an early start the following morning for our final hours in Bako but woke to heavy rain, which lasted until mid-morning. Unsurprisingly the wildlife proved pretty sparse for the remainder of the overcast day, a brief visit from the Silvered-Leaf Monkeys and then some Bearded Pigs on the beach and a Common Water Monitor Lizards was all we really saw.
Although a disappointing way to finish our time in Bako, we couldn’t really complain, given what we saw in the two days previous. After having an amazing time, we caught the last boat out of Bako at 3 pm, before taking the bus from the jetty to our hotel in Kuching. We spent the few hours we had in Kuching exploring the riverside, where we found even more wildlife… haha.
From the Darul Hana Bridge, we enjoyed a stunning sunset over the Sungai Sarawak River. A really nice way to finish off our time in Sarawak before starting the next part of our Borneo adventure along the Kinabatangan River.
Getting there and away
- We flew to Kuching and took a ‘Grab’ to the supermarket in the Plaza Merdeka Shopping centre near the Bako bus stop (RM11)
- The hourly A1 bus to Bako (RM5 p/p), departs from Jalan Khoo Hun Yeang, close to Jalan Market (it’s pinned on Maps.me)
- It takes between 40-60 minutes to get to the Bako jetty
- From the jetty, we took a 15-minute boat ride to Bako, which cost RM40p/p for a return ticket
- We prearranged a pickup time for our intended departure day from Bako before departing the jetty. The last public boat from Bako back to the jetty was at 15:00 pm at that time of year (monsoon season)
- Upon arrival at the Jetty, we had to provide proof of our accommodation booking and proof of payment, (only required if pre-paid). We then paid an additional RM10 tourism accommodation tax
- The A1 bus from the jetty back to Bako departs from the jetty hourly. You can take the bus all the way back to the last stop near the Jalan Market or buzz to stop if you want to get off early
- The park entrance is RM 20 p/p and paid during the registration process
- Accommodation can be booked online through Sarawak Forestry.
- We booked a whole dorm room for RM40 per night. It was actually RM15 per bed per night, so we thought paying the little bit extra was worth it for a private room!
- The dorm rooms were super basic, with 4 beds in each dorm with only a flat sheet and pillowcase on each bed and a ceiling fan. There were NO extra sheets/blankets, airconditioning or fridge.
- Dorms rooms share very simple bathrooms
- There is a range of other accommodation options available also
- Book early as the accommodation does sell out!
- In Kuching, we stayed at the Comfort Point Hotel. This was a clean and cheap hotel with really friendly staff, air con and a hot/cold drinking water dispenser. It was only a 5 to 10-minute walk to the riverside area and close to lots of restaurants
- Download ‘Grab’ the Asian Über, it makes getting to and from airports super cheap and easy.
- The wildlife in Bako is generally most active around dawn and dusk when it’s slightly cooler. This also coincides with the best light for photo’s in our opinion too. So with that said, it’s worth starting the day early, especially if you want to increase your chances of finding the amazing wildlife that the park has to offer.
- If you really want to see a good amount of wildlife, DON’T just do a day trip. Day-trippers generally get to the park mid-morning and leave mid-afternoon, which leaves little time to explore the park. That is also when the wildlife is less active. If you’re making the effort to go all the way to Bako, why not stay a night or two?
- Some people are content with just seeing wildlife. But if like us you have a passion for wildlife photography, we highly recommend taking a decent zoom lens. We shoot the majority of our wildlife pics with a Canon 100-400mm. Imbi knows from experience how disappointing her photos were with a little point and shoot camera. We got pretty close to the Silver Leaf Monkeys and Bearded Pigs, but the Proboscis, Flying Lemurs and bird life kept a fair distance, usually higher in the trees.
- Take water with you (9.5 or 6-litre bottles available in Kuching). This will save you a few dollars and saves on plastic waste.
- The lukewarm food served at the park is reasonably priced but not overly appealing. We took some basic breakfast and lunch foods with us. As well as saving a few Ringitt, it also allowed us to have a picnic lunch where ever we were
- To give an idea of the food and drink prices:
- 1.5-litre bottle of water RM4.50
- Small can of beer RM8-12
- Plain rice, per scoop RM0.50
- Mixed noodle, fried rice, vegetable dishes per scoop RM2.50
- Meat per piece RM4.50 (large chunk)
- If you are eating in the park, whether it be a picnic or in the restaurant, always be on the lookout for the fearless Macaques. Not only will they steal your food, but they can bite if you put up a fight. If you get bitten you’ll need to go through all the medical rigmarole. The Macaques also like to grab water bottles and plastic bags. Park staff recommended hiking with a stick, so should one approach, you can bang it around and scare it off.
- The park offers a very reasonably priced group night walk for RM10p/p. But it is a group experience, with the group size being 10+. If you want to take your time or try to see particular creatures, you can arrange private night walks for RM20 p/p. We recommend paying the extra!
- Talking to the park staff and other guests is a great way to find out what has been seen and where. The park staff are the experts and will often tip you off by telling you things like ‘walk down this path as there are currently Proboscis in the trees nearby’ etc. Likewise, we spoke to a few other guests and one told us where we could find a Green Pit Viper. These snakes often just stay in the one spot for days, so a guest might get shown one on a night walk the previous night and there’s a good chance it will be in the exact spot the following morning. This info was so helpful because they are so well camouflaged and even after knowing which small bush to look in, they were still hard to find. You would be very lucky to just stumble on one by chance unless you’re a real expert
- There are lots of hiking trails around the park to waterfalls, beaches, viewpoints etc. But if you want wildlife, you are more likely to see it closer to the park HQ and the short trails around it. The wildlife is not fed or captive but is more habituated
- Bring a good torch for night walks and in case of power cuts
- At the time of our visit, swimming was prohibited on any of the beaches to crocodile sightings. Boat trips out to an island where swimming was permitted, along with hikes to a waterfall could be arranged
- During our visit, only 10 of the 18 trails were accessible. The rest were closed for maintenance which we believe had been closed for some time