One of the main reasons for me to volunteer in Kuching was to have an opportunity to visit the Bornean rainforests, of course aside from the feel good factor that responsible tourism offers. Visiting Bako National Park was hence, undoubtedly on top of my list.
After visiting a handful of game reserves in Africa and frequent trips to national parks in India, I wasn’t sure if my wildlife experiences could be topped in this rugged island of Malaysia. However, an overnight stay in the rain forests of Borneo turned out to be simply magical. So much so that in just my two weeks stay at Kuching, I visited Bako national park “twice”, each time staying for two days. Once is just not enough!
Table of Content
- How to Plan Your Trip to Bako National Park – Complete DIY Guide
- Bako National Park Day Trip Vs Overnight Stay
- Bako National Park – What to Expect
- Bako National Park Trails
- Bako National Park Night Walk
- Bako National Park Map
- Wildlife and Bird life of Bako National Park
- Bako National Park Accommodation Booking Info
- Bako National Park Entrance Fee
- Bako National Park Package Tours
- How to Reach Bako National Park from Kuching City Center
How to Plan Your Trip to Bako National Park – Complete DIY Guide
To be very honest, Bako national park package might be easy to get from any XYZ agent in Kuching however, I would recommend booking and going yourself. It can be upto ten times cheaper than going through an agent.
I have covered everything in this article from where to book your stay at Bako national park to paying entrance fees and getting to the park. So all you need to do is jot down this info or bookmark this page and simply GO!
Bako National Park Day Trip Vs Overnight Stay
The first thing you will have to decide if you want to opt for a day trip or stay overnight. I cannot emphasize this enough, but you absolutely MUST stay at least one night at Bako national park.
Reasons to Stay Overnight at Bako
- Since Bako national park opening hours are fixed and the last boat back is at 1600 hrs, you will have to go really early and won’t be able to see/explore much. Basically day trippers can only trek till 1500 hrs vs 1700 hrs for overnight visitors.
- It can get very hot and humid in the rainforest so having a place to change clothes and take a quick shower to cool down would be ideal (hence book a room and simply stay overnight).
- The night walk is highly recommended which can well only be possible if you are inside the park for at least one night – it might rain though, so booking two nights is advisable if you have enough time on hand. If you are into trekking/ hiking, you can easily spend a few days in the park.
- Early bird catches the worm – You can go for birding at the right time (0500 – 0700 hrs) if you are staying inside the park, else you are only allowed to get into the first boat at 0700 hrs which means you miss a splendid morning birding spree. Plus remember you still need to get from Kuching to Bako.
- Experiencing living inside the rain forests with sound of crickets, croaking of frogs and eventually waking up to chirping of birds every morning is quite an experience in itself.
If you do plan to stay overnight, note that there is a canteen inside the park with a nice buffet bf, lunch and dinner. You can choose what to eat and prices are reasonable considering its in the middle of the rain forest. Keep a small budget for water, beer, food and snacks.
Bako National Park – What to Expect
Since I usually travel pretty much unplanned, I had absolutely no idea what Bako had to offer – apart from the fact that it was a rainforest and I might get lucky and see some monkeys and birds. I cant begin to explain how wrong I was and how much I loved this national park in Sarawak.
As soon as you reach, you need to buy your entrance and boat tickets (Rates and info below). I was traveling with another volunteer at the Orangutan project and we both were quickly ushered into tiny wooden speed boats which go at top speeds, whilst jumping waves. I DID NOT expect that but it turned out to be a lot of fun.
Slowly, the landscape started changing as we crossed villages and saw incredible limestone formations on either sides. Then came the mangroves, dense jungles… and the beach! I have never seen a national park which has such mind blowing scenery and interesting landscape. I mean, imagine a beach, huge limestone rocks, coves, bays AND rainforests – what an amazing combination isn’t it?
The icing on the cake was seeing a bearded pig walking along the beach and mud skippers (and a water snake) as soon as the boat docked! What a fun ride – I already knew I would have a blast and was excited to dump my bags and go out to explore more.
Bako National Park Trails
You can opt for a guided Bako national park tour anytime, even after you enter the park. However, exploring the trails yourself is easy and fun. As soon as you go to the reception, you are handed over a map and briefed about the trails, their duration, terrain and weather forecasts. Basically, you can ask any questions you might have about any of the Bako national park trails there and the staff would be happy to help you out. Not only that, the routes are clearly marked with maps and signs at key junctions en-route.
Tips for hiking in Bako
- The trails can get very challenging especially if its raining. You will be weaving through ancient tree roots with several slippery parts along the way. Be sure to wear sturdy, comfortable, water proof footwear.
- Sign into the ‘Jungle trekking registration book’ before you head off and sign out once you get back. This is to ensure your safety and keep a check in case of any mishaps.
- Since its hot and sticky, wearing clothes that breathe is a good idea. Loose cotton shorts and tees are ideal. Carry a rain jacket in case of a heavy downpour.
- If you have long hair, tie your hair up in a pony to avoid it getting in your eyes/ sticking to your face.
- Bring a backpack with some light nutritional snacks or nuts and plenty of water (at least 2 litres) to stay hydrated as you will be sweating a lot.
- Carry a map and keep a torch handy – its the jungle, anything can happen.
- Be careful where you step – Bako has many venomous snakes, scorpions, poisonous frogs and tarantulas – its always good to watch your step 🙂
Bako National Park Night Walk
The guided night walk at Bako happens every evening at 2000 hrs. As soon as you wrap up your dinner you can head to the reception area to wait for briefing.
At just $10 per person fee for a guided night walk – this was a steal. There are 2-3 guides and you will be divided into small groups of 5-6 people to ensure safety at all times.
The night walk takes you on the Lintang trail which is covered with wooden slabs, making it easier to walk. Of course later on during the trail, you might feel out of your comfort zone when having to step on muddy paths and tree roots but it is quite easy and fun. I was lucky enough to spot several nocturnal creatures and even the magical glow in the dark mushrooms. Go on a new moon night to ensure you easily spot them in the pitch darkness.
Tips for embarking on the guided night walk at Bako
- You will see plenty of nocturnal creatures. Be wise and keep your camera flashes off and don’t shine your torches directly at them. Your guides will have yellow light torches and they can assist you at enjoying night wildlife at Bako without disturbing the animals.
- Be very careful of where you put your foot. You “will” see venomous snakes, scorpions, tarantulas and poisonous frogs during the night hike (you don’t really spot them during the day trails). Tarantulas look like diamonds on the trails when the torch light shines on them. So if you see diamonds on your trail – well, they aren’t, move away and cross slowly.
- Carry powerful torch light and ensure they have battery back up. Just in case, keep your phones on you as an emergency torch back up. The jungles are pitch dark and you can’t see a thing without a torch.
- Wear closed shoes, long socks and clothes that cover your arms and legs.
- Carry mosquito repellent and use it adequately.
- Carry a cap and rain jacket in case of a sudden night downpour.
Bako National Park Map
Wildlife and Bird life of Bako National Park
The array of flora and fauna at Bako is amazing. The top 3 most common mammals you are bound to find in Bako national park would be – long-tailed macaque, Bornean bearded pig and the plantain squirrel scurrying up the trees.
The most popular animal of the park would be the long nosed fat bellied Proboscis monkey. Since Bako national park is the best place in Sarawak to spot the Proboscis monkeys which are endemic to Borneo, they are the major drivers of tourists to the park. You will see people looking up at trees with their cameras and binoculars and surprisingly, they aren’t looking for birds but for these cute monkeys. I was lucky to spot a few on both my trips to the park. However, I didn’t sight the elusive Silvered Langur.
Other amazing first time sightings for me were – Flying lemurs, venomous Vipers, poisonous frogs, Swallows nesting at night, White bellied woodpecker, Asian fairy bluebird, Tarantulas, Hermit crabs, Red dragonflies, Mud skippers (Flying fish), among others.
Bako National Park Accommodation Booking Info
Staying inside the dense jungles of Bako national park is surely an experience in itself. You must pre-book your choice of Bako national park accommodation online and the booking process is very simple and hassle free. Okay, so I was a bit intimidated looking at the government booking site but once I found my way, it was really easy!
Steps to Book your Accommodation at Bako National Park Online
- Visit – http://ebooking.sarawak.gov.my/
- On the right side booking search box, select “Kuching” as division, “Bako National Park” under the location drop down, enter your dates and click search. Note – Sometimes just selecting your option and hitting enter might not work, so you can try typing your selection.
- Ensure you book at least two days in advance and avoid weekends or special holidays.
- You can choose your accommodation type and check costs on this page.
- Cancellation is free.
Tip – If you are on a budget, book the cheapest option which is “Forest Hostel” (Unless you want to camp) with 4 single beds in each room and a shared bathroom at RM 15 per bed (Approx $3.5). These are great but needless to say – basic! The worse part is that it can get very humid and the rooms have just fans. One thing which not many note is that no bed sheets or towels are provided in the hostel so carry your own.
During my first visit to Bako, my friend and I stayed in the hostel but next time I decided to take my parents and we booked an entire forest lodge for ourselves. Forest lodge type 6 costs RM 75 for the entire house (Approx $17.5) where you get a whole cabin in the woods with 2x separate rooms en-suite baths and fridge! It can easily fit 4 people and is truly value for money. Downside – this one had just a fan too and was even hotter than the hostel.
Only Forest lodge type 4, priced at RM 225 per house ($52) which can accommodate 6 people, has air conditioning but beware – it goes fast so book well in advance.
Bako National Park Entrance Fee
Here’s a chart from Sarawak tourism’s site that details current entrance fee structure for Malaysians/ Non-Malaysians visiting Bako –
Best Time to Visit Bako National Park is between March – October
Bako National Park Package Tours
Even though I did the park twice on my own but I can see the advantages of booking a packaged tour for hassle free travels. You can also get an experienced guide who can help you navigate the park easily, based on your fitness levels and guide you to the flora and fauna of Bako. My recommendation would be to book with Asia Odyssey for complete peace of mind and amazing tours.
How to Reach Bako National Park from Kuching City Center
Getting to Bako national park from Kuching is very easy. There are buses from the waterfront every hour (from 0700 – 1700 hrs) and the distance is just under 20 km. The buses are comfortable and take around 1 hour to reach. Hop on bus number 1 which takes you right to the Bako boat jetty for around RM 3.5 per way. If you take GrabCar or Uber you can go for RM 20. When I was with my folks I took this option but on the way back to Kuching, you won’t find any taxis around. We had to ask around and luckily found a guide/driver who took us back to the city at same cost.
Once at the boat jetty, simply show your room confirmation (if you are staying overnight), pay boat return fees, entrance fees, room fees and you are all set. You can also get a guide from this point or inside the park if needed. Guides are not cheap but again you can use your haggling skills if you do need one. Personally, I didn’t use any packages, agents on guides during both my trips and it was cheap, fun and exciting.
If we compare rates of Bako national park to those on jungles in Africa or India, there is a HUGE difference. You can enjoy national parks, flora and fauna of Borneo at 1/100th the price. So, don’t wait – Visit Borneo NOW!
Further Reading – 30 Fun Things to do in Kuching, Sarawak