Designated in 1957, Bako National Park was the first of its kind in Malaysia’s Sarawak Province. The park, situated around the Muara Tebas Peninsula, takes up about 27 square kilometers. In addition to its picturesque beach setting and nature trails, Bako is one of the best places in Borneo to see wildlife. Its most notable resident is the proboscis monkey, one of the world’s most goofy-looking yet fascinating species of primate.
During my two-day visit to Bako, I was able to try out seven different trails, including the night walk. Two days, I felt, was plenty. But there’s still lots to do for those who want to stay longer. A single day trip on the other hand, while technically possible, just wouldn’t cut it.
Here’s a navigation menu if you’re looking for quick info about a specific trail, while the practical information can be found at the end of the article.
Telok delima Trail
Checking into my accommodation (more info down below), I headed over to the park headquarters for some advice on which trails to hike through. The staff member behind the desk gave me a map, told me which trails were open and which combination I could fit into a single day. Though I’d be spending one night at the park, I still wanted to see all that I could on my first day, as the last boat back to town is always 3pm.
The staff member recommended I start off with the T. Delima trail, which takes about 45 minutes one-way (1km) to complete. One of the shorter trails of the park, it would conclude at a mangrove by the beach. And if I was lucky, I might also see some proboscis monkeys. And so I set off to begin my Bako adventure.
The trail markings are clear and easy to follow. For example, the Delima trail’s colors are white and blue, and during your hike, you’ll periodically see the colors painted on posts or trees. The same goes for all other trails. Throughout my time at Bako, I never felt lost or uncertain of where to go. Just be sure to hold on to the paper map they give you at headquarters, as that contains a list of all the trails and their color combinations.
The trails at Bako generally consist of wooden walkways, built as a way to protect the forest from human footsteps. But there are some occasions where you’ll be walking on the dirt, or (my least favorite) on top of tree roots.
Only minutes away from camp, I already felt like I was deep in the jungle. Not only was I surrounded by lush flora and fauna, but way up in the trees, I caught glimpses of silver langurs hopping from branch to branch. But no proboscis monkeys. Yet.
After some more walking, I eventually started approaching the beach. The tide was still relatively high, so I couldn’t get too close to the mangrove trees, but it was a nice view nonetheless. I walked around the beach area, admiring the unique rock formations, before heading back to headquarters the same way I came.
Telok Paku Trail
I had a quick lunch at the headquarters cafeteria before embarking on my next journey, the Telok Paku Trail. This trail would also conclude at a beach, but one in the opposite direction from camp. Don’t go to Bako expecting a dip in the ocean, though – the waters are entirely infested with crocodiles! (You can swim at some waterfalls, however.)
Just slightly longer than the Telok Delima trail mentioned above, Telok Paku is around 1.2km each way. Just as before, a walk through the jungle concluded with a scenic view of the oceanside. But the beach here was much more spread out, and there were plenty of shaded rocky areas under which to take a rest.
Unfortunately, there were more than a few pieces of trash strewn about the beach, which was a little surprising to see. But thankfully I didn’t end up encountering much rubbish during my other hikes.
Along with Telok Delima, Telok Paku is supposed to be one of the most likely places to spot proboscis monkeys. “Did you see any proboscis?” visitors would ask each other as they crossed paths along the trail. “No,” the other party would answer, shaking their heads disappointedly. Unlike a zoo, there are no guarantees when it comes to nature
Finishing up the trail, I was almost back at headquarters, walking along the elevated walkway before the beach. But then I encountered a group of macaques. Now this is a type of monkey I have experience seeing and getting up close to in all sorts of places (from Bali to Myanmar to Cambodia to Thailand). Yet the noises coming from this group was a first for me.
These were true wild macaques who weren’t used to interacting with people. And they were incredibly territorial. They were simultaneously warning me to stay away while also not really giving me an opening through which to walk around them. Waiting a few minutes for them to slightly migrate, I found my chance and made my way back safely. So just a word warning – the macaques at Bako are not like what you might be used to elsewhere in Asia. But as detailed below, all the other monkey species I’d encounter were much more pleasant.
Telok Pandan Kecil and Besar
Returning to headquarters at a reasonable hour, I still had plenty of time for yet another hike. I’d already been walking for nearly 4 hours by this point, but decided to have one more go before nightfall. I’d actually be trying out two trails, but as they’re both in the same general area, people normally do them together. Both ‘Kecil’ and ‘Besar’ offer views of the beach, but this time from high up on a cliff.
As the final destination was a clifftop, the trek was much tougher this time around. And it was also much hotter, with long stretches of trail unprotected by any shade. Without a hat and sunscreen, I would’ve been toast.
Eventually reaching the point where the path forked into two, I decided to start off with ‘Besar.’
I finally made it to the cliffside and was rewarded for my efforts with an unobstructed view of the sprawling beach and distant ocean. There wasn’t another soul in sight. Pausing for awhile to take in my surroundings, I backtracked the way I came to get to the ‘Kecil’ trail.
Lacking much coverage, the trail around these parts is prone to turning thick and muddy. I waded through it for awhile and eventually ended up at the other part of the cliff. The main highlight here is the rock formation jutting out of the water called the ‘Sea Stack.’
The sandstone Sea Stack has become Bako National Park’s unofficial symbol. The strange, top-heavy shape of the rock was formed thanks to many many years of wind and water erosion. But judging from photos, it’s more impressive from water level. Apparently, this can only be achieved by booking a special boat tour which I didn’t have time for, though you might want to inquire at headquarters if you’re interested. Supposedly, it costs around RRM35 for a boat which can fit 6 passengers.
Down below, I could see a large group of monkeys moving across the secluded beach, completely unaware that I was observing from above, and I started to feel like I was in a nature documentary.
By the time I got back to headquarters, hours had passed and I was completely drenched in sweat. But how far had I hiked? Telok Pandan Besar is supposedly .75km away from camp (one way), while Telok Pandan Kecil is about 1.5km away. Combining the two together, including the backtracking and also the steep hike upward was, well, a pretty strenuous hike. But it was well worth it. Just be sure to bring a hat, sunscreen and lots of water for this one!
Bako's Proboscis Monkeys
All day, I’d had no luck encountering proboscis monkeys during my time out on the trails. But upon returning to headquarters and walking past the cafeteria area, I heard a rustle in the leaves above me. Looking up, there they were: some of the weirdest looking animals in the world.
The most distinguishing feature of the proboscis monkey is its large, rubber-like nose. The big noses are more common among males. Like the large face flaps of mature male orangutans, proboscis noses don’t seem to have much of a functional purpose other than attracting mates.
But what’s more is that they also have big round pot bellies, as if all they ever drank was beer. These paunches, supposedly, help the monkeys digest the specific type of leaves and seeds they pick from the trees – which is just about all they’re able to eat. This very particular diet, which differs from those of the other primate species in Borneo, means that the proboscis monkeys don’t have to compete with other groups for food. Perhaps that’s why they have such a laid back, non-confrontational air about them.
And while their bodies are mostly brown, their tales are long and white. They’re also one of the largest tree-dwelling monkeys. If you happen to be near some, you’ll likely hear them before you see them.
In a sense, seeing them right outside the cafeteria and not deep in the jungle almost felt like cheating. Yet, it was much better than not seeing any at all! Another big reason to spend at least a night at Bako is that the proboscis monkeys are more commonly seen in the late afternoons or evenings.
As I’ll cover down below, it’s imperative that you have some kind of zoom lens if you want to capture any photos of them. Even others who were standing right by me under the same tree realized that their phone cameras were not of much use, and quickly gave up.
The Night Walk
By the time it got dark I was exhausted, but I still had one more excursion left. After dinner in the cafeteria, about a dozen of us gathered for the night hike. For just around RM10 extra, visitors get the chance to explore the jungle after dark accompanied by a local guide.
The walk lasts for about 90 minutes and doesn’t stray too far away from headquarters. It’s definitely worth the extra bit of time and energy. While you shouldn’t expect to see anything too exotic, it’s still a very cool experience.
With the help of our guides and their keen eyes, we came across everything from a group of nesting birds, large ants, a frog and some giant insects. And yes, even a proboscis monkey! If you’re lucky, you might even encounter things like snakes or the ever elusive leopard cat – supposedly the rarest find of them all.
On my second and final day at Bako, I had to be mindful of the 3pm return boat to Kuching, but still had time to squeeze in a few more trails. At the recommendation of a fellow traveler, I tried out Tanjong Sapi. Not only does the trail start right by park headquarters, but it’s also the shortest trail in all of Bako. Walking it one way is around 400m and requires just around a half an hour.
But even if you consider yourself more of an adventurous trekker, don’t overlook Tanjong Sapi. The vertical climb brings you up to yet another cliffside view of the beach, but in a much quicker time than all the other trails. While I’d definitely recommend staying a night at Bako, be sure to give Tanjong Sapi a try if you can only visit as a day trip.
On my way back down, I encountered a small group of silver langurs, yet another one of the primate species that inhabit Bako. Also called the ‘silver leaf monkey,’ they almost look like a silver, or gray, version of the macaque – at least from a distance. But they’re much more peaceful and also fairly cautious of humans. These graceful monkeys are pretty common to encounter in the wild at Bako, and you might even spot some near your accommodation.
My last objective for the day was to hike the entire Lintang loop trail. At 5.8km in total, Lintang is one of the longest trails in all of Bako. And while it takes 3-4 hours to complete, the starting and ending points are at least nearby camp.
In contrast to Tanjong Sapi mentioned just above, which provides a great return on investment, the Lintang loop was rather long and dull. Somehow, it seemed to be an uphill climb almost the entire way. There was, at least, a scenic area with excellent views that I came across early on.
But beyond the single viewpoint, the rest of the trail had little else in terms of views or scenery. And to make matters worse, huge portions of the path consisted of uneven tree roots that weren’t very easy to walk on.
All in all, I don’t regret hiking Lintang, as I just tried to think of it as good exercise. But if you’re short on time or just not into super long hikes, you’re not missing much by giving Lintang a pass.
Before heading back to Kuching, I decided to have one more look at the beach just outside of headquarters. And in the distance I saw a family of wild boars. The boars, technically called the Bornean wild pig, are yet another animal resident of Bako National Park. In fact, they can even sometimes be seen hanging out around the local accommodation. But this was my first time seeing a mother with her babies.
As it was low tide, the boat back to town wouldn’t be arriving at the jetty, but in the middle of the beach instead. Unfortunately, there’s no signage at headquarters informing visitors of where the boat will show up, so be sure to ask staff before you leave.
Returning to the Bako Market jetty and then taking a bus back into Kuching, it sunk in just how close the land of the proboscis monkey really is to the bustling Sarawakian capital. If you’re traveling in Sarawak, Bako National Park should definitely not be missed.
Getting to Bako National Park from Kuching is pretty easy, but requires two steps: a bus and a boat. First, take the No. 1 bus called Rapid Kuching. You have a couple of options regarding where to hop on, depending on where you’re staying.
If you’re staying in the western end of town, the bus stops at the Wet Market nearby the Electra Building. If you’re staying further east, you can also just head to the Riverside Majestic Hotel. On the opposite side of the street, next to a burger stand, is the bus stop you need.
Buses arrive every hour, starting from 7am. If you plan to pack in as many trails as I did, I recommend taking the 7am bus. It just costs about RM3.5.
Arriving at the jetty, you’ll then need to purchase the entrance ticket to Bako National Park along with the boat ticket to get there. Entrance to the park costs RM20, while the boat ticket costs 20RM one way. I believe I purchased the return ticket at the same time as well.
As for accommodation, it’s highly recommended to book in advance online, so read more on that below.
To get the most out of your Bako experience, try staying at least one night. There are different types of rooms with different prices depending on what level of comfort you’re after. You can find details about each room type at this web site, from which you can also make an advanced booking.
Considering that I was staying just one night, I opted for the cheapest ‘hostel’ room. Despite some negative reviews I read online, it really wasn’t that bad. And it only cost RM15!
It was a shared dorm with three other people. In cities, I avoid shared dorm rooms like the plague, but I’ve never had an issue with people in shared rooms at national parks. The types who come to these kinds of places are generally well-mannered and considerate, and everyone’s so tired from hiking that they tend to sleep early. I ended up sharing a room with a friendly biologist couple from Russia who made us all tea on the veranda.
The shower and room, I felt, were clean enough, especially considering that it’s under $4 USD.
But if you want your private space, AC or other amenities, go for the more expensive options. The couple I stayed with complained that everything but the hostel was sold out by the time they tried to book. So be sure to make a reservation once you know your travel dates.
As for food, there’s a cafeteria with scheduled lunch, dinner and breakfast times. The food, of course, is going to be considerably pricier than what you’d find in the city, but it’s not that bad.
One thing I would recommend, though, is to bring your own snacks from town. They sell snacks at headquarters but it’s all processed sugary stuff. If you want something simple like nuts, you need to bring your own.
When visiting places like the Semmengoh Nature Reserve or Bako National Park, you’ll most definitely want some shots of the exotic wildlife you came all the way to see. But considering the distance of the animals along with jungle lighting conditions, your smartphone or basic digital camera is not going to cut it.
Wildlife photography is one case where you’ll absolutely need a zoom lens. Even with a DSLR, you shouldn’t expect to get clear shots of monkeys high up in trees with anything less than a 200mm lens.
Personally, I’d recommend looking for something at least 200mm, though 300mm or higher is ideal. If high-end lenses like the Canon L series (or whatever brand you use) are out of your budget, consider an alternative by a brand like Tamron.
The Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 SP Di VC USD XLD (intended for full-frame cameras) is what I used for the wildlife shots above, and you can find both Canon and Nikon versions of it. While not incredibly cheap, it’s only a fraction of what the elite lenses cost.
If you don’t have a DSLR, you might want to consider investing in a cheap one with a cheap zoom lens just for this trip. Even that would be better than relying on your phone. During my time in Borneo, I came across a lot of people with smartphones or point-and-shoots who were very disappointed that none of their shots of the animals were coming out.
When bringing a camera and gear to such a humid and rainy place like Borneo, there are a few other accessories you’ll want to bring along. One is a large packet of silica gel, which you can keep in your camera bag to prevent your lens from getting too fogged up in the humidity.
You also want to get some kind of dry bag in case you get caught in a downpour. And if you still want to snap some photos in the rain, definitely get a plastic sleeve covering to place over the camera for protection.
As exotic as a trip to Borneo may sound, Kuching is fairly easy to get to. There are plenty of flights between Kuching and Kuala Lumpur, which itself is reachable from all over the region thanks to being the main hub of AirAsia.
There are also direct flights between Kuching and Penang and Kota Kinabalu. Internationally, you can also fly between Kuching and Singapore as well as Pontianak, Indonesia.
Coming by bus, Kuching Sentral Terminal is very well connected to the rest of Sarawak.
Considering the city’s size, location isn’t incredibly important, as you’ll still be able to get most places on foot. Basically, aim for anywhere in between the Kuching City Mosque and the Cat Statue.
One popular place to stay is the Riverside Majestic Hotel, which is right across the street from the bus stop that takes you to Bako National Park. Otherwise, there are all sorts of options in Kuching, from luxury hotels to budget youth hostels.