Malaysia Part 1: Kuching & Bako National Park

Our Borneo journey started in Kuching, the capital city of Sarawak. After the twenty minute taxi ride from the airport to our room in the charming China Town, we set foot in the Indah Café for the first time. The place was just a few footsteps away from our accomodation and turned out to be the real deal. During the following days we went through the whole menu and feasted upon coconut ice cream shakes, Nasi Lemak and tempeh of all sorts, on sandwiches, on roti or as chips.

While exploring the city, we bought a few bananas for our improvised breakfast the next morning and we came across the first fresh coconuts on the riverfront. Although seven MYR seemed a bit too much, as we had already paid the tourist price for the bananas and therefore skipped them. Later on we found most coconuts to be around 4 MYR.

The “Bear Garden” offers vegan snacks and contributes with its benefits to the welfare of Orangutans, so we had to take a bite there. By the time we left, the most spectacular and colourful sunset had started to cover the sky. Within a minute, the colors shifted to a fiery red and then
magenta, submerging the clouds in its dramatic light. We hasted to the waterfront and up the Darul Hana bridge where we observed the fading sunrays through our lenses. To our surprise, the colors were even well represented on our mobile phones. While the sunsets in southeast asia are often incredibly colorful, this had to be the most impressive one during our journey in Borneo.

kuching sunset vegan world explorer

Kuching’s China Town south of the river has its own charm with its colourful lights, street signs and most important of all: graffitis sprayed on many of the old walls. We couldn’t resist exploring and capturing the paintings on the walls!

The Bako National Park

Early in the morning, at 7am, we arrived at the bus terminal to hop on the first bus to Bako. The journey cost 5 MYR per person and lasted about 45 minutes. Although the National Park is not on an island, it is only accessible by boat. Unfortunately, we were not the only ones arriving at the ferry station and had to wait. After buying a boat ticket, we had to pay the entrance fee at another counter and were thus waiting twice in line. Then a woman waved us to the landing stage and told us to wait while she managed the docking boats. Since reaching the boat jetty, we noticed big warning signs about crocodiles in the area and I was eager to spot one, so I used the time to look around. On the other side of the river were most of the village’s stilt houses and by now 8 am, the people were hard working on rooftops and on their boats. The sun was already high up in the sky, maybe too high for animal sightings such as the rare Proboscis Monkeys? A few more boats docked and left quickly with groups of five to eight passengers.

Again, the lady waved us over as our driver had arrived. Without a sight of crocodiles, we climbed on the small boat and cuttered towards the Bako National Park. The pleasant ride took fifteen to twenty minutes along the shore and ended at a large beach. We jumped with our feet in the clear water and got on land, next to massive rocks and cliffs overgrown by jungle.

We made our way to the Park’s headquarters, where we had to register and were given a map of the trails. The ranger recommended us the paths #3 and #6, as there was a greater chance to spot the endangered Proboscis Monkeys. Behind us, more and more people arrived at the Park’s entrance, so without further ado, we headed back to the beach for the first trail. The first hike was astounding, as it went over stones and roots along the lush jungle flora until it ended on a small, calm beach. However, we did not come across any wild animals. This wasn’t now a surprise, but still a small letdown.

We headed back to the junction and started climbing up the stairs of the trail #6, without knowing what we were into. Once on top of the steep hills, we had left the green jungle behind and marched in the scorching heat. We came to Bako to wander through the lush jungle, but now we found ourselves in a dust dry environment under the burning hot sun with no shadows near and no end in sight. Good thing we packed enough water! We continued despite our sudden drop of motivation and hoped for the best. Along the way we crossed several large groups of other tourists and their facial expressions matched ours. Some people didn’t feel well and had to sit down, while their guides rushed to help. The only wildlife worth mentioning was a green, large snake that threw itself from the path under the roots and fallen leaves so quickly that we couldn’t even see if it was the famous Wagler’s Pit Viper that is often seen in Bako. Then, finally, we reached the viewpoint on top of the cliffs and found a small spot of shadow under a tree. There’s a path downstairs to the beach, which we did not even consider, and after a short break of observing two macaques trying to grab other people’s food, we decided to get back to the Park’s headquarters and call it a day.

Why this route was recommended to us and how the rangers could give this advice during noon in the dry heat to so many people is a mystery. Unfortunately, we did not get to explore the other trails and this experience had us leave Bako disappointed. However, we encourage everyone to try the other jungle trails and enjoy the real beauty of Sarawak’s great Park.

Back at the headquarters, where one can buy a few supplies, watch wild boars and long-tailed macaque families, we started looking around for our boat back to the jetty station. We were supposed to go with the same driver back at 3pm, however, we were one hour too early and it seemed impossible to just leave on another boat. So Jessica stayed at the beach in the mild shadows of palm trees, sitting on an old log and enjoying the gentle sea breeze while I grabbed the camera and stalked the monkeys and boars around the place.

At 3 pm, we found out that the boats gathered at the stage on the other end of the beach and not here, our initial drop-off. Suddenly, everyone tried to get out of the Park, and all the shouting, confused looks and ticket waving made us question the reliable organisation of the boat trips. Lastly, we got on our boat and headed back to the village. And this is exactly where the taxi drivers try to scam you. Literally the first person we saw once out of the boat told us our bus had just left and we had to wait for at least one hour for the next one, except if we take his services as a taxi driver. Smelling the big lies, we walked to the bus station and there it still was – our 5 MYR ride to Kuching. We bought two huge coconuts from a stand next to us and could even take them onto the bus.

Dinner that day was our first real meal (we had relied on bananas, nuts and protein bars), so we just ate twice in the evening. At the Indah Café we had the obligatory coconut shake, tempeh and a really delicious lime cake. Later on I ordered a curry dish at the Fig Tree Café, which was surprisingly spicey, while we waited for the heavy rain outside to end. After the sky cleared, another short stop over at the Bear Garden gave us a serving of painfully oversalted fries and a hummus plate. Tired, we made our way back to our room and an exhausting day came to an end.

In the next part we visit the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre and have an impressive ride through Sarawak’s wetlands.

 

Jim
Author

Malaysia Travel Log

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