• Mark

Bako National Park and Proboscis Monkeys

Our next full day of touring in Borneo has us getting up early so that we could catch a boat ride over to Bako National Park so that we could attempt to see the proboscis monkeys. We had done some research, as when you first look up information about the park it seem that there are a lot of different hikeable trails, but the more you read into it the more it sounds like these are almost require some mountaineering skills or at least that you'll be on all fours at points trying to scramble over rocks and tree roots.


We spent far too long looking at what trails to take to get the best viewing of the proboscis monkeys, I'll tell you the secret now if you're ever looking to head to Bako - they're around the reception center, and they come down to the trees by the beach at low tide. It's that easy, you don't have to actually hike anywhere. But, going into our day we didn't know that, all we knew is that we had an early morning taxi, an idea of which path we wanted to hike, and we hoped that we would get a chance to see the wildlife that we wanted.

Just hanging in a tree by the beach.

We woke up early and were immediately disappointed when we opened the blinds in the hotel room to see an incredible downpour. There was a split second thought of "Do we just cancel?" that we quickly dismissed since the weather forecasts had today being the best for the remaining days we had in Borneo, and we had seen morning rain pass before and provide a nice clear afternoon.

The taxi ride to the dock, where the boat takes you to the park, is a little over an hour and within 10 minutes we are out of the rain and the skies look to be clearing. Perfect, rain in the city but clear north where we are heading. We get to the park entrance where you have to purchase the park entry ticket and the ticket for the boat ride. They have overnight stays at the park, we see some people there with their full backpacks that will be spending the night, but most of the people down by the dock waiting for boats look to be just going for a day trip. At this point we decide to also hire a tour guide for the day to show us around the island - remember we're still unsure of the best places to see the monkeys and how bad the trails really are - so we meet Alex who is a local and employee of the park the starts right away loading us up with a bunch of facts that have long since been forgotten.

The boats take a while to arrive, apparently - school holiday in Malaysia remember - they had all just taken some large groups of students over the the park. One can hire a private boat to take you to the park and back on your own timeline, the official ones bring you back at set half-hour increments up until 4 pm. Again, since we are budgeting and trying to live like students it's the cheaper local option that we take.

It's about a 30 minute boat ride, once we get out of the river entry and into the bay the waters immediately starting getting choppy, and we see that we are heading directly into a ominous looking black cloud. Halfway into the trip it starts pouring, our guide pulls out ponchos for us to put on - that's a nice benefit we weren't expecting - and once we arrive at the dock the rains are just subsiding, nice timing.

Once you're there you have to go to the reception center so that you can check-in for your overnight or let them know what trail you'll be taking so they know where to search if you don't came back and check out. With a guide he takes that paperwork you get upon buying the ticket and he handles all of that sign-in information. It's probably a half mile walk to the reception center, and our luck ran out about half way into that walk. The skies opened up again and we made the mad dash to the center where at least 60 other people are all huddled inside out of the rain.

We waited this out for at least 45 minutes before it finally let up enough for us to be comfortable enough to wander out in our ponchos and not still fear being totally drenched. We did a short loop walking around the dorm like structures for those that are staying overnight, our guide said he knew that flying lemur had been spotted in the trees, and I think it was more just to keep us close in case the hard rain came back. As we walked another guide came up and had us follow him around behind where the workers stay so that we could get our first glimpse of the proboscis monkeys.

Proboscis monkey in the rain

We stood there for about 20 minutes trying to snap photos and also keep our lenses clear of the rain before another group came along trying to get photos and we figured we could move on. At this point our guide had told us that the best time to see them was in the afternoon during low tide, so we were now just hoping that it would clear up in the next few hours so we could get some better shots.

From there we took one of the simplest trails that goes over to a small beach, it does have some steep climbs and with the recent rain everything was slick and a few of the spots that should have been just an easy walk were now across small creeks.

Trail / Creek

We managed to get down to a small beach and take some photos, the rains had stopped but the winds were still pretty good. Apparently on good weather days you can pick up the boats here to take you back around to where we started, these are the boats that will head out around the peninsula to see some famous rock formation just outside of our sight.

The beach at the end of the short hike

We wandered the beach for a while and then started out hike back out, our guide informed us that since the water was below one of the rocks on the beach we could take a shortcut down another trail and then walk back along the beach - this is the one fact that he provided that we wouldn't have ever known if we didn't have the guide, good to know, yes, worth having the guide for the whole day, that's hard to say - his other facts and information was nice to have when we were walking, but it wasn't anything that you can't look up on the Internets nowadays.

One thing that ruins this trip, there is trash everywhere - when we left the first beach I mentioned to Tina that I had felt like taking out one of our spare bags and just collecting trash - made the statement that if they offered a free beer or something like 10% off the entry fee for every full bag of trash brought back they would be able to use the tourism to help keep the beaches clean.

Trash on the main beach @ Bako National Park

Once we god back down to the beach to walk our way back I actually did pull out the bag and started picking up the loose easy to grab trash, within 5 minutes my bag was basically full.

Picking up loose trash along our beach walk

Our guide said to just leave it, they have students that come in May and pick up the trash, so there is no reason to worry about it. That's a horrible attitude, it cost him any tip he might have gotten - unfortunately he doesn't know that - and at one point he had grabbed the bag so I could take photos and he just kicked an empty bottle of the way as he moved on. "Seriously?" I said to him, "It doesn't take any effort to pick it up." and I picked it up and put it into the bag that he was holding. The lack of concern is disheartening.


Okay, off that soapbox - When we came back we spotted a few of the bearded pigs wandering along the beach, so we spent some time watching them.

Bornean Bearded Pig


Bearded pig walking along the beach

At that time we stopped back to the reception center, we had brought a little cooler bag with leftover pizza from Big Bottle the night before packed with a few beers so we had a quick lunch before heading out to get our fill of the proboscis monkeys which as promised were

now in the trees down close to the beach for everyone to get their photos. There are a lot of monkey photos following, and this is the narrowed selection of the better, non-blurry, photos.















We took photos right on the beach right up to the last minute, with the low tide the boats come to the beach to pick you up instead of at the dock.

With boarding right at the beach, you do have to wade into the water to climb into the boats, most people take their shoes off to do this - I did not so my sneakers took a full two days in the hotel to dry out. Just something to think about if you're leaving the next day or only brought one pair of sneakers to wear.


The boat ride back was much calmer, our taxi driver was waiting for us when we got back, and soon enough we were back in Kuching where we headed over to the recommended See Good Food Center, which provided us with an absolutely fantastic seafood meal to end out day.

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