Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Bako National Park

You can get overwhelmed with the things to experience in Sarawak. The main goal for most people is to see Orangutans. Sadly, this is fruit harvesting season and the old orange boys don't leave the deep jungle for any reason. They have all the food they need safely nearby so they wake up and just reach over for breakfast. They don't need humans to feed them regardless of the sanctuary. By fruit harvesting, I mean that all the fruit ripens at the same time here and it is all within the last month. Funnily enough, the Semenggoh Nature Reserve informs all visitors of the situation. Large signs are explaining the situation and the change of seeing them this time of year is about 1%. They were very nice to also have an honest conversation with me. They said to save my money and come back when it not a fruit season. They did regale tales of tourists that still wanted to pay and go into the park just in case they get lucky. When it does not happen they complain to the agents about the experience. People are funny.

After Orangutans is a visit, Bako National Park. When you do a bit of research you can find lots of day tours that cost about US$125 per person. I thought holy shit, this better be a hell of a park. The review on these tours was tepid at best. When you look at the itinerary, you leave at 8 AM and take a 30-minute bus to the jetty that organizes the boats going to the park. The boat ride is about 20 minutes and when it is all said and done you get to the park about 10 AM. The last boat to leave is 3:00 PM so you have 5 hours to hike a few of the trails. It is incredibly limiting. There is the option to stay overnight which substantially increases the costs. Here are some examples from Viator.  Shit, no Orangutans and this tour appeared like they were trying to promote a first-class tour at first-class pricing. I guess they are hoping for the "We will only be here once" crowd.

When I asked Zack about the park and told him the price of $125 he asked "that is 125 Ringgit right ($US 30)?  When I said no, it was US dollars he just stood perplexed and confused. "Tourists are paying that much"?  We sat over a coffee and he explained how to do the tour on my own, plus stay overnight giving you lots of trekking time. Here is the breakdown for my trip.
5 Ringgit for the local bus to the jetty. 1-hour ride
20 Ringgit for the park entrance fee
40 Ringgitfor the round trip boat
10 Ringgitfor a bed in a 4-bed hostel
10 Ringgitfor a night jungle hike with a guide
40 Ringgitfor Food at the canteen lunch dinner and breakfast plus snacks and 4 litres of bottled water
10 Ringgitfor snacks in the village waiting for the return bus
5 Ringgit for the bus ride home
The Total cost was 140 Ringgit total or $33.75 US. Ringgit

Not only did Zack save me over US$100, but I also had two days to trek plus booked a guided night walk to see all the creepy crawlers that come out after sundown. Zack immediately gained my trust. What a racket they have going on. If you read the feedback on any of the travel sites people are getting wise to it. I will add my experience to pay it forward.

I met a girl on the boat ride over. Kale was from Denmark and we shared travel experiences. Her family was originally from Kurdistan Iraq and she shared a few stories of her family's plight to flee war-torn Iraq in the 90s. (Another find piece of work USA) She was hoping to get a bed for the night as she did not pre-book, so no luck. That gave us about 4 hours to hike before she had to catch the last boat back.

We picked a trail and figured 2 hours in and 2 hours out heading towards a lookout and a waterfall. The trail was oddly difficult. Smooth in areas but mostly covered with expanding tree roots to create very trip-able steps. Old, moss-covered and very sketchy bridges and stairs added a great twist..of the ankle. We met a guide about an hour into our hike and he said if we wanted to see any Proboscis monkeys that we needed to head back down to a lower level. Easy choice. These weird dudes were worth the effort. Again, I can whine about my shitty OPPO phone camera but now I am just determined to bring my Canon DSLR camera with me from now on. I will make it work.

Kale and I had a coffee at the camp, became FB friends and she caught the 3:00 PM boat back. I had 3.5 hours before sunset so I head off to a trail that ran along the beach, about 50 metres up. I was 10 minutes in and I stumbled across the noisiest troupe of monkeys. I am sure they were warning the jungle that the human was approaching. Once I stopped and just stood quietly, the monkeys settled down and went about their business, however, the Alpha never took his eyes off of me. It was a nice moment and I stayed for about 15 minutes. I finished the trek to the lookout and returned, said goodbye to the troupe as I passed and went down to the beach to catch the sunset.

I joined a guided night tour which was pretty impressive. There were 4 guides for about 20 of us. I did not expect to see much but these guides obviously knew what to look for. There were frogs, snakes, scorpions, turtles, walking sticks, spiders, centipedes, and other great little creatures. In small ponds and streams, there were turtles and hidden catfish, ponds frogs and an arrangement of skimming critters. They really made it fun and informative but always kept reminding us to be careful. The snakes were incredibly venomous and deadly, as were the scorpions. Crocodiles could be in any of the waterways which we passed over so no curiously straying from the path was important.

At times we turned out all headlamps and torches and stayed perfectly still and quiet. We just listened to the jungle noises and it was as creepy as you can imagine it would be. Then the teenagers in the group got scared and that was that.

I had a decent night's sleep in my dorm. The three others were young Germans and were pleasant enough. I woke up early, had breakfast and headed out for a morning hike. I went back along the route we took for the night walk and climbed to the lookout. It took about 5 hours round trip. I was done. I had a beer and caught the 2:00 boat back to civilization.

Sitting patiently was the bus back to Kuching. I had time so I grabbed some skewers of various meats from the village shops, wandered for 15 minutes and then headed to the bus. I was first on. I put my headphones on and fell asleep until the last group from the last boat started boarding. We all knew each other faces from being around camp for 2 days. There were pleasant hellos and smiles. I turned up my music and watched the jungle pass by on the way back to Kuching.

As I said from the start of this post, Bako National Park is a great place to visit. If you do go plan for an overnight stay. If you are ambitious, stay for 2 or 3 nights. There are so many great trails that you can enjoy. If you are worried about costs, well again beds are $5 and food/water is very reasonable. You would not think so but you will not spend more than $15 including water, but still bring your snacks and dried fruit.

Final thought. DO NOT TAKE AN ORGANIZED TOUR. Do this on your own. All the resources are available online to do it yourself. Plus the freedom to do as you want makes it all worthwhile. Some places required a guide or tour. This place does not. If you want a guide while you are there, book one for a few hours. They are highly informative and entertaining.

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