Sunday, March 22, 2009

Day trip to Bako National Park, Sarawak.

Click for Flickr Photoset

We went there by car and got to the terminal at around 8am. We decided not to take the bus or public transportation as we wanted to get there as early as possible. Also, because it was just a daytrip, we weren't really worried about parking safety. There weren't any other tourists around at that time (low season) so we couldn't share a boat with anyone.

After paying the park fees (RM10 per person), we got into a boat and arrived in 20 minutes. It was low tide then and exposed sandbars can be seen along the river with big white herons resting on them.

We decided to walk to Telok Pandan Besar and Telok Pandan Kecil and arranged to have our boatman pick us up at Telok Pandan Kecil around 4pm. Because the tide was just coming in, our boatman dropped us off at the beach and we waded a few feet to get ashore. Upon alighting at Telok Asam (the beach fronting the park HQ), we saw a family of bearded pigs, a mother and her 4 young ones. The sow was visibly thin from caring for four growing piglets and they were all foraging and digging near the bushes for food. They were some distance from us and we were only able to photograph them thanks to zoom lenses.

Then we went for a light breakfast at the park canteen. There is an open selection of food ranging from fried rice to fried noodles to french fries to toasts and eggs. We tried the fried rice, eggs and noodles and they weren't very nice. Lesson learned, have your breakfast in the many in town before coming here.

Remember to register your arrival at the reception building. It has shifted from the canteen area to a new building near the park exhibition and information building. In place of the old HQ is now a large construction site, cordoned off from the public. I forgot to ask what they are building here, perhaps a new HQ and reception office. Upon registration, you will be given a map and advice on which trails to do etc. We asked about a trip to Pulau Lakei, a small island to the north of the park. It would cost RM300 return from Telok Asam! We were also told the waters there are nice and clear but not really suitable for snorkeling as there's not much to see anyway. However, we were advised not to go there at that time as a recent storm had wreaked havoc and destroyed the plank walks.

For more information on boat charges, refer to the picture titled "boat service charges" in my flickr photoset.

After that we headed for the beach in search of the bearded pig mother and her kids but they were no where to be found. I had also spotted two very large adults in the area when we first arrived, but they too had moved away from the beach area due to the fast rising sun and temperature.

It was already 9+ am when we walked to the mangrove flats. The tide was fast coming in and little waves could be seen at the edge of the mangrove. Tourists were now being ferried directly to the jetty here as the tide was high enough. We spent some time exploring the mangrove area photographing pitcher plants that hung from cliffs above water, orchids, unique ferns and beautiful moss. It was very interesting to see such plants thriving so close to the salty sea water, seemingly unaffected by the waves or surf. Many of the mangrove trees here are dying. I meant to ask a park ranger why but again, forgot to! I suppose it could be too much sand brought in by the sea.

We saw a troop of proboscis monkeys feeding here. They left quickly when it started to get hot and with more tourist arrivals. One young one continued to linger, feeding on young leaves but suddenly shot up the cliffs. Maybe it suddenly realized it was the only one remaining in the mangroves!

Many of the other tourists chose to do the easiest and shortest trail, possibly the most boring one as well. I really suggest any visitors here to at least walk to the plateau top, it's an amazing place with lots of pitcher plants, ferns and ant plants such as Dischidia species here.

It is a short hike from the starting point up to the plateau and shouldn't take more than 40 minutes. We stopped to photograph more proboscis monkeys, noisily arguing amongst themselves in the tree tops.

We got to the plateau around 11am. By now, the sun was high and it was extremely HOT. The white sand reflected the sunlight and the blackened sandstone radiated heat like burning coal. It was so hot that we felt so stupid for bringing unnecessary moz repellent (we didn't see a single mosquito) and not sun block! Usually, when I go exploring open areas, I'd wear a good hat, light and thin long sleeved shirt and light pants. This time, I was in only a t-shirt, shorts and a small cap. Luckily I had a small towel which I used to shield my head, neck and face from the unforgiving sun. All of us ended up burnt and turned as red as "kampung" chickens. My friend got it worst when his skin started peeling days after. He looked real funny too as his face was all red and brown but where his forehead was covered by his cap, it was all white and fair. Another lesson learned, BRING PROPER SUN PROTECTION! Sunblock is a must, as well as a good hat. Bring lots of water as well.

The boardwalks across the plateau top are laid over long stretches of open shrub land where there is little shade from the stunted trees. The trail is also waterlogged and good shoes are a necessity as I nearly slipped a few times walking the soggy trails. The sand is baked and the water is hot from the sun.

---- To be continued


Here's part two of my report:

We made several stops on the way to our destination (Telok Pandan) to explore the surrounding areas along the trail and to take photos. Lots of pitcher plants here, but it was just too hot to explore the open shrub lands. I would have liked to do some more exploring and to find other interesting plants such as carnivorous sundews (Drosera species) but the heat was too much to handle.

Where taller trees grow, one can find orchids growing in the shade such as Coelogyne, Trichostosia, Dendrobium and Eria species. When we last visited, there were some reintroduced rare slipper orchids (planted there under a recovery/rehabilitation project) but none seem to have survived. Even back when we first saw them, they were already wilting away or drying up. A sad loss indeed.

Along the way to Telok Pandan, the trail moves through a kerangas with taller trees and the temperature is much cooler here. This provides much needed relief from the baking sun. We came across a cool flowing stream here, the water stained with tanins. It is too small for a swim though, but one can dip towels in here to cool off with.

We soon reached a fork with one trail ending at Telok Pandan Besar and the other to Telok Pandan Kecil. Because of the heat, we hesitated to walk to TPB but we had come this far so we soldiered on. It was thankfully, only a short distance to the viewing point from the fork. We were greeted with a most breathtaking view!! I had never seen anything like it before, absolutely stunning. We were standing at the edge of some magnificent cliffs, the bay Pandan Besar spread our before us. A fresh water river flowed right out to see and the beach down below looked so inviting. Unfortunately, there is no way at all to descend onto the beach.

We saw nesting sea eagles here. White bellied sea eagles, the largest raptor in the area. They feed only on fish and shellfish such as crabs. One is supposed to be able to see rocks stained white with their droppings as well as the remains of crabs and fish but our zoom lenses were not powerful enough (maxed out at 450mm) to spot these. The sea eagles took to the air, soaring higher and higher without even flapping their wings. It was an amazing sight. I took a video too but it isn't very good because the birds were too far away. One left for the sea while the other returned to its gigantic nest atop a lone Casuarina tree in the middle of the bay.

After taking lots of photos here, we walked back to the fork in the trail and rested under the shade of some stunted trees. Storm clouds could be seen south of the park but where we were, it was baking hot. The water along the trails was also very warm so forget about cooling your feet! Instead, keep your feet dry and try to walk under the shade of the trees beside the trails. I suppose if we had proper sun protection we wouldn't have had such a hard time handling the heat. I am not trying to scare anyone off here by constantly repeating the sun and heat but just reminding everyone to be thoroughly prepared!

After a short rest, we proceeded onwards to Telok Pandan Kecil. It was another 20 minutes before we go to our destination, the trail moves over open shrub land and takes one to a high cliff which falls off vertically to the beach below. Another stunning view greeted us, the bay of Pandan Kecil and the South China Sea before us, Mount Santubong in the distance, and the iconic Cobra-head sea stack of Bako at the tip of a headland just to our left. I walked right to the edge of the cliff here and took a video. With my hand stretched out, I videoed the sheer drop down to the beach below and viewing it today makes my knees weak!

The weathered sandstone here form curious looking brain-like grooves, another distinct feature in the sandstone at Bako. Over in  the distant cliffs, one can see even more curious looking formations such as rocky outcrops which jut out over the sea (refer my photos).

The stairs down to the beach is to the right of the trail. We saw some plastic wrappings and bottles thrown by visitors on the way down here. Blasted irresponsible people! It always confounds me, that how people who visit such places are obviously into nature yet would not think twice before discarding plastic and other non-biodegradable litter here. After all, they brought the bottles there while they were full and heavy, now empty, should be far easier to carry back! Please take your trash home and dispose of it properly.

Our boatman was already waiting at the bay for us. He waved at us and was two hours early. After a bit of exploring at the beach here, we decided to leave early as we no longer felt like swimming due to the heat. Honestly, although I had enjoyed myself very much, I just wanted to get back to home to cool off! So we left Bako by boat, stopping to view the magnificent sea stacks on the way. The Cobra-head sea stack is also known as "Batu Belah"  which literally means "Split Rock", is much larger than I had expected. Our boatman lingered in the area for a while, the waves beating on the boat made it a bit hard to get some good pictures or video, unfortunately.

We reached the Bako terminal by about 3pm and stopped for some very refreshing ice-cold coconut drinks at a stall here. We ended up using the drinks as ice-packs to cool out foreheads and necks! 

When we left, there was a Kuching-Bako bus waiting for passengers in the parking area. It left without any passengers although I did see one or two tourists using minivans instead of the waiting bus.

Some extra notes:


If you have a portable water filter and purification tablets, you can filter some of the freshwater dripping off the cliffs here and the pleateau seems to never run dry. We came in the driest month of August the last time, and there was water everywhere, only in smaller amounts.

The most popular trails such as Telok Pandan Besar and Kecil, Lintang and Tajor (waterfall trail) are quite easy but good shoes are still necessary as the sandstone can be quite slippery as there is always water around even in hot and dry weather. We could have done Tajor and then back to TPB and TPK but it was so hot that we just wanted to get to our destination asap and try to swim at the beach at TPK to cool down. In retrospect, it would have been nice to go for a cool dip at Tajor waterfall before making our way to Telok Pandan.

The trek to Telok Pandan Besar will take about 1 hour from the starting point at the plateau top. The walk to Telok Pandan Kecil from TPB will take about 30-40 minutes. Visitors can swim at the beach at TPK and "shower" off under the cliffs here. The water drip from the cliffs like multi-storey high showers but this may not be so in the dry months (mid year).

Interestingly, we didn't see any of the infamous marauding macaques. I did notice one walking on the beach when we first arrived but none near the park HQ, canteen or anywhere else.

I can't say this enough, on a clear day, it is VERY hot in the open shrub land on the plateau so be sure to bring plenty of water (we brought 100 Plus - isotonic drinks). Bring light long sleeved shirts for everyone, especially young children. Visitors may even want to pack small umbrellas as extra sun protection. For me, the sunburn (and the subsequent  "molting snake skin") was worth the trek because of the stunning views at both Telok Pandan Besar and Kecil.  We got to stand at the edges of cliffs with the South China Sea sparkling before us. We saw Silvered leaf monkeys, Proboscis monkeys, nesting sea eagles (check my photos) and lots of Nepenthes plants as well as other interesting plant species in the mangroves.

There is so much more to see in this small and compact park and I intend to do the longer and more challenging trails (full day treks) and camp overnight there.

With proper sun protection and sun block, one can enjoy themselves at Bako. We only got burnt because we had plenty of exposed skin in only t-shirts, shorts and no sun block.

Enjoy yourselves and have a fun time!

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Jay Pfahl said...

Jay Pfahl here, I wrote you 6 months ago about the possibility of using your photo of Aphyllorchis pallida on your flicker site. You said yes but I cannot copy your photo off the web could you send it to me please size 1400 k is best but send whatever size you have
Thanks Jay Pfahl

Jay Pfahl said...

Jay Pfahl here, I wrote you 6 months ago about the possibility of using your photo of Aphyllorchis pallida on your flicker site. You said yes but I cannot copy your photo off the web could you send it to me please size 1400 k is best but send whatever size you have
Thanks Jay Pfahl

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