Bako National Park is a Malaysian national park close to Kuching on the island of Borneo. It is considered to be one of the best Malaysian national parks. Most people take a day trip to Bako National Park from Kuching, but if you don't, you'll miss on the best parts: the animals. Keep reading for my mistakes and what to know before an overnight stay at Bako National Park in this Bako National Park review.
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Kuching to Bako takes time.
Bako National Park is near Kuching, but Kuching is not Bako National Park. It might look close to Kuching on a map, but you need some time to get to Bako as you'll need to take a once-hourly bus (3.50 ringgit) or a taxi (50-60 ringgit). Once you arrive, you'll need to purchase your Bako National Park entrance fee of RM10 then take a boat. You can wait for the cheaper scheduled boat (47 RM one way; you need to pay both ways) or pay extra for a private boat for five people. Only after you take the boat, you arrive at Bako National Park. It's a bit more involved that I had realized initially.
There are other parks nearby Bako, but public transit in between these parks and Bako is limited. We found that Uber was a good alternative for taxi within Kuching, however it didn't work well once we got out of the city. We had to ask a hotel to call us a local taxi as we didn't have a car. You'll need to either do a shuttle bus, a taxi, or take the local hourly bus.
Check the hours for when you'll be traveling
Its hours are limited, especially in monsoon season. The Bako National Park is open from 8am-3pm in monsoon season. So if you’re making a day trip to Bako National Park during monsoon season, plan to arrive as early as possible to give yourself enough time. The earlier, the better as the crowds become an issue later in the day. That said, be sure that you’re back at base camp at 3 pm if you're only day-tripping. We met several travelers who regretted not having more time in Bako National Park who only came for the day while having a late start, so I strongly recommend staying overnight if you’re visiting in monsoon season as it gives you more flexibility. (We arrived just at 3pm, which was luckily the last boat to Bako for the evening.)
Don't just do a day trip to Bako National Park
Animals in Bako National Park are most active around sunrise and sunset. If you are doing one of the many beautiful Bako National Park trails daytime, you will not see many animals. You'll be lucky to spot a monkey. However, if you hike closer to sunset, you'll see what seems like infinite monkeys! Similarly, the night walk in Bako is incredible, and you can only do it if you're staying overnight at Bako National Park.
Instead of visiting Bako for one day, I recommend visiting Bako for 3 days and two nights. It allows you to explore the trails of Bako National Park at a good pace while seeing a lot of wildlife as you cannot stay the full last day.
Do the night walk in Bako National Park
The guides are experienced (35 years!) and incredible at spotting wildlife at night. It only costs 10 ringgit per person and seeing a flying lemur in the wild has been on my bucket list since I've been a child. (I was also hoping for a slow loris, but you need to get lucky.)
Book your Bako National Park accommodation ahead
Book your Bako National Park accommodation ahead as there's really not that many cabins and they fill up. You need to book your Bako National Park accommodations only through the official website for the Sarawak government. I had an issue paying as my credit card company found it very suspicious initially, but it worked after I called them. The website is in English, and it's quite easy to book through it. You need to select Kuching -> Bako National Park -> Select your dates before choosing your lodging option. Not all options may be available, so book your Bako lodging early. It took me about 15 minutes. Click for the official website for Bako National Park accommodations.
The Bako National Park accommodation options range from a campground (you need to be very careful as the macaques can steal from you) to dorm style beds (20 ringgit) to a cabin with only a fan (160 RM) to the fanciest: a cabin with airconditioning.
Don't expect luxury.
We paid 300 ringgit (USD 70) for the Forest Lodge Type 4 air-conditioned private cabin for two nights. It was not luxurious, but the air conditioning worked well. We also had a wingless pit viper in the tree outside of our cabin that didn't move the entirety of our time--and friendly Borneo bearded pigs tried to break into our cabin. The cabins are constructed specially to help keep the monkeys out, so even your trash is in a locked room. That said, you need to keep your door locked at ALL times as the macaques are too clever. There are cheaper options (dorm style), but if you're traveling with a group or just with one other person, I think the Bako National Park accommodations are a steal considering the experience. There is working wifi and cell phone service.
Beware of the animals
You need to be very careful when carrying around fruit or plastic bags with your food as the macaques are wise to the food in your plastic bag, and so are the benevolent Borneo bearded pigs that live next to the canteen. We saw someone holding a bag of food get headbutted by a baby pig as it tried to grab his bag. It was pretty adorable, but still. It's best to have a day pack to tuck your lunch supplies into.
The monkeys (especially the macaques) can be aggressive, and it's best not to make eye contact with monkeys whenever possible. If you're eating while hiking one of the Bako National Park trails, you need to be careful about checking for monkeys before taking your food. This includes fruit.
Look around you and listen attentively while walking as you might stumble upon a baby animal. Mothers can be very defensive, so it's good to just listen to the sounds around you as you don't want to engage an angry primate. While hiking one of the Bako National trails, we saw a baby monkey, and while we were admiring it, its mom decided that it wasn't an okay distance. This mother macaque started to chase her with her teeth out. We ran for a bit until she stopped to just bare her teeth at us. After that, a silver leaf monkey decided to throw nuts at us from a tree.
Many of the animals are not afraid of humans
Don't feed the animals. It only encourages them to be more aggressive with humans to get more food.
If an animal comes towards, back up. This is a wild animal and even if you know it's not poisonous, it's good still to be cautionary as you don't want to socialize them. You're here to see wildlife in the wild, not to go to a petting zoo. Please respect the animals--and let them roam without human interactions.
Photographers: A zoom lens is essential for good animal photographs
A lot of people come to Bako with just a point and shoot or a GoPro, but typically animals are too far away. You need a good zoom lens for your camera to take these photos. My husband gifted me a 70-300mm zoom lens for my DSLR right before this trip knowing that I'd want to take photos of all the animals. I was the only one on the night walk that we did that had a zoom lens--and who got photos of the flying lemur that was very high up in the trees. If you love taking photos of wildlife, you will not regret getting a zoom lens. (I have the Nikon D3300.)
Before purchasing one, double check that the zoom lens that you decide to get is suitable for your camera in terms of the maker & the model number. It's not necessary a one size fits all kind of deal, so I recommend double-checking this.
Bring enough cash
There's not an ATM on Bako National Park, and there's not one close to Bako Bazaar (where you catch the boat to Bako National Park). You can prepay for your Bako National Park accommodations; however, the rest of it adds up. You'll need to cash to cover the Bako National Park entrance fee, the boat to Bako National Park, food (about 2-3x higher than average prices), the boat to do the longer one day trails (if you choose to), water, and night tour (10 ringgit). There's no free drinkable water, so you'll be forced to buy water as it's quite hot and dehydration is a significant risk while hiking the trails in Bako National Park. If you want a beer after your hike, it's very refreshing, so we heard as we were too broke to have one. They also have canned beverages.
Plan ahead and bring your own food/water.
There's a large supermarket with a good selection not too far from Bako by car (Giant Hypermarket Petra Jaya), but otherwise, bring enough snacks, sandwich supplies, fruit, and most importantly, water for your entire trip. You'll end up saving a lot of money. Similarly, it's much easier to hike if you have things like granola bars. People who come ill-prepared will be forced to carry a plastic bag with their lunch in a to-go box on their hike, which is annoying, to say the least. I recommend also buying sandwich bags or something to help you carry your lunch in.
You don't need a guide for Bako National Park
You do not need a guide to Bako National Park and it's very easy to do Bako National Park independently. However, the guides are available to talk with you about which trails you should do given your hiking ability. Before going on any hiking trail in Bako National Park, you need to write down which trails you'll be doing in their book. When you return from your hike, you'll need to sign out.
Choose your trails carefully although the timing depends on you although I felt the timings were pretty accurate for me. Even if you're staying overnight, it's best to ensure that you're back at the canteen before sundown by being a bit generous.
Bako isn't for the casual walker who has difficulty on uneven paths. There are some easier trails with a wooden path, however many of the trails with the better viewpoints require some degree of uphill hiking. I didn't find it overly challenging, but it's good to know before you go. The trails are clearly numbered, so it's hard to get lost.
Bring a good pair of sneakers or hiking shoes.
A lot of people that we saw coming for a day trip to Bako National Park were doing trails in sandals, which made the trails harder than they were. Similarly, you'll want to carry lots of water with you wherever you go hiking. The humidity and the heat will get to you.
Bring your bathing suit to Bako!
Bring your bathing suit if you go on hike 10! There's a beautiful natural pool with cold water next to the Tajor Waterfall. It's so refreshing to go for a dip and there's a little bench for you to leave your clothes!
You might need to wade into the water to get to shore
When there's a low tide, it's so low that it's difficult for the boats that bring tourists to Bako National Park to reach the shores. As a result, many who don't come in with the high tide will be forced to hop off the boat straight into the water--or walk through the sand until you get to your boat. If you're carrying a lot of stuff, beware that it might get wet.
No leeches in Bako, but the mosquitos...
There aren't leeches in this part of Borneo (yay!), but the mosquitos are vicious. I got eaten alive no matter how much mosquito repellent I used although it helped a little. I actually wore long pants for a lot of my hiking just to prevent more bites. If you're prone to mosquito bites, I recommend bringing a jungle-level mosquito repellent with a significant percentage of DEET as well as mosquito bite reliever.
For more general advice about Borneo, I found the Lonely Planet guide for Borneo, not the general Malaysian one, to be helpful.
Overall, I absolutely love Bako National Park and I really recommend visiting!
Have you been to Bako National Park?
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Karen and Jacob. American expats and cat lovers from New York City and Kentucky who lived in Amsterdam.... Now in Paris with moving back to the Netherlands this month.
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